AWM Staff Picks: October 2022

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 visiting them in person or ordering online through them directly.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X book cover

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

Probably one of the most well-known biographies of the 20th century, and for good reason. I picked it up in part because Malcolm X is featured in our exhibit Dark Testament: A Century of Black Writers on Justice, and I found Bernard Williams’ portrait of him in the exhibit to be very striking. It’s a well-paced book, and the reader learns not just the facts of Malcolm X’s life, but the development of his spiritual life and pan-African philosophy as well. The shock set off by his assassination still reverberates today, not least because two of his alleged killers have been exonerated, and one of them is currently suing the city of New York over his wrongful imprisonment.

–Cassidy, Storyteller

A Ballad of Love and Glory by Reyna Grande book cover

A Ballad of Love and Glory by Reyna Grande

From the publisher: A “sweeping historical saga following a Mexican army nurse and an Irish soldier who must fight, at first for their survival and then for their love, amidst the atrocity of the Mexican-American War…Heartbreaking and lyrical, Reyna Grande’s spellbinding saga, inspired by true events and historical figures, brings these two unforgettable characters to life and illuminates a largely forgotten moment in history that impacts the US-Mexico border to this day.”

While this book alone sounds fascinating, I am even more excited to host Reyna Grande on October 16 at the AWM for a live recording of our podcast series AWM Author Talks! She will be interviewed by guest host Juan Martinez, and both of them were featured in our exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today. So needless to say it will be an enlightening conversation about representation, stories, and the power of words. Register for the event here!

–Nate, Digital Content Associate

Black Hollywood by Carell Augustus book cover

Black Hollywood: Reimagining Iconic Movie Moments by Carell Augustus

From the publisher: “Black Hollywood is a groundbreaking reimagining of Hollywood’s most beloved films, including Breakfast at Tiffany’sSingin’ in the RainMission: ImpossibleForrest Gump, and more. Visionary photographer Carell Augustus has created a ‘who’s who of today’s Black entertainers recreating iconic cinematic scenes, renewing readers’ appreciation of the past while asking questions about representation in media and inspiring the artists of the future.”

I looked through this book in the AWM office the other day and I can attest that it is STUNNING. To see famous Black actors and entertainers of today in iconic scenes from films is an eye-opening experience. I highly recommend you join us October 13 when Augustus presents and discusses this book at the AWM. Register for the in-person event here or register for the livestream of the event here.

–Nate, Digital Content Associate

Bliss Montage by Ling Ma book cover

Bliss Montage: Stories by Ling Ma

From the publisher: “In Bliss Montage, Ling Ma brings us eight wildly different tales of people making their way through the madness and reality of our collective delusions: love and loneliness, connection and possession, friendship, motherhood, the idea of home. A woman lives in a house with all her ex-boyfriends. A toxic friendship grows up around a drug that makes you invisible. An ancient ritual might heal you of anything―if you bury yourself alive. These and other scenarios investigate the ways that the outlandish and the ordinary are shockingly, deceptively, heartbreakingly alike.”

–Kaleena, Development Manager

Blow Your House Down: A Story of Family, Feminism, and Treason by Gina Frangello book cover

Blow Your House Down: A Story of Family, Feminism, and Treason by Gina Frangello

From the publisher: “Blow Your House Down is a powerful testimony about the ways our culture seeks to cage women in traditional narratives of self-sacrifice and erasure. Frangello uses her personal story to examine the place of women in contemporary society: the violence they experience, the rage they suppress, the ways their bodies often reveal what they cannot say aloud, and finally, what it means to transgress ‘being good’ in order to reclaim your own life.”

–Kaleena, Development Manager

Chef's Kiss by Jarrett Melendez, Coloring by Hank Jones, Illustrated by Danica Brine, Lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou book cover

Chef’s Kiss by Jarrett Melendez, illustrated by Danica Brine, coloring by Hank Jones, lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

From the publisher: “Now that college is over, English graduate Ben Cook is on the job hunt looking for something…anything…related to his passion for reading and writing. But interview after interview, hiring committee after hiring committee, Ben soon learns getting the dream job won’t be as easy as he thought…But when Ben stumbles upon a ‘Now Hiring—No Experience Necessary’ sign outside a restaurant, he jumps at the chance to land his first job. Plus, he can keep looking for a writing job in the meantime…When Ben begins developing a crush on Liam, one of the other super dreamy chefs at the restaurant, and when he starts ditching his old college friends and his old writing job plans, his career path starts to become much less clear.”

–Matt, Social Media Coordinator

Honky Tonk Girl: My Life in Lyrics by Loretta Lynn book cover

Honky Tonk Girl: My Life in Lyrics by Loretta Lynn

With all the attributes of a Great American Songwriter, Loretta Lynn released beautiful and inspiring music. “Rated X” and “The Pill” were songs so daring they faced banning. I admired her life and work and am so grateful I once got to see her perform in Grant Park. When asked the key to writing a good song she once said, “It’s got to have the person. It’s got to have the heart and soul of a person that’s writing it. It’s not simple because it’s hard on the writer.”

–Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor

How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields book cover

How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields

From the publisher: “Blending confessional criticism and cultural autobiography, David Shields explores the power of literature to make life survivable, maybe even endurable. Evoking his deeply divided personality, his character flaws, his woes, his serious despair, he wants ‘literature to assuage human loneliness, but nothing can assuage human loneliness. Literature doesn’t lie about this—which is what makes it essential.’ This is a captivating, thought-provoking, utterly original book about the essential acts of reading and writing.”

