Once again it’s time for the Des Moines Register’s RAGBRAI, held this week July 20-26th. Notice that the acronym stands for RIDE not RACE, thereby allowing old-lady librarians like me to participate. Fortunately, everyone is welcome and we can all go at our own pace.

RAGBRAI started in 1973, so this year will be the 36th year. Bikers will start on Sunday by dipping the back tire of their bike in the Missouri River at Missouri Valley, Iowa. Overnight stops this year are Harlan, Jefferson, Ames, Tama/Toledo, North Liberty and Tipton. The final destination is nearby LeClaire on Saturday, July 26 where the bicyclists finish by dipping their front tires in the Mississippi River. With the Bix 7 Road Race going on the same day in Davenport as well as the Bix Jazz Festival, there’ll be lots of visitors to enjoy our Quad City hospitality!

To read more about RAGBRAI check out River to River, Year after Year: RAGBRAI Through the Lens of Register Photographers and RAGBRAI: Everyone Pronounces it Wrong by John Karas.

Who knew there’d be so many interesting, funny, thoughtful books featuring our own backyard? Iowa might not make a lot of headlines (that’s a good thing, actually) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of some great books. There’s been a lot of national attention on Iowa this summer because of the flooding, but next week there’ll be some more positive news – RAGBRAIs annual bike ride (Starting on Monday be sure to watch this blog for a special series of stories from our own Tana on her RAGBRAI experiences) and of course, the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival and Bix 7 Road Race here in Davenport. Keep the Iowa-vibes going with some great reads.

Niagara Falls all Over Again by Elizabeth McCracken. McCracken spent her childhood summers visiting her grandmother in Des Moines, so the first half of the book, set in Des Moines, is filled with authentic details. The story of a comedy team that makes it big in vaudeville and later in Hollywood B movies and the ties that hold the partners together. Funny and moving and beautifully written.

Moo by Jane Smiley. Set at an agriculture college in Iowa (read: Iowa State University) this satire is a look from the inside of the politics and intrigues of academia. Filled with sophisticated humor and clever storytelling. For a grimmer look at life in rural Iowa, don’t miss Smiley’s Pulitzer Prize winning A Thousand Acres.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. If you haven’t read Bryson yet, you’re missing out on one of our funniest writers. Born and raised in Des Moines, Bryson went on to travel (and write about) the world. Bryson waxes nostalgic about growing up in Iowa and memories unique to the Midwest (Bishop’s Buffet! the pneumatic tubes at the downtown Younkers!) and evokes a bygone era of innocence.

Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella. Before it was a movie (Field of Dreams) it was a book. Much more complex and thoughtful than the movie, Shoeless Joe explores timeless American icons – the family farm, a father and son playing baseball, the power of memory and forgiveness.

Eleven Days by Donald Harstad. A series of strange murders tears a small Iowa town apart and leads sheriff Carl Houseman to a cult and the possible involvement of a local pastor. A hard-boiled mystery with droll details and an explosive ending. Harstad was a deputy sheriff in northeastern Iowa for 26 years, lending authentic details of small-town life.

Want to take a walk down memory lane and follow the adventures of Sheriff Andy Taylor again? Miss a pivotol episode of Lost? Need a good laugh, something witty from Frasier or laugh-out loud silly from Home Improvement? The Davenport Library is the place to go for Television on DVD. We have all kinds of programs for all kinds of tastes – comedy, drama, action, science fiction. We have classic shows as well as the latest releases and best of all – there’s no cost to rent them!

All DVDs check out for one week and can be renewed once (so long as no one else is waiting for that particular season of Charmed!)

The romance of the open road (and our corresponding love affair with the car) has always been a part of America’s history and character. Maybe it’s the vast distances of the country, or it’s unending variety, or part of our make-up as a nation of immigrants but nothing says America like a road trip. How many of you remember childhood trips, packed into the family car, driving to see tourist destinations like Mt Rushmore or the Grand Canyon or the Great Smokey Mountains? Squabbling with your siblings, counting license plates, swimming in the motel pools – as American as apple pie.

The Lincoln Highway by Michael Wallis is a celebration of the heyday of car travel from the 20s to the 50s. Spanning the country from New York City to San Fransisco, covering more than 3000 miles through thirteen states, the Lincoln Highway was once a popular route for travelers. The modern interstate highway system, with it’s direct routes and smooth multi-lanes, has taken over most of the traffic, and in many places superseded the Lincoln Highway, but it’s still possible to follow it across the country. Wallis takes us along on his adventure; part travelogue, part nostalgia trip, this book is filled with pictures of vintage postcards, historical images and modern photographs. This book celebrates the iconic architecture of “motor lodges”, gas stations and diners, the stunning scenery of the countryside, the funky roadside attractions and most of all, the characters that still live along it.

