Collage of book covers

AWM Staff Picks: July 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 July staff picks are also available on Bookshop.org, 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.


After Anne by Logan Steiner book cover

After Anne: A Novel of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Life by Logan Steiner

From the publisher: “A stunning and unexpected portrait of Lucy Maud Montgomery, creator of one of literature’s most prized heroines, whose personal demons were at odds with her most enduring legacy—the irrepressible Anne of Green Gables…Beautiful and moving, After Anne reveals Maud’s hidden personal challenges while celebrating what was timeless about her life and art—the importance of tenacity and the peaceful refuge found in imagination.”

We recently hosted Steiner along with Elizabeth Blackwell at the AWM to talk about this book and writing in the historical fiction genre. You can watch a recording of the program here.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate


Biography of X by Catherine Lacey book cover

Biography of X by Catherine Lacey

From the publisher: “When X―an iconoclastic artist, writer, and polarizing shape-shifter―falls dead in her office, her widow, CM, wild with grief and refusing everyone’s good advice, hurls herself into writing a biography of the woman she deified. Though X was recognized as a crucial creative force of her era, she kept a tight grip on her life story. Not even CM knows where X was born, and in her quest to find out, she opens a Pandora’s box of secrets, betrayals, and destruction…Pulsing with suspense and intellect while blending nonfiction and fiction, Biography of X is a roaring epic that plumbs the depths of grief, art, and love. In her most ambitious novel yet, Catherine Lacey pushes her craft to its highest level, introducing us to an unforgettable character who, in her tantalizing mystery, shows us the fallibility of the stories we craft for ourselves.”

—Deanna, Storyteller


Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

From the publisher: “An epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America’s westward expansion, brilliantly subverting the conventions of the Western novel and the mythology of the Wild West. Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, Blood Meridian traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennesseean who stumbles into the nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.”

—Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor


Bookends by Zibby Owens book cover

Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature by Zibby Owens

From the publisher: “After losing her closest friend on 9/11 and later becoming utterly stressed out and overwhelmed by motherhood, Zibby Owens was forgetting what made her her. She turned to books and writing for help. Just when things seemed particularly bleak, Zibby unexpectedly fell in love with a tennis pro turned movie producer who showed her the path to happiness: away from type-A perfectionism and toward letting things unfold organically. What unfolded was a meaningful career, a great love, and finally, her voice, now heard by millions of listeners. An honest and moving story about relationships, love, food issues, the writing life, and finding one’s true calling, Bookends will inspire and uplift.”

—Carol, Institutional Giving Manager


A Complicated Love Story Set in Space by Shaun David Hutchinson book cover

A Complicated Love Story Set in Space by Shaun David Hutchinson

From the publisher: “When Noa closes his eyes on Earth and wakes up on a spaceship called Qriosity just as it’s about to explode, he’s pretty sure things can’t get much weirder. Boy is he wrong. Trapped aboard Qriosity are also DJ and Jenny, neither of whom remember how they got onboard the ship. Together, the three face all the dangers of space, along with murder, aliens, a school dance, and one really, really bad day. But none of this can prepare Noa for the biggest challenge—falling in love. And as Noa’s feelings for DJ deepen, he has to contend not just with the challenges of the present, but also with his memories of the past. However, nothing is what it seems on Qriosity, and the truth will upend all of their lives forever.”

—Matt, Community Engagement Manager


Drive by James Sallis book cover

Drive by James Sallis

From the publisher: “Originally written in 2005, Drive by James Sallis is the inspiration for the iconic 2011 film starring Ryan Gosling in the role of the man known only as ‘Driver,’ a Hollywood stunt driver by day and a getaway driver by night. The gritty back streets of Los Angeles are the backdrop for what the New York Times calls a perfect piece of noir fiction in which the Driver is double-crossed in a burglary gone horribly wrong.

—Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor


Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree book cover

Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

The gentlest, most wholesome low-stakes adventure that is a must for all D&D lovers.

More from the publisher: “After a lifetime of bounties and bloodshed, Viv is hanging up her sword for the last time. The battle-weary orc aims to start fresh, opening the first ever coffee shop in the city of Thune. But old and new rivals stand in the way of success—not to mention the fact that no one has the faintest idea what coffee actually is. If Viv wants to put the blade behind her and make her plans a reality, she won’t be able to go it alone.”

—Jennifer, Storyteller


The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri book cover

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Our friend Viet Thanh Nguyen, featured in our recent My America exhibit, talks about the importance of reading the work of writers from different cultures and backgrounds. It’s a good reminder, and it has been fun broadening my literary horizons.

More from the publisher: “The Lowland is an engrossing family saga steeped in history: the story of two very different brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn apart by revolution, and a love that endures long past death. Moving from the 1960s to the present, and from India to America and across generations, this dazzling novel is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers.”

—Linda, Director of Development


A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske book cover

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske (and A Restless Truth, its sequel)

Queer historical fantasy! Third and final installment in the series coming very soon!

More from the publisher: “Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known…Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles―and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.”

—Jennifer, Storyteller


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong book cover

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

From the publisher: “A letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born—a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam—and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.”

—Nate, Digital Content Associate


She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan book cover

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Epic historical spec fic with brilliantly queer central characters. First in a duology, second forthcoming. Gorgeous writing from a debut novelist!

From the publisher: “…when a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate. After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.

—Jennifer, Storyteller


The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin book cover

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Maybe I was drawn to this book because of all the librarians that were in town for the annual ALA conference and the book-lover’s energy that drips from the pages of the story. It is a compelling read and mentioned so many other books that I found myself wanting to read or reread those titles.

From the publisher: “A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over—and see everything anew.”

—Christopher, Director of Operations


Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver book cover

Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver

From the publisher: “By the time of his early death in 1988, Raymond Carver had established himself as one of the great practitioners of the American short story, a writer who had not only found his own voice but imprinted it in the imaginations of thousands of readers. Where I’m Calling From, his last collection, includes seven new works previously unpublished in book form. Together, these 37 stories give us a superb overview of Carver’s life work and show us why he was so widely imitated but never equaled.”

—Christopher, Director of Operations


The Year of the Horses by Courtney Maum book cover

The Year of the Horses by Courtney Maum

From the publisher: “Although Maum does know what depression looks like, she finds herself refusing to admit, at this point in her life, that it could look like her: a woman with a privileged past, a mortgage, a husband, a healthy child, and a published novel. That she feels sadness is undeniable, but she feels no right to claim it. And when both therapy and medication fail, Courtney returns to her childhood passion of horseback riding as a way to recover the joy and fearlessness she once had access to as a young girl. As she finds her way, once again, through the world of contemporary horseback riding―Courtney becomes reacquainted with herself not only as a rider but as a mother, wife, daughter, writer, and woman. Alternating timelines and braided with historical portraits of women and horses alongside history’s attempts to tame both parties, The Year of the Horses is an inspiring love letter to the power of animals―and humans―to heal the mind and the heart.”

—Sam, Storyteller


Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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