American Writers Museum Staff Picks

AWM Staff Picks: July

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 July 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.

Anxious People by Fredrick Backman book cover

Anxious People by Fredrick Backman

As an anxious person, naturally I was intrigued by a book called Anxious People and I’m glad I picked it up. I haven’t finished it yet, so it is hard for me to summarize it, but I will say that it has been a joy to read thus far. At a surface level it is about a bank robbery gone wrong and the ensuing investigation to find the robber who has seemingly vanished. There’s a cast of characters with a slew of various anxieties and stresses who were involved in the robbery in some capacity, i.e. hostages, the bank teller, police, etc. Flashbacks are involved and as a reader I am trying to look for clues about the mystery robber, like a classic “whodunnit.” But also woven into the storytelling are poignant musings by Backman on life and the dread and anxiety that arise simply by existing in this horrific world. It’s a calming book for an anxious person like me, who wants a good story to focus on while also gaining insights into my own anxieties and the human condition. Also, it is quite funny!

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

Bacchanal by Veronica G. Henry book cover

Bacchanal by Veronica G. Henry

From the publisher: “Abandoned by her family, alone on the wrong side of the color line with little to call her own, Eliza Meeks is coming to terms with what she does have. It’s a gift for communicating with animals…Among fortune-tellers, carnies, barkers, and folks even stranger than herself, Eliza finds a new home. But the Bacchanal is no ordinary carnival. An ancient demon has a home there too. She hides behind an iridescent disguise. She feeds on innocent souls. And she’s met her match in Eliza, who’s only beginning to understand the purpose of her own burgeoning powers. Only then can Eliza save her friends, find her family, and fight the sway of a primordial demon preying upon the human world. Rolling across a consuming dust bowl landscape, Eliza may have found her destiny.”

–Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor

Black is the New White by Paul Mooney

Black is the New White: A Memoir by Paul Mooney

Mr. Mooney, which is how Richard Pryor always referred to him, was a writing partner of Richard’s who penned the ground breaking skit on Saturday Night Live’s first season where Richard is being interviewed for a job by Chevy Chase and a word association game gone wrong reflects the culture upheaval of the time. But besides writing for Richard Pryor, Paul also was a strong comic in his own right and an actor as well. If you ever watched Chappelle’s Show you have witnessed Mr. Mooney, and he probably made you laugh and perhaps made you think too. This book is full of stories about Paul and Richard attempting to maneuver in Hollywood during the 70’s but it also has great stories of Paul’s life and upbringing.

–Christopher, Director of Operations

Eye Level: Poems by Jenny Xie

Eye Level: Poems by Jennie Xie

Jenny Xie’s poems are a fearless exploration of the world — the outer world, written from her perspective as an immigrant and a traveler, and her inner world. I like the way she crosses between those outer and inner worlds, with all the things you want in poetry — language you can feel, twists, and surprises. I like the way she thinks about duality and loved learning more about her in our exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today. Jenny Xie will present the Inspiration Award at OnWord2021 to one of her former teachers who inspired her to write — we can’t wait!

–Linda, Director of Development

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

From the publisher: “In the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. David is a young American expatriate who has just proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Hella. While she is away on a trip, David meets a bartender named Giovanni to whom he is drawn in spite of himself. Soon the two are spending the night in Giovanni’s curtainless room, which he keeps dark to protect their privacy. But Hella’s return to Paris brings the affair to a crisis, one that rapidly spirals into tragedy. David struggles for self-knowledge during one long, dark night–“the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life.” With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin’s now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a deeply moving story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.”

–Christopher, Director of Operations

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

I recently decided to finish Brown’s Red Rising series, and this is the second book. Oddly, I’ve read it before but can’t seem to remember anything, so it’s like a surprise! I’m not too mad at myself though because Brown is great at creating complex, flawed characters and a plot that moves along without seeming rushed. The twists and turns have been fun to rediscover. In the world he’s created, people are born into a colored caste system that is strictly hierarchical. The main character, Darrow, is a former slave Red who has infiltrated the ruling Golds and must now try to live for more than vengeance and sow the seeds of revolution.

–Ari, Data Operations Coordinator

Legend by Marie Lu book cover

Legend by Marie Lu

This one is actually a recommendation from my 11-year-old stepson. He really enjoys dystopian science fiction novels, and has recently been going through the entire Legend series quite quickly. He says that it reminds him of The Hunger Games a little bit, but there are some differences. The biggest difference is that each chapter switches viewpoints, so there is a more comprehensive story from both sides. The series has led to some great conversations about inequality in the education system, why some people are driven to violence, and why it is important to not always judge people based on their knowledge or lack thereof.

–Ari, Data Operations Coordinator

Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987 by Bob Woodward book cover

Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987 by Bob Woodward

From Bob Woodward, legendary investigative reporter, Veil is the story of the covert wars that were waged by the CIA across Central America, Iran and Libya in a secretive atmosphere and became the centerpieces and eventual time bombs of American foreign policy in the 1980s. With unprecedented access to the government’s highest-level operators, Woodward recounts one of the most clandestine operations in our nation’s history.

–Cassidy, Storyteller

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariama Kaba

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariama Kaba

From the publisher: “What if social transformation and liberation isn’t about waiting for someone else to come along and save us? What if ordinary people have the power to collectively free ourselves? In this timely collection of essays and interviews, Mariame Kaba reflects on the deep work of abolition and transformative political struggle. With a foreword by Naomi Murakawa and chapters on seeking justice beyond the punishment system, transforming how we deal with harm and accountability, and finding hope in collective struggle for abolition, Kaba’s work is deeply rooted in the relentless belief that we can fundamentally change the world. As Kaba writes, ‘Nothing that we do that is worthwhile is done alone.'”

–Nikki, Development & Membership Associate

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Typically when I think of the “American Western” genre I think of a white-centric story involving cowboys and frontiersmen who feel it is their right to take advantage of whatever they want: nature, women, Indigenous Peoples, etc. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn the Western Writers of America awarded this book 2021 Spur Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and Best First Novel. David Heska Wanbli Weiden is an enrolled citizen of the Sicangu Lakota nation and this novel is “a groundbreaking thriller about a vigilante on a Native American reservation who embarks on a dangerous mission to track down the source of a heroin influx.” I haven’t read this book yet myself, but it’s definitely on my list now and I am looking forward to our upcoming program with Weiden and other 2021 Spur Award-winners. Learn more and register for Writing the American West here.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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