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April 4, 2013

Michael Schwartz Library Book Club discusses "Doc" by Mary Doria Russell

By Daniel Herda

On Thursday, March 21, the Michael Schwartz Library presented a lively conversation about Mary Doria Russell’s latest novel called “Doc” as part of its Brown Bag Book Discussion Series and Local Author Book Talk for 2013.

The book centers around on the later years of John Henry Holiday, the protagonist—a gambler, gunfighter and dentist in the American Old West—when her arrives in Texas looking for work and with the hope that the warm air will cure is tuberculosis.

Holiday’s profession as a dentist gave him the nickname “Doc” Holiday. His alliance with Wyatt Earp, one of the toughest sheriffs in the Old West, against the murdering-gang of cowboys earned him his fame. Doc and Wyatt’s famous showdown at the OK Corral has been fictionalized in feature films like “Tombstone,” “Wyatt Earp,” and “The Gunfight at the OK Corral.”

All three films have a focus on the famous gunfight, while Doria’s novel focuses on the lighter side of Doc’s life and uses the character as an eye into the west to give her readers the experience of being with Doc.

Glenda Thornton, director of the Michael Schwartz Library, led the book discussion by asking those in attendances their thoughts on the novel.

Thornton opened the discussion by revealing a connection with Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With The Wind,” and “Doc” Holiday. She talked about how Mitchell fashioned some of her characters from Holiday’s family members.

After the introductory remarks, Thornton turned the floor to over to Professor Jane Dugan of the English Department. Dugan started by saying that everyone in her book club liked the novel.

“Describing Doc’s relationship to his illness, sense of depression and money problems presented a more off-stage glance at Doc, which was wonderful,” said Dugan.

A topic that led to animated discussion was about how Doc was able to be such a skilled gunfighter and what about his upbringing was able to make that possible for him.

Barb Gauthrer, a brown bag book club member, mentioned that Holiday was very talented with his hands because he used them constantly through most of his professions.

“He was a dentist, a piano player, a card player and a gunfighter, practicing all of those things daily probably made him extremely coordinated,” Gauthrer said.

Holiday’s physical descriptions were fictionalized well by Russell in the novel, according to Thornton. Thornton asked the club members what they thought about the choice of a male protagonist by a female author.

Professor Dugan mentioned how she analyzes this issue in her English classes in her response to a female writing about a male protagonist.

“You need to have an authenticity in your main character and writers like Russell can go a little beyond what they know and it feels right to the reader,” Dugan said.

Professor Michael Wells, president of the Friends of the Michael Schwartz Library, spoke to the group about why he thinks Russell’s description of the Old West feels so authentic.

He mentioned how research was combined with creativity to write the novel.

“This is imagination rooted in American history,” Wells says.

Wells said he stresses research from multiple sources in his assigned papers to his students and is curious about the amount of research in the creation of “Doc.”

Mary Doria Russell is scheduled to attend the next Brown Bag Book Discussion series on April 18, at noon, in room 503 of Rhodes Tower, where audience members can ask her questions about her past and present novels.

Thornton said that all Brown Bag Book Club meetings are open to the public, Cleveland State students and all fans of literature.