AWM Staff Picks: October 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 October 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.


Catfish Rolling by Clara Kumagai book cover

Catfish Rolling by Clara Kumagai

Catfish Rolling is a wholly original and mind-bending debut YA novel by Clara Kumagai about memory, family, and an earthquake that breaks apart time. The novel is set in Japan after the Fukushima quake and it blends magical realism with Japanese myth in an original story about grief and memory.

We are excited to host Kumagai at the AWM on October 28 in partnership with the Consulate General of Ireland-Chicago. Kumagai is an Irish-Japanese-Canadian author who will read from her novel, share insights into the the influences of Ireland and Japan on her work, and discuss themes of coming-of-age, identity, myth, legend and folklore. Learn more and register for the event here.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate


The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun book cover

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

From the publisher: “Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After…But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star. Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image…As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.”

—Matt, Community Engagement Manager


Crowded: Volume 1 written by Christopher Sebela, art by Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, Triona Farrell, and Cardinal Rae

Crowded: Volume 1 by Christopher Sebela; art by Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, Triona Farrell & Cardinal Rae

From the publisher: “Ten minutes in the future, the world runs on an economy of job shares and apps, while crowdfunding has evolved into Reapr: a platform for assassination that’s trickled down from politicians, celebrities and CEOs to everyday life and all its petty resentments. A world where anyone with enough backers and the money they contribute can kill anyone else. Like Charlie Ellison, who up until now has lead a quiet, normal life, until she wakes up to find herself the target of a Reapr campaign with a million dollars on her head. Hunted by all of Los Angeles, Charlie hires Vita, the lowest rated bodyguard on the Dfend app. As the campaign picks up speed and Vita takes out incompetent civilians and aspirational assassins on their tail, she and Charlie will have to figure out who wants Charlie dead and why before the campaign’s 30 days or their lives are over.”

—Matt, Community Engagement Manager


The Department of Sensitive Crimes: A Detective Varg Novel by Alexander McCall Smith

The Department of Sensitive Crimes: A Detective Varg Novel by Alexander McCall Smith

From the publisher: “In the Swedish criminal justice system, certain cases are considered especially strange and difficult, in Malmö, the dedicated detectives who investigate these crimes are members of an elite squad known as the Sensitive Crimes Division. These are their stories…

No case is too unusual, too complicated, or too, well insignificant for this squad to solve. The team: Ulf “the Wolf” Varg, the top dog, thoughtful and diligent; Anna Bengsdotter, who’s in love with Varg’s car (and possibly Varg too); Carl Holgersson, who likes nothing more than filling out paperwork; and Erik Nykvist, who is deeply committed to fly fishing. With the help of a rather verbose local police officer, this crack team gets to the bottom of cases other detectives can’t or won’t bother to handle. Equal parts hilarious and heartening, The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a tour de farce from a true master.”

—Matt, Community Engagement Manager


End Credits by Patty Lin book cover

End Credits: How I Broke Up with Hollywood by Patty Lin

What if achieving your professional dreams comes at too high a personal cost? That’s what former screenwriter Patty Lin started to ask herself after years in the cutthroat TV industry writing for shows like Freaks and GeeksFriendsDesperate Housewives, and Breaking Bad. She retired from television to save her sanity and began writing a memoir about her experiences, End Credits: How I Broke Up with Hollywood, which Judd Apatow calls “hilarious and brutally honest.”

We had the pleasure of hosting Lin, along with author and publisher Zibby Owens, in early October for a program to discuss her new book, writing approach, and Hollywood career. Check out our Q&A with Lin here, and then you can watch the program on YouTube or listen to it on the AWM Author Talks podcast.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate


Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg book cover

Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg

From the publisher: “A compelling and wholly original story about a female photographer grappling with ambition and motherhood, framed as the catalogue notes from a photography show at the Museum of Modern Art, tells the life story of Lillian Preston…When a small gallery exhibits partially nude photographs of Lillian and her daughter Samantha, Lillian is arrested, thrust into the national spotlight, and targeted with an obscenity charge…Narrated by Samantha, Feast Your Eyes reads as a collection of Samantha’s memories, interviews with Lillian’s friends and lovers, and excerpts from Lillian’s journals and letters—a collage of stories and impressions, together amounting to an astounding portrait of a mother and an artist dedicated, above all, to a vision of beauty, truth, and authenticity.”

—Maya, Marketing & Creative Associate


In the Shadow of Invisibility: Ralph Ellison and the Promise of American Democracy by Sterling Bland book cover

In the Shadow of Invisibility: Ralph Ellison and the Promise of Democracy by Sterling Lecater Bland, Jr.

From the publisher: “A long-overdue reconsideration of Ralph Ellison, examining the trajectory of his intellectual thought in relation to its resonances in 21st-century American culture. Bland charts Ellison’s evolving attitudes on several central topics including democracy, race, identity, social community, place, and political expression. Interweaving biography, history, and literary criticism, and drawing from extensive archival research, this compelling new exploration of Ralph Ellison’s legacy stresses the perpetual need to reexamine the intersections of race, literature, and American culture.”

—Nate, Digital Content Associate


Is There God After Prince? by Peter Coviello book cover

Is There God After Prince?: Dispatches from an Age of Last Things by Peter Coviello

From the publisher: “This is a book about loving things—books, songs, people—in the shadow of a felt, looming disaster. Through lyrical, funny, heart-wrenching essays, Peter Coviello considers pieces of culture across a fantastic range…Navigating a feeling that Coviello calls ‘endstrickenness,’ he asks what it means to love things in calamitous times, when so much seems to be shambling toward collapse. Balancing comedy and anger, exhilaration and sorrow, Coviello illuminates the strange ways the things we cherish help us to hold on to life and to its turbulent joys.”

