Orlean to read Rin Tin Tin at Englert


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The German shepherd Rin Tin Tin was discovered on a French battlefield during World War I when he was a newborn, then rose to superstardom on the film screens of America.

This is the subject of Susan Orlean's new book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, from which she will reading at 8 p.m. today in the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St.

"It's fun to think about animals," Orlean said. "And the stories that emerge from thinking about animals just fascinates me."

The creative journey telling the history of the famous dog began with a simple surprise for the New Yorker writer and author of The Orchid Thief ( which was made into the Oscar-winning movie Adaptation).

Orlean said she remembered Rin Tin Tin from childhood but found that what she thought she knew was only a small sliver of the story. The first surprising discovery was to learn that the beloved movie star and icon was a real dog, born 50 years before Orlean even heard of him.

"That was such a simple but profound surprise," she said. "It would be like finding out there was a real Scooby-Doo."

Orlean's reading in Iowa City is a joint venture between Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., and the Englert. Both organizations said they are excited about being able to present the writer.

The smile in the voice of Prairie Lights employee Sheri Seggerman was audible as she talked about the new book, discussing Orlean's writing and the way she seems to start with a mundane topic and go deeper, making the simplest story fascinating.

"I think she's the kind of person that if you were doing a road trip with her that she would stop at every roadside attraction and find out everything there was about it," Seggerman said. "Because that's what the book is full of."

Prairie Lights and the Englert are also excited about the added components that Orlean will bring to this reading, making it a multimedia event by showing a video introduction to the book, screening one of Rin Tin Tin's early films, and incorporating music.

"It definitely is a departure from the usual book tour, and I think, so far, people have been really delighted by it," Orlean said.

Englert Executive Director Andre Perry said he believes that the Iowa City audience will also be delighted by the nontraditional reading.

"I think it makes it more dynamic," he said. "I think it has an appeal to lots of different sorts of people."

Orlean said her writing inspirations are storytelling and constant learning.

"I love telling stories, and I love learning about parts of life that might otherwise go unnoticed," she said. "And that combination, I guess, in a way describes my job."

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