AWM Staff Picks: September 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 September 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.

Água Viva by Clarice Lispector book cover

Água Viva by Clarice Lispector

From the publisher: “A meditation on the nature of life and time, Água Viva (1973) shows Lispector discovering a new means of writing about herself, more deeply transforming her individual experience into a universal poetry. In a body of work as emotionally powerful, formally innovative, and philosophically profound as Clarice Lispector’s, Água Viva stands out as a particular triumph.”

—Deanna, Storyteller

Betty Friedan: Magnificent Disruptor by Rachel Shteir book cover

Betty Friedan: Magnificent Disruptor by Rachel Shteir

From the publisher: “The feminist writer and activist Betty Friedan (1921-2006), pathbreaking author of The Feminine Mystique, was powerful and polarizing. In this biography, the first in more than twenty years, Rachel Shteir draws on Friedan’s papers and on interviews with family, colleagues, and friends to create a nuanced portrait.”

I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Shteir along with scholar Katherine Turk (whose book is also in this list below) about the life and legacy of Friedan for the latest episode of our podcast Nation of Writers. You can listen to this fascinating conversation here or wherever you listen to podcasts!

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor book cover

Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor

Trio of novellas from the undisputed queen of africanfuturism. Delightful in audiobook form too!

More from the publisher: “Collected for the first time in a trade paperback omnibus edition, the Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning Binti trilogy, the story of one extraordinary girl’s journey from her home to distant Oomza University. Follow Binti’s journey in this groundbreaking sci-fi trilogy, including a new Binti story.”

—Jennifer, Storyteller

Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin book covers

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

Masterful storytelling and memorable characters keep these admittedly very dark novels from veering into the abjectly bleak. Film adaptations underway!

More from the publisher: “A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester. This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.”

—Jennifer, Storyteller

Burning Distance by Joanne Leedom-Ackerman book cover

Burning Distance by Joanne Leedom-Ackerman

From the publisher: “A modern-day Romeo and Juliet—set against the backdrop of deadly weapons smuggling. Jane Austen meets John le Carré in this cross-cultural love story and political thriller. Set in the years before and after the first Gulf War, Burning Distance is a journey through family secrets and competing loyalties, contemporary history, and the dark world of arms trafficking.”

—Carol, Institutional Giving Manager

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid book cover

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

From the publisher: “A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous breakup…Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend. The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.”

—Allison, Program Director

Dawg Towne by Alice Kaltman book cover

Dawg Towne by Alice Kaltman

Dawg Towne explores universal themes of love and loss through the deceptively simple lens of suburban life. But is life in the suburbs ever really simple? Over the course of one year in Towne, spouses die, children grow up, affairs begin and end, lies are repeatedly spoken, bad sex happens (good sex, less often), gender is questioned, and dogs go missing. Many dogs. Humorous and canine-centric, Dawg Towne is like Peyton Place rewritten by Dorothy Parker and your friendly neighborhood veterinarian. And yes, this is work of fiction.”

—Maya, Marketing & Creative Associate

Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir by Akwaeke Emezi book cover

Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir by Akwaeke Emezi

From the publisher: “In this extraordinary memoir, the bestselling author of The Death of Vivek Oji reveals the harrowing yet resolute truths of their own life. Through candid, intimate correspondence with friends, lovers, and family, Emezi traces the unfolding of a self and the unforgettable journey of a creative spirit stepping into power in the human world. Their story weaves through transformative decisions about their gender and body, their precipitous path to success as a writer, and the turmoil of relationships on an emotional, romantic, and spiritual plane, culminating in a book that is as tender as it is brutal. Electrifying and inspiring, animated by the same voracious intelligence that distinguishes Emezi’s fiction, Dear Senthuran is a revelatory account of storytelling, self, and survival.”

—Allison, Program Director

Delta Green: Impossible Landscapes by Dennis Detwiller book cover

Delta Green: Impossible Landscapes by Dennis Detwiller

The first campaign from Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game. It deals with surreal horror and the threat of Carcosa. You can learn more about it here.

More from the publisher: “IMPOSSIBLE LANDSCAPES is the first campaign for Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game. Four operations sprawl across decades and the immeasurable stretches of nightmare. Harrowing investigations and the bitterest truths test the mettle of the most accomplished Agents.”

—Noelle, Education Program Coordinator

The Frugal Wizard's Handbook for Surviving Medieval England by Brandon Sanderson book cover

The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England by Brandon Sanderson

This was the second of Sanderson’s secret projects and it threw me for a loop. So rather than give you the publisher’s summary (which gives away what I feel is the twist), here’s what’s on the back of the book instead: “We here at Frugal Wizard Inc. are committed to providing you with the highest quality experience possible, available to any true wizard for a reasonable price. We provide the fun. You provide the body. And the money. Don’t forget the money. Also, we mean your own body. Though we don’t ask too many questions.”

