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In love with Shakespeare

Bibliophiles: Rosanne Cash

Patrick McBride

Singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash tested out reading on her iPad by rereading Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” The device made the grade, so the devoted reader packed it for her tour to promote her newest album, “The River and The Thread.” She’s performs 8 p.m. Thursday at Sanders Theatre as part of the Celebrity Series. Tickets are $30 to $70 and are limited.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

CASH: I just finished Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare biography, and I’m reading “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England” by Ian Mortimer. I’m immersed in Elizabethan history and Shakespeare right now. I’m also reading “The Shakespeare Wars” by Ron Rosenbaum, and I just started “Soul of the Age” by Jonathan Bate.


BOOKS: When did you start reading about Elizabethan England?

CASH: I started reading about Shakespeare five years ago. The Elizabethan history started a decade ago.

BOOKS: What keeps your interest?

CASH: I’m like one of those kids who goes deep into Legos until they master every construction, to just keep going until you’ve extracted every piece of knowledge, fun, and delicious imagination. I teach a master class at NYU’s music program. I told them not to give me an honorarium next semester, to just let me sit in on a Shakespeare class.

BOOKS: Do you feel you are close to the end of this reading?

CASH: There’s not much more I can extract, but it’s still so satisfying to me. When I can’t go to sleep I have this image I go to. I imagine Shakespeare getting rowed across the Thames from the Globe Theatre to the master of revels office to get permission to stage “Hamlet.” For some reason imagining him in that little boat with his manuscript in his hand comforts me.

BOOKS: Have you read biographies about people other than Shakespeare?


CASH: I’ve read a lot of biographies, mostly about women, from Liv Ullman to Maria Callas to Katharine Graham. I tend to read women’s bios, but I liked Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles” with its nonchronological approach. I went through a long period of reading nonfiction. Then I was done. I went back to reading literature. Now I can’t pick up nonfiction except for the Shakespeare stuff.

BOOKS: When you went back to literature who were the authors you read first?

CASH: I think Gabríel Garcia Márquez, Mavis Gallant, and Alice Munro. I never thought I’d be interested in Canadian literature. I read all of Jane Austen, too.

BOOKS: Were you always a voracious reader?

CASH: My mother used to make fun of me. I was such a geeky kid. I would ask to be dropped at the library on Saturday instead of doing sports. That was frustrating to her. She was not a reader.

BOOKS: What about your dad, Johnny Cash?

CASH: My dad was a great reader. He was into primary sources from the time of Christ, such as Josephus. He also got obsessed with the West and loved James A. Michener’s “Centennial” and Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove.” At one point he said, “You cannot be my daughter if you don’t read “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

BOOKS: Does any of your reading influence your music?

CASH: When I want to get inspired I read poetry. On my nightstand I have C.D. Wright, Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, but he’s so depressing except for one poem, “An Arundel Tomb.” I love Mary Oliver too. I wish I had a more expansive knowledge of poetry, but I do love those.


BOOKS: Anything you read that would surprise people?

CASH: Everyday I read an entry from Samuel Pepys’s diary. This is the geekiest thing in the world. I signed up to be e-mailed a daily diary reading on the Pepys’s website. He writes about his job, about his wife, about the plays he sees. I was just in Cambridge, England, and I stayed in a separate hotel from the band so I could be close to the Pepys library. I ran over in my hour off during sound check. I was trembling with delight.


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