boys in the bunkhouseWith this Dickensian tale from America’s heartland, New York Times writer and columnist Dan Barry tells the harrowing yet uplifting story of the exploitation and abuse of a resilient group of men with intellectual disability, and the heroic efforts of those who helped them to find justice and reclaim their lives.

In the tiny Iowa farm town of Atalissa, dozens of men, all with intellectual disability and all from Texas, lived in an old schoolhouse. Before dawn each morning, they were bussed to a nearby processing plant, where they eviscerated turkeys in return for food, lodging, and $65 a month. They lived in near servitude for more than thirty years, enduring increasing neglect, exploitation, and physical and emotional abuse – until state social workers, local journalists, and one tenacious labor lawyer helped these men achieve freedom.

Drawing on exhaustive interviews, Dan Barry dives deeply into the lives of the men, recording their memories of suffering, loneliness and fleeting joy, as well as the undying hope they maintained despite their traumatic circumstances. Barry explores how a small Iowa town remained oblivious to the plight of these men, analyzes the many causes for such profound and chronic negligence, and lays out the impact of the men’s dramatic court case, which has spurred advocates–including President Obama – to push for just pay and improved working conditions for people living with disabilities.

A luminous work of social justice, told with compassion and compelling detail, The Boys in the Bunkhouse is more than just inspired storytelling. It is a clarion call for a vigilance that ensures inclusion and dignity for all. (description from publisher)

readersofbrokenwheelI love reading books that take place in Iowa. I find it interesting to see what authors think of my home state.  The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is set in fictional town Broken Wheel, Iowa.  And this book is unique because the author, Katarina Bivald, lives in Sweden. So, if you are curious as to how someone from Europe views life in the state of Iowa, you should definitely pick up this book.

Sara has traveled all the way from Sweden to meet her pen pal Amy, who lives in Broken Wheel, Iowa.  The plan is that Sara will stay with Amy for two months.  But when Sara arrives in Iowa, she learns that Amy has died.  But the townspeople of Broken Wheel knew that she was coming and they all welcome her to the town.  They tell her to stay in Amy’s house because that is what Amy would have wanted. Sara understandably feels strange staying in the house alone and having people give her food and drinks for free.  She tries to pay her own way but everyone refuses her.

Since she no longer has a hostess, Sara needs to find something to do. And, the town council is trying to think of how they can keep Sara entertained.  Sara and Amy bonded over books.  Both women were avid readers and they even exchanged books in the mail. When Sara ventures into Amy’s bedroom, she finds a room filled with books. Shortly after, Sara learns that Amy owned one of the buildings downtown. Sara decides to clean up the unused store and make it into a new bookstore. Many of the townspeople help her clean and repaint the building. Others find bookshelves and furniture. Soon, the tiny town of Broken Wheel has its own bookstore.

Sara enjoys finding books for the townspeople to read. She is able to match up books with the right person to read it. Soon, people from the neighboring town of Hope come to Broken Wheel to check out the new bookstore. Sara is dismayed to learn that people from Hope look down on people from Broken Wheel. So Sara forms a plan to get the people of townspeople reading. This is when she creates the shelf, “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend”.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a very fun book to read. Plus, it has the added bonus of discussing many different book titles throughout the story. Perhaps you will find your next read in the pages of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend.

Note: If you listen to the audiobook version, you will find the Iowan accent to be very interesting.



lilaA new novel from the Pulitzer Prizewinning author of Gilead and Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns to the town of Gilead in an unforgettable story of a girlhood lived on the fringes of society in fear, awe, and wonder.

Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church the only available shelter from the rain and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the life that preceded her newfound security. Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by Doll, a canny young drifter, and brought up by her in a hardscrabble childhood. Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand to mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a ragged blade to protect them. Despite bouts of petty violence and moments of desperation, their shared life was laced with moments of joy and love. When Lila arrives in Gilead, she struggles to reconcile the life of her makeshift family and their days of hardship with the gentle Christian worldview of her husband which paradoxically judges those she loves.