—Ari, Assistant Director, Operations & Exhibits

Galatea by Madeline Miller book cover

Galatea by Madeline Miller

From the publisher: “In ancient Greece, a skilled marble sculptor has been blessed by a goddess who has given his masterpiece—the most beautiful woman the town has ever seen—the gift of life. After marrying her, he expects Galatea to please him, to be obedience and humility personified. But she has desires of her own and yearns for independence. In a desperate bid by her obsessive husband to keep her under control, Galatea is locked away under the constant supervision of doctors and nurses. But with a daughter to rescue, she is determined to break free, whatever the cost…”

—Noelle, Education Program Coordinator

Hey Riddle City! A Pod Noir (#56, #62, # 81) episodes written by Erin Keif, podcast created by Adal Rifai, also starring John Patrick Coan

Hey Riddle City! A Pod Noir (#56, #62, #81) episodes written by Erin Keif, podcast created by Adal Rigai, also starring John Patrick Coan

I started listening to Hey Riddle Riddle earlier this year and instantly fell in love. In each episode, three of Chicago’s best improvisers—Adal Rifai, Erin Keif, and John Patrick Coan—solve riddles and brain-teasers while also performing some incredible improvised scenes. I finished listening to their incredible three-episode Hey Riddle City arc this past month. It’s just another day in Riddle City for Detective Brickstoneheart and Mickey Rourke (no relation) when a frazzled woman with long legs comes into their detective office and hires them to find her missing brother. Over the three improvised episodes, Brickstone and Rourke (no relation) traverse Riddle City, meeting a colorful cast of improvised characters. This story, created by Erin Keif, was a fantastic dip into the mystery/crime/noir genre while keeping the spirit of the show (answering a couple of riddles) strong.

—Matt, Community Engagement Manager

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus book cover

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

From the publisher: “Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel-prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results. But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.”

—Carol, Institutional Giving Manager

The Male Gazed: On Hunks, Heartthrobs, and What Pop Culture Taught Me About (Desiring) Men by Manuel Betancourt book cover

The Male Gazed: On Hunks, Heartthrobs, and What Pop Culture Taught Me About (Desiring) Men by Manuel Betancourt

From the publisher: “Manuel Betancourt has long lustfully coveted masculinity—in part because he so lacked it. As a child in Bogotá, Colombia, he grew up with the social pressure to appear strong, manly, and, ultimately, straight. And yet in the films and television he avidly watched, Betancourt saw glimmers of different possibilities. From the stars of telenovelas and the princes of Disney films to pop sensation Ricky Martin and teen heartthrobs in shows like Saved By the Bell, he continually found himself asking: Do I want him or do I want to be him?…The Male Gazed mingles personal anecdotes with cultural criticism to offer an exploration of intimacy, homoeroticism, and the danger of internalizing too many toxic ideas about masculinity as a gay man.”

—Matt, Community Engagement Manager

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson book cover

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

From the publisher: “…when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler’s most hellish prison. Kelsier ‘snapped’ and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark…But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel’s plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she’s a half-Skaa orphan, but she’s lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets, and gotten it. She will have to learn to trust, if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed. This saga dares to ask a simple question: What if the hero of prophecy fails?”

—Ari, Assistant Director, Operations & Exhibits

The Seas by Samantha Hunt book cover

The Seas by Samantha Hunt

From the publisher: “Moored in a coastal fishing town so far north that the highways only run south, the unnamed narrator of The Seas is a misfit. She’s often the subject of cruel local gossip. Her father, a sailor, walked into the ocean eleven years earlier and never returned, leaving his wife and daughter to keep a forlorn vigil. Surrounded by water and beckoned by the sea, she clings to what her father once told her: that she is a mermaid. True to myth, she finds herself in hard love with a land-bound man, an Iraq War veteran thirteen years her senior. The mesmerizing, fevered coming-of-age tale that follows will land her in jail. Her otherworldly escape will become the stuff of legend.”

—Maya, Marketing & Creative Associate

Slow AF Run Club: The Ultimate Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Run by Martinus Evans book cover

Slow AF Run Club: The Ultimate Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Run by Martinus Evans

From the publisher: “This book is a blueprint for those who may not fit the image of a ‘traditional’ runner—that is, someone who is larger in size, less athletic, out of shape, or dealing with any kind of health issue that slows them down—to feel empowered to lace up their shoes and embrace the body they have right now. As Evans says, the incredible benefits of running—better sleep, strong muscles and bones, better cardiovascular and mental health, and a sense of community—can and should be available to all of us. This practical handbook contains specialized advice to make getting started less intimidating, covering everything from gear and nutrition to training schedules, recovery tips, races (it’s okay to come in DFL! [i.e., dead f*cking last]), and finding a running group. Full of essential advice and humor from a former newbie who fell off a treadmill on his first run (literally), The Slow AF Run Club is for anyone who wants to pick up running for the sheer joy of it.”

