When I was young and Richard Nixon was in the White House...I knew how to knit and purl and that was about it. I had never done a project. I had made a rather dinky scarf, but that was about the extent of it. Somebody else had to cast on and bind off for me.
Almost 30 years ago, I saw Barbara Walker's book and immediately purchased it. Then I got the yarn. I worked through all the squares in a few months--I could have gone quicker but was also going to graduate school, had an infant. Not only was the afghan beautiful, but Walker's notes were so helpful and abundant that I had no trouble whatsoever. Walker really helps you to learn to identify the sundry scenarios that yarn on the needle can create and also to demystify it.
I emerged from the experience and went on to knit fisherman sweaters, lacy christening gowns, and was able to take on any pattern I encountered.
Walker's book is somewhat like going to university and then to graduate school in knitting: I really can't think of any technique that she did not explain.
It's a great first project since it will teach you everything you need to know to do almost any knitting project. I felt as if I had been awarded a Ph.D. in knitting by the time I completed the afghan. It's enormously gratifying to move from little knowledge to creating cables and lace in a matter of weeks.
Since then, I've made several more Learn to Knit afghans in many different colours. I have used Walker's other knitting pattern books to substitute squares when I've wanted more of a challenge.
Other great aspects of this project are its portability; the immediate satisfaction of completing a square and looking at the results, and its beauty. You can use as many colors as you like, or you can limit yourself to two colors.