Business Happenings - November 2002
Exploring the Back
of Beyond in an Armchair
by Annabelle Numaguchi
Thirteen years have passed
since José Knighton established Back of Beyond Books,
a haven for western literature and an interactive memorial
to Edward Abbey and the ideals he continues to symbolize.
It was, in fact, Abbeys memorial service in May of 89
that generated the idea for this bookstore. Knighton explains
that he wanted to pay homage to Eds literary presence
in Moab, and decided to open Back of Beyond back when
the town seemed beyond booming again. A native of northern
Utah, Knighton, who worked for several bookstores in Salt
Lake City, met Abbey through various book signings and events
supporting environmental issues. He borrowed the name for
the bookstore from the Abbey work, Hayduke Lives, a sequel
to the popular The Monkey Wrench Gang.
Back of Beyond is a complete bookstore
in that it carries literature on myriad subjects along with
an assortment of greeting cards, calendars and magazines.
However, the charming store exhibits a strong flair for Western
Americana, initially evident in the section devoted to Abbey,
and specializes in natural history and regional guides, particularly
for hiking and river-running. Knighton claims that Back of
Beyond possesses one of the deepest inventories of natural
history of the West, which is supported by the repeat
local and out-of-town customers he gets searching for this
particular material. Many of his magazines focus on environmental
and fringe political issues, periodicals not regularly carried
of the bookstores locale in southern Utah, books that
appear on the traditional best seller lists dont always
receive the same enthusiasm from Back of Beyonds patrons.
Consequently, Knighton is more attuned to his customers
reading preferences and pays close attention to their suggestions,
stocking what people ask for directly. He obviously has a
good ear since he has doubled the size of the bookstore since
the mid 90s and it continues to thrive.
He not only listens to his customers suggestions, but
also contributes his own in a section entitled, Staff Picks.
As is the custom in many bookstores, employees place their
favorite titles on the shelves; however, Knighton has whimsically
created his own sticker, the Monkey Wrench Gang Seal of Approval,
to indicate which among the employees selections capture
the flavor and spirit of Back of Beyond. A current favorite
sporting the sticker is Jonathan Carrolls The Marriage
of Sticks, which Knighton plans to take with him on his upcoming
trip to Portland where he will visit Carrolls book signing.
One recent reading trend that has not escaped Knightons
notice is the renewed avidity of children readers. He attributes
this phenomenon to the Harry Potter series and the good-sized
childrens section aptly meets this new demand. He says
this is very exciting to see happen and he is happy to know
that a new generation of readers is growing up in Moab.
passion for the written word extends beyond reading and selling
books. He has himself contributed to the body of literature
on hiking guides, essays and poems. An avid hiker, which originally
drew him to Moab, he wrote Canyon Countrys LaSal Mountains
Hiking and Nature Handbook and has contributed essays on environmental
issues to various publications, including Harpers and
a decennial compilation edited by Wild Earth Magazine. Recently,
he has eschewed essay writing and focused on poetry, including
the complex form of sonnets. Nature continues to be a focal
point for his writing, no matter the genre.
For an afternoon of exploring the Southwest from the comfort
of an armchair, check out Back of Beyond Books, located at
83 North Main Street. The store has switched to winter hours,
which means it opens at 9:00 a.m. and closes at 6:00 p.m.
except for Friday and Saturday when José Knighton lets
the customers decide when to call closing time.