“On the same page” is a series featuring Utah book clubs.
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SALT LAKE CITY — Generally, when you think of a public library, you assume that food is not allowed.
Moka, a gourmet coffee shop that specializes in local coffee and chocolate, is located in the Marmalade Branch. The partnership between its owner, Liz Struthwolf, and a Marmalade librarian, Azra Basic, has been especially sweet.
Struthwolf is the president of the Marmalade Coffee and Chocolate Society, which holds monthly tasting events and offers gourmet chocolate and coffee catering. She and Basic started a book club supported by the Salt Lake City Public Library’s Marmalade Branch, and they incorporate Moka’s locally-made treats into their monthly meetings.
Basic spoke with the Deseret News about the value of encouraging community and getting to know new people.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Deseret News: What kind of books does your book club read? Is there a specific theme?
Azra Basic: The mission of our book club is to encourage reading and just open our members to new genres and authors, and basically create a discussion and provide an opportunity for people to meet in the community. And of course, we try to include the coffee and chocolate, so we do book discussions all while snacking on delicious treats. And the books that are chosen for a discussion, although they might not be favorite authors or books for everyone, we are also trying to expand horizons and just kind of like, expose people to different genres and authors.
With that being said, we are working very closely with the Utah State Library, which has this amazing program called Book Buzz. Basically, they have in their database, I would say, over 300 different book club kits, so we just select book club kits from their database and then we go from there. We try to have a kind of healthy selection of fiction and nonfiction.
DN: Is there a book that’s been the biggest hit with everybody in the book club group?
AB: Yes. Every year the Salt Lake Valley is actually part of a program called the Big Read. So the book for the Big Read was “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel. We got free copies for our book club. It’s kind of a dystopian novel that I did not necessarily think everybody would like, but it was a huge hit. We had great attendance and a very lively discussion afterwards.
DN: What are most of your meetings like?
AB: Currently we have about 50 active members in our book club, but usually we had 15-20 people attending the book club. Participation is the key to a successful book club, so we do expect our members to attend at least five discussions per calendar year.
We meet in the conference room. I have questions that I plan beforehand that just kind of kick off the new book discussion. (It's not a) very formal setting, but I’m there to streamline the discussion.
At this point, we have become almost like a little family. We try to kind of also talk a little bit about our vacation plans, or just normal things that we do in our free time.
DN: Do you have any really memorable meetings or experiences that you’ve had with this book club?
AB: Yes, so in the last April book discussion, we had read … “The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book,” (by Alice B. Toklas.) We had almost every member of the book club prepare one of the recipes from the book and they bought it. So we tasted everything and just kind of like, talked about the recipes, the process that we used to make the dish — it was a lot of fun.
DN: Is there anything special going on with your book club coming up in the future?
AB: Actually, yes, every year, we do try to have a summer party. So we usually do that on the balcony of the library. We have a really nice patio, and we just go out there and have kind of like a little thank-you party and we celebrate our book club.
DN: What are some of your book recommendations?
AB: For (a) book club, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend just a specific title, but I would definitely say books that work the best are the short reads that are dramatic, and … that could be a little controversial, so that you can generate a more interesting debate within the members.
DN: Do you have a book you think everybody should read?
AB: Yes! “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. It’s a classic and has ideas … that are just timeless.
DN: What’s your favorite thing about being in a book club?
AB: Just bringing people together and having a laugh, getting to know (the members) a little bit better, and making a difference in other people’s lives. We have members that don’t really have much family or friends aside from the book club, so just providing that safe space where they can come and feel accepted — like they belong — really means a lot.
I think at the beginning it really started as, "Oh, let’s just read and let’s discover new titles." But later on, I think it grew into something much bigger.
The Marmalade Coffee and Chocolate Society Book Club recommends:
“Station Eleven,” by Emily St. John Mandel, Penguin Random House, 352 pages (f)Comment on this story
“The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book,” by Alice B. Toklas, Harper Collins Publishers, 320 pages (nf)
“Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” by Helen Simonson, Penguin Random House, 384 pages (f)
“David and Goliath,” by Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown and Company, 528 pages (nf)
“Crazy Rich Asians,” by Kevin Kwan, Penguin Random House, 544 pages (f)
“Chocolat,” by Joanne Harris, Penguin Random House, 336 pages (f)
“Little Fires Everywhere,” by Celeste Ng, Penguin Random House, 368 pages (f)