—Noelle, Education Program Coordinator

Sundial by Noname album cover

Sundial by Noname

I wore the groove out of this record since its release date in August. The album is heavily lyric focused and Noname is a gifted writer who came up in the Chicago Slam Poetry scene as evident in her descriptive lyrics and clever use of words. In fiction, I like to read narratives that inform and enlighten me about people and places that I could not understand without seeing them through someone else’s eyes, same goes for other literary arts like lyricism. Noname brings the listener into her world, her thinking, and does so with strong and beautiful words of her experiences.

—Christopher, Director of Operations

Superman Son of Kal-El: The Truth by Tom Taylor, art by John Timms, Cian Tormey, and Clayton Henry book cover

Superman Son of Kal-El: The Truth by Tom Taylor, art by John Timms, Cian Tormey, and Clayton Henry

From the publisher: “Jonathan Kent has experienced a lot in his young life. He’s fought evil with Robin, traveled across galaxies with his Kryptonian grandfather, and lived in the future with the Legion of Super-Heroes, who were intent on training him for the day his father could no longer be Superman. There is a hole in the Legion’s history that prevents Jon from knowing exactly when that will happen, but all signs point to it being very soon. It’s time for the son to wear his father’s cape and continue the never-ending battle as a symbol of hope for his home planet. But can Jon be Superman and still have a normal life? The son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane will learn the hard way as he heads to college and combats the dangers of the modern world.”

—Matt, Community Engagement Manager

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher book cover

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher

From the publisher: “There’s a princess trapped in a tower. This isn’t her story. Meet Toadling. On the day of her birth, she was stolen from her family by the fairies, but she grew up safe and loved in the warm waters of faerieland. Once an adult though, the fae ask a favor of Toadling: return to the human world and offer a blessing of protection to a newborn child. Simple, right? But nothing with fairies is ever simple. Centuries later, a knight approaches a towering wall of brambles, where the thorns are as thick as your arm and as sharp as swords. He’s heard there’s a curse here that needs breaking, but it’s a curse Toadling will do anything to uphold…”

—Allison, Program Director

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett book cover

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

From the publisher: “In the spring of 2020, Lara’s three daughters return to the family’s orchard in Northern Michigan. While picking cherries, they beg their mother to tell them the story of Peter Duke, a famous actor with whom she shared both a stage and a romance years before at a theater company called Tom Lake. As Lara recalls the past, her daughters examine their own lives and relationship with their mother, and are forced to reconsider the world and everything they thought they knew. Tom Lake is a meditation on youthful love, married love, and the lives parents have led before their children were born. Both hopeful and elegiac, it explores what it means to be happy even when the world is falling apart.”

—Deanna, Storyteller

The Women of NOW: How Feminists Built an Organization That Transformed America by Katherine Turk book cover

The Women of NOW: How Feminists Built an Organization That Transformed America by Katherine Turk

From the publisher: “The history of the National Organization for Women told through the work of three lesser-known members who became leaders: Aileen Hernandez, a federal official of Jamaican American heritage; Mary Jean Collins, a working-class union organizer and Chicago Catholic; and Patricia Hill Burnett, a Michigan Republican, artist, and former beauty queen. From its bold inception through the tumultuous training ground of the 1970s, NOW’s feminism flooded the nation, permanently shifted American culture and politics, and clashed with conservative forces, presaging our fractured national landscape.”

Tune into the latest episode of our podcast Nation of Writers to hear Turk, along with biographer Rachel Shteir, discuss the life and legacy of Betty Friedan, one of the founding members of NOW.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis book cover

Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis

From the publisher: “Angela Davis provides a powerful history of the social and political influence of whiteness and elitism in feminism, from abolitionist days to the present, and demonstrates how the racist and classist biases of its leaders inevitably hampered any collective ambitions. While Black women were aided by some activists like Sarah and Angelina Grimke and the suffrage cause found unwavering support in Frederick Douglass, many women played on the fears of white supremacists for political gain rather than take an intersectional approach to liberation. Here, Davis not only contextualizes the legacy and pitfalls of civil and women’s rights activists, but also discusses Communist women, the murder of Emmitt Till, and Margaret Sanger’s racism. Davis shows readers how the inequalities between Black and white women influence the contemporary issues of rape, reproductive freedom, housework and child care in this bold and indispensable work.”

—Cassidy, Guest Services/Operations Assistant

Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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