Episode 87 - 2020 Summer Book Club Kickoff

As part of the podcast series Solutions for Higher Education, SUU President Scott L Wyatt will lead a "Summer Reading Club" focusing on a new book each month. Readers who join the podcast will be given an introduction to the book by Scott Wyatt and podcast host Steve Meredith, who will be joined by an expert guest to give additional insight and context to the completed reading.

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I'm your host, Steve Meredith, and I'm joined in-studio today, as I always am, by President Wyatt. Scott, good afternoon. How are you? 

Scott Wyatt: Terrific, thanks Steve.

Meredith: A beautiful May day as we are recording this. We're still kind of in the midst of COVID-19 social distancing and we are hoping that all of our listeners are safe and sound, and the good news is that the country seems to be opening up just a little bit as we are recording this. We certainly hope that that's done safely and with sound science behind it and that there aren't any big spikes or anything else. Mostly, we just hope everybody is well.

Wyatt: Yep, that's right. And it's…for some reason, when the day is warm and the sun shines, it just feels like things are getting better regardless. [Laughs]

Meredith: That's right. You're absolutely right, I think that's…I think as I look at peoples' reaction to this, there seems to be just a little bit less desperation right now just because the weather seems to be so nice, really, in almost the entire country.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: It makes a big difference.

Wyatt: Well, it's summer.

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: And that means no more serious talk.

Meredith: That's right. [Laughs]

Wyatt: And we're doing our book club, the Summer Book Club, and…

Meredith: Year three, I think.

Wyatt: This is the year three.

Meredith: Yeah, year three of our Summer Book Club.

Wyatt: Well, and it's a good time to be reading books. So, people are always asking us, “What are we doing with our time?” And the answer is usually, “We're actually working harder than…”

Meredith: Working like a dog.

Wyatt: “Than we were last summer. Because everything has changed so much and there's a lot to do on campus, even though it seems quiet. But, a lot of people have a little extra time, and so, maybe this is even a better year for the book club.

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: And we've put together an interesting collection of books that we hope are all relevant to the time that we're in. And some of the books are new, some are old, some are really deeply thoughtful and some are just fun. But we think that it's going to be a good group of books. And they're all from kind of a different genre.

Meredith: Yeah, for sure. And, with the exception of one book, we're going to be able to actually talk with the author of that book which is a new thing for us.

Wyatt: Yeah, we had a couple…

Meredith: Yeah, that's right.

Wyatt: But this time, it's all of them except for the one that the author is no longer living.

Meredith: Yeah. And that's the one we're going to start with, I think. So, the book for May, if you're listening to this when we release this, it's the week of May 11th when this podcast will be released, and we are going to have our very first book which is Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.

Wyatt: This is a goodie but an oldie.

Meredith: It is.

Wyatt: No, I said that backwards.

Meredith: Right. We knew what you meant. [Both laugh]

Wyatt: But anytime that things are a little bit unsettling and worry in the air, this is a great book to go back to. And we're going to be joined in our discussion about this book on May 26th by a member of our phycology department. And so, we'll talk about man's search for meaning.

Meredith: And for those that haven't read it—I think it was a very widely read book for, certainly when I was in college, and as you suggest, a great thing to go back to when times are difficult—but for those that haven't read it, Dr. Frankl was a psychiatrist and a neurologist who survived an almost unspeakable set of horrors during the Holocaust as a survivor of a number of Holocaust camps. And yet, didn't lose his…didn't lose the meaning of his life.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: So, anyway, it's a thoughtful, interesting, uplifting read.

Wyatt: Yeah, and I've, like you, Steve, I think we've both read this book more than once.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: And I'm looking forward to reading it again.

Meredith: Me too, yeah.

Wyatt: So, that's book number one. Get that read by May 26th if you care to join us with that book.

Meredith: That's great.

Wyatt: And we'll have a fun discussion about Man's Search for Meaning. Second book: so, we're the university of the parks and that means that we're smack dab in the middle of all of these national parks and we have a pretty good outdoor component to our university and we don't have any oceans nearby.

Meredith: No, we don't.

Wyatt: But, as we were thinking about what would be the ultimate social distancing experience book, this one comes to us. It's called…and it's a new book, and it's called The Pacific Alone written by Dave Shively, and it's the story of Ed Gillet, who attempts to ride his paddle, his kayak, from Monterey, California to Hawaii.

Meredith: A kayak.

Wyatt: A kayak.

Meredith: So, kneeling down, more or less, or sitting down the whole time.

Wyatt: Well, yeah, sitting.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: Canoes you can lean, by kayaks, you're stuck in this little teeny thing that looks like a Ziploc baggie.

Meredith: No kidding, wow.

Wyatt: So, it's a very fun, interesting little story, but it…social distancing. So, that's our attempt at finding something that's connected to social distancing. [Laughs]

Meredith: It's funny how phrases enter our lexicon and become just…who would have ever imagined we would have been saying the words, “social distancing” and everybody would know what it means and say it ten times a day?

Wyatt: And it's never going to leave.


Meredith: Never going to go away again.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: So, we're not going to tell you if Gillet makes it or not, or how he makes it if he does, or how one would sleep…

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: In a kayak. I mean, you can lay down in a rowboat.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: And people have done a rowboat across the Pacific, but this is the, hypothetically speaking, the only successful kayak journey across the Pacific. Assuming he makes it…

Meredith: And you'll…you have to read the book.

