Let’s Talk About It

The Let’s Talk About It program brings together local libraries with humanities scholars to host a series of enhanced book discussion sessions on a particular theme. Each session focuses on a different book within the theme, and each session is hosted by a different visiting scholar. A guest speaker presents information on the book, the author, issues and topics presented in the book, and how all this information relates to the theme. Following the presentation, participants engage in discussion centered around the book and the theme. Program speakers are educators or experts in various humanities fields, and these scholars enjoy meeting avid readers in Idaho’s communities while gaining new perspectives on literature that helps them enrich their teaching and research.

All meetings will be held at the Moscow Public Library, 110 S. Jefferson St. Moscow, Idaho.

Tough Paradise

Reading Materials

Developed by Susan Swetnam, Professor of English, Idaho State University (1995)
In 1995 the Idaho Humanities Council received an Exemplary Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct a special project highlighting the literature of Idaho and the Intermountain West. “Tough Paradise” explores the relationships between place and human psychology and values. Representing various periods in regional history, various cultural groups, various values, the books in this theme highlight the variety of ways that humans may respond to the challenging landscape of Idaho and the northern Intermountain West.

Upcoming Books and Sessions

January 9, 2024 at 2:00 p.m. (Registration opens December 1, 2023)

“Buffalo Coat”, by Carol Ryrie Brink. Published 1944, 421 pages.
With scholar Alexandra Teague, Professor of English from the University of Idaho

Buffalo Coat is Carol Ryrie Brink’s novelized account of events in Moscow, Idaho, around the turn of the century. Brink’s work details the yearning lives of women and men who feel not quite in tune with their town’s spirit, as it traces the rivalries of several town doctors and their visions of life. It poses man as the instigator against women as the sustainer. While men build to deify themselves, the women work together to provide the basic necessities to all as the need arises. When year after year typhoid cuts a deadly swath through the community, a water and sewer system is proposed to the voters. The main character, a doctor, opposes it because the idea came from a rival doctor and the tax liability on his extensive real estate holdings would prove burdensome. A young woman, barely out of high school, takes up the cause and campaigns to all who will listen. The women of the community, not yet allowed to vote, succeed in influencing the male population to do the right thing and eradicate the deadly disease. Historic fiction of this kind seeks to instruct and enlighten in a subtle fashion as it entertains. The deeper issues facing society become the scenery surrounding the characters as they waltz through their lives. It has an added depth because it has roots in the lives and experiences of real people recently and intimately known to the author.

February 13, 2024 at 5:30 p.m. (Registration opens January 2, 2023)

Hole in the Sky”, by William Kittredge. Published 1992, 238 pages.
With scholar Ron McFarland, Professor Emeritus from the University of Idaho

Hole in the Sky traces the life of William Kittredge. As a child, Kittredge grew up on his family’s Warner Valley ranch in the southeastern Oregon desert country, and he felt deep connections to the land and to the cowboys who worked it. As he aged, life became more complicated, as the tensions and dissolutions within his family, new ideas about land use, and his own struggles to come to terms with himself.

March 12, 2024 (Registration opens February 1, 2023)

Housekeeping”, by Marilynne Robinson. Published 1982, 219 pages.
With scholar Stacy Boe Miller, Moscow Poet Laureate

Marilynne Robinson’s best-selling novel tells the story of two girls orphaned when their mother drives a car off a hill into Lake Fingerbone. The girls move into their grandmother’s house where the grandmother, and upon her death, two great aunts, try to shelter the girls and assemble an ordinary life for them out of the daily tasks of housekeeping and the taken-for-granted connections among relatives. But when the great aunts also die, the girls are left in the care of, Sylvie, their mother’s transient sister. Sylvie’s world means random meals, leaves blowing through the littered rooms of the once orderly house, the parlor filled with heaps of tin cans and old paper. Without a traditional family structure for stability, the girls try to keep their balance between Sylvie’s world and the more conventional world of the small community of Fingerbone. Close at first, each sister must finally make her individual choice between those worlds, “outside” or “inside.” Robinson makes us understand loneliness, wildness, and the impermanence of both relationships and material objects. Yet she also shows us that these qualities, usually seen as wholly negative, have their own beauty and value. Sylvie and Ruth, the central characters, take their dangerous night walk across the railroad trestle above Lake Fingerbone, an act of courage and delicate balance, into their chosen home, a world stripped down to its essentials of change and motion.

The Let’s Talk About It program is made possible by funding and support from the Idaho Commission for Libraries, the Idaho Humanities Council, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.