AWM Staff Picks: August 2023

AWM Staff Picks: August 2023

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 visiting them in person or ordering online through them directly.

August Wilson: A Life by Patti Hartigan book cover

August Wilson: A Life by Patti Hartigan

From the publisher: “The first authoritative biography of August Wilson, the most important and successful American playwright of the late 20th century (Fences, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, etc.), by author and theater critic Patti Hartigan. She interviewed Wilson many times before his death and traces his life from his childhood in Pittsburgh to Broadway. She also interviewed scores of friends, theater colleagues and family members, and conducted extensive research to tell the story of a writer who left an indelible imprint on American theater and opened the door for future playwrights of color.”

We are excited to host Hartigan for a discussion on the new book and Wilson’s lasting legacy. Get tickets to attend the event in person here. This program will also be livestreamed and you can register for the link to the broadcast here.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Babel, or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators' Revolution by R.F. Kuang

Babel, or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang

From the publisher: “1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel. Babel is the world’s center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as its knowledge serves the Empire’s quest for colonization. For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide…Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence?

—Noelle, Education Program Coordinator

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin book cover

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

From the publisher: “Welcome to Elsewhere. The beaches are marvelous. It’s quiet and peaceful. You can’t get sick and you’ll never get even one day older. Elsewhere is where fifteen-year-old Liz Hall ends up, after she has died. It is a place so like Earth, yet completely different. Here, Liz will age backward from the day of her death until she becomes a baby again and returns to Earth. But Liz wants to turn sixteen, not fourteen again. She wants to get her driver’s license. She wants to graduate from high school and go to college. And now that she’s dead, Liz is forced to live a life she doesn’t want with a grandmother she has only just met. And it isn’t going well. How can Liz let go of the only life she has ever known and embrace a new one? Is it possible that a life lived in reverse is no different from a life lived forward? A book that transcends genre and category, Elsewhere is a modern YA classic.”

—Christopher, Director of Operations

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer book cover

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer

After being blown away by Braiding Sweetgrass, I was equally arrested and delighted and moved by Kimmerer’s first book.

More from the publisher: “Drawing on her diverse experiences as a scientist, mother, teacher, and writer of Native American heritage, Kimmerer explains the stories of mosses in scientific terms as well as in the framework of indigenous ways of knowing. In her book, the natural history and cultural relationships of mosses become a powerful metaphor for ways of living in the world.”

—Jennifer, Storyteller

Harrow County Omnibus by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook book cover

Harrow County Omnibus: Volume 1 by Tyler Crook, Cullen Bunn, et al.

From the publisher: “The first half of the highly acclaimed, Eisner-nominated horror fantasy tale, collected in a value-priced omnibus. Emmy always knew that the woods surrounding her home crawled with ghosts and monsters. But on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, she learns that she is connected to these creatures—and to the land itself—in a way she never imagined.”

—Cassidy, Guest Services/Operations Assistant

Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy book cover

Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy

From the publisher: “Mary is a quiet, middle-aged woman doing her best to blend into the background. Unremarkable. Invisible. Unknown even to herself. But lately, things have been changing inside Mary. Along with the hot flashes and body aches, she can’t look in a mirror without passing out, and the voices in her head have been urging her to do unspeakable things. Fired from her job in New York, she moves back to her hometown, hoping to reconnect with her past and inner self. Instead, visions of terrifying, mutilated specters overwhelm her with increasing regularity and she begins auto-writing strange thoughts and phrases. Mary discovers that these experiences are echoes of an infamous serial killer. Then the killings begin again. Mary’s definitely going to find herself.”

—Deanna, Storyteller

The Murderbot Diaries (book 1: All Systems Red) by Martha Wells book cover

The Murderbot Diaries (book 1: All Systems Red) by Martha Wells

One of the best surprises of the year. I couldn’t put these books down. And they’re also fantastic on audiobook!

More from the publisher: “The Murderbot Diaries, by bestselling author Martha Wells, is an action-packed, cerebral science fiction series about a self-hacking robot searching for the meaning of life. A murderous android discovers itself in the first book, All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure that interrogates the roots of consciousness through Artificial Intelligence. All Systems Red, swept the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards, and was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller.”

