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  • Melissa Westemeier

reading in quarantine

While pushing out my new book and keeping up with teaching online, I've enjoyed some pretty eclectic reading in my spare time. Most people know I read a few books simultaneously, I swap out my reading in bed at night, going from a half hour in one to forty minutes in another. The stack on my bedside table never shrinks too much. And I have another weird habit: after I finish a book, I need to get up and put the next book I'll read on the table even though I won't crack it open until the following night (or day). Having that next book at my fingertips is like a sort of security blanket for me. Stupid, I know. What's the difference if the next book you read is in the other room when you go to sleep at night? In my head it matters, so I will roll out of bed and slip through the living room to the library to browse the stack and select the next book I want to read, carry it to my bedside table before going to sleep.

I received Belonging by Nora Krug as a gift. It's a graphic novel, beautifully developed tale of a German woman learning the truth of her family. Nora is born a couple decades after WWII, and grows up in a country that keeps the past pretty hush-hush. She sees little clues and as an adult decides to look for the truth: how involved with the Nazis were her grandparents? Aunts and uncles? What is her legacy? What does this mean for her identity? Her reckoning with the past is beautifully and wonderfully told. And reading this (I savored the experience, one chapter each evening. The pictures and the text gave me a lot to process.) I realized I need to read more graphic novels. If you buy one book this year (besides MINE, of course), I recommend you purchase this one.

Next up, The Country of the Pointed Firs and other stories by Sarah Orne Jewett. I try to read some classics every year, and I have learned that some wonderful voices got overlooked in my American Literature classes, including Edna Ferber and Sarah Orne Jewett. Reading this book has been a balm during these anxious times. Orne Jewett describes people and life in coastal Maine at the turn of the century in such a peaceful and calming way. Her study of the local culture and rendering of little histories makes for lovely reading. It's a relaxing escape from reality.

Finally, a bit of "work" material: Syd Field's Screenplay. I don't often read books about the craft of writing since going back to teaching. After confessing to my writing group that I have a wild hair to try and develop a screenplay (because SO MANY movies are derivative and lame these days, I could totally write better entertainment), my friend MK Graff gifted me a copy of this book. It's fun to learn how the structure of writing for screen is so different than writing a novel. It's more than just learning about the formatting, the development process and construction makes me think about how I write fiction and compare the processes to good effect. And learning about the construction of a script makes watching movies such a different experience, too. Even if you have no desire to write a script, if you love film, this would be worthwhile read. Before I begin my summer writing project I am already grateful I took the time to read Syd Field's advice. Also, he's a good teacher. Sometimes I'll read a book about the craft of writing, but that doesn't translate to practical application. Syd Field gives a lot of practical, hands-on advice for every step of the screenwriting process.

What's next after I finish these? The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, People Like Us by Dana Mele and Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca Solnit. At the rate I'm tearing through my stacks, I might be hitting up a bookstore for a takeout order before the end of May!

Spill it, reader. Besides MY BOOK, what's on your stack?

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