I was assured that I would find no exciting books in Salt Lake City. Though complimentary copies of the Book of Mormon would flow like mead, the bookshops would be barren, if they existed at all. This was a relief. I had picked up a lot of books on the American tour so far. Leaving each city, my luggage was weightier than on arrival, with everything from a political primer by activist Dick Gregory to ’60s pulp novels with titles like Sexy Psycho and Venus of Lesbos.
In Minneapolis, I had picked up a sumptuously illustrated book from a fabulous exhibition of art influenced by the supernatural. I was leafing through it when a stranger sat next to me on the plane. Her arrival coincided with me turning to the page featuring a photograph of Carolee Schneemann removing a scroll from her vagina. Her performance (Interior Scroll) is still much lauded, but it is an awkward icebreaker with a stranger. I turned the page hastily and thought that I should swap my reading matter, but then remembered that all I had at hand was Broken Pencil, a fascinating publication about art and zines, but this issue was about how Nazis use zine culture and going from a scroll to a swastika could make matters worse. I think that passenger feigned sleep for the rest of the journey, ignoring even the complimentary Fanta, out of fear that I might attempt to engage.
There is a magnificent, welcoming strangeness to Salt Lake City. I would not be surprised to see flamingos whacking croquet balls. It is so friendly, almost on the cusp of that friendly you see in horror movies just before you find out it has all been an elaborate trap to place the brain of an ancient man in your skull and body so he can live forever. This was peak “have a nice day” America and I did. In fact, I had two nice days.
I took a walk up the main drag with my tour companions, Brian and Steph, and within 500 metres, tragedy struck. I discovered what would become my favourite bookshop of the tour so far – Utah Books and Magazines. It had a whiff of yellowing pages and aged book glue and there were strange dolls and other arcane ephemera peeping at you from shelves. Books were stacked high and four deep, it was run by a brother and sister who were foul-mouthed, moody and highly entertaining.
Brian and Steph watched me in my natural habitat, kneeling on the floor, pawing through books, stacking up my yeses and maybes. An anthropological study of a bookworm. They enjoyed the novelty of my burrowing, but soon needed fresh air and continued on to the mall for juice and carrot cakes.
Before long I had my hands on Winfred Van Atta’s Shock Treatment – “More terrifying than Psycho. More revealing than The Caretakers” (I don’t know what the caretakers revealed, but I would find out).