AWM Staff Picks November 2023

AWM Staff Picks: November 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 November 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.


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.”

—Maya, Marketing & Creative Associate


Early Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, edited by Holly Peppe book cover

Early Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, edited by Holly Peppe

From the publisher: “Millay’s first three books of lyrics and sonnets are collected here: Renascence, Second April, and A Few Figs from Thistles. With a balanced and appreciative introduction and useful annotations, this volume presents some of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet’s best work in which she weaves intellect, emotion, and irony.”

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Peppe, the editor of this collection and Millay’s literary executor, for the latest episode of our podcast Nation of Writers, which focused on Millay’s life, writing, and legacy. See below to learn more about Peppe’s co-guest on the episode, Timothy Jackson, and his new collection of Millay’s letters.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate


Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant by Curtis Chin book cover

Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant by Curtis Chin

From the publisher: “In his new memoir about coming of age and coming out, filmmaker and author Curtis Chin traces his journey through 1980s Detroit as he navigated rising xenophobia, the AIDS epidemic, and the Reagan Revolution to find his voice as a writer and activist—all set against the backdrop of his family’s popular restaurant Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine. Served up by the cofounder of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant is both a memoir and an invitation: to step inside one boy’s childhood oasis, scoot into a vinyl booth, and grow up with him—and perhaps even share something off the secret menu.”

We recently hosted Chin at the American Writers Museum to discuss his memoir. You can watch the program in full here, or listen to a condensed version here.

—Christopher, Director of Operations


He Who Drowned the World by Shelley Parker Chan book cover

He Who Drowned the World by Shelly Parker-Chan

From the publisher: “The sequel and series conclusion to She Who Became the Sun, the accomplished, poetic debut of war and destiny, sweeping across an epic alternate China. Mulan meets The Song of Achilles… Zhu Yuanzhang, the Radiant King, is riding high after her victory that tore southern China from its Mongol masters. Now she burns with a new desire: to seize the throne and crown herself emperor. But Zhu isn’t the only one with imperial ambitions… All the contenders are determined to do whatever it takes to win. But when desire is the size of the world, the price could be too much for even the most ruthless heart to bear.”

—Jennifer, Storyteller


Into the World’s Great Heart: Selected Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay edited by Timothy Jackson book cover

Into the World’s Great Heart: Selected Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay, edited by Timothy Jackson

From the publisher: “An annotated selection of the letters of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay, from childhood through the last year of her life… This collection, edited by Timothy F. Jackson, includes previously unpublished correspondence, as well as letters containing early versions of poems, revealing new dimensions in Millay’s creative process and influences. It is enriched by Jackson’s thoughtful introduction and notes, plus a foreword by Millay’s literary executor, Holly Peppe.”

As stated above, I had the honor of interviewing Jackson about this book and the life and legacy of Millay. You can listen to this latest episode of Nation of Writers here.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate


The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal book cover

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

From the publisher: “A family is split when their father leaves their shared inheritance entirely to Helen, his younger daughter. Despite baking award-winning pies at the local nursing home, her older sister, Edith, struggles to make what most people would call a living…With the proceeds from the farm, Helen builds one of the most successful light breweries in the country…Where Edith has a heart as big as Minnesota, Helen’s is as rigid as a steel keg. Yet one day, Helen will find she needs some help herself, and she could find a potential savior close to home if it’s not too late. Meanwhile, Edith’s granddaughter, Diana, grows up knowing that the real world requires a tougher constitution than her grandmother possesses. She earns a shot at learning the IPA business from the ground up—will that change their fortunes forever, and perhaps reunite her splintered family?

—Annie, Interim Assistant Director of Programming & Education


The Lie and How We Told It by Tommi Parrish book cover

The Lie and How We Told It by Tommi Parrish

From the publisher: “A friendship fumbles and falls apart after an uncertain encounter in this graphic novel from a remarkable new voice. Parrish’s emotionally loaded, painted graphic novel is a visual tour de force, always in the service of the author’s themes: navigating queer desire, masculinity, fear, and the ever-in-flux state of friendships. Full-color illustrations throughout.”

—Matt, Community Engagement Manager


Northranger by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo book cover

Northranger by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo

From the publisher: “In this swoony and spooky teen summer romance graphic novel set on a Texas ranch, sixteen-year-old Cade Muñoz finds himself falling for the ranch owner’s mysterious and handsome son, only to discover that he may be harboring a dangerous secret…But as unexpected sparks begin to fly between Cade and Henry, things get complicated. Henry is reluctant to share the details of his mother’s death, and Cade begins to wonder what else he might be hiding. Inspired by the gothic romance of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and perfect for fans of Heartstopper and Bloom comes a modern love story so romantic it’s scary.”

—Matt, Community Engagement Manager


Pandora's Jar: Women in the Greek Myths by Natalie Haynes book cover

Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths by Natalie Haynes

From the publisher: “In Pandora’s Jar, the broadcaster, writer, stand-up comedian, and passionate classicist turns the tables, putting the women of the Greek myths on an equal footing with the men. With wit, humor, and savvy, Haynes revolutionizes our understanding of epic poems, stories, and plays, resurrecting them from a woman’s perspective and tracing the origins of their mythic female characters… Pandora’s Jar brings nuance and care to the millennia-old myths and legends and asks the question: Why are we so quick to villainize these women in the first place—and so eager to accept the stories we’ve been told?”

—Jennifer, Storyteller


Plato Goes to China by Shadi Bartsch book cover

Plato Goes to China: The Greek Classics and Chinese Nationalism by Shadi Bartsch

In defense of the western classics, Shadi Bartsch pulls them into the modern world and highlights how they are being used in China to actually argue against democracy and Western society. Dr. Bartsch is a Classics professor at University of Chicago and the insights and research that went into this book are incredible (even learning Mandarin to increase her understanding of original texts). This should be required reading for every politician that goes off about China without having the foggiest idea of how the Chinese think or view their place in the world. One underlying theme of the book is the use of texts and the historic authority of their writers to make arguments favorable to certain positions already held, like Americans do with the Federalist Papers, or the Bible.

—Christopher, Director of Operations


Star Wars From a Certain Point of View: Return of the Jedi book cover

Star Wars From a Certain Point of View: Return of the Jedi by various authors

From the publisher: “Celebrate the lasting impact of Return of the Jedi with this exciting reimagining of the timeless Star Wars film featuring new perspectives from forty contributors. On May 25, 1983, Star Wars cemented its legacy as the greatest movie franchise of all time with the release of Return of the Jedi. In honor of its fortieth anniversary, forty storytellers re-create an iconic scene from Return of the Jedi through the eyes of a supporting character, from heroes and villains to droids and creatures. From a Certain Point of View features contributions by bestselling authors and trendsetting artists.”

—Jennifer, Storyteller


That Face by Polly Stenham book cover

That Face by Polly Stenham

From the publisher: “Mia is at boarding school. She has access to drugs. They are Martha’s. Henry is preparing for art college. He has access to alcohol from Martha. Martha controls their lives. Martha is their mother. That Face won the TMA Award 2007 for Best New Play. Polly Stenham received both the Charles Wintour Award 2007 and the Critics’ Circle Award 2008 for Most Promising Playwright.”

—Matt, Community Engagement Manager


Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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