Some of us have more downtime now than we did before we began to shelter in place during the pandemic. What better time than now to catch up on those books in the “to-read” pile next to your bed! Here are some things that a few Weelunk writers and Wheeling Heritage staffers are reading these days:
I just finished reading a thought-provoking book titled “Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction and Tragedy” by Eilene Zimmerman. Zimmerman has penned a brutally honest memoir of her ex-husband Peter’s double life as both a high-powered partner in a West Coast law firm and a struggling drug addict. Eilene, their children and Peter’s colleagues all noticed the signs — weight loss, mood swings, missed appointments — but attributed them to the grueling demands of a Big Law career. She tells the tale of how Peter’s addiction ultimately cost him his life in 2015 and how she believes the “show-no-weakness” culture of major law firms plays a role in the bigger picture of often hidden white-collar addiction. As happens when one witnesses a train wreck, it was difficult to look away from this book, and Zimmerman’s allegation that challenging careers can predispose people to addiction and other mental health conditions. I found the book to be eye opening. I would highly recommend it to anyone who shares my interest in the topic of addiction, particularly those who believe that addiction is most prevalent in society’s lowest echelons. Readers will definitely take a closer look at those around them with the realization that Peter’s fate could easily affect someone they know.
— Ellen McCroskey, Weelunk writer
We have lots of books at home, but nearly all of them were collected by my science-guy husband. There are titles like, “Adventures With a Hand Lens” and “Ancient Forests of the Pacific Northwest.” So, I’m mostly reading magazines with pretty pictures and a few nicely written YA novels my daughters own. They are stories that include people doing things, going places and — occasionally — talking with or even touching other people. Very entertaining stuff. I also find myself reading product packaging now and then. I’m not sure how much the guys who write for Old Spice are getting paid, but they probably deserve more.
— Nora Edinger, Weelunk writer and author of “Suspended Aggravation”
I’m reading a childhood favorite, “Mandy” by Julie Andrews Edwards. I loved this book when it was gifted to me in about second grade, and it’s been such a comfort to reread it as an adult. It’s written at about a 10-year-old level, but the length, almost 300 pages, makes it a sweet, longer story about a young girl who finds a cottage in the woods that she spends the summer decorating. Edwards paints a picture of the flowers, animals and found elements that make the cottage a young girl’s dream hideaway. The illustrations by Johanna Westerman are equally enchanting.
— Betsy Sweeny, Wheeling Heritage director of heritage programming
Right now, I am reading “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I’m sure most, if not everyone, knows about the story of the “boy wizard.” If you aren’t lucky enough to know about Harry Potter, it is about a boy who discovers he has magical powers and is whisked away to a boarding school to learn about witchcraft and wizardry. It is very playfully written, and I’ve seen all of the movies, but have never read the books, so it’s very exciting to finally see some of the more detailed pieces of the story.
— Jessica Broverman, Weelunk writer
I’m reading Ron Chernow’s book, “Grant.” I fell in love with Chernow’s writing after reading “Hamilton,” which was the inspiration for the Broadway musical. I’ve only made it up to the Overland Campaign on the way to Richmond in 1864. Fascinating story of a small-town boy from an Ohio River town who is appointed to West Point, served in the Mexican War with many of his future opponents in the Confederacy, stationed in remote parts of the country, resigned his commission because of alcohol abuse, failed as a small businessman on the upper Mississippi, enlisted in a state formed militia at the beginning of the Civil War, passed over for a command assignment, after getting a battle command progressed in the Union Army quickly as an aggressive battle commander, won the battle of Vicksburg (a crushing defeat in the West for the Confederacy) and then shortly thereafter elevated as Lincoln’s top general in charge of all of the Union Army. And on to become President of the United States (not there yet). It’s a great story of a flawed human being who fought addiction his entire life, but excelled when the opportunity presented and turned the tide of the Civil War. A firm opponent of slavery who gave the formerly enslaved the opportunity to fight for the Union and made real progess during Reconstruction. A great tale of redemption and good works.