Here’s a dream-come-true for chocolate lovers everywhere – dozens and dozens of scrumptious recipes using dark chocolate and cocoa powder – and they’re all lower in fat and calories! Enlightened Chocolate by Camilla Saulsbury manages to deliver great chocolate recipes that are actually good for you (mostly). The health benefits of dark chocolate (including being rich in antioxidants, aiding stress reduction, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing “bad” cholesterol) are discussed, as well as how to choose the best ingredients. There are recipes for items you’d expect – cakes (flourless Chocolate Torte), cookies (Mudslide Cookies), decadent deserts(Chocolate-Whiskey Fudge Pie), and chocolate drinks (Chocolate-Raspberry Morning Milkshake). But there are also savory recipes such as Pork Medallions with Port-Chocolate Pan Sauce and Cocoa-Balsamic Roasted Onions.

Ahhh – chocolate at every meal – heaven on earth!

The road trip as a metaphor for discovery has long been a classic theme in American literature. So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger takes you along on a road trip that is both physical, fraught with danger and intrigue, and emotional, full of regret and redemption.

Monte Becket, unable to follow-up his bestseller first book, is slipping back into an ordinary life when he meets Glendon Hale, a former train robber. When Glendon decides to return to California to ask forgiveness from the wife he abandoned, Monte finds himself drawn himself into the adventure. Pursued by ruthless ex-Pinkerton detective and meeting a vivid cast of characters along the way, this beautifully written novel will bring you right into the heart of 1915 America, in a West that has since vanished, about people we wish we had been able to meet.

One thing many of us look forward to every year is the Farmer’s Markets and the bounty of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. With the peak of the season nearly here – tomatoes and sweet corn! – it’s time to look for some recipes that will help make the most of those delicacies.

The Farm to Table Cookbook by Ivy Manning would be a great place to start. Most recipes are straightforward, emphasizing the flavors of fresh food and range from side dishes to main meals to desert. Although there is a definite Northwest slant (halibut, scallops) alternative ingredients are not difficult to find. Recipes are presented seasonally, with asparagus and Swiss Chard featured in the spring, corn, tomatoes and peppers in the summer, and squash and apples in the fall. Don’t let the season slip by without trying a few special recipes!

This charming, deceptively simple movie, winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1987, is full of humor, sadness and hope. Babette, a refugee from the French revolution, is taken in by two Danish sisters who have given up all personal happiness for piety and live in strict austerity. For many years Babette works for the sisters, quietly contributing to their lives and the to the community. One day she discovers that she has won the lottery and, in gratitude to the people who have sheltered and accepted her, creates a memorable feast for the people who have become her family. This beautifully filmed and acted movie is a bittersweet examination of choices made and second chances.

The Davenport Library has lots of DVDs of all kinds – action, drama, foreign and comedy. Be sure to stop in and browse our collection!

Thinking about making some or all of your Christmas gifts this year? Better get started now – Christmas is coming! For inspiration, look through the series of “last-minute” books by Joelle Hoverson and Cynthia Treen which are filled with simple yet stylish projects. (Of course, take the “last-minute” definitions with a grain of salt – what might be last minute to some may not be last minute to you!)

Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson. This knitting book has become a big favorite lately and includes the wildly popular “Hourglass Sweater” and “Chevron Scarf” patterns. You’ll also find designs for, among other things, a charming knitted bag (seen on the cover), fingerless mitts, and a baby bonnet.

Last-Minute Quilted and Patchwork Gifts by Joelle Hoverson. Like the previous book, this one is broken down by the time it would take to make each project – 2-4 hours, 4-8 hours, etc. Gift ideas include quilted coasters, an heirloom quality log cabin quilt, pillowcases, tablecloths and a stuffed elephant.

Last-Minute Fabric Gifts by Cynthia Treen. Here you’ll find patterns for a baby quilt, a zippered change purse, bags, hats and adorable felted rabbit toys. Projects in all three of these books are simple but modern and easy enough for a beginning crafts person. You’re sure to find something for everyone on your gift list.

Price of gas got you down? Planning on canceling or cutting back on travel plans? Try taking a vacation in your own backyard. Here are some books that can inspire you to makeover your yard for your own private retreat.

Backyard Design by Jean Breskend. Covering all types of backyards – city, suburban, country – Backyard Design will give you lots of ideas and tips on handling many different situations – swimming pools, fences, driveways, retaining walls, recreation areas, patios and decks. Both inspirational and instructional, this is a good place to start.

Deckscaping by Barbara Ellis. Already have a deck, but it’s less than inviting? This book is filled with ideas for decorating decks of all shapes and sizes. As well as including ideas on choosing plants and containers, there are sections on outdoor furniture, how to build trellises and arbors and how to create beautiful container gardens for your deck.

In Your Own Backyard by A. Cort Sinnes. Illustrated with charming line drawings and whimsical paintings, here is a book that encourages you to create a backyard retreat that fits your personality and needs, not what will impress the neighbors (or Martha Stewart) Whether it’s a hammock or a gazing globe or a croquet court, this delightful book encourages you to follow your dreams.