AWM Staff Picks: October 2021

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 October 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.

Bourdain: The Definite Oral Biography by Laurie Woolever book cover

Bourdain: The Definite Oral Biography by Laurie Woolever

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Laurie Woolever about Anthony Bourdain for the latest episode of the Nation of Writers podcast (give it a listen here). For more than a decade, Woolever worked as Bourdain’s assistant and frequent writing partner, gaining insight into his life, mind and approach to writing. I found our conversation to be fascinating, as is Woolever’s new book Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography. I enjoy reading oral biographies and think they are a great way to tell a story, and Bourdain’s story is surely a great one. But what makes this book special, among many things, is how much I learned about Bourdain, someone who I thought I already knew a lot about. For such a public figure, this book does a good job of introducing the reader to more personal aspects of Bourdain’s life and you see the full, nuanced, complex human being that Anthony Bourdain was and the legacy he has left us.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson book cover

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Ms. Woodson sparkles in this memoir through poetry. Her family and personal history is a reflection of the times in which they describe and it is beautifully written. The reader can’t help but feel part of the family, like one of Gunnar’s kids. I also recommend you check out our 2018 event with Ms. Woodson in which she reads from and discusses Black Girl Dreaming, as well as other works from her impressive career. You can watch Jacqueline Woodson at the AWM here.

–Christopher, Director of Operations

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith book cover

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith

From the publisher: “Two young women go missing decades apart. Both are fearless, both are lost. And both will have their revenge…The fates of these two women are inescapably linked, bound together by past generations, by ghosts and ancestors, by the history of possessed bodies and possessed lands…Build Your House Around My Body takes us from colonial mansions to ramshackle zoos, from sweaty nightclubs to the jostling seats of motorbikes, from ex-pat flats to sizzling back-alley street carts. Spanning more than fifty years of Vietnamese history and barreling toward an unforgettable conclusion, this is a time-traveling, heart-pounding, border-crossing fever dream of a novel that will haunt you long after the last page.”

–Catherine, Signature Events & Donor Relations Manager

Dune by Frank Herbert book cover

Dune by Frank Herbert

From the publisher: “Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the ‘spice’ melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for. When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream. A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.”

–Ari, Data Operations Coordinator

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith book cover

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

From the publisher: “Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks—those that are honest about the past and those that are not—that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history, and ourselves…A deeply researched and transporting exploration of the legacy of slavery and its imprint on centuries of American history, How the Word Is Passed illustrates how some of our country’s most essential stories are hidden in plain view…Informed by scholarship and brought to life by the story of people living today, Smith’s debut work of nonfiction is a landmark of reflection and insight that offers a new understanding of the hopeful role that memory and history can play in making sense of our country and how it has come to be.”

–Matt, Storyteller

The Letters of Shirley Jackson by Shirley Jackson, edited by Laurence Hyman Jackson

The Letters of Shirley Jackson by Shirley Jackson, edited by Laurence Jackson Hyman

From the publisher: “Shirley Jackson is one of the most important American authors of the last hundred years and among our greatest chroniclers of the female experience. This extraordinary compilation of personal correspondence has all the hallmarks of Jackson’s beloved fiction: flashes of the uncanny in the domestic, sparks of horror in the quotidian, and the veins of humor that run through good times and bad…Compiled and edited by her elder son, Laurence Jackson Hyman, in consultation with Jackson scholar Bernice M. Murphy and featuring Jackson’s own witty line drawings, this intimate collection holds the beguiling prism of Shirley Jackson—writer and reader, mother and daughter, neighbor and wife—up to the light.”

Jackson is also the subject of our next podcast episode of Nation of Writers. We will be joined by both Laurence Jackson Hyman and Dr. Bernice Murphy, as well as horror writer-editor Ellen Datlow. Subscribe to our podcast and see other podcasts here!

–Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor

The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker book cover

The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker

Recommended by friend of the AWM Peter Sagal during our OnWord 2021 annual benefit, it is an incredibly written book about nothing, really. Thoughts that all or any of us could have are exquisitely described in such detail that it is easy to keep reading several paragraphs about popcorn, for example, before you realize that is all that is going on. The specificity is what the story is really about.

–Christopher, Director of Operations

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston book cover

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

From the publisher: “When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse. Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.”

–Matt, Storyteller

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut has long been a favorite author of mine and Slaugherhouse-Five is one of the books I can, and have, returned to time and again. So much has already been said about this book, I don’t know what I can offer that is new, but I know someone who can. I have been re-reading this one again in preparation for our October 15 program with Tom Roston, author of The Writer’s Crusade: Kurt Vonnegut and the Many Lives of Slaughterhouse-Five. Roston’s book sounds fascinating. It’s a heavily researched exploration of Vonnegut the man, Vonnegut the writer, and the potential of storytelling to help heal trauma. It is a fresh take on a classic novel and an iconic American writer and I am looking forward to hearing him discuss the work. It will also be broadcast live online, register here. But first I must get back to finishing Slaughterhouse-Five! I had to stop reading it to do my job and write this blog. So it goes.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski book cover

Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski

From the publisher: “Set in early 1980s Poland against the violent decline of Communism, a tender and passionate story of first love between two young men who eventually find themselves on opposite sides of the political divide–a stunningly poetic and heartrending literary debut for fans of André Aciman, Garth Greenwell, and Alan Hollinghurst…Shifting from the intoxication of first love to the quiet melancholy of growing up and growing apart, Swimming in the Dark is a potent blend of romance, postwar politics, intrigue, and history. Lyrical and sensual, immersive and intense, Tomasz Jedrowski’s indelible and thought-provoking literary debut explores freedom and love in all its incarnations.”

–Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci book cover

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

Finding Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy (on CNN) during the pandemic was like finding an unexpected treasure chest. In each episode, Tucci explores a different region of Italy through its food and the people who make it. Everyone is passionate and reverent about every ingredient, every dish, every backstory. I adore Stanley Tucci. His attitude toward food reminds me of M.F.K. Fisher, another great American writer powered by her love of food. If Stanley Tucci has the same reverence for words as he does for Neapolitan pizza, his just-released memoir, Taste: My Life Through Food will be delightful!

–Linda, Director of Development

Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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