American Writers Museum staff reading recommendations

AWM Staff Picks: January

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. They need our help more than ever, and we need them to stick around.

Aftermath by LeVar Burton

Afermath by LeVar Burton

I did not know LeVar Burton had written a science fiction novel, but when I found out I immediately had to go buy it. This book took me months to read, not because of Mr. Burton, it is well written and the story is interesting and engaging. It took so long because of the dumpster fire that was 2020. Aftermath takes place in an America transformed by a series of climate change-related disasters and a horrific race war triggered by the assassination of the first Black president. A scientist has discovered a tool that can cure any disease, but must fight to keep it out of the hands of those who would use it for profit or weaponize it.

–Ari, Data Operations Coordinator

A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. book cover

A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Our virtual exhibit American Voices explores themes of racial and political equality, among others, and as I was perusing this exhibit I started to think about the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the holiday in his honor approaches. It is always a good idea to revisit Dr. King’s writing and speeches, but especially so during this current, divisive, and dark moment in American history. This book features the significant speeches he made, many of which can also be found online for free, such as his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.

–Karie, Director of Marketing & Private Events

Charming Falls Apart by Angela Terry book cover

Charming Falls Apart by Angela Terry

Allie Larkin, internationally best-selling author of Swimming for Sunlight, said that “Charming Falls Apart is the perfect comfort read. A smart and heartfelt ode to the healing power of friendship and the strength in reinvention. Fans of Sophie Kinsella will root for Allison James as she rebuilds her life on her own terms.” I totally, agree, as I found myself enrapt by Allison’s story and rooting for her!

I am also looking forward to our upcoming program with the author, Angela Terry on January 27. Plus, we’ll make a signature cocktail inspired by the book and who doesn’t enjoy sipping on a drink while talking books? You can learn more and register here.

–Catherine, Signature Events & Donor Relations Manager

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole book cover

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

“That Ignatius is one wacky guy,” said my friend who suggested I read this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. And he was not kidding. Ignatius J. Reilly is one of the more distinct characters I’ve read in recent memory, complaining and burping his way through New Orleans from one hot dog-fueled fracas to another. This book is a riot and there are many laugh-out-loud moments, but for me it is the character development of Ignatius and the other characters that make this book special. It’s so well done, I can imagine Ignatius in modern times being very loud and active on internet chatrooms and Facebook comment sections.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland book cover

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland

Coupland’s book defined a generation that gasped from the bottom of the trough between the huge generational waves of Boomers and Gen Z. The term “McJob” also came from this, his first novel. His publisher tasked Coupland with writing a book that further defined the generation he had bemoaned in a magazine article that he thought was historically overlooked, or mistakenly identified as Boomers. The novel has great definitions of terms in the margins along the way, but I think that the chapter titles themselves offer a great view of the particular zeitgeist he sought to capture: “Our Parents Had More,” “I Am Not a Target Market,” “Dead at 30 Buried at 70,” “Shopping is Not Creating,” “Adventure Without Risks Is Disneyland,” “Define Normal,” and “Why Am I Poor?”

–Christopher, Director of Operations

Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen

Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen

One of the earliest books I can remember reading and being captivated by was Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, so when I heard the master of wilderness survival stories has his own memoir coming out soon I got very excited. I didn’t know Paulsen’s story was so traumatic and difficult as well, and Gone to the Woods serves as Paulsen’s own story of survival. Written at the middle-grade level like the rest of Paulsen’s work, this stunning memoir is accessible to a wide range of ages and is sure to impact readers young and old.

Plus, I am also very excited that we are hosting a program with Paulsen on January 12 to help launch the book. To hear a living legend like Paulsen discuss his writing and life will be a treat for readers and writers alike. Learn more and register here.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

Lamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula Brackston book cover

Lamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula Brackston

This is not the type of book I would normally read, but it was fun to do something a little different. My sister got me a short subscription to Bookcase.Club, and this was one of the first books included. It follows Laura, an artist who needs a change of pace, as she moves with her husband to the Welsh countryside. There she meets an interesting cast of characters, some of whom are straight out of fairy tales. The book is an easy read and was perfect for a few days off at home.

–Ari, Data Operations Coordinator

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia book cover

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

From the publisher: “An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic aristocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets. From the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow comes a ‘terrifying twist on classic gothic horror’ (Kirkus Reviews) set in glamorous 1950s Mexico. Says The Guardian, ‘It’s Lovecraft meets the Brontës in Latin America, and after a slow-burn start Mexican Gothic gets seriously weird.'”

–Cristina, Facilities Supervisor

Mystery Train by David Wojahn book cover

Mystery Train by David Wojahn

A collection of poems that bring people and moments to light with vivid and absorbing details that create brilliant moments of clarity. The 35 sonnets in the middle of the book that explore a history of rock and roll and popular culture while clearly set in the late 1980s are still amazing pieces to read again in the 2020s.

–Carey, President

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Set in 1940s German-occupied France, The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by experience and geography, fighting for survival, family, and hope as WWII blazes through their home country. This story illuminates the women’s war, and the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. This is an emotional tale, that will leave you reflecting and hurt, yet hopeful in the end.

–Catherine, Signature Events & Donor Relations Manager

The Gingerbread Girl by Lisa Campbell Ernst book cover

Children’s Books for the Winter Months

To count down to Christmas last month, my family read 24 holiday- and winter-themed books. Here’s a few of our favorites:

The Gingerbread Girl by Lisa Campbell Ernst
Like her older brother, the Gingerbread Boy, who was eventually devoured by a fox, the Gingerbread Girl eludes the many people who would like to eat her but also has a plan to escape her sibling’s fate. This was my daughter’s favorite because she’s one smart cookie and outfoxed the fox!

The Snow Globe Family by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by S.D. Schindler
Two families, one a tiny one that lives in a snow globe in a larger family’s home, anxiously away a big snowstorm.

Snowmen At Night by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner
Snowmen play games at night when no one is watching. Don’t forget to look for hidden shapes that have been painted in all these wintertimes scenes. See if you can find a cat, a rabbit, a Santa face, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

–Karie, Director of Marketing & Private Events

Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck book cover

Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, along with The Grapes of Wrath

Every writer should read John Stenbeck’s journal, Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath. He exposes — for the benefit of all future writers — the anguish, doubt, and uncertainty that weighed on him every day as he doggedly wrote his masterpiece over five months of intensive longhand writing. I read Working Days a few years ago, and I’m reading The Grapes of Wrath for the first time now. This January seemed like a perfect time to read a classic that I always meant to read but never did. The Grapes of Wrath unfolds slowly, but the pace is perfect. It is even more epic and beautiful after reading Working Days.

–Linda, Director of Development

Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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