AWM Staff Picks: January 2022

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 January 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.

The 1619 Project book cover

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones

From the publisher: “A dramatic expansion of a groundbreaking work of journalism, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story offers a profoundly revealing vision of the American past and present… The essays show how the inheritance of 1619 reaches into every part of contemporary American society, from politics, music, diet, traffic, and citizenship to capitalism, religion, and our democracy itself. This is a book that speaks directly to our current moment, contextualizing the systems of race and caste within which we operate today. It reveals long-glossed-over truths around our nation’s founding and construction—and the way that the legacy of slavery did not end with emancipation, but continues to shape contemporary American life.”

–Linda, Director of Development

The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories by Carson McCullers book cover

The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories by Carson McCullers

From the publisher: “A classic work that has charmed generations of readers, this collection assembles Carson McCullers’s best stories, including her beloved novella ‘The Ballad of the Sad Café.’ A haunting tale of a human triangle that culminates in an astonishing brawl, the the title novella introduces readers to Miss Amelia, a formidable southern woman whose café serves as the town’s gathering place. Among other fine works, the collection also includes ‘Wunderkind,’ McCullers’s first published story written when she was only seventeen about a musical prodigy who suddenly realizes she will not go on to become a great pianist. The Ballad of the Sad Café is a brilliant study of love and longing from one of the South’s finest writers.”

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams with Gail Hudson book cover

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams, with Gail Hudson

From the publisher: “In this urgent book, Jane Goodall, the world’s most famous living naturalist, and Douglas Abrams, the internationally bestselling co-author of The Book of Joy, explore through intimate and thought-provoking dialogue one of the most sought after and least understood elements of human nature: hope. In The Book of Hope, Jane focuses on her ‘Four Reasons for Hope’: The Amazing Human Intellect, The Resilience of Nature, The Power of Young People, and The Indomitable Human Spirit… The Book of Hope is a rare and intimate look not only at the nature of hope but also into the heart and mind of a woman who revolutionized how we view the world around us and has spent a lifetime fighting for our future.”

–Linda, Director of Development

Cry to Heaven by Anne Rice book cover

Cry to Heaven by Anne Rice

From the publisher: “In a sweeping saga of music and vengeance, the acclaimed author of The Vampire Chronicles draws readers into eighteenth-century Italy, bringing to life the decadence beneath the shimmering surface of Venice, the wild frivolity of Naples, and the magnetic terror of its shadow, Vesuvius. This is the story of the castrati, the exquisite and otherworldly sopranos whose graceful bodies and glorious voices win the adulation of royal courts and grand opera houses throughout Europe. These men are revered as idols—and, at the same time, scorned for all they are not.”

–Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor

Dune by Frank Herbert book cover

Dune by Frank Herbert

From the publisher: “Frank Herbert’s classic masterpiece—a triumph of the imagination and one of the bestselling science fiction novels of all time… A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.”

–Matt, Storyteller

Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family by Pauli Murray book cover

Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family by Pauli Murray

I was just so sucked into it. It’s amazing how well Murray was able to write this family memoir-style book while incorporating all the historical context and it’s not dry at all, but rather captivating.

More from the publisher: “First published in 1956, Proud Shoes is the remarkable true story of slavery, survival, and miscegenation in the South from the pre-Civil War era through the Reconstruction. Written by Pauli Murray, the legendary civil rights activist and one of the founders of NOW, Proud Shoes chronicles the lives of Murray’s maternal grandparents. From the birth of her grandmother, Cornelia Smith, daughter of a slave whose beauty incited the master’s sons to near murder, to the story of her grandfather Robert Fitzgerald, whose free black father married a white woman in 1840, Proud Shoes offers a revealing glimpse of our nation’s history.”

–Ari, Data Operations Coordinator

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark book cover

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

A great fantasy epic look at the violent spell of racism and how it infects the world.

More from the publisher: “In 1915, The Birth of a Nation cast a spell across America, swelling the Klan’s ranks and drinking deep from the darkest thoughts of white folk. All across the nation they ride, spreading fear and violence among the vulnerable. They plan to bring Hell to Earth. But even Ku Kluxes can die. Standing in their way is Maryse Boudreaux and her fellow resistance fighters, a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter. Armed with blade, bullet, and bomb, they hunt their hunters and send the Klan’s demons straight to Hell. But something awful’s brewing in Macon, and the war on Hell is about to heat up. Can Maryse stop the Klan before it ends the world?”

–Carey, President

Book cover of Sing, Aretha, Sing!

Sing, Aretha, Sing! written by Hanif Abdurraqib, illustrated by Ashley Evans

I am excited for this new picture book about Aretha Franklin! I am even more excited to hear both Abdurraqib and Evans discuss the book and their respective crafts in our upcoming program with them. The event will be held online and takes place February 2, you can register for free here.

From the publisher: “A young Aretha Franklin captivates her community with the song “Respect” during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in Sing, Aretha, Sing!, a striking picture book biography that will embolden today’s young readers to sing their own truth… With Hanif Abdurraqib’s poetic voice and Ashley Evans’s dynamic illustrations, Sing, Aretha, Sing! demonstrates how one brave voice can give new power to a nation, and how the legacy of Aretha Franklin lives on in a world still fighting for freedom.”

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser book cover

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

From the publisher: “This epic of urban life tells of small-town heroine Carrie Meeber, adrift in an indifferent Chicago. Setting out, she has nothing but a few dollars and an unspoiled beauty. Hers is a story of struggle—from sweatshop to stage success—and of the love she inspires in an older, married man whose obsession with her threatens to destroy him.”

–Christopher, Director of Operations

Swing Time by Zadie Smith book cover

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

From the publisher: “Two brown girls dream of being dancers—but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either. Tracey makes it to the chorus line but struggles with adult life, while her friend leaves the old neighborhood behind, traveling the world as an assistant to a famous singer, Aimee, observing close up how the one percent live. But when Aimee develops grand philanthropic ambitions, the story moves from London to West Africa, where diaspora tourists travel back in time to find their roots, young men risk their lives to escape into a different future, the women dance just like Tracey—the same twists, the same shakes—and the origins of a profound inequality are not a matter of distant history, but a present dance to the music of time.”

–Catherine, Signature Events & Donor Relations Manager

Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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