We are very excited to host Coviello at the AWM for a special event involving readings and discussion with him, as well as live music from Gabriel Sanchez of The Prince Experience tribute band. So, find your finest purple attire and join us at the Prince Party! Get tickets to attend in person here, or register here for the livestream.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate


A Man of Two Faces by Viet Thanh Nguyen book cover

A Man of Two Faces by Viet Thanh Nguyen

From the publisher: “Viet Thanh Nguyen expands the genre of personal memoir in A Man of Two Faces by acknowledging larger stories of refugeehood, colonization, and ideas about Vietnam and America, writing with his trademark sardonic wit and incisive analysis, as well as a deep emotional openness about his life as a father and a son…Profound in its emotions and brilliant in its thinking about cultural power, A Man of Two Faces explores the necessity of both forgetting and of memory, the promises America so readily makes and breaks, and the exceptional life story of one of the most original and important writers working today.”

We hope you can join us at the AWM on October 23 at 6:00 pm when the Pulitzer Prize-winning author visits to read from, discuss, and sign his book. Sign up to attend here, or watch online by registering for the livestream link here.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate


Migration: New & Selected Poems by W. S. Merwin book cover

Migration: New & Selected Poems by W. S. Merwin

From the publisher: “W. S. Merwin is the most influential American poet of the last half-century, an artist who has transfigured and reinvigorated the vision of poetry for our time. Migration: New and Selected Poems is that case. This 540-page distillation, selected by Merwin from fifteen diverse volumes, is a gathering of the best poems from a profound body of work, accented by a selection of distinctive new poems.”

—Christopher, Director of Operations


Monica by Daniel Clowes book cover

Monica by Daniel Clowes

From the publisher: “Monica is a series of interconnected narratives that collectively tell the life story―actually, stories―of its title character. Clowes calls upon a lifetime of inspiration to create the most complex and personal graphic novel of his distinguished career. Rich with visual detail, an impeccable ear for language and dialogue, and thrilling twists, Monica is a multilayered masterpiece in comics form that alludes to many of the genres that have defined the medium―war, romance, horror, crime, the supernatural, etc.―but in a mysterious, uncategorizable, and quintessentially Clowesian way that rewards multiple readings.”

—Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor


The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver book cover

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

From the publisher: “The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.”

—Linda, Director of Development


Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt book cover

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

From the publisher: “After Tova Sullivan’s husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she’s been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago. Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium…Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova’s son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it’s too late.”

—Maya, Marketing & Creative Associate


The Shining by Stephen King book cover

The Shining by Stephen King

I recently visited the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO which is the hotel that inspired King to write The Shining. This spooky season is the perfect time to read this classic horror novel!

More from the publisher: “Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote…and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.”

—Karie, Director of Marketing


Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill

Some Girls Bite: A Chicagoland Vampires Novel by Chloe Neill

For October, I am going spooky and would like to recommend Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill. It’s the first in her Chicagoland Vampires series, of which there are 13 books (plus five novellas). First off, Chicago readers will delight in all the familiar landmarks sprinkled throughout the series. In Neill’s world, vampires, shifters, witches and many other supernatural creatures are out of the closet and live amongst humans. Merit, our sassy vampire protagonist, works alongside these folks to make Chicago a better place. The books are full of drama, comedy, romance, saving-the-world heroics and…food. (In this universe, vamps can eat human food and are gifted with lightning-fast metabolisms. No hours on the treadmill for them after a Portillo’s cake shake). A spin-off series, Heirs of Chicagoland, focuses on the next generation of supes. The fifth and final book in that series, Cold Curses, will be released Nov. 14, 2023.

—Annie, Interim Assistant Director of Programming & Education


Tao Te Ching: The Book of the Way by Lao Tzu book cover

Tao Te Ching: The Book of the Way by Lao Tzu

From the publisher: “‘Have little thought of self and as few desires as possible.’ Whether or not Lao Tzu was a historical figure is uncertain, but the wisdom gathered under his name in the fourth century BC is central to the understanding and practice of Taoism. One of the three great religions of China, Taoism is based upon a concept of the Tao, or Way, as the universal power through which all life flows. The Tao Te Ching offers a practical model by which both the individual and society can embody this belief, encouraging modesty and self-restraint as the true path to a harmonious and balanced existence.”

—Christopher, Director of Operations


There There by Tommy Orange book cover

There There by Tommy Orange

From the publisher: “A wondrous and shattering award-winning novel that follows twelve characters from Native communities: all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize…They converge and collide on one fateful day at the Big Oakland Powwow and together this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American—grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism. There There is fierce, funny, suspenseful, and impossible to put down—full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with urgency and force. There There is at once poignant and unflinching, utterly contemporary and truly unforgettable.”

—Carol, Institutional Giving Manager


Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories by Raymond Carver

Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories by Raymond Carver

From the publisher: “By the time of his early death in 1988, Raymond Carver had established himself as one of the great practitioners of the American short story, a writer who had not only found his own voice but imprinted it in the imaginations of thousands of readers. Where I’m Calling From, his last collection, includes seven new works previously unpublished in book form. Together, these 37 stories give us a superb overview of Carver’s life work and show us why he was so widely imitated but never equaled.”

—Nate, Digital Content Associate


Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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