What's the surest way to create interest in a book?

Advertising? Nope. Autograph parties? Wrong again.Try banning it. Works every time.

Since news reports broke last week about an effort in Bountiful to ban "Grendel" from Viewmont High School, sales and library requests for the book have skyrocketed - in Salt Lake County as well as in Davis County.

Bookstores and libraries in those two counties report a large amount of interest in the 1971 novel by the late John Gardner.

"We've had quite a few people asking for it," said a sales clerk at Waldenbooks in the Layton Hills Mall. "Anytime somebody tries to ban a book, it starts selling like crazy."

Controversy surrounding the book began in December when a Bountiful woman began circulating a flier condemning "Grendel" as being loaded with "crude" statements. The flier urged parents to write a letter to the Davis School District, asking that the book be removed from the curriculum at Viewmont, where teachers have used the book in senior English classes for about four years.

The Viewmont English faculty has refused to stop using the book, forcing the district to activate a committee to review the book and make a recommendation to the superintendent, who will have final say.

The Layton Waldenbooks store sold out of its limited supply of "Grendel" and has ordered several other copies to meet customer requests. When the new books come in, the store will display it more prominently than before, the clerk said.

"Grendel" may even someday become part of the store's occasional "Banned Books" promotion in which books that have been subjected to censorship are put on sale, the clerk said.

Sam Weller's Bookstore in Bountiful's Five-Points Mall has been sold out of "Grendel" for more than a week, with the store receiving two to three requests a day.

In fact, all three of Sam Weller's outlets are sold out of the book. And that includes the used book section at the downtown store, said clerk Debra Evans.

"It's a highly popular book," Evans said. "A lot of students, both high school and college, are required to read it. I'm highly offended that they're trying to ban it."

The book is equally hard to find in libraries.

Marilyn Getts, assistant librarian at the Bountiful branch of the Davis County Library System, said all four of the system's copies are checked out and there are four names on a waiting list.

"There's more enthusiasm with the book this week than in other weeks," said Getts, noting that the book was checked out only 11 times in a three-year period before the controversy began. No complaints have been received by the Davis County Library System, she said.

The Salt Lake County Library System has seven copies of "Grendel," all of which have been checked out, said an official at the main offices.

The Salt Lake City Library system, where officials are purchasing five more copies of "Grendel," report the same situation. Its current six copies are all checked out, with six people on a waiting list, said Joni Trujillo, associate librarian.

"Grendel" is based on the medieval epic poem "Beowulf," which tells the story of how the hero Beowulf killed Grendel, a monster that had terrorized a Danish kingdom. "Grendel" is told through the monster's eyes.

Efforts to ban the book represent the first major literary controversy since the Davis County Library Board, at the urging of a Davis County commissioner, tried to ban the novel "Americana" in 1979. Former Head Librarian Jeanne Layton refused to remove the book and was fired but later reinstated.

"Americana" also enjoyed a surge in popularity following the censorship.