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On the same page: How Utah Humanities and UPS convinced this book club to form

SHARE On the same page: How Utah Humanities and UPS convinced this book club to form

SALT LAKE CITY — It was 1986, and Frances Merrill never made time for reading. For the mother of eight children, time to herself just hadn’t made the top of her to-do list. But one day when Merrill was serving in the Utah Legislature, a flier came across her desk about a new book exchange system sponsored by Utah Humanities that she couldn’t pass up.

Here’s how it worked: United Parcel Service would deliver and return books throughout Utah communities for free. As an added bonus, Utah Humanities would occasionally send out speakers who could bring additional insights into the reading material for the program’s participants. And the cost?

Free.

It was a no-brainer for Merrill, who lives in Millcreek. Deciding to form a book club to utilize the Utah Humanities program, she and a group of friends created the “Neighborhood Readers.” And while the Utah Humanities book exchange system has long since gone by the wayside, the neighborhood book discussions have not. Thirty-two years and 349 books later, they’re still at it, forming friendships and talking good books.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

"Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese is one of the Neighborhood Readers' favorite books they've read as a group.

“Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese is one of the Neighborhood Readers’ favorite books they’ve read as a group.

Penguin Random House

Deseret News: Where do you get the books for your book club?

Frances Merrill: (The Utah Humanities program) was a very, very good program, so that’s what we did for several years. And eventually we read to the end of the books that they had, so we just started using the public library.

We all have so many books, we’re basically retired people … you just don’t want to buy another book. It works. But we really like it. Nobody quits because they don’t want to come. It’s just a good thing to do.

DN: What have you learned or gained from being involved in this book group?

FM: I never really took too much time to read. I had eight children. I guess I didn’t set time apart for myself, but now I’m forced into it and I found out I … enjoy reading. It’s made a big difference in my life. Books open up the world to you. And when I’m in different groups or people maybe sitting at the airport, people start talking … it usually comes to "Hey, I read a good book you might be interested in."

It’s very socially stimulating. … So to me, I relate it to a lot of the old-time quilting bees where women would get together and just talk about nothing, you know, just be together and socialize together. And I don’t think there’s very many quilting bees that go on anymore. But I think this has taken the place of it, because you get together and you can talk.

DN: What’s one of your most memorable book club meetings?

The Neighborhood Readers recommend "John Adams” by David McCullough.

The Neighborhood Readers recommend “John Adams” by David McCullough.

Simon and Schuster

FM: Last (time) we met — this had nothing to do with the book we read — one of the women … told this story because (her) son that she had given up for adoption had just called her like the week before. … She told about how (a woman from the adoption agency) called her and said, "We have a match." And she said, "What are you talking about?"

And she said, "Well, your son from so many years ago just contacted us and he’d like to meet with you," and so they met. …

It’s good for women to get together to be able to discuss that. She told what a tragedy that was that she never saw the baby — they didn’t let her see the baby or anything … She never knew where he was. That was very traumatic for her to tell, but she told what a wonderful reunion it was. (Her son) came here with his own family. And so we have very personal stuff like that. It’s not just read a book and get out.

The Neighborhood Readers recommend:

Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon and Schuster, 944 pages (nf)

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk” by Kelli Estes, Sourcebooks Landmark, 400 pages (hf)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, Penguin Random House 400 pages (nf)

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind” and series by Ann B. Ross, Harper Collins, 288 pages (f)

All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, Simon and Schuster, 544 pages (hf)

Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand, Penguin Random House, 528 pages (nf)

Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese, Penguin Random House, 688 pages (f)

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See, Penguin Random House, 288 pages (hf)

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” by Jung Chang, Simon and Schuster, 544 pages (nf)

John Adams” by David McCullough, Simon and Schuster, 752 pages, (nf)