“On the same page” is a regular series featuring Utah book clubs.

Editor's note: If you have a book club and you are interested in being featured, please contact us at features@deseretnews.com. Please include your name, your contact information and one or two sentences describing your book club.

Twenty years ago, newlywed Kristen Nielson Jones moved back home to Utah with her husband after graduate school. As a way to connect with people and make friends, Jones, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, passed around a sign-up sheet for a book club in her married student ward.

The first book the women read together was "Make the Connection" by Oprah Winfrey. Simultaneously, they were trying to think of a name for their little club.

For its 10-year anniversary, the Estrogen Connection put together a cookbook with submissions from club members. Even club members who had since moved away from Utah contributed.
For its 10-year anniversary, the Estrogen Connection put together a cookbook with submissions from club members. Even club members who had since moved away from Utah contributed. | Kristen Nielson Jones

Many of the women still live in the Salt Lake Valley while others have moved away. However, their connection remains strong through email, taking vacations together and going on girls retreats. For the 10th anniversary of the club, members — even those outside of Utah — all submitted recipes for a cookbook.

Through the years, Jones said she and the other club members have realized, while it's enjoyable to read different books and discuss them, ultimately "it's not about the book."

Deseret News: Initially you said you meet once a month and support each other, in the pretext of discussing the book. Do you still discuss the book that you read?

Kristen Nielson Jones: We do, actually. … We read "Little Women," I think it was, and when we got together for the discussion, (a club member) had parts for us, and we got up and acted out scenes from the book. It was really fun and memorable. I just did the discussion on Shakespeare’s "Hamlet," and it was really fun because we read aloud certain scenes and then we watched a movie of that scene with the original words. … For a while we would all read a different book and then we’d come and do like book reports. … Over the years, I’ve learned so much and just so enjoyed the different types of discussions.

We are all kind of near the same age and we’re all women obviously, so it seems like it would be this homogenous (group) but really, there’s so many different personalities and different needs and we’ve had a lot of different things happen as we’ve become mothers and we’ve really, really supported each other. And I’ve really come to enjoy these women almost because they’re so different from me, in ways. I mean, we have a common thread, but we’re talking about very different personalities.

DN: You’ve mentioned "Little Women" and "Hamlet." It sounds like your book club goes all over the place.

The Utah-based book club The Estrogen Connection recommended "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.
The Utah-based book club The Estrogen Connection recommended "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.

KNJ: The way that we have worked it out over the years is, we meet in January, and … we plan what we’re going to read for the whole year. And so we all come with suggestions. But we’ve really read all over the board. We’ve read self-help books, we’ve read parenting books, we’ve read "Pride and Prejudice," we’ve read Malcolm Gladwell — I’ve liked it. I’ve read a fair amount of books that I didn’t like, but I’m surprised. And maybe this is where I really … appreciate having all these different personalities, somebody might suggest a book that I don’t necessarily like, but I love to be exposed to something different, and then to be able to talk … to my ladies about it. I guess over the years we’ve developed a certain level of comfort, like it’s OK and it’s safe to show up and hate the book. … We can do that respectfully and talk about it.

DN: Is there a book that the whole club has loved?

KNJ: I think we all really loved "The Help," and I think we also all really loved "The Secret Life of Bees." I think those two were kind of favorites. … We actually read … "And They Were Not Ashamed," a book on sexual intimacy in marriage, and that was a huge book. I mean everybody really, really seemed to like that and benefited a lot and got a lot out of that. And started giving it to family members when they got married. (laughs.)

DN: What is your most memorable, or a couple of your most memorable book club experiences?

KNJ: We read this book … called “I Thought My Father Was God” — it was a collection of short stories that … were submitted to NPR. NPR had a program where they would take these short stories that people had written and they just had to be true short stories … about something that maybe changed your perspective on life or whatever.

The program on NPR was so popular that they took the first year’s submissions of these stories and compiled them into a book. So we read this book, and then for the discussion, we wrote our own stories.

I remember really, at that point, we had bonded, we were very close, we knew each other well, and I really liked listening to everyone else’s stories, and my friend Kristin had her baby in the car on the way to the hospital, and she — this is going to make me cry! — she brought the audio tape (to our meeting).

You can hear (her husband) talking to the emergency responder and he said, ‘OK, the head is out,’ and he’s still driving, and … the 911 operator said, ‘now, you’re just heading out?’ and (Ben) said, ‘no, the head is out,’ then she told him, ‘OK, pull the car over’ … and you can hear Kristin screaming in the background, and then, (the baby) was born pretty quickly and you can hear Ben holding her saying, ‘breathe, baby, breathe,’ and he was so scared. We all just sat there with baited breath even though we knew what happened. And then (the baby) … finally started to gurgle and cry a little bit and we knew it was OK but, even now, I just remember that. You just felt so close to each other, and safe. There’s a safety, it’s like a safe refuge that we’ve developed and we’ve relied on.

The members of the Estrogen Connection club first met as young married students in the Salt Lake Valley.
The members of the Estrogen Connection club first met as young married students in the Salt Lake Valley. | Kristen Nielson Jones

DN: If you could sum up your favorite thing about being a part of this book club, what would you say?

KNJ: We have, it’s not like we started out intentionally building this incredible coalition of friends, but it’s kind of what happened. And in doing so, we’ve been able to rely on each other as we’ve had our babies and as we’ve raised our babies and as we’ve developed these important relationships with our spouses. It’s been a lot of work, and we’ve had a lot of kids. We’ve had a couple women that have lost babies, and that was really humbling and surprisingly hard on us as a book club. We’ve had moves, and we’ve helped each other move — our lives have changed, and we’ve been able to help each other all along the way. I know that seems something so small, but when you know that you can turn to this group of women and they’re going to catch you, it’s been an amazing safety net that I didn’t anticipate. It makes me feel really grateful.

The Estrogen Connection recommends:

"THE PARENTING BREAKTHROUGH: A Real-Life Plan to Teach Your Kids to Work, Save Money, and Be Truly Independent," by Merrilee Browne Boyack, Deseret Book Company, 256 pages (nf)

"The Help," by Kathryn Stockett, Penguin Random House, 544 pages (f)

"The Book Thief," by Markus Zusak, Penguin Random House, 592 pages (f)

"THESE IS MY WORDS: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901," by Nancy Turner, Harper Collins, 416 page (f)

"I THOUGHT MY FATHER WAS GOD: And Other True Tales from NPR's National Story Project," introduction by Paul Aster, Macmillan , 416 pages (nf)

"THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo," by Irving Stone, Penguin Random House, 784 pages (f)

"To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee, Harper Collins, 336 pages (f)

"The Poisonwood Bible," by Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Collins, 560 pages (f)

"THE 5 LOVE LANGUAGES: The Secret to Love That Lasts," by Gary Chapman, Northfield Publishing, 208 pages (nf)

"Pride and Prejudice," by Jane Austen, Penguin Random House, 384 pages (f)