Lila is a moving expression of the mysteries of existence that is destined to become an American classic. (description from publisher)

some luckLonglisted for the 2014 National Book Award From the winner of the Pulitzer Prize : a powerful, engrossing new novel – the life and times of a remarkable family over three transformative decades in America.

On their farm in Denby, Iowa, Rosanna and Walter Langdon abide by time-honored values that they pass on to their five wildly different children: from Frank, the handsome, willful first born, and Joe, whose love of animals and the land sustains him, to Claire, who earns a special place in her father’s heart. Each chapter in Some Luck covers a single year, beginning in 1920, as American soldiers like Walter return home from World War I, and going up through the early 1950s, with the country on the cusp of enormous social and economic change. As the Langdons branch out from Iowa to both coasts of America, the personal and the historical merge seamlessly: one moment electricity is just beginning to power the farm, and the next a son is volunteering to fight the Nazis; later still, a girl you’d seen growing up now has a little girl of her own, and you discover that your laughter and your admiration for all these lives are mixing with tears.

Some Luck delivers on everything we look for in a work of fiction. Taking us through cycles of births and deaths, passions and betrayals, among characters we come to know inside and out, it is a tour de force that stands wholly on its own. But it is also the first part of a dazzling epic trilogy–a literary adventure that will span a century in America: an astonishing feat of storytelling by a beloved writer at the height of her powers. (description from publisher)

ms american pieBeth M. Howard knows about pie. She made pies at California’s Malibu Kitchen for celebrities including Barbra Streisand (lemon meringue), Dick Van Dyke (strawberry rhubarb), and Steven Spielberg (coconut cream) before moving back home to rural Iowa. She now lives in the famous American Gothic House (the backdrop for Grant Wood’s famous painting) and runs the hugely popular Pitchfork Pie Stand.  

With full-color photos throughout, Ms. American Pie features 80 of Beth’s coveted pie recipes and some of her own true tales to accompany them. With chapters like Pies to Heal, Pies to Seduce, and Pies to Win the Iowa State Fair, Beth will divulge her secret for making a killer crust without refrigerating the dough and will show you how to break every rule you’ve ever learned about making delicious, homemade pie. (description from publisher)

oxfordprojectIn 1984 photographer and University of Iowa art professor Peter Feldstein set out to photograph all 676 residents in his town of Oxford, Iowa. Over the course of the summer he succeeded in photographing 670 individuals “as they were”: in street clothes, some lugging shopping bags or carrying pets or children. Peter returned in 2005 to re-photograph as many of the original residents as he could, this time bringing along University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom to interview residents. The Oxford Project compiles the photos and interviews to provide a case study of small town life in America.

The biographies are concisely written and give you a glimpse into the lives of the residents: their personal triumphs and tragedies, their accomplishments and regrets. This book highlights the differences 20 years brings but also the striking similarities in dress, posture, and overall demeanor that people tend to maintain throughout their lives. Like any good book, The Oxford Project encourages the reader to reflect on their own life. In 20 years, what will you look back with satisfaction or regret the chances you didn’t take?




grant woods iowaIconic Regionalist American Artist Grant Wood certainly left his mark on the international art world – and on Iowa, his home state. Wood’s American Gothic is one of the most recognizable paintings in the world, and his work graces museums far and wide. Now you can tour Iowa with a thoughtful, detailed exploration of Wood’s life and the historical context of his work.

Grant Wood’s Iowa explores Wood’s role in the art world with self-guided museum tours and detailed discussions of his work, but it also allows you to get out into the Iowa he loved – a place that hasn’t changed all that much since Wood’s era. You’ll find nature hikes and parks where you’ll enjoy the landscapes that inspired Wood; county fairs and arts festivals that celebrate Wood and the rural character of his beloved home; modern eco-attractions, theaters, and wineries; and the studios and galleries of the Iowa artists who are Wood’s heirs.

