Celebrate reading with community

By: Susan Rushton
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I can think of few things better than surrounding myself with people who feel the same way I do about books and writing and reading.     
So imagine my delight last summer when a bunch of people I respect—teachers, former teachers, librarians, Rotarians and Jenifer Gee, Journal editor— invited me to help plan what we eventually called “One Book One Community.”
We got together to discuss the prospect of choosing a book that Auburn could and would wrap itself around, a book that would speak to all of us.
You know the book we chose: Nature Noir, by Jordan Fisher Smith, a retired State Parks ranger who worked for nearly 14 years in the Auburn State Recreation Area and the American River Canyon.
There’s lots of good news about this choice. It’s not only a book that Auburn can wrap itself around.
Yes, it speaks to us. Yes, it focuses on territory we’re all familiar with. But best of all: it’s elegantly and eloquently written—about Smith and his colleagues, all of whom worked for years in a place that, for years, was condemned to death.
It was the time of the Auburn Dam rigmarole. Smith worked in the canyon when, he said, “Most everyone in Auburn would tell me— ‘Oh, that will all soon be underwater.’ Because the place was undervalued and its fate was up in the air, the situation in the canyons was very lawless.”
Lawless. Like, illegal hunting, drug use, drunkenness and, yes, murder. So in addition to his focus on the beauty of the canyons and the impressive natural wonders he saw and kept seeing, Smith presents dramatic scenes charged with tension and excitement.
So this month Auburn gets to focus on this fascinating book, its subject and its author.  From 7-8 p.m. on Thursday, Capital Public Radio’s Beth Ruyak moderates the Janet Kovacich Murder Cold Case Panel at Placer High Auditorium. You’ll get to hear about some of that lawlessness Smith writes about.
On Saturday, April 20, join Smith, State Parks Ranger Mike Lynch and Sierra College geology instructor Dick Hilton for an Auburn Dam tour. Register by emailing
Readers may also join Smith at Placer High Auditorium from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23.
This event has four parts. First, he’ll discuss the writing of the book and read selected passages. Then he and former Colfax High teacher Rick Brown will discuss the book and its stories. Then, he’ll answer questions and interact with the audience.
Finally, joined by other local authors (including Mike Lynch and me) in the lobby, he’ll sign books and meet his fans.
The last event occurs at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 25 in the Office of Education Annex Building, Nobili Room: a screening of Under Our Skin, a film that features Smith discussing Lyme Disease. It was this disease that forced him to retire.
Smith is pleased that we’ve chosen his book for our inaugural event. Of course he is, I told him. After all, what author wouldn’t want this to happen: tons of people being encouraged to buy your book! What could be better?
His answer made it clear that I have a lot to learn about the interaction between reader and writer.
“I really don’t think of the buying of the book as the important transaction between me and the reader,” he said. “It’s the reading that matters to me—however they get the book, whether from the library, as a gift from a friend, or they pick up a tattered copy in a used bookstore. And, what really matters to me is how the book stimulates thoughts and feelings in the reader. It’s almost like our minds—mine and the reader’s—meet in some timeless way.”
Well. When you meet him, let him know that he’s succeeded. I look forward to seeing you at one or more of these events. Celebrate reading!
Susan Rushton’s column appears regularly in the Auburn Journal. Contact her at