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Gwen Crist is the founder and leader of the Slow Food Utah book club, which meets every other month. Crist's book club is part of the larger Slow Food Utah organization.
What are most of your meetings like?
GC: We have food, of course. They’re pretty casual, for the most part. Most of the time the food that people bring is related to the book somehow. Like with the books we choose that are bee-related, we bring in food that has honey in it or is something that is pollinated by bees that we would lose if we didn’t have them. And then we just sit down and have a conversation about the book. Sometimes I or another member will prepare questions. But in general, they’re not very formal.
What are you reading right now?
GC: We just finished Sue Hubbell’s “A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them.” That was a book about her personal experience keeping bees. She also wrote “A Country Year: Living the Questions” and a couple books about farming and living close to the land. The next book we have on our list is by British author Charlotte Mendelson, and it’s called “Rhapsody in Green: A Novelist, an Obsession, a Laughably Small Excuse for a Vegetable Garden.” I thought that sounded really funny, so that’s our next one for July. We meet every other month.
What book do you think everyone in Utah needs to read?
GC: One I think everyone should read is “Desert Solitaire,” by Edward Abbey. I think that, especially now, we really need to focus on working to get back in touch with what it means to have wilderness in the state, and the value in it. Another one that I would recommend is the cookbook that’s by Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle. They own Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder. And it’s titled, “With a Measure of Grace: The Story and Recipes of a Small Town Restaurant.” Really, it’s about their experiences in this small town in rural Utah, and how food ties their community together. I think it’s a really great way to look at how Utah is not just one thing. It’s very much a diverse and beautiful place.
Which author, dead or alive, would you most want to attend your group?
GC: Absolutely hands — down Julia Child. I would love to have met her. That’s almost a no-brainer.
What books have been a hit with all of your group members?
GC: I would say books with recipes really get people going. I have the most attendance at those meetings. One of the ones that was a big hit for us was “A Thousand Days in Tuscany.” I had really great attendance then and everybody loved making things from the book.
What have you learned or gained from being involved in this book group?
GC: It’s really such a great way to meet new people. Some of my closest friends now are people that I met initially when they joined the book club. I just think it’s a really great way to bring people together. To eat and talk about things and discuss issues that are harder to discuss in other settings. In a setting of a book club, it’s very welcome and open.
Gwen Crist of the Slow Food Utah book club recommends:
“Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human,” by Richard Wrangham, Basic Books, 320 pages (nf)
“A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them,” by Sue Hubbell, Mariner Books, 208 pages (nf)
“Rhapsody in Green: A Novelist, an Obsession, a Laughably Small Excuse for a Vegetable Garden,” by Charlotte Mendelson, Kyle Books UK, 208 pages (nf)
“Desert Solitaire,” by Edward Abbey, Touchstone, 288 pages (nf)
“With a Measure of Grace: The Story and Recipes of a Small Town Restaurant,” by Blake Spalding, Jennifer Castle and Lavinia Spalding, Provecho Press, 160 pages (nf)
"A Thousand Days in Tuscany,” by Marlene de Blasi, Ballantine Books, 368 pages (nf)
“An Everlasting Meal,” by Tamar Adlar, Scribner, 272 pages (nf)
“Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe,” by Fannie Flagg, Ballantine Books, 400 pages (f)