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Must-read books for the summertime

Carol Feineman

“Summertime an’ the livin’ is easy,

Fish are jumpin,’ an’ the cotton is high.

Summer Days and the living is easy.”

OK, take away the cotton reference and George Gershwin’s classic lyrics easily describe Nevada County these last few weeks.

Summertime equates with more leisurely days, vacations and trips to the river, all perfect for relaxing with a good book.

Don’t know what book to look at next? No problem; check out what some of your neighbors are currently reading for ideas.

– Carol Feineman

“The Book of Joe” by Jonathan Tropper

I do most of my reading in bed before falling asleep. My main requirements for bedtime reading are: the book should have short chapters, and it should be a lightweight paperback, so I can’t hurt myself if I fall asleep in mid-sentence and drop it on my face, which has happened more than once. I think this is why I’m a character actor instead of a leading man. Too many books dropped on my face. Anyway… I loved “The Book of Joe,” by Jonathan Tropper. Joe is a novelist in his mid-thirties who has written a rather lurid and scathing first novel about Bush Falls, N.Y., the small town where he grew up. The novel hit the bestseller charts, and was made into a hot summer movie, so the people of Bush Falls are now famously unsavory. Joe never expected to return, but his father has suffered a life-threatening stroke, and so Joe has been forced to come back and take care of the old man, and deal with the many people from his past who are extremely irate about the way they were portrayed in his novel and the movie. Entertaining predicaments, great characters, two thumbs up!

– Gary Wright, Associate Artist/Literary Manager of Foothill Theatre Company. Wright’s reading time is somewhat limited – he stars in Foothill Theatre Company’s humorous one-man show, “Fully Committed” Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Aug. 15 at the Nevada Theatre.


“Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last ‘Wild’ Indian” by Orin Starn

The story of Ishi has long been among California’s most enduring legends. The last remaining member of his tribe, Ishi shows up half-starved at a slaughterhouse in Oroville in 1911, is taken to San Francisco, and lives as a “show Indian” in a museum basement until his death from tuberculosis five years later. Theodora Kroeber’s popular 1960 biography turned him into a beloved and revered figure, taught to generations of California school children.

Orin Starn reexamines the entire enterprise, beginning with the brutal extermination of the indigenous people of the foothills during and after the Gold Rush. It was not a pretty picture, nor were Ishi’s years in the white world as benign as the myth makers would have us believe. Almost accidentally, Starn became involved in a bizarre, Byzantine, and ultimately successful campaign to recover Ishi’s brain from the Smithsonian Institute and his ashes from a San Francisco cemetery in order to give them the proper and respectful burial so long denied.

Along the way he presents us with a new account about the whole sordid, yet often inspiring, process. It’s a fascinating and important saga, one that can only aid us in our sometimes stumbling attempts to live well in this remarkable place we call Northern California.

– Steve Sanfield, a distinguished storyteller, poet, children’s author and folklorist from the San Juan Ridge. He was also the Sierra Storytelling Festival’s founder and artistic director for 18 years at the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center.


Several selections by various authors

In the past month I’ve been teaching a lot, and recent reading has served, more than usual, as both inspiration and buffer. I consumed Yann Martel’s “Life Of Pi,” a wonder of a novel, whose last pages satisfy the edict that an ending must be both inevitable and surprising. Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Jane Austin Book Club” employs a clever point of view, that of the Book Club (a favorite sentence: “after we left that night, Grigg talked to his sister about us”).

Colm Toibin’s fictional biography of Henry James is written in a style that does not emulate but still honors “The Master.” Richard Ford’s “Independence Day” precisely captures a selfishness true to our culture, as well as our need for community and continuity, however we may find them, and I am in the midst of Ann Patchett’s entrancing, luminous “Bel Canto.” Another favorite was Bob Smith’s memoir, “Hamlet’s Dresser,” in which he reveals a lonely childhood, much of it spent caring for a handicapped sister. Then a librarian hands him a copy of “The Merchant of Venice,” and his life’s trajectory is set. Backstage work for a Shakespeare Festival confirms a talent for communicating the lessons available in literature, particularly Shakespeare – to actors, but above all to the elderly, whose lives are enhanced by Smith’s classes. A redemptive, gorgeous read.

– Sands Hall, whose impressive resume includes acting; directing; writing novels (Ballantine Reader’s Circle Selection “Catching Heaven”) and screenplays such as “Fair Use” and an adaptation of “Little Women,” both plays produced locally by Foothill Theatre Company; and teaching the art and craft of writing.

“Without a vision, the people perish. Reflections on Latin American Ecofeminist Theology” by Mary Judith Ress.

“People do not change because of intellectual convictions or ethical inclinations, but rather through transformed imaginations.” This quote opens the book and invites the reader into the minds and collaborative process of Latin American women who perceive themselves in relation to the Earth. Ms. Ress’ book is a thoughtful assimilation of authors like Madonna Kolbenschlag, Ivone Gebara, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Maria Gimbutas, Joanna Macy, Charlene Spretnak, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, and is steeped in first hand understandings and imaginings of the women theologians of Con-spirando Collective, Santiago, Chile.

The author begins with, “Reflecting on Experience” setting the groundwork for imagining creative relationships with the Earth through Ecofeminism, Deep Ecology, Radical/Cultural Feminism, and Ecofeminist Theology. Chapter 4 lays out the reflections of 12 women theologians as they chart their commitment to ecofeminism. Chapter 5, the final chapter, builds on these reflections and looks at clues for attitudinal transformation in “Reflections, Conclusions and Challenges for the Future.”

These women’s commitment to ecofeminism is a testimony to the depth of their spiritual lives. Imagine that…

– Catherine Busch-Johnston, an award-winning videographer working in a wide variety of subjects, from health issues to comedy to memorial videos to elder issues. She was also executive director of St. Joseph’s Cultural Center and the first president of Foothills Community Access Television’s board of directors.


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