Salt Lake City is a literate town. Wildly successful authors such as Stephanie Meyers, Richard Paul Evans and Orson Scott Card were schooled there. Rates of bi-lingualism in Utah are fairly high and the literacy rate of 88% is one of the highest in the nation. There is a surprisingly robust coffee culture there. As we all know, coffee and books are complementary. It is also a major tourist destination with winter skiers and summer hikers. Utah has a well-read population, a fertile literary culture and a healthy tourism economy. Given that, it’s easy to see why Utah bookstores and libraries make a great literary tour for book nerds.
6 Ways to Experience Utah Bookstores, Libraries and Literary Historical Sites
This Utah bookstore adventure will take you through three neighborhoods full of great bookstores and libraries. Then take a tour of the imagination by reading some great books by Utah authors and set in Utah locations.
1. Salt Lake City Library, Main Branch
This beautiful downtown building is awash with natural light. The multi-story atrium and exterior walls are all glass, giving the library a very inviting vibe. It’s refreshing change from the dark scary stacks that populate so many municipal libraries. The library is designed for comfort and there are a variety of living room type spaces to read and work. They also offer rotating community art exhibits and a variety of other events including rooftop yoga.
Their fiction section is generously stocked, which gave me plenty of opportunity to perform my literary misdemeanors. I did this by creating displays for Saving Fish from Drowning and The Big Killing. You can read and drink simultaneously by grabbing a coffee at the Salt Lake Roasting Company, which is located right in the library.
2. Utah Bookstore: The Central Book Exchange
Central Book Exchange has been selling used books in the Sugarhouse neighborhood since 1968. It’s a small but reasonably well-stocked store with a panoply of offerings. They have an interesting staff pics display right in the entryway, which I made even better with the addition of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Like many used bookstores, you don’t always find what you think that you want, but you often find what you need. Which in my case was a copy of Jack London’s Call of the Wild. You can settle down with your book either a few doors north at the Sugarhouse Coffee shop or go across the street for a beer at the Fiddler’s Elbow.
3. Utah Bookstore: Ken Sanders
If you are looking browse even more used books, then head over to the downtown Ken Sanders bookstore. They sell general used books, antiquarian collections, art and old postcards. They seem to have a thing for Mormon history and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The store is an excellent place to browse for the bizarre. I found random tomes like The Practical Horseshoer; a reprint of a 1890 how-to book. I then discovered a dictionary of the Deseret Alphabet; a beyond bizarre special language created by Brigham Young. Then I tripped over The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power; a 928 page self-proclaimed “magisterial” and “indispensable” masterwork on LDS church leadership. That last one looked riveting.
4. Utah Bookstore: Golden Braid
If the kooky, non-existent languages and the “magisterial” leave you feeling disoriented, then head a few blocks east to the Golden Braid bookstore. This new-age bookstore and gift shop offers up a healthy dose of centered serenity. While in the store, start by browsing self-help, wiccan and poetry books. Then you can have your tarot read, shop for crystals, funky socks, jewelry and fun greeting cards. Then zen-out next door at the Oasis Cafe. They offer up a truly delicious breakfast.
Grab a book and then a beer with this guide to SLC breweries.
5. Utah Bookstore: Kings English
A visit to a Utah bookstore would not be complete without including The Kings English. This little jewel, located in the 15th & 15th neighborhood, is one of my favorite independent bookshops. It doesn’t have the vast scale of Powell’s in Portland or the beat poet history of City Lights in San Francisco. But what the Kings English does have is a brilliant staff and a well-organized collection of everything that you should be reading right now. Their staff expertly guided my goddaughter (a precocious reader) through her pre-teens into her adult readership, fueling her love of books and reading. Their staff pics never disappoint. I even find it difficult to perform my misdemeanors there because they are so thorough with their displays. However, I did manage to sneak a face-out for A Confederacy of Dunces and Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore (which I believe that I purchased there last year).
6. Historical & Natural Literary Sites for Salt Lake Book Nerds
Mark Twain’s Roughing It describes a hilarious few days that he spent in Salt Lake in the 1860’s. He struggled to understand the Mormons and their polygamist culture. Yet in the end he found himself liking the place and its people. Twain’s historical version of Salt Lake City’s literary tourism adventure would start at the “This is the place” monument at the mouth of Immigration Canyon. The monument commemorates the arrival of the Mormons and their decision to settle the Salt Lake valley. Then move on to the Beehive House near Temple Square. The house was Brigham Young’s home and he was very likely living there when Twain rolled into town. Then visit Temple Square and the LDS church visitors center downtown.
The Salt Lake Area also has very beautiful natural surroundings. You can take my suggested urban hikes, or ski the greatest snow on earth (and score great ski pass discounts). Alternatively, you can read Terry Tempest William’s beautiful book, Refuge, which is a meditation on nature, family and human impact on our planet. Reading it will make you want to visit the locations mentioned in the book, including the Great Salt Lake and the Bear River Migratory Refuge.
Writers Who Are From or Have Written About Utah
If you aren’t visiting Utah’s bookstores or libraries anytime soon, take a tour in your mind. Read some of these books about Utah and authors who have a connection to the state.
- Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyers
Forbidden teenage werewolf love by this graduate of Brigham Young University (BYU)
- The Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Sci-fi extraordinaire as these teens play a video game with the highest stakes possible. Card also attended both BYU and the University of Utah
- Maze Runner Series by James Dashner
Dashner lives in Salt Lake with his family. This survival saga follows a crew of teenagers just trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic America.
- Walking on Water by Richard Paul Evans
The story of a man who walks across the US as a way to grieve and re-think his life written by the author of the Christmas Box. Rick grew up in and currently resides in Salt Lake.
- Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
Stegner spent part of his formative years in Utah. He won a Pulitzer for fiction with this story of the hardscrabble west.
- Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey
A motley crew of environmental terrorists and their comic attempts to make a statement in southern Utah.
- Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer
An exploration of the darkness that is modern day polygamy.
More Literary Tourism
Please as punch with the post? Pin it!
Want more Wayfaring Views? Subscribe to the newsletter
(Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that if you chose to purchase, I’ll get a small commission.)