As an 8-year-old kid growing up in Southern Idaho, Shawn Vestal desperately wanted to see Evel Knievel’s 1974 attempt to jump the Snake River canyon.
Vestal’s parents wouldn’t take him. “It’s on a Sunday,” they told him. “We observe the Sabbath.”
Vestal talked about how his childhood obsession with Knievel finds its way into “Daredevils,” the Spokane writer’s first novel, during Thursday’s debut of The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages Book Club.
About 100 people attended the community forum, which featured a conversation with Vestal, a Spokesman-Review columnist who also writes fiction influenced by his Idaho childhood and Mormon roots.
“It’s my experience,” he told the audience. “That’s really all I have – who I am.”
Award-winning Spokane author Bruce Holbert read a favorite passage from Vestal’s work, along with Spokesman-Review Editor Rob Curley and Assistant Managing Editor Carolyn Lamberson.
As a writer, Vestal is “brilliant at a macro level,” Holbert told the crowd. “He gets so much done in a brief time.”
In October, Vestal won the top fiction prize at the Washington State Book Awards for “Daredevils.”
This marks the third straight year a Spokane writer has claimed the award. Vestal follows Sharma Shields, who won for “The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac,” and Holbert, for “The Hour of Lead.”
“Spokane is such a great book town and people in the rest of the world are starting to notice,” said Donna Wares, the newspaper’s senior editor for community engagement.
Northwest Passages’ monthly forums will feature literature of the West, including works by Spokane-area authors and nationally acclaimed writers. In the future, community members can suggest titles for consideration.
The book club is an extension of the newspaper’s role in spurring community discussion, said Curley, the editor.
“It feels like for the last several years, when media companies and newspapers talk about community engagement, they’re really talking about how many ‘likes’ a story received on Facebook or how many times a story was shared on Twitter,” Curley said. “That’s not community engagement. We wanted to do something that involved people actually getting together to talk in person, not virtually.
“When you get together to talk about books, you’re really talking about ideas,” Curley said. “Talking about the things that matter to our community is what this really is about. Books are just a great excuse to get us all talking again.”
Northwest Passage’s December selection is “American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West” by Nate Blakeslee.
Blakeslee, a writer at large for Texas Monthly magazine, explores the controversial reintroduction of gray wolves to the Rocky Mountain West.
The book follows O-Six, a charismatic alpha female wolf in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley; hunters who compete with wolves for the elk they both prize; and cattle ranchers losing livestock to predation.
Blakeslee will be in Spokane for the Dec. 6 meeting at The Spokesman-Review. Admission is free, but tickets are required for the 7 to 9 p.m. event.
Blakeslee also will speak at a $40 VIP reception before the event, which includes a copy of his book, a glass of wine, priority seating and an hour with the author before the event opens to the public.