by Anne Mangano on May 25th, 2016
What was Iowa City like 170 years ago? To get an idea, we can turn to John B. Newhall, author of A Glimpse of Iowa in 1846*. In this work, he states that one couldn’t help but think of Saint-Omer in France and he “speaks as an eye-witness.” I do not believe Newhall in this. He was a noted salesman in his day and his product was Iowa. He wrote a number of books and he lectured both on the east coast and in England proclaiming the wonders of the new state (or territory depending on the publication date of the book).
Despite what Iowa diarist T.S. Parvin calls “too flowery” of language, Newhall is extremely useful in providing a directory for the city in 1846. He lists sellers of dry goods, doctors, mills, schools, churches, and newspapers. For our purposes, Iowa City had two coffee houses, one owned by Charles Frink and the other by R. C. Keathy. Lawyers included G. Folsom, M. Reno, and W. Penn Clark. There was one insurance company.
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by Jason Paulios on April 22nd, 2016
The latest in the Bur Oak Books series from the University of Iowa Press is Cornelia Mutel’s account on climate change as seen from the mixed oak woodlands in rural Johnson County, Iowa. The book is cleverly structured to follow the four seasons during the year 2012, each season features daily journal entries detailing weather and climate notes. Interspersed are notable updates on various woodland species in the acreage alongside Iowa natural history. Paired with the day-to-day of 2012 country living are complimenting memoir sections detailing growing up in Madison, her mother’s early death, and parenthood in Iowa City.
Her writing is organized and passionate, her love of the natural world is infectious and I often found myself considering putting down the book to wander a nearby nature trail. Throughout all the meditative trail walking anecdotes filled with chipmunk scurrying and spring ephemeral blooming are sobering climate science facts and how they are impacting all these things we care about. Her research is presented in small digestible amounts and her teaching background is evident in the way in which she breaks down complicated earth science processes.
by Mary Estle-Smith on July 1st, 2015
I have long been a fan of Jane Smiley’s work. While I haven’t read everything she has written, as I am sometimes not too interested in the subject matter, she does tell a good story.
I am particularly fond of her titles with a horse theme including a recent series targeted to older children, and her Iowa based titles.
Her newest books are parts one and two of a trilogy. I think of them as multi-generational family sagas. The first book, Some Luck, begins in 1920 on a small family farm in Denby Iowa. The story follows a couple, Walter and Roseanna Langdon, their children and extended family through World War II and into the early 1950’s.
The second of the series, Early Warning, picks up in the early 1950’s and goes on through 1986 with a third generation of the Langdon family coming into adulthood.
Smiley draws characters who are multifaceted and just like real people, sometimes you really like them and sometimes you don’t. These stories can be read as a “light” history of the economy and evolution of life on a family farm as well as the social and political climate of the times.
I feel like this family could have lived down the road from me growing up. I can’t wait to see how they all end up in the next volume!
by Maeve Clark on November 7th, 2014
I admit it, I can’t get enough of Jane Smiley. And thanks to a sales rep from Random House and the recent Iowa City Book Festival I was not only able to get a advance reading copy of Some Luck, Smiley’s latest novel, but I, with several hundred other avid readers, was able to hear her read from it at the Englert Theatre. I have heard Smiley read before and she can weave a great story in person as well as in print and she did just that on the Sunday afternoon she stopped in Iowa City. She clearly still loves Iowa, her home for many years while she studied in Iowa City and then taught at Iowa State. In fact, she shared the story of her vintage bag, she said it reminded her of Iowa and her sweater, which she knit herself, from yarn made from soybeans, which she thought might just have been grown here too.
The focus of Some Luck, the first of a trilogy, is the Langdon family; their farm, their kin and their lives for the next 33 years. And what a 33 years it is. The book begins with Walter and Rosanna and their five month old son, Frank. The novel explores their life on the farm outside the small town of Denby. It was a rural Iowa that many of us grew up hearing about from our parents and grandparents, a time when fields were plowed with draft horses, and hired men lived with the family, schools were one room and the students were the children of the nearby families. The pace of life had a rhythm and pattern. But change comes and Smiley illuminates the change chapter by chapter, with each each chapter covering a year in the Langdon family.
If you have been waiting for another novel from this Pulitzer Prize winning novelist you will be thrilled to read Some Luck. And as luck would have it, there are two more books to follow.
by Beth Fisher on June 9th, 2014
If you’ve ever taken a roadtrip, you know there are all sorts of things to see when cruising down the roads of Iowa. Big cities and small towns; railroads, bridges and barns; modern buildings or historic architecture; fields of corn, soybeans or hay; and trees, grasses and wildflowers.
It might surprise you to know that many of the trees, grasses and wildflowers you see in and along the roadsides of Iowa were planted by the Iowa D.O.T. Iowa’s Living Roadways, a small spiral bound book produced by the Iowa Department of Transportation is a guide to the various landscape designs and planting styles used to maintain the roadways of Iowa.
The guide includes photographs and plant profiles of 41 species of wildflowers and grasses- from Canadian Anemone, Blackeyed Susan, Spiderwort and Vervain; 33 species of trees – including, 10 species of Crabapples, five species of Maples and 4 species of Oak; and 16 types of shrubs – from Chokeberries, to Dogwood and Fragrant Sumac. Each plant profile includes a color photograph, a description, bloom times, trivia, and possible habitats or locations.
The end of the book has a glossary, references and bibliography, and a fun 8-page section called Amazing Plant Facts. (Did you know that Oak tress do not produce acorns until they are 50 years old?) You can find a copy of this book in either the Circulating or Iowa Reference Collections at 582.13/Iowa’s