Armchair Traveler – Iowa

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.

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