AWM Staff Picks: August

Reading Recommendations from the staff of the American Writers Museum.

We can’t recommend these books highly enough! Check back every month for more reading recommendations, from classics that we reread over and over to new favorites. If you’re looking for your next book, you came to the right place.

Our August staff picks are also available on, which benefits independent bookstores. We also strongly encourage you to support your local bookstore by ordering through them online directly. They need our help more than ever, and we need them to stick around.

Brazil by John Updike book cover

Brazil by John Updike

This is a hot summer retelling of the timeless tale of Tristan and Isolde across the sands of Copacabana Beach in Rio. While this might not be one of Updike’s best books, for me it is perfect for summer escapism.

–Christopher, Director of Operations

Dark Black by Sam Weller book cover

Dark Black by Sam Weller

From the publisher: “In this haunting debut collection of short stories, Sam Weller, authorized biographer of the legendary Ray Bradbury, blurs the boundaries between the weird, the outre, the paranormal, the Gothic, and old school punk rock. Dark Black features 20 tales, at turns chilling, melancholy, hilarious, and nightmarish…Weller worked side by side with Ray Bradbury for over a decade. No surprise, then, that Dark Black is deeply inspired by Bradbury’s dark and enduring 1955 collection, The October Country, mashed-up with modern influences, such as anthology television program Black Mirror and American Horror Story.

We’ve had the pleasure of working with Sam Weller on our special exhibit Ray Bradbury: Inextinguishable and I can’t recommend his own fiction enough. There is even a story about Ray Bradbury in the book!

–Carey, President

Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

From the publisher: “The story begins in 1618, in the German duchy of Württemberg. Plague is spreading. The Thirty Years’ War has begun, and fear and suspicion are in the air throughout the Holy Roman Empire. In the small town of Leonberg, Katharina Kepler is accused of being a witch…Drawing on real historical documents but infused with the intensity of imagination, sly humor, and intellectual fire for which Rivka Galchen is known, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch will both provoke and entertain. The story of how a community becomes implicated in collective aggression and hysterical fear is a tale for our time. Galchen’s bold new novel touchingly illuminates a society and a family undone by superstition, the state, and the mortal convulsions of history.”

–Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

From the publisher: “Spanning more than three decades and playing out across the ever-changing face of the Pacific Northwest, Firefly Lane is the poignant, powerful story of two women and the friendship that becomes the bulkhead of their lives…Firefly Lane is for anyone who ever drank Boone’s Farm apple wine while listening to Abba or Fleetwood Mac. More than a coming-of-age novel, it’s the story of a generation of women who were both blessed and cursed by choices. It’s about promises and secrets and betrayals. And ultimately, about the one person who really, truly knows you–and knows what has the power to hurt you, and heal you. Firefly Lane is a story you’ll never forget, one you’ll want to pass on to your best friend.

–Catherine, Signature Events & Donor Relations Manager

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

I am still reading this one but it is captivating from the start. I already like it and will already recommend it to friends. Here is this description from the publisher: “Both epic and intimate, blending Chinese symbolism and reimagined history with fiercely original language and storytelling, How Much of These Hills Is Gold is a haunting adventure story, an unforgettable sibling story, and the announcement of a stunning new voice in literature. On a broad level, it explores race in an expanding country and the question of where immigrants are allowed to belong. But page by page, it’s about the memories that bind and divide families, and the yearning for home.”

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

Killer, Come Back to Me book cover

Killer, Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury edited by Charles Ardai

You know Ray Bradbury for his seminal novels like Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, and iconic short story collections like October Country. But did you know Bradbury also was quite the crime fiction writer? In this definitive and illustrated collection, editor Charles Ardai has compiled 20 unforgettable stories, some of which are classics and some lesser-known. You also might recognize some of these stories from television, as they were made into episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Ray Bradbury Theater. This collection shows Bradbury’s impressive range and grasp of storytelling no matter what the genre. A true writer, plain and simple.

On August 17, we’ll have a virtual author program with Charles Ardai to discuss the book, Bradbury’s crime stories, and the editing process. Learn more and register for the program here.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

I had a blast reading this book. After the release of Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, which I still haven’t seen, I finally picked this one off my bookshelf where it has been for quite some time. I am glad I did. As someone who grew up with a bartending father and has worked in restaurants and bars since I was 14, the stories and attitudes Bourdain describes felt so familiar. Though I’ve worked primarily on the front-of-house side of things, Bourdain’s writing voice sounds like many cooks I’ve worked at–and been yelled at by! His writing is direct, easily accessible, and real, which he intentionally set out to do. He wanted to sound like a cook, and he achieved it. A lot has changed in the restaurant industry since Kitchen Confidential first came out in 2000, but it is still a relevant and fascinating book to read today especially knowing how Bourdain’s career and life turned out after the book.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line by Major General Mari K. Eder

The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line by Mari K. Eder

If you liked Radium Girls, then you’ll like The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line. In it, retired U.S. Army Major General Mari K. Eder tells the untold stories of 15 women heroes who served, fought, struggled, and made things happen during WWII—in and out of uniform—ultimately changing the course of history in the process. Women like Gena Turgel, a prisoner who worked in the hospital at Bergen-Belsen and cared for the young Anne Frank, who was dying of typhus. Gena survived and went on to write a memoir and spent her life educating children about the Holocaust. Maj. Gen. Eder wrote this book bring these important women and their stories to light because theirs is a legacy destined to embolden generations of women to come.

Maj. Gen. Eder will speak with us about the book on August 27. You can learn more and register for the virtual author program here.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

You Can't Say That! book cover

You Can’t Say That!: Writers for Young People Talk About Censorship, Free Expression, and the Stories They Have To Tell edited by Leonard S. Marcus

From the publisher: “Tune in as thirteen top children’s and young adult authors speak out about what it’s like to have your work banned or challenged in America today. Prompted by Leonard S. Marcus’s insightful questions, they discuss why their books have faced censorship—both blatant and ‘soft’—how the challenges have or haven’t affected their writing, and why some people feel they have the right to deny access to books. In addition, Leonard S. Marcus puts First Amendment challenges in a historical context and takes a promising look at the vibrant support network that has risen up to protect and defend young people’s rights.”

I am looking forward to our August 12 program with Marcus and Meg Medina, one of the authors featured in the book. Naturally, I find freedom of expression, speech, and all that to be hugely important, especially when it comes to children’s and young adult’s books. Young people are surprisingly wise and capable of critical thinking and deep thought, so I think it is very important that the stories written for them are real and honest. It will only empower them. Learn more and register for the virtual program here.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Essays full of Ray’s personality and process should inspire anyone to write, or at the very least read more Ray Bradbury.

–Christopher, Director of Operations

Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

2 thoughts on “AWM Staff Picks: August

  1. Gia Fondren-Norman says:

    I noticed a book with short essays on the website, but the title zipped away. Can you inform me about the Title & author for such a book The Writers Museum?

    • American Writers Museum says:

      Hi Gia,

      This post has several books that have short stories or essays collected, so sorry you were having trouble seeing the titles! Here’s a round up of the books in this post. If these don’t seem right, you can check our past recommendations list here.

      Short stories: Dark Black by Sam Weller; Killer, Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury edited by Charles Ardai,

      Essays: You Can’t Say That!: Writers for Young People Talk About Censorship, Free Expression, and the Stories They Have To Tell edited by Leonard S. Marcus; Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

      Happy reading!
      -Ari Bachechi, Data Operations Coordinator

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