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— Arch Riley, Wheeling Heritage executive director
During this time at home, the workday is essentially the same for me. Even though I do not have “extra” time for reading, I do have a morning ritual that involves reading. Every morning, before the day begins, I read a passage from “The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have” by Mark Nepo. Each day is dated and has a sweet little passage that usually is focused on positive thinking and personal growth. Each entry ends with a guided meditation. Even if you don’t have a mediation practice, these easy daily reads are a really nice way to begin the day. If for the rest of the day you wear sweatpants and eat cookies, at least you’ve done something healthy for yourself! I highly recommend this book.
— Joelle Moray, Weelunk writer
MYSTERY, SIBLINGS and HUMOR
The “Road to Grantchester” by James Runcie is a prequel to the Runcie novels on which PBS series “Grantchester” is based. Kind of timely because PBS will begin airing Series 5 of this show in June. In case you’re not familiar, “Grantchester” is a murder mystery series set in a the village of Grantchester, near Cambridge in the UK, in the 1950s, involving the Rev. Sidney Chambers and local detective Geordie Keating. Sidney is played by my absolutely favorite actor these days, James Norton.
“The Road to Grantchester” gives us fascinating insight into Sidney’s life, leading up to his decision to become a priest, including his life-changing war experiences and a bittersweet romance.
Another recommended book is “Suzy, Suzy” by Irish writer William Wall. Wall won the 2017 Drue Heinz Literature Prize for short fiction from the University of Pittsburgh Press, though not for this book. I had the pleasure of meeting him when we brought him to the U.S. as part of winning the prize, while I was at UPP, so I decided to try this novel. “Suzy, Suzy” fascinated me because of Wall’s ability to write as a teenage girl with a wicked sense of humor, even though he is an older man. It’s a contemporary story, concerning Suzy and her two friends. Suzy has a chaotic family life that includes secrets and a murder.
I also enjoyed “The Dutch House” by Ann Patchett. She needs no validation from me! It’s the very moving story of siblings, Danny and Maeve Conroy, their obsessive connection with the iconic family house they lived in as young children and how their lives unfolded over the years. I really grew to care about them, and it was hard to put the book down.
— Maria Sticco, Weelunk writer
A LITTLE ADVENTURE
While we’re stuck at home, it’s been fun following along with the adventures in “The Ten Thousand Doors of January” by Alix E. Harrow. January, an adventure-seeking girl living in the early 20th century, stumbles upon a door that leads elsewhere — and a mysterious book that seeks to explain this phenomenon. It’s easy to commiserate with January — we all could use a little adventure right now! It’s mystery, historical fiction and adventure all wrapped up in one.
— Alex Weld, Wheeling Heritage director of operations
WHEN LIFE TURNS UPSIDE DOWN
With the libraries being closed, I have turned to my own shelves for physical books (you can still check out audio and e-books from the library right now if you have a card). Like many book lovers, I have too many books that have gone unread, and being in self-isolation has allowed me to pull books off my shelf that have so far been ignored. Currently, I am halfway through Michael Ondaatje’s newest book, “Warlight.” Ondaatje is well known for writing the novel, “The English Patient,” which was turned into the critically acclaimed movie in 1996. “Warlight” was given to me as a gift in 2018 and has been moved around in my “to be read” piles of books until now. The story takes place in London in 1945, post WWII. The protagonist is a 14-year-old boy in the first part of the story, and he and his sister have been abandoned by their parents under a mysterious pretense, and they are forced to live with a man they barely know who may or may not be a criminal. Part two of the story is the same boy, now as an adult trying to piece together what actually happened during his childhood. So far, the book is very intriguing with wonderful writing. The main character having his whole life suddenly turned upside down when his parents leave is relatable with how all of our lives feel like they have been turned upside down with the pandemic.