Reading recommendations from the staff at the American Writers Museum. Find out what we've been reading and see if any of your favorites are on the list!

AWM Staff Picks: July

Reading Recommendations from the staff of the American Writers Museum.

July marks the halfway point of a year, yet it feels like we’ve already lived through a decade in six months. The American Writers Museum staff, like many of you reading along, have found solace in between the pages of a book these recent months and we would like to share what we’ve been reading. We typically do this on a monthly basis, but chose not to make a list last month out of respect to the many people and organizations fighting for racial justice. We made this list of Black writers instead. But now, without further ado, here’s what AWM staff members have read recently or are currently reading.

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 ordering through them online directly. They need our help more than ever, and we need them to stick around.


An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while, and my only regret is that I didn’t read it earlier. This novel follows Aster as she navigates life and the mystery of her mother aboard the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the Antebellum South. Reminiscent of Octavia Butler and Colson Whitehead, An Unkindness of Ghosts not only had me deeply interested in the story, but also confronted race relations, gender inequality, the struggles of LGBT+ people, and wealth disparities. While the Matilda is set up like the Antebellum South, there is more than enough that sounds all too familiar in the 21st century. I will definitely be looking for other books by Rivers Solomon.

–Ari, Data Operations Coordinator


Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller

From the publisher: “With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.”

–Noelle, Education Program Coordinator


Clean Room by Gail Simone Vol. 1

Clean Room (Vol 1-3) by Gail Simone

I don’t know if I have a blurb for this, but I would say that I’m bummed it was canceled because I really wish there were more of it.

–Cassidy, Storyteller


Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

Jim Gaffigan’s first book should feel pretty familiar for anyone who’s followed his stand up. It’s basically a book of essays about raising kids. Specifically about raising five young kids in a two bedroom NYC apartment. Not for the faint of heart. During quarantine he’s also hosting a YouTube show called Dinner With The Gaffigans. He’s not an amazing cameraman, but he’s managed to write a couple books and do stand up while raising five kids, give the guy a break.

–Lindsay


Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

Written in 1949 it is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel that has influenced people from Stephen King to Jimi Hendrix. The main character has one of my new favorite names in fiction, Isherwood Williams, and it is his story to tell. Not to spoil anything but the tale is an eerie reflection of our current pandemic crisis, to a much greater degree, sure, but it does make you ponder: What if we had to start civilization over? The title comes from Ecclesiastes 1:4 — “Men go and come, but earth abides,” and rather than get religious it made me remember George Carlin and his bit about how Earth is fine, “…the planet will be here, we’ll be long gone; just another failed mutation; just another closed-end biological mistake; an evolutionary cul-de-sac.” So let’s have a fun summer and be safe for your fellow humans.

–Christopher, Director of Operations


The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I found this book—which I have since been told is required middle school reading—via our local library app. The Giver pulled me in with its Bradbury-like quality of creating a world and story that was eerily similar to aspects of our world. Then I began to consume the series and it was a welcomed break from our current craziness. Next month I will try to stay clear of dystopian fiction.

–Christopher, Director of Operations


The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories and Science Behind the Life-Changing Power of Giving by Jenny Santi

The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories and Science Behind the Life-Changing Power of Giving by Jenny Santi

Throughout my career as a fundraiser, I have always been interested in people’s motivations for giving. This book, written by a philanthropy advisor, explores this topic through scientific studies as well as stories from some of the world’s most impactful givers. Bottom line: giving provides joy and fulfillment, even greater for the donor than the recipient.

–Linda, Director of Development


Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

I read this on repeat mode now. I guess this is what happens when you have an eight-month-old baby!

–Sonal, Assistant Director of Programming & Education


If the Paintings Could Talk by Michael Wilson

If the Paintings Could Talk by Michael Wilson

From the publisher: “If the Paintings Could Talk reveals the hidden histories of paintings in the National Gallery, London. With a treasury of fascinating facts, discoveries, and tales, this book describes the flight a work took down a mountainside and the portrait that appeared in a James Bond film, among many other entertaining events and stories. An engaging, accessible, and highly original gallery guide that cross-references entries throughout, the book provides a unique tour of this remarkable collection.”

–Olivia


Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

From the publisher: “This eye-opening book challenges you to do the essential work of unpacking your biases, and helps white people take action and dismantle the privilege within themselves so that you can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too. Based on the viral Instagram challenge that captivated participants worldwide, Me and White Supremacy takes readers on a 28-day journey, complete with journal prompts, to do the necessary and vital work that can ultimately lead to improving race relations. Saad also participated in our marathon reading of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Watch her read Chapter V here.

–Ari, Data Operations Coordinator


Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

From the publisher: “From the era of slavery to the present day, the first full history of black America’s shocking mistreatment as unwilling and unwitting experimental subjects at the hands of the medical establishment.”

–Noelle, Education Program Coordinator


The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

From the publisher: “When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ emotions.”

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator


Selected Poems of Langston Hughes

Selected Poems of Langston Hughes

From the publisher: “Langston Hughes electrified readers and launched a renaissance in black writing in America…The poems in this collection were chosen by Hughes himself shortly before his death in 1967 and represent work from his entire career, including “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “The Weary Blues,” “Still Here,” “Song for a Dark Girl,” “Montage of a Dream Deferred,” and “Refugee in America.” It gives us a poet of extraordinary range, directness, and stylistic virtuosity.”

–Ari, Data Operations Coordinator


Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

During this time, we have been spending even more time talking to our neighbors, six feet apart. Two of my neighbors recommended this book as the best book they have ever read. So, of course I am reading it so we can have an across-the-yard discussion about it. There is plenty to discuss, big themes, and also a page-turner.

–Linda, Director of Development


Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History by Glen Berger

Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History by Glen Berger

One of my absolute favorite reads, Song of Spider-Man takes readers behind the creative process of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark from the point of view of co-writer Glen Berger. This book is an absolutely jaw-dropping look at the story of one of the greatest Broadway box office disasters of all time. I absolutely recommend this book to anyone interested in theatre, U2, comic books, musical theatre history, and disaster movies.

–Matt, Storyteller


Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

From the publisher: “In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. He uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to drive this history: Puritan minister Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and legendary activist Angela Davis. In shedding light on this history, Stamped from the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose racist thinking. In the process, he gives us reason to hope.”

–Matt, Storyteller


White Teeth by Zadie Smith

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

This book made me laugh out loud and gasp dramatically and, admittedly, shed a few tears. Many stories that span generations are all tied together by a thin but imperishable thread, coming together to form an incredibly nuanced take on race, religion, family, love, and history. Once I met Samad Iqbal and Archie Jones in wartime, I needed to know how the rest of their lives unfurled. I was not disappointed.

–Abeje, Intern


Wonderland Avenue by Danny Sugerman

Wonderland Avenue by Danny Sugerman

This fascinating memoir is the ultimate tale of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

–Karie, Director of Marketing & Private Events


Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

One thought on “AWM Staff Picks: July

  1. Cindy Grapner says:

    I love Jim Gaffigan, he is hilarious and so honest about ….what really goes on! He usually has a blurb at the end of the Sunday Morning show and I’m sure it’s not always fun and games with the whole family during these trying times. Laughter is still the best medicine, keep up the good work, Jim!

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