At Back of Beyond Books on #Moab’s Main Street, there’s a whole bookshelf of Abbey’s work that holds pride of place just at the entrance. There’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, which Abbey dedicated to Sheriff Wright with the inscription, “To the man in the middle,” at a 1985 reading, the first time the sheriff and the monkey wrenching writer met face-to-face. “I put my business card on the table and told him to write any damn thing he wanted,” says Wright with a chuckle. He still has the #book. In fact, he brought it along for our ride, keeping it in his lap the entire time. It is in excellent condition.
Andy Nettell, the proprietor of the store, says Abbey’s #books continue to sell well, even 25 years after his death. “We sell over 500 copies a year of #Desert Solitaire,” he told me via email, “and probably over 1,000 copies of Ed’s various titles, with The Monkey Wrench Gang being his second best seller.” Nettell says most buyers have heard Abbey’s name and “come searching him out,” with the majority of new books selling to an audience of readers born after Abbey’s death. Abbey’s “brand of anarchy and anti-government control, plus his environmental stances resonate well with younger generations,” Nettell wrote. “Ed’s work remains as relevant or more today as ever.” In his bookstore, and around Moab, Nettell says “an oft heard comment is ‘What would Ed think about (fill in the blank)?’ It seems as though many people are looking for a person to believe in, one who is committed to a cause they believe in, and Abbey often fills that void.” In fact, many of Abbey’s readers arrive in this part of Utah on a sort of spiritual pilgrimage, paying tribute to their literary idol by following in his footsteps—or trying to—despite his injunction that they never do so. Nettell also acknowledges, though, what so many Abbey fans can not and what Abbey himself did not, namely, that the relationship between development and environmental preservation and protection is complicated. “Locals remain mixed on their feelings about Abbey,” Nettell concluded, and “there remain people in town who will never step foot in Back of Beyond because of our association with Ed.”