AWM Staff Picks: May

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 April 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.


Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

From the publisher: “David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife. But then why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him? As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets. In Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough has written a novel that takes the modern day love triangle and not only turns it on its head, but completely reinvents it in a way that will leave readers reeling.”

–Catherine, Signature Events & Donor Relations Manager


Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

A great adventure split across generations, with one story about a math genius and codebreaker in WWII and the parallel story of his grandson set in the late 1990s involved in the development of a data haven in the pacific. Full of math, history, gold and revenge, it is an amazingly complex but engaging story.

–Carey, President


Coming to That by Dorothea Tanning

Coming to That by Dorothea Tanning

From the publisher: “In this second daring collection, Coming to That, the centenarian painter and poet Dorothea Tanning illuminates our understanding of creativity, the impulse to make, and the longevity of art. Her unique wit and candor radiate through every poem, every line, and her inquisitive mind is everywhere alive and restless. As she writes in one poem, ‘If Art would only talk it would, at last, reveal / itself for what it is, what we all burn to know.'”

–Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor


East of Eden by John Steinbeck

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I am not going to lie, I do not generally like John Steinbeck. This is an unpopular opinion for someone who works at the American Writers Museum, but it’s true. I still don’t like Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath was a true struggle for me to get through. That being said, we have my 11th grade English teacher, Mrs. Booth, to thank for introducing me to a Steinbeck novel that I absolutely fell in love with. East of Eden follows two families whose stories are woven together. The novel also beautifully captures Steinbeck’s beloved Salinas Valley in California. This feels like a classic that everyone should read at least once, but preferably multiple times since something new comes from reading at different ages and levels of life experience. Even if you’re nervous about Steinbeck like me, I promise it’s worth it.

–Ari, Data Operations Coordinator


Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

From the publisher: “‘Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.’ So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.”

–Catherine, Signature Events & Donor Relations Manager


Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon is a short read, but it’s one that I find myself returning to often. There aren’t many novels out there that can be compared to it, because there aren’t many novels out there that are written from the perspective of a person who is intellectually disabled. The protagonist, Charlie Gordon, undergoes an experimental surgery that enhances his intelligence. He befriends a lab mouse named Algernon, who has undergone the same treatment. But Algernon’s condition quickly deteriorates, and Charlie must come to terms with the fact that he will face the same fate. It’s a powerful and eloquent story that reminds readers that all individuals are deserving of compassion—even those as small or seemingly insignificant as mice, like Algernon, are worthy of respect.

–Mars, Intern


Geography III by Elizabeth Bishop

Geography III by Elizabeth Bishop

From the publisher: “Whether writing about waiting as a child in a dentist’s office, viewing a city from a plane high above, or losing items ranging from door keys to one’s lover in the masterfully restrained “One Art,” Elizabeth Bishop somehow conveyed both large and small emotional truths in language of stunning exactitude and even more astonishing resonance. As John Ashbery has written, ‘The private self…melts imperceptibly into the large utterance, the grandeur of poetry, which, because it remains rooted in everyday particulars, never sounds ‘grand,’ but is as quietly convincing as everyday speech.'”

–Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor


The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson

Poetry by Emily Dickinson and e.e. cummings

For this year’s National Poetry Month, I focused on the enjoyment of a powerful piece of gear in the poet’s toolbox — enjambment:

How poets break up
their lines and sometimes
meaning of those lines creating
tension is the technique.

Most poets use this tool, from Homer and Shakespeare, to modern writers of course, but this month I relished in the works of a couple of masters: Emily Dickinson and e.e. cummings. Read their poems and feel the strength of the broken syntax and the delayed gratification when it is resolved. That feeling of delay felt just right for this year. Dickinson: “A Bird, came down the Walk (359)” and cummings: “[in Just-]”.

–Christopher, Director of Operations


Taught By Women: Poems as Resistance Language by Haki Madhubuti

Taught By Women: Poems as Resistance Language by Haki Madhubuti

We are hosting Dr. Haki Madhubuti, a legendary poet and a leader of the Black Arts Movement, for a virtual program later this month and I am very much looking forward to hearing him discuss his latest poetry collection, Taught By Women. As the description reads, “Madhubuti places us in lyrical proximity to a legacy of women whose lives he honors with heartwarming verses and timeless reverence. Each poem is a vivid portraiture of the ‘magnificent energy’ emanating from a rainbow of Black women.” That energy was on full display this year especially, as we saw Black women support and uplift their communities when no one else would. And with Mother’s Day Weekend upon us, my mom and all the other moms and women who have helped me become the person I am today have been on my mind, so Taught By Women seems like the most apt book to pick up this weekend.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator


What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

From the publisher: “In her enthralling debut, Gilly Macmillan explores a mother’s search for her missing son, weaving a taut psychological thriller as gripping and skillful as The Girl on the Train and The Guilty One…As she desperately pieces together the threadbare clues, Rachel realizes that nothing is quite as she imagined it to be, not even her own judgment. And the greatest dangers may lie not in the anonymous strangers of every parent’s nightmares, but behind the familiar smiles of those she trusts the most. Where is Ben? The clock is ticking…

–Catherine, Signature Events & Donor Relations Manager


Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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