In order to understand Wood’s work, one must first understand the Iowa he lived in. This unique guide allows you to fully appreciate Iowa’s role in nurturing Wood’s wit, humor, and enormous talent. It also explains his leading role in the Midwestern Regionalism art movement and introduces us to other major Iowa artists who were contemporaries influenced by Wood. The only book of its kind, Grant Wood’s Iowa assists vacationing and resident art aficionados in understanding and appreciating Wood’s important body of work in the cultural and environmental context of his home state. Wood’s life is lovingly detailed, from his childhood on a farm to his adulthood teaching and working in Iowa’s small-town communities. Grant Wood’s Iowa transports art lovers into the creative world of this iconic and quintessentially American artist. (description from publisher)

class aAn unforgettable chronicle of a year of minor-league baseball in Clinton, Iowa town follows not only the travails of the players of the Clinton LumberKings but also the lives of their dedicated fans and of the town itself. Award-winning essayist Lucas Mann delivers a powerful debut in his telling of the story of the 2010 season of the Clinton LumberKings in Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere.

Along the Mississippi River, in a Depression-era stadium, young prospects from all over the world compete for a chance to move up through the baseball ranks to the major leagues. Their coaches, some of whom have spent nearly half a century in the game, watch from the dugout. In the bleachers, local fans call out from the same seats they’ve occupied year after year. And in the distance, smoke rises from the largest remaining factory in a town that once had more millionaires per capita than any other in America.

Mann turns his eye on the players, the coaches, the fans, the radio announcer, the town, and finally on himself, a young man raised on baseball, driven to know what still draws him to the stadium. His voice is as fresh and funny as it is poignant, illuminating both the small triumphs and the harsh realities of minor-league ball.

Part sports story, part cultural exploration, part memoir, Class A is a moving and unique study of why we play, why we watch, and why we remember. (description from publisher)

Iowa’s Rochester Cemetery (near Tipton) is one of the most unusual and bio-diverse prairies left in America, boasting more than 400 species of plants–337 of them native to the region–on its thirteen-and-a-half acres. Among them are fifteen massive white oaks that stood watch as the surrounding landscape was converted into farmland after Euro-American settlers arrived in the 1830s. The cemetery is the last resting place of these pioneers and their descendants, down to the present. Graves are scattered among the wildflowers, across hills that geologists consider sand dunes held in place by the deep roots of the plants and people and is beautifully presented in Life and Death on the Prairie by Stephen Longmire.

Pioneer cemeteries have been recognized as important prairie remnants and seed banks ever since Aldo Leopold, another Iowa native, called attention to them in his landmark essays of the 1940s, as he developed the new field of ecological restoration. At Rochester Cemetery, the drama of the prairie’s survival continues to this day, in a controversy that flares up as reliably as spring’s shooting stars. To botanists across the country, this place is a pilgrimage site. To local residents, it is either a source of pride or a shameful weed lot (some feel regular mowing would show more respect for the dead). To the photographer and writer Stephen Longmire, it is a place where the stories of the rural Midwest are written on the land-a long exposure, extending back to the days when Meskwaki Indians camped nearby and wildfire held back the forest. In the creative tension between people and place, Rochester’s prairie holds its native ground. Historic cemetery plantings grow wild among the native wildflowers, and bright plastic flowers decorate modern graves.

In compelling photographs and prose, Longmire shows this patch of original Iowa to be a living record of all the land’s uses since its settlement. (description provided by publisher)

The story of the American Quilt Trail, featuring the colorful patterns of quilt squares writ large on barns throughout North America, is the story of one of the fastest-growing grassroots public arts movements in the United States and Canada. In Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement Suzi Parron travels through twenty-nine states (including Iowa and Illinois) and two Canadian provinces to visit the people and places that have put this movement on America’s tourist and folk art map.

Through dozens of interviews with barn artists, committee members, and barn owners Parron documents a journey that began in 2001 with the founder of the movement, Donna Sue Groves. Groves’s desire to honor her mother with a quilt square painted on their barn became a group effort that eventually grew into a county-wide project. Today, registered quilt squares form a long imaginary clothesline, appearing on more than three thousand barns scattered along one hundred driving trails.

With more than fifty full-color photographs, Parron documents a movement that combines rural economic development with an American folk art phenomenon.