7 Books to Read by the Fire: Aspen Words Book List

October 28, 2016  • Aspen Words

Key Points

  • Aspen Words presents Winter Words, its annual author series presenting the best of contemporary literature.

With the cold, dark days of winter fast approaching, there is no better time to combat the cabin fever of the season with an exceptional stack of books.

Aspen Words, the Institute’s literary arts program, provides just such a list with Winter Words, its annual author series presenting the best of contemporary literature. For its 20th anniversary, the series will include five events between January and April in Aspen, featuring seven writers from all corners of the literary landscape. Each of the authors pushes the boundaries of contemporary literature, from Adam Gopnik, a prolific New Yorker writer, to Azar Nafisi, an Iranian-American memoirist, to Kevin Fedarko, a celebrated conservationist and adventure writer, and several of the most talked-about debut novelists of the past year.

Their books take readers from the banks of the Colorado River, to New York City’s 1980’s art scene, to a slave quarters in 18th-century Ghana, and many unexpected places in-between. The scope of both subject matter and genre makes this reading list a perfect winter antidote.

The Republic of Imagination by Azar Nafisi

#1 New York Times-bestselling author Azar Nafisi argues for the invaluable role of fiction in a democratic society. A combination of memoir, criticism, biography, and history, this book is essential reading for anyone who believes in the transformative power of literature.

The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko

Fedarko takes readers on a historic boat ride down the Colorado River, while illuminating the environmental and development challenges threatening the Grand Canyon. Following last year’s 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service, The Emerald Mile provides a timely reflection—and call for preservation—of a treasure of the American West.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This book sparked serious buzz in the publishing world when it sold to Knopf in a rumored seven-figure book deal last year. Its author, Yaa Gyasi, was just 26 at the time. The novel more than lives up to the hype, expertly exploring the legacy of slavery stretched over eight generations and two countries. Ta-Nehisi Coates calls it “an inspiration.”

The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik

From the prolific New Yorker journalist who has written on everything from Paris to gun control and Darwin comes a personal exploration of America’s food culture. The Table Comes First reads like a philosophy of food, delivered by a visionary writer with charm and wit.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

With a poet’s gift for words, Danler follows a small-town girl as she begins her adult life working in an exclusive Manhattan restaurant.  Sweetbitter became an instant national bestseller this past summer, captivating foodies and literati alike. Danler worked on an early draft of the novel during the Aspen Summer Words writing conference in 2014.

Goodnight, Beautiful Women by Anna Noyes

A recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Noyes’ debut short story collection focuses on New England women and girls as they navigate issues including incest, assault, and unwanted pregnancy. The characters and setting linger long after each story ends. Noyes was an Emerging Writer Fellow at Aspen Summer Words 2015.

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

Three characters’ lives collide in the midst of New York City’s gritty 1980’s art scene in this debut novel. Prentiss takes risks with form and metaphor, allowing readers to feel the visual art that she describes with words. Prentiss worked on a chapter of the novel with acclaimed novelist Meg Wolitzer at the Summer Words writing conference in 2014.