The AWM Playlist

Books about music, musicians, and the feelings they inspire. Recommended by American Writers Museum staff.

Music is deeply personal for many of us — we all have our favorite artists, genres, styles and sounds. Some of us like the spontaneity of a live show, while others might prefer a crisp studio recording of a favorite song. Storytelling and music often go hand in hand, and the books listed below are no exception, whether an immersive account of a particular genre or the exploits of a fictional musician. If you’re a music obsessive or a more casual fan, there’s something for you here. And, as always, let us know what books you would add to this literary playlist in the comments!

This list is also available on Bookshop.org, 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.


Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas by Fernando A. Flores

Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas by Fernando A. Flores

This collection of 10 short stories is “the book you wish you had as a teenager, headphones on, waiting at a bus stop for a ride to the record store.” While iPods and illegal Limewire downloads were the record store of my teenage years, the sentiment is the same. I got this book in May of 2019 when Flores visited the AWM with Sandra Cisneros(!) and I ate it up. It’s like a 10-track punk rock record that sticks with you after just the first listen. Plus, I learned Flores writes on a typewriter, the most musical of the writing instruments.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator


Good Morning, Aztlán by Louie Pérez

Good Morning Aztlán: The Words, Pictures and Songs of Louie Pérez by Louie Pérez

Louie Pérez is an American songwriter and artist, founding member of the rock band Los Lobos from East Los Angeles. Here is a collection of songs, vignettes, art and essays that deliver a unique memoir. His writings and art frequently refer back to his Mexican and American family roots. He grew up surrounded with the languages of Spanish and English, and was both  influenced by traditional rhythm and blues and Mexican corridos. From this, he developed into a great American songwriter with a deeply personal style. This book evokes plenty of humor, melancholy and spirit. Pérez is also featured in our special exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today.

–Cristina, Facilities Supervisor


In China With Green Day by Aaron Cometbus

In China With Green Day by Aaron Cometbus

Not just for Green Day fans, this zine by DIY publishing legend Aaron Cometbus documents his experience touring with Green Day throughout Asia in 2010. 20 years earlier, Cometbus toured with Green Day as a friend and roadie — and as they went from a band that played small clubs to one that plays in enormous stadiums, he went his own way, remaining a fixture in the DIY punk scene. The zine follows Cometbus and Green Day through Singapore, Seoul, and other cities as they reconnect and form new memories with each other. Full of reflections on friendship and community and how they change over time, this zine is some of the best music writing out there.

–Cassidy, Storyteller


It Came From Memphis by Robert Gordon

It Came From Memphis by Robert Gordon

Memphis was the place where delta blues, soul, and the earliest forms of country music collided during a time of social inequality. Music, like today, was the great unifier among different classes and communities. It Came From Memphis uncovers the Grind City’s unsung influences which lead to the creation of rock and roll.

–Ryan, Public Relations


I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert

I’d recommend this to anyone who likes young adult fiction. It’s a coming of age story about Emily, a young woman, and her connection — or lack thereof — with her mother, who abruptly left the family to follow the nascent punk scene when Emily was four months old. Raised by her single father, Emily grows up listening to the punk music that brought her parents together, eventually starting her own band both as an avenue of self-expression and as a way of forming a bond between her and the mother she never knew.

–Cassidy, Storyteller


Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

From the writer of High Fidelity, this is another look at extreme music fandom and how it can potentially make you the worst. I tend to like these kinds of stories about music because most of us experience it primarily as a fan. Even if we play music, only a select few of us ever get to the level of the character Tucker Crowe in Juliet, Naked. When reclusive singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe releases an acoustic rough cut of his defining breakup album Juliet, Duncan, who runs a Crowe fan site, thinks it’s an unequivocal masterpiece. Annie, his girlfriend (perhaps fair to say long-suffering girlfriend?) disagrees, and writes a review on Duncan’s site. Surprise, surprise, her writing gains the attention of Tucker Crowe himself. This may not be the darkest version of obsessive fandom, but it’s certainly the most common and often irritating. When fandom takes over your life and the person on the album cover becomes more important than the people in front of you, you probably aren’t seeing either clearly.

–Lindsay, Sales & Partnerships Associate


Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids by Patti Smith

A highly regarded memoir, which won the 2010 National Book Award for Nonfiction, Patti Smith documents her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. It’s a trip into a burgeoning  artistic scene in New York, when it was possible to scrape a living as a bookstore clerk, and casually run into artists like Allen Ginsberg, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin. She details her connection with Mapplethorpe; both poor and ambitious, they worked closely together through artistic mediums and phases before mastering their own styles that would make them famous — Robert Mapplethorpe in photography, Patti Smith in rock music.

–Cristina, Facilities Supervisor


Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield

Music really has a way of taking you back in time and making you remember a certain moment or person. A memorable line from Love Is A Mix Tape is, “When we die, we will turn into songs, and we will hear each other and remember each other.” Sheffield’s love story with his late wife Renée is told through alt-90’s music that they listened to together.

