Moab’s book club has been meeting at least once per month for 37 years.
It started as a set of book discussions facilitated by the Utah Humanities Council, which provided books and guest speakers. When the program ended, a few locals, including Cynthia Smith and Travis Trittschuh, decided they wanted to keep the book discussions going: they created the Second Wednesday Book Club, and met in the library every second Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m.
“When some of our members became ill, we would meet in their homes, so they could be included,” Smith wrote in a summary of the club’s history. “We did this for Travis for several years until his death in 2007.”
Soon after that year, the club officially became part of the Grand County Public Library. Now, the library staff works together with book club members to provide books for free and invite authors. The other library in Grand County, which is located in Castle Valley, has a book group of its own as well.
Smith said there are usually five to eight people joining the Moab book discussion every month, and a few have been a part of the group since its beginning.
“The members tend to be, for the most part, older people—they’re the ones who have the time,” Smith joked. “But we’ve had a real cadre of people who come all the time, and then there have been people who will drop in for a while but then they’ll move away or something like that. I’m not sure it’s changed all that much—it’s just kind of stayed the same, with different people participating.”
In September, the club read “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which was popular—Smith said the “far-ranging and interesting” discussion had 11 people. The club tries to alternate between fiction and non-fiction books, and invites anyone and everyone to pop in and out: people can join whichever discussions or read whichever books they choose. Smith said she tries to read every book, especially if it isn’t one she would’ve picked for herself. She has also been able to find a few new favorites, like “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kid, “Collapse” by Jared Diamond, and “Genghis Khan: Making of the Modern World” by Jack Weatherford.
“Reading a book with the aim of sharing one’s thoughts and impressions inherently changes and deepens the experience of reading,” said Jessie Magleby, the head of adult services at the Grand County Public Library. “… A love of reading is sometimes an aptitude that must be developed, and book clubs can help by exposing a reader to a wide variety of books, as well as deepening one’s understanding of the text.”
In October, the club is reading “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” by Art Spiegelman, a Pulitzer-prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust that was banned from being taught in classrooms by a school board in Tennessee in January.
The book group in Castle Valley meets on the last Friday of the month at 9 a.m.—in October, they’re reading “Our Eyes At Night,” by Mylene Dressler, and Dressler herself will join the discussion. According to Susan Roche, who has been part of the group since she moved to Castle Valley in 2012, the group’s history is murky: before the library collaboration 10 years ago, it existed only casually, much like Moab’s. Roche said the group is extraordinarily thankful for the Castle Valley Library’s support.
“It’s astonishing that we have this vibrant community center in such a small town,” Roche said. “They do a lot to help us coordinate with the Moab library and to get interlibrary loans from libraries all over the country.”
The book group serves as a place to meet new people and to try out new books, Roche said: the members typically trust that the books will be worthwhile because they trust each other’s nominations for which books to read.
“Most of the people who come to the book group have always been ranting and raving readers for their whole lives,” she said. “But what happens here, which is different from every other book group I’ve been a part of, is that we actually talk about the book. It doesn’t devolve into ‘who’s going to make the best snacks?’ … People really stretch themselves to read everything.”
Roche also found that the group pushed her to read books she normally wouldn’t have, like “Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States” by James C. Scott and “The Dew Breaker” by Edwidge Danticat. The Castle Valley group also tries to switch between nonfiction and fiction, Roche said—“it’s a mixture that’s just so titillating.” The group has a record of the books they’ve read since 2013; the list includes “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon, “Entangled Life” by Merlin Sheldrake, and “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown.
The group’s discussions usually last between one and a half to two hours, and are welcoming of all book opinions, Roche said.
“I think there’s just a willingness that somehow gets translated into how life is and keeps being in Castle Valley, a willingness to look at things from all angles, and even if you vociferously, passionately disagree, you know that we’re all neighbors, and we have something in common,” Roche said.
Learn more at www.grandcountyutah.net/638/book-clubs, at the Grand County Library, by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org, or by joining the discussions on Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. in Moab or on Friday, Oct. 28 at 9 a.m. in Castle Valley.