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And Another Thing

What we’re reading and loving lately

By: Susan Rushton
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Time to write about books again. I’ll go first — but I want to talk about a play, not a book.

I told you I drove up to Ashland and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival a couple of weeks ago. I know, this isn’t local, isn’t even California. But for a couple of minutes, I want to focus on a particular play I saw: “The Book of Will,” by Lauren Gunderson. The “Will” in the title refers to Shakespeare.

The play begins three years after his death. Will’s acting pals miss him. And they bemoan the clumsy productions currently being staged and identified as his. The shabby performances — ersatz Shakespeare — are an insult to his memory, the works themselves, the stories, the characters and the wonderful words. And pity the hapless audiences suffering through these third-rate messes.

What to do? Collect the genuine articles, with the real words and characters intact, and publish a book of his plays.

We watch these dedicated guys struggle to solve myriad problems. They need to collect all the plays, but where are they? Will didn’t even keep them all. Some were at his house. A groupie comes up with a few, to everyone’s astonishment. Others turn up under a pal’s mattress. A publisher is already working on this project, and HE has some, but not all. Finally, who’s going to pay for this publication?

You know what happened, so I can’t ruin the play for you. You know somebody was successful in preserving and publishing these works.

I was entertained, charmed, thrilled, overwhelmed, grateful, left breathless with admiration.

For decades, I’ve identified myself to you as a lifetime English major. And I’m a writer. And I’m a lover of hard copy books, a lover of the written word, a lover of stories. So to bear witness, along with the hundreds of others in the audience, that all these things are important and worth celebrating? Such a privilege. Oh, I was a weepy mess afterwards.

OK, enough literal drama.

I heard from Patty Pieropan Dong, who recommended “Exit West,” by Mohsin Hamid. “It’s absorbing. Surprising. Thought provoking ... Has anyone else commented/recommended this one?”

My book group read it, and, I’m astonished to tell you, I read it all the way through. It’s an odd book, fascinating, and the writing is different from anything I’ve ever encountered. His writing is like life for his characters — all these things keep happening and there’s never any end to what keeps happening, so he has very long sentences that become unnerving even as they become expected.

My nonfiction pal, Earl Walker, recommends “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic,” by Glenn Frankel. So do I — it focuses on American politics at the time of production of this classic Western in 1952. Those involved with the making of the movie were also suspected of Communism and forced to testify before the HUAC. It’s fascinating.

Susan Hartman recommends two books: “The President’s Kitchen Cabinet,” by Adrian Miller. “It’s wonderful and an easy read. It’s the history of the First families and their food likes and dislikes and who cooked them.”

Her second book: “Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower,” by Roseann Lake. “I really enjoyed the perspective of the culture and being single in China and marriage in China.”

This book focuses on the generation of only-daughters in China, the result of the one-child policy. The result: These girls were pushed to excel and succeed, as if they were sons. Men seem not to want to marry these independent women — and thousands choose not to marry anyway — so they’re “leftovers.” And as they put their energies to their careers, they seem to be changing their society.

A while ago, I stumbled across a list of 100 books about books. I don’t remember who sent it to me — step forward, if you did. Herewith are the next five books in the list, 31-35:

“A Novel Bookstore,” by Laurence Cossé: Loving the wrong book gets you in trouble. This unique bookshop promotes great works, but it attracts a deadly clientele.

“Parnassus on Wheels,” by Christopher Morley: In early 20th century New England, Roger Miffin travels in the “bookmobile” he calls Parnassus, intending to enlighten the residents — but some don’t want to be enlightened, resulting in “fiery roadside brawls [and] heroic escapes from death.”

“The People of the Book,” by Geraldine Brooks: An Australian rare book expert investigates the tiny artifacts in an ancient illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in 15th century Spain.

“Possession,” by A.S. Byatt: Two scholars research the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals and poems, what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas.

“The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend,” by Katarina Bivald: I discussed this last May — I found it in the library and soon realized I had to own it. A Swedish woman and a woman from Iowa become friends and the Swedish woman visits the Iowan and the Iowans don’t know what to make of her. I had a great time with it.

I thank all who wrote.

OK: your turn. What are you reading and loving lately? Email me at the address below.

Susan Rushton’s opinion column appears regularly in the Auburn Journal. Her email address is rushton@suddenlink.net.