–Karie, Director of Marketing & Private Events


One Train Later by Andy Summers

The Police was my favorite band growing up and still holds a strong place in my heart. This memoir by guitarist Andy Summers is amazing for any fan, but it also appeals to musicians that have ever tried to hold a band together. Magic happens when music is made even if everything else around is not holding together. This book shows readers a band at its height and during its disintegration. The title comes from the chance encounter of guitarist and drummer and the fact that if it never happened we would not have such a monumental band. While it is solely focused on his Police years and doesn’t go into later solo work, Andy writes with a lot of easiness about how he saw things as the oldest of the three, and having been in a somewhat successful band before joining. It is worth the read and the story of his other chance encounter with John Belushi in southeast Asia was a fun diversion.

–Christopher, Director of Operations


Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 by Michael Azerrad

Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 by Michael Azerrad

The DIY indie underground of the 1980s revealed through the stories of thirteen bands that set the stage for the Alt Rock explosion that ruled the following decade. With a common thread of disdain for the music industry, bands like Husker Du, the Replacements, Sonic Youth and Fugazi formed their own labels, created their own press, organized networks for distribution and live shows — all while living out of their vans and sleeping on floors. Work ethic combined with talent, prolific output and touring developed fans wherever their paths took them. Whether this book is an introduction or a refresher, you will enjoy the show.

–Linda, Director of Development


Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

Through interviews with Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and others, McNeil and McCain bring you into the world of punk rock. The Summer of Love was over, and something much angrier was coming. From the late 60s to the early 80s, the book takes you on tour across the US and England with some of the most famous bands and figures of the early punk era. You’ll learn (well, maybe) if Sid Vicious actually killed Nancy Spungen, and why The Ramones actually kind of all hated each other. All the sordid details you could ever hope for and more, straight from the horse’s mouth.

–Cassidy, Storyteller


See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody by Bob Mould

See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody by Bob Mould

Arising from the Saint Paul, MN hardcore band Hüsker Dü, Bob Mould’s subsequent work includes forming alternative rock band Sugar, and delving into electronica music and live DJing. The memoir chronicles the changes and upheavals of his life and career, and his struggles with addictions. And in a heartfelt narrative, he shares his momentous transformation of integrating his life and music with his gay identity.

–Cristina, Facilities Supervisor


They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib

In this essay collection, Abdurraqib grapples with grief, race, class, memory, and so much more through personal stories and connections to music and culture. Written primarily in the tumultuous year of 2016, the essays still, unfortunately, resonate today, perhaps even more strongly. And while the book is poignant and painful, it is also ultimately optimistic. During this pandemic I returned to the final essay, “Surviving on Small Joys.” He writes, “I work, in times as urgent as these, to unlock the small pockets of joy that have kept us all surviving for so long.” In this sense, experiencing and appreciating joy is an act of resistance and you can find joy in this book.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator


This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band by Levon Helm with Stephen Davis

This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band by Levon Helm with Stephen Davis

Levon Helm, drummer for The Band, paints a colorful narrative about humble beginnings, a meteoric rise, and a hasty fall from the peak of popularity. Helm pulls no punches as he shares the years-long acrimony bursting in the months leading up to The Band’s legendary final concert on Thanksgiving Day, 1976 immortalized in the Martin Scorcese film The Last Waltz. Readers familiar with the history of The Band will learn why battle lines were drawn between Helm and Band co-founder Robbie Robertson. Readers having their first experiences with The Band will understand why the music universe could not be the same had the group not formed, exploded, and imploded in less than a decade.

–Ryan, Public Relations


When I Left Home: My Story by Buddy Guy and David Ritz

The blues club, “Buddy Guy’s Legends,” is one of my favorite music venues in Chicago. I’ve enjoyed going there for a cajun style dinner while listening to an intimate show. And I’ve been thrilled to see Buddy Guy perform a sold out evening performance. Buddy Guy has been a huge influence to guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Keith Richards. In his book, he recounts coming from a sharecropping family farm to establishing himself as a legendary blues guitarist in Chicago. It’s a glimpse into his prolific career that takes you back to the old blues club gigs at Theresa’s Lounge to his experience of working with artists like Muddy Waters. It’s an inspiring American story, that despite his early hardships, he succeeded with his determination to stick to his art.

–Cristina, Facilities Supervisor


Wonderland Avenue by Danny Sugerman

Wonderland Avenue by Danny Sugerman

Sugerman’s tale of his drug and alcohol fueled adolescence chronicles the late 60’s/early 70’s music scene in L.A. with a cast of characters including the Doors and Iggy Pop. His love affair with music nearly killed him.

–Karie, Director of Marketing & Private Events


Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

2 thoughts on “The AWM Playlist

  1. Ivan P. Kane says:

    Terrific job on the music “playlist” everybody. If you ever do another one, let me know, as I would have some “old school” recommendations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to content