The best books about Iowa

9 authors have picked their favorite books about Iowa and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery

The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery

By Bill James, Rachel McCarthy James,

Why this book?

The baseball writer and analyst Bill James sets out to trace the path of a serial ax murderer who left a bloody trail across the US in the early 20th century. Starting with the well-chronicled deaths of eight people in Villisca, Iowa, in 1912, he reveals the signature connections between this crime and dozens of others committed over a period of 15 years from Washington State to Florida, crimes for which innocent people were put to death. A mind-boggling feat of research.

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The best books on unsolved murders

Book cover of The WPA Guide to 1930s Iowa

The WPA Guide to 1930s Iowa

By Federal Writers Project,

Why this book?

The Federal Writers’ Project was one of many projects undertaken by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The American Guide Series was a subset of works produced by the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP). The books, created through a cooperative effort of both Federal and State organizations, are part travel guide, part almanac. Each includes illustrations and photographs and offers a fascinating snapshot of the 48 United States in the Union, and Alaska, in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The project employed over 6,000 writers. Many of these books have been reprinted.
From the list:

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Book cover of Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town

Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town

By Nick Reding,

Why this book?

Reding’s book on the methamphetamine epidemic in small-town Ohio is distressing but essential. He is exceptional in showing rather than telling how meth is in so many ways the Great American Drug. It makes you work even more maniacally, for one. And the hollowing out of Middle America makes the drug’s proactive nature even more attractive in these forgotten towns and cities. It is painful that the meth scourge might have eased but, as is so often the case, other destructive substances have quickly replaced it. 

From the list:

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Book cover of The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa

The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa

By Cornelia F. Mutel,

Why this book?

A more detailed and scholarly book than Crosby’s, this book is a description of the origin, character, and fate of the tallgrass prairie in Iowa. It is essential reading for those who wish to understand what the Iowa prairie (and by extension the prairie of neighboring states as well) was like before being settled by Euro-Americans and converted to agricultural use in the 19th century, what is left of that prairie today, and conservation and restoration efforts to replace some of what was lost.

From the list:

The best books to open your eyes to the beauty of tallgrass prairie

Book cover of A Song of Years

A Song of Years

By Bess Streeter Aldrich, Anne Reeve Aldrich,

Why this book?

Song of Years captures all of the struggle and angst of carving out a home from pure, unspoiled Iowa prairie by those bold pioneers who risked everything to do so. While reading, I became the heroine, Abby Deal, as she sacrificed and struggled to wrest a life and create a home from the frontier that challenged her and her family at every turn. Realistic, even epic, this 1939 novel is on my keeper shelf. 

From the list:

The best novels about home

Book cover of The Vast Fields of Ordinary

The Vast Fields of Ordinary

By Nick Burd,

Why this book?

One of my favourite YA novels ever! The narration in this book truly comes alive. Reading it, the narrator Dade just popped right out of the page and into my inner reading voice. He was so vibrant and full of personality, and while his misadventures were very unlike my own experiences, I still felt a connection to him. I was hooked from beginning to end! This book also inspired me to get back into writing my own novel, so it has a really special place in my heart.

From the list:

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Book cover of Ten Beautiful Things

Ten Beautiful Things

By Molly Griffin, Maribel Lechuga (illustrator),

Why this book?

Ten Beautiful Things is a gorgeous picture book with a gentle tone and much to say. It follows a little girl and her grandma as they go on a road trip together. The ride is long, and at first there seems to be little to admire about the trip. But then Grandma suggests they intentionally seek out ten beautiful things as they roll through sprawling landscapes. A terrific reminder for children and adults alike that so many of our experiences are a matter of perspective.

From the list:

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Book cover of The Last Letter

The Last Letter

By Kathleen Shoop,

Why this book?

Switching gears from the Domestic Suspense genre, I’d like to recommend a historical fiction gem. It’s been a while since I finished this first book in a series, but this story – and the mother of all mothers, Jeanie – has stuck with me. Her story is a constant reminder that womankind of the 1800s was made of steel and I’m not sure I would’ve survived back then. Jeanie’s life quickly turns from wealthy and having an esteemed reputation to losing it all. She’s then forced to follow her husband’s dreams of prairie life where Jeanie is forced to live…

From the list:

The best books that’ll make you turn the pages “like a mother”

Book cover of Shoeless Joe

Shoeless Joe

By W.P. Kinsella,

Why this book?

This novel is less well-known, and much more accomplished, than the movie based on it – Field of Dreams. Where the movie is sappy, the book is lyrical and warmly nostalgic for a time and place – rural Iowa in the 1970s. There is a clear magical realism vibe to the whole thing. The plot structure of the novel is a very shaggy dog involving a baseball field in a corn field, the kidnapping of a famous novelist and numerous dead people coming back to life. The book is big-hearted and much of the writing is luminous.

From the list:

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Book cover of The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion

By Margaret Killjoy,

Why this book?

This, and its sequel, is truly one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. It’s a punk rock road trip following Danielle Cain as she struggles to deal with the grief of losing her best friend while also going up against some truly bizarre characters and creatures in a utopian squatter town called Freedom. I loved the raw and unapologetic attitude of the main protagonist and the diversity of the supporting cast. This book is dark and brooding, fun and poignant in equal measure. It’s a paranormal riot and I loved every minute of it, and the follow up called…

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The best fiction books by trans/non-binary authors with trans/non-binary characters

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