—Jennifer, Storyteller

Queer Little Nightmares: An Anthology of Monstrous Fiction and Poetry edited by David Ly and Daniel Zomparelli book cover

Queer Little Nightmares: An Anthology of Monstrous Fiction and Poetry edited by David Ly and Daniel Zomparelli

From the publisher: “The fiction and poetry of Queer Little Nightmares reimagines monsters old and new through a queer lens, subverting the horror gaze to celebrate ideas and identities canonically feared in monster lit. Throughout history, monsters have appeared in popular culture as stand-ins for the non-conforming, the marginalized of society. Pushed into the shadows as objects of fear, revulsion, and hostility, these characters have long conjured fascination and self-identification in the LGBTQ+ community, and over time, monsters have become queer icons.”

—Matt, Community Engagement Manager

Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs by Jamie Loftus book cover

Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs by Jamie Loftus

For me, the summer of 2021 was Hot Dog Summer. Due to some combination of pandemic-induced boredom and insanity, I set out to eat 75 hot dogs between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend. The number was inspired by Joey Chestnut’s then-record of 75 hot dogs eaten in 10 minutes (he would break his own record by one dog that summer). Regrettably, I fell three dogs shy of my goal.

Unbeknownst to me, comedian Jamie Loftus was embarking on her own Hot Dog Summer that same time, traveling the country to investigate the cultural significance and culinary traditions of this deeply American food. And yes, also eating many hot dogs. The end result is Raw Dog, a very funny and eye-opening book that reveals “what the creation, culture, and class influence of hot dogs says about America now.” And Jamie, if you’re reading this, despite living in Chicago, I too agree ketchup should be allowed on hot dogs. I don’t like it personally, but it’s a hot dog for god’s sake. Do whatever you want!

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

The Road by Cormac McCarthy book cover

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

From the publisher: “A searing, post-apocalyptic novel about a father and son’s fight to survive…The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, ‘each the other’s world entire,’ are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.”

I recently had the honor of speaking to writers Fernando A. Flores and Amit Majmudar about the legacy of McCarthy on the latest episode of our podcast Nation of Writers. You can listen to the episode here, or find it wherever you listen to podcasts.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club by J. Ryan Stradal book cover

Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club by J. Ryan Stradal

From the publisher: “From the New York Times bestselling author J. Ryan Stradal, a story of a couple from two very different restaurant families in rustic Minnesota, and the legacy of love and tragedy, of hardship and hope, that unites and divides them…With their dreams dashed, can one fractured family find a way to rebuild despite their losses, and will the Lakeside Supper Club be their salvation? In this colorful, vanishing world of relish trays and brandy Old Fashioneds, J. Ryan Stradal has once again given us a story full of his signature honest, lovable yet fallible Midwestern characters as they grapple with love, loss, and marriage; what we hold onto and what we leave behind; and what our legacy will be when we are gone.”

—Courtney, Education Program Coordinator

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach book cover

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

From the publisher: “Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers―some willingly, some unwittingly―have been involved in science’s boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.”

—Carol, Institutional Giving Manager

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt book cover

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

From the publisher: “Is eternal life a blessing or a curse? That is what young Winnie Foster must decide when she discovers a spring on her family’s property whose waters grant immortality. Members of the Tuck family, having drunk from the spring, tell Winnie of their experiences watching life go by and never growing older. But then Winnie must decide whether or not to keep the Tucks’ secret―and whether or not to join them on their never-ending journey.”

—Christopher, Director of Operations

Vision: The Complete Collection written by Tom King book cover

The Vision: The Complete Collection written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire

From the publisher: “A super hero story like no other. He was created to kill the Avengers—but he turned against his ‘father.’ He found a home among Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and love in the arms of the Scarlet Witch—but it didn’t end well. Now, the Vision just wants an ordinary life—with a wife and two children, a home in the suburbs, perhaps even a dog. So he built them. But it won’t end any better. Everything is nice and normal—until the deaths begin. Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta confound expectations in their heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, breathtaking magnum opus—collected in all its Eisner Award-winning glory.”

—Matt, Community Engagement Manager

Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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