Wyatt: Because we're not going to let you know.

Meredith: That's right. As we've been researching these books, this one seems like the kind of thing that if you were a nautical person, you personally, this seems like the kind of crazy thing you would actually try.

Wyatt: Yeah. And no GPS.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: So, he's going by the stars and the sun.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: And I think the first two weeks it was overcast, and so there wasn't stars or sun. And I think he had a GPS tracker of some sort so his wife could know where he was, and I think it was within the first two weeks that failed. So, they might have been worried about him. [Both laugh] More than you would otherwise be worried about somebody.

Meredith: There you go.

Wyatt: Anyway…

Meredith: Wow. So, that's book two.

Wyatt: That's book two and we're going to air that on June 29th.

Meredith: The Pacific Alone written by Dave Shively, the story of Ed Gillet on June 29th.

Wyatt: OK. And no summer reading club during this pandemic would be complete without reading about the Spanish Flu, 1918 and 1919.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: So, the third book will be The Great Influenza by John Barry. This is not the newest book on this influenza, but I think the best book. And it was a book, actually, first given to me by our Public Health Director here in Southwest Utah.

Meredith: Who has been a guest on this show, actually, before. Dr. Dave Blodgett.

Wyatt: Yeah. And I think that this will be a really interesting book for us to read and to draw the contrast and comparisons from what happened just a little over 100 years ago. We won't talk too much about that today, but in Cedar City in 1918, everybody was wearing masks and you could get a mask and you could get a ticket for not wearing one and pay a fine or go to prison. It was a criminal offense.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: I've had a lot of people, Steve, say to me, “There's too much loss of freedom during this pandemic.”

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: “And it's going to start something that we'll never get out of. We're going to lose all of this freedom forever.” And the reality is, is that we lost a lot more freedom during the Great Influenza of 1918.

Meredith: Yeah. We were closed down as a university and sent everybody home and running triage out of some buildings and..

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: Yeah.


Wyatt: Yeah, so that will be a terrific read and discussion.

Meredith: So, that's John M. Barry, The Great Influenza will drop on Monday, July 27th. By the way, you mentioned now over 100 years ago, but my grandparents on my mother's side were leaving high school going into their young adulthood during that time. I think my grandfather missed the whatever draft there was or whatever WWI requirement there was because he was just a little bit too young. But they both knew, I remember hearing stories from them as a kid, they both had family and friends that died of that influenza. And so, it seems like a long time ago and it seems very far away, but for me, it's people that I actually knew and heard stories from. And even during our lifetime we've had polio epidemics and other things that probably have not…the reaction has probably not been as significant as the reaction worldwide to this particular pandemic, but anyway. I guess what I'm trying to say is this isn't the first time and probably not the last time.

Wyatt: Yeah, that's right. We'll, so we've been trying to pick books out of different genres that all have a theme for this summer, and our first book, phycology and second book is more of an adventure…

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: Book.

Meredith: An adventure in social distancing. [Both laugh]

Wyatt: outdoor adventure, social distancing. The third book is kind of a science medical book related directly. And the last book wanted something that related to Western history in our region, and so…but because COVID-19 came out of China, we're going to merge a little Chinese history and Western American history, the Old West.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: And we've got a very fun book. I've actually met this author, delightful person, Chris Corbett, and the book's called The Poker Bride.

Meredith: So, this is the story of a young Chinese woman whose family was starving and they sold her into sex slavery, essentially. Correct?

Wyatt: That's right. It's hard for us to understand how parents could do that, but we've also never lived when there wasn't enough food for your family…

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: So, that's part of the interesting piece of the book is this girl that was sold, and she ends up being brought to America, San Francisco.

Meredith: Right. During 1849.

Wyatt: The Goldrush. She ends up finding herself with this guy in Idaho where he lost her in a poker match. Hence, The Poker Bride. And it tells her story and it's really a fascinating story about…you could describe this in a variety of ways, but I'm going to describe it as the Chinese's contribution to the settlement of the West and…

Meredith: Which is enormous and significant and underappreciated, for sure.

Wyatt: We'll get a piece of American Western history and a piece of Chinese culture and we're going to learn something about this…the resilience of this incredible woman.

Meredith: So, that is The Poker Bride by Christopher Corbett and that will drop on Monday, August 31st, and that will be our last book of the series.

Wyatt: There's only a billion books out there, and we had to choose four. [Both laugh]

Meredith: I don't know if our listeners know how much we agonize over this stuff. I mean, we agonize over all of these things and we put them together with a fair amount of thought and research, but even though this one is just for fun, you and I have spent a fair amount of time talking about what this should be.

Wyatt: We really have. And we're delighted that the three authors will be with us to talk about this.

Meredith: Yeah, that will give it a real relevance and presence.

Wyatt: Yeah. They'll be an appropriate social distance away via phone.

Meredith: By phone, right.

Wyatt: Anyway, join us. We're excited to jump into these four books and spread them out over the summer and have a terrific time.

Meredith: You've been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We hope you're able to join us for our Summer 2020 Book Club. We look forward to getting any feedback from you, we're always interested in hearing from our listeners. Please stay safe! We'll be back again soon, bye bye.