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Core Samples

It’s all about books up here at the ol’ bunkhouse this week. Not that that’s a quantum shift in the paradigm or anything, but with the newly-expanded five-week-long 2012 Utah Humanities Council Book Festival overlapping with Banned Books Week, there’s a certain smugness in these parts, not just about reading, but about reading well outside the mainstream.

That’s nothing new, of course! It probably goes back to late elementary school when a younger friend from the neighborhood and I began surreptitiously reading science fiction featuring Amazonian women from distant planets, and then a year or so later when dog-eared and tawdry Mickey Spillane paperbacks were getting passed around the schoolhouse boys’ room.

I still get a rush when opening a new box of obscure titles from the "Pete’s Roc N Rye" book club up in Evanston, or when friends lend me a volume of poetry or a music bio or an arcane piece of Western history, especially when they include text which might cause censors to get on their high horse. But more on that later. The reconfigured book festival is much more interesting.

This year’s bookfest is literally all over the map, and calendar. Stretching from September 22 through October 31 and from Brigham City to Boulder and from Moab to Wendover, it would appear, at least going in, almost too difficult to get one’s arms around. For the literary Tom Paine in us, these are the times that try men’s souls.

Where this new configuration may serve a more geographically democratic cross-section of the state, it makes it almost impossible, with the distances between venues, to catch all the "rock stars" one would like in one day in one setting.

In past years, when the festival covered a week or thereabouts, one Saturday was usually set aside at various rooms of the Salt Lake City Main Library for book junkies to catch many of their individual favorites in one day at one site. Diversity, from slam poetry to exterior and interior environmentalism to post-modern fiction to battle-of-the-bands-like presentations involving Mormon history, was always served.

This year, in order to catch live readings involving authors with whom I’ve had ongoing relationships, I’d have to first travel to Tremonton on October 5 to catch indigenous musician, poet, activist Joy Harjo for a 7 p.m. reading from her new memoir "Crazy Brave." Not that the trip wouldn’t well be worth it to experience her gorgeous and transcendental spoken word and instrumental art, but how ’bout an encore at the Main Salt Lake Library auditorium? Just askin’.

Then, I suppose, I could head on over to Wendover High School on October 10 for a reading by Héctor Ahumada, a brilliant Chilean artist and poet who studied both at BYU and the University of Utah after stints at the Viña del Mar Fine Arts School and the State Technical University in Chile. Having already caught him at Ken Sanders bookshop in Salt Lake, I can guarantee the trip out across the Salt Flats would also be worth the effort.

Speaking of Ken Sanders Rare Books, the gruffmeister himself, Mr. John Fayhee, the cranky peak-bagging "resurrector" of Mountain Gazette magazine, will be there for an October 5 reading from his latest book, "Smoke Signals: Wayward Journeys Through the Old Heart of the New West."

If the legend which precedes Fayhee retains any gravity whatsoever, the reading will probably be followed by a tour of local watering holes. Not that it would break any records set previously by Doug Peacock, mind you, but Fayhee would no doubt hold his own.

Will Bagley is back with the latest from his Overland West series, "With Golden Visions Bright Before Them: Trails to the Mining West 1849-1852," and, in what is probably the biggest bombshell in the festivals lineup, legendary Chilean poet Raul Zurita is also scheduled. The best way to get up to date info on authors and locations is at http://www.utahhumanities.org .

Getting back to Banned Book Week, which runs from September 30 through October 6 this year, the biggest surprise on the list of the 10 most challenged titles of 2011 were two oldies but goodies, "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley and "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee.

It’s really hard to find fault with the fault finders. I’ve also come to believe that my initial entrance into the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre on the first page of the Huxley book and the moment in "Mockingbird" I first met 12-year old Jem Finch he with the broken arm that couldn’t keep him from passing and punting truly ruined any real chance I had at a full life.

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.


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