SALT LAKE CITY — While many Utahns are book clubs enthusiasts (take a look at the Deseret News' series"On the same page" for evidence), KUED is prepared to give local clubs a little extra boost — by sending them a box of book club goodies for free.
"I thought if I tapped into existing book groups in Utah who were already interested in great storytelling, they might be interested in utilizing our prepared boxes," wrote Laura Durham, KUED's community engagement coordinator, in an email to the Deseret News.
The process for KUED's Book Club in a Box is simple: KUED will send interested book clubs a box containing what a news release calls a "packaged toolkit," with a copy of one of the three featured books, its accompanying PBS documentary, background materials and discussion questions written up by a local scholars. The boxes are free for book club hosts thanks to a grant from Utah Humanities.
Durham said that the idea for Book Club in a Box grew out of a previous KUED program called "Read and Watch" that paired a book with a film. This year, with PBS highlighting America's love of reading through their series "The Great American Read," Durham saw an ideal opportunity to get Utah readers involved in the PBS series and get them looking at some of the great documentaries featured on KUED.
"My hope is that book groups will be able to make unique and meaningful connections between PBS films and the themes in the selected books," Durham wrote.
"The Great American Read" is an eight-part series that celebrates reading through an examination of the 100 most-loved novels in the United States, which were chosen through a nation-wide survey. PBS released the list of 100 books in May and will air a two-hour launch episode, on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 7 p.m. Viewers can vote for their favorite book now through Oct. 18.
Of the three books included in KUED's Book Club in a Box — "Sula" by Toni Morrison, "Never Cry Wolf: Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves" by Farley Mowat and Ralph Ellison's Harlem Renaissance classic "Invisible Man" — only one, "Invisible Man," is on the "Great American Read" list. But Natasha Saje, the professor of English at Westminster College who chose Morrison's "Sula" and wrote it's Book Club in a Box discussion questions, said for her, the choice was an easy one.
"In my mind it (the book) had to be one that not only brought up issues of gender, class and race, but it also had to be beautifully written," Saje said in an interview with the Deseret News.
"Sula," published in 1973, tells the story of two close female friends who grow up to lead drastically different lives. The title character becomes something of a social pariah as she refuses to conform to her community's rules. For Saje, the book addresses issues that are ongoing and relevent.
"Historically, women, especially black and poor women, have been denied the time and support necessary to make art," Saje said in a news release. "Toni Morrison's novel 'Sula' examines the life of one such woman and the community that reviles her."
KUED paired Saje's book choice with "Iris," a documentary from the "POV" series about fashion icon Iris Apfel. The pairing of a documentary about a real-life nonconformist with a book about a fictional social rebel "encourages discussion of class, race and gender's impact on the making of art; it also asks what it means to live a productive and fulfilling life," Saje said in a news release.
Saje aimed to frame her book club discussions about "Sula" in a way that should get readers thinking about their own lives.
"A lot of my questions are designed to make people talk about their own journeys and their own pursuit of art," Saje said.
This ideas of journeys is present in all the three Book Club in a Box choices. Canadian writer Mowat's "Never Cry Wolf" tells his personal tale of studying wolves in the frozen Arctic tundra. KUED paired the book with "NOVA: Inside Animal Minds," with questions by Rob Carney, a professor of English literature at Utah Valley University.
"Few of us will ever travel to Caledonia or the Canadian arctic, except in our imagination," Carney said in a news release. "The naturalist and writer Farley Mowat and the PBS 'NOVA' program are the best kinds of guides: smart, interesting, good storytellers and curious themselves."
Weber State University professor of teacher education Forrest Crawford chose Ellison's "Invisible Man" as the third book for Book Club in Box, which KUED paired with documentary "Ralph Ellison: An American Journey."
"Ralph Ellison's 'Invisible Man' tells one man's arduous journey from innocence to self-knowledge," Crawford said in a news release. " … The 'American Experience' documentary on Ralph Ellison only deepens our awareness of what it means to be both black and American as we learn of his personal journey."
With three very different books — and their related PBS documentaries — to choose from, Durham hopes that Book Club in a Box recipients will find something in the mix that gets them talking with each other and with the wider community.
"Most KUED events I plan are for groups of 100 or more and so this allows smaller groups to have in-depth conversations," she wrote. "I also hope the groups will share their insights on our Facebook group to keep the conversation going and see what kind of conversations other book groups in Utah are having on the same topics."
To register to receive a box, visit kued.org/bookclub.