–Kaleena, Development Manager

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Angélica Gorodischer, Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin book cover

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Angélica Gorodischer, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

From the publisher: “In eleven chapters, Kalpa Imperial‘s multiple storytellers relate the story of a fabled nameless empire which has risen and fallen innumerable times…But this is much more than a simple political allegory or fable. It is also a celebration of the power of storytelling. Gorodischer and translator Ursula K. Le Guin are a well-matched, sly and delightful team of magician-storytellers. Rarely have author and translator been such an effortless pairing. Kalpa Imperial is a powerful introduction to the writing of Angélica Gorodischer, a novel which will enthrall readers already familiar with the worlds of Le Guin.”

–Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor

Less by Andrew Sean Greer book cover

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Andrew Sean Greer is an author I am happy to discover, although this book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction back in 2018 (so long ago!). It is beautifully written and Arthur Less is a deeply felt main character. A book that peeks into the insecurities, doubts, and humor of being a writer, and a human. The sequel, Less is Lost, was just released and is next on my list.

–Linda, Director of Development

Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow by Halley Feiffer book cover

Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow by Halley Feiffer

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to return to Moscow? Halley Feiffer’s contemporary twist on Chekov’s Three Sisters is delightfully irreverent and wonderfully hilarious. Reading this play was so much. I can only imagine how incredible it would be to see live.

–Matt, Social Media Coordinator

Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir book cover

Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

From the publisher: “In many ways, Nona is like other people. She lives with her family, has a job at her local school, and loves walks on the beach and meeting new dogs. But Nona’s not like other people. Six months ago she woke up in a stranger’s body, and she’s afraid she might have to give it back. The whole city is falling to pieces. A monstrous blue sphere hangs on the horizon, ready to tear the planet apart. Blood of Eden forces have surrounded the last Cohort facility and wait for the Emperor Undying to come calling. Their leaders want Nona to be the weapon that will save them from the Nine Houses. Nona would prefer to live an ordinary life with the people she loves, with Pyrrha and Camilla and Palamedes, but she also knows that nothing lasts forever. And each night, Nona dreams of a woman with a skull-painted face…”

–Allison, Program Director

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark book cover

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

From the publisher: “In 1915, The Birth of a Nation cast a spell across America, swelling the Klan’s ranks and drinking deep from the darkest thoughts of white folk. All across the nation they ride, spreading fear and violence among the vulnerable. They plan to bring Hell to Earth. But even Ku Kluxes can die. Standing in their way is Maryse Boudreaux and her fellow resistance fighters, a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter. Armed with blade, bullet, and bomb, they hunt their hunters and send the Klan’s demons straight to Hell. But something awful’s brewing in Macon, and the war on Hell is about to heat up. Can Maryse stop the Klan before it ends the world?”

–Allison, Program Director

Rudolfo Anaya: Bless Me, Ultima; Tortuga; Alburquerque (LOA #361) edited by Luis Alberto Urrea book cover

Rudolfo Anaya: Bless Me, Ultima; Tortuga; Alburquerque (LOA #361) edited by Luis Alberto Urrea

I had never read Rudolfo Anaya before, but I am glad I have now! The Library of America recently released this collection of three of Anaya’s novels and so far I have read Bless Me, Ultima, his first novel that he burst onto the scene with. I also had the pleasure of interviewing the editor of the collection, Luis Alberto Urrea, for this month’s episode of our podcast Nation of Writers. We’ve worked with Urrea in the past on My America and other programs and he is just a delight to talk with. This conversation was especially illuminating as Urrea knew Anaya as a personal friend and mentor, and Urrea’s stories about his mentor are great. Check out the Nation of Writers episode about Anaya here.

–Nate, Digital Content Associate

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher book cover

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

From the publisher: “When Alex Easton, a retired soldier, receives word that their childhood friend Madeline Usher is dying, they race to the ancestral home of the Ushers in the remote countryside of Ruritania. What they find there is a nightmare of fungal growths and possessed wildlife, surrounding a dark, pulsing lake. Madeline sleepwalks and speaks in strange voices at night, and her brother Roderick is consumed with a mysterious malady of the nerves. Aided by a redoubtable British mycologist and a baffled American doctor, Alex must unravel the secret of the House of Usher before it consumes them all.”

–Allison, Program Director

Women Without Shame: Poems by Sandra Cisneros book cover

Woman Without Shame: Poems by Sandra Cisneros

From the publisher: “It has been twenty-eight years since Sandra Cisneros published a book of poetry. With dozens of never-before-seen poems, Woman Without Shame is a moving collection of songs, elegies, and declarations that chronicle her pilgrimage toward rebirth and the recognition of her prerogative as a woman artist. These bluntly honest and often humorous meditations on memory, desire, and the essential nature of love blaze a path toward self-awareness. For Cisneros, Woman Without Shame is the culmination of her search for homein the Mexico of her ancestors and in her own heart.”

Do you also love Sandra Cisneros? If so, check out the very first episode of our podcast AWM Author Talks with Cisneros and Fernando A. Flores. You won’t be disappointed!

–Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor

Yusra Swims by Julie Abery, illustrated by Sally Deng book cover

Yusra Swims by Julie Abery, illustrated by Sally Deng

From the publisher: “In clipped quatrains—no line exceeds four syllables—the story relates Yusra Mardini’s journey from Syria in 2015, culminating in her participation in the 2016 Olympics as part of a team of refugees. Abery’s choice of spare, rhythmic verse gives the narrative a gripping and dramatic feel while Deng’s illustrations convey the struggles of war and displacement. Yusra is portrayed throughout as a strong and resilient young woman, determined and full of courage. A note from the author provides additional information about Yusra’s journey, including her becoming a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. refugee agency.”

This past month, AWM Summer Intern Nicole shared the powerful story of Yusra Swims for our virtual Little Squirrels Storytime. Click here to hear the story read aloud on TikTok.

–Matt, Social Media Coordinator

Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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