Here's a revised version of my monograph on tips for beginning observers that will hopefully provide some assistance to folks who are just starting out in amateur astronomy.
Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe by Terence Dickinson is considered by many to be the single best book for novice amateur astronomers. As far as other beginning observing guides are concerned, I highly recommend Phil Harrington's Star Watch: The Amateur Astronomer's Guide to Finding, Observing, and Learning About over 125 Celestial Objects and Turn Left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope--and How to Find Them by Dan M. Davis and Guy Consolmagno.
At a more advanced level, The Backyard Astronomer's Guide by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer is an excellent guide to astronomy and amateur astronomy. Another very good, yet inexpensive, source of general information is A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets (Peterson Field Guides) by Jay M. Pasachoff.
As far as books on astronomy gear are concerned, look no further than Phil Harrington's excellent Star Ware: The Amateur Astronomer's Guide to Choosing, Buying, and Using Telescopes and Accessories. Astronomy Hacks by Robert Thompson and Barbara Thompson is another highly-recommended book full of great tips on equipment and the art of observing.
Binoculars are a great way to get started in amateur astronomy. For more on binocular observing, see my post at http://cs.astronomy.com/asy/observing/f/69/t/49119.aspx
Information on planispheres, or star wheels, which portray the locations of the constellations and bright stars at a given time and date, is posted at http://www.skymaps.com/store/cat04.html and http://www.skyandtelescope.com/howto/visualobserving/3303986.html
An online planisphere is available at http://www.topastronomer.com/StarCharts/Planisphere.aspx
Browse here or http://www.telescope.com/content.jsp?pageName=Monthly-Star-Chart for a free monthly star chart. There's a video on how to read a simple star chart at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTO11vNMRJg
An informative video discussing astronomical objects worthy of observing each month can be found at http://hubblesite.org/explore_astronomy/tonights_sky/
The major planets all orbit close to the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system. Their positions and that of the dwarf planet Pluto can be ascertained by consulting http://www.nakedeyeplanets.com/
Recognition quizzes on some of the major constellations can be found at the following URLs:
A rudimentary tutorial on star-hopping from Ursa Major and Orion is posted at http://www.astrocentral.co.uk/starting.html
Click on http://www.robhawley.net/sh101/index.htm for an excellent video tutorial on the technique of star-hopping. Some excellent seasonal star-hops are presented at http://www.rocketmime.com/astronomy/index.html
One of the finest books, in my opinion, on learning how to star-hop is Alan MacRobert's Star-Hopping for Backyard Astronomers, which, unfortunately, is no longer in print.
Active observers will eventually need a good beginning star atlas in order to locate various stars and deep-sky objects (DSOs)*. Paper star atlases run the gamut from the simple and inexpensive to the complex and costly. Here are a few to consider: Orion's DeepMap 600, Norton's Star Atlas and Reference Handbook, 20th Edition by Ian Ridpath (Editor), The Edmund Mag 6 Star Atlas by Terence Dickinson, Sky & Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas by Roger W. Sinnott, The Bright Star Atlas 2000.0 by Wil Tirion and Roger W. Sinnott, and The Cambridge Star Atlas by Wil Tirion. The Sky Atlas 2000.0 by Wil Tirion is a more advanced and expensive atlas. The two volume Uranometria 2000.0 goes even "deeper" in stellar magnitude and displays the positions of a greater number of deep-sky objects.
Finder charts for various deep-sky objects can be found at http://astronomylogs.com/pages/finderchart.html
The Telrad** is a very handy 1x (non-magnifying) reflex sight finder. Telrad finder charts for the Messier objects*** are posted at these web sites:
The vast majority of deep-sky objects visible in amateur telescopes are quite faint and are best seen from a dark location. However, there are a number of DSOs that can be seen by urban observers. For further information on urban astronomy, see my post at http://cs.astronomy.com/asy/observing/f/1/t/52886.aspx
Additional information on observing deep-sky objects can be found at these sites:
A wealth of good astronomy freeware is listed here. Stellarium, Celestia, and Cartes du Ciel are all fine freeware planetarium programs. There are also many excellent commercial programs available, including MegaStar, SkyMap, Sky Tools, Starry NIght, and TheSky.
These online planetarium programs may prove useful:
Daily, weekly, and monthly astronomy updates are available at these URLs:
The following web sites contain worthwhile information on many different aspects of astronomy and amateur astronomy: