Today we drove to Oskaloosa, Iowa, a small town (population: 11,568). Why? Well, this morning I was reading The Indie Bob Spot, a retired teacher’s blog about his trips to independent bookstores around the country. Indie Bob says The Book Vault, a 10-year-old independent bookstore in Oskaloosa, is “not only one of the best in Iowa but one of the best in the midwest.”
My husband sighed and went so far as to say Indie Bob must be writing for money. (No, no, no, no: I know enthusiasm when I see it! ) The real reason we went: the store is housed in a renovated bank, built in 1892. We love historic buildings. The best renovated bank ever is in Willa Cather’s hometown, Red Cloud, Nebraska.
Why is there a bookstore in such a small town? It is owned by The Musco Corporation, a sports lighting company, which, according to Indie Bob, “takes seriously the importance of having a vibrant, educated community and backs this bookstore, in part, due to the attractiveness of its presence when looking at prospective employees.” (That DOES sound PR-ish, doesn’t it?)
I walked into the store and loved the space. It is a three-story building (two open to the public), with rooms that run the length of the building, a vaulted ceiling, wooden floors and tile floors, balconies, and books in the bank vaults!
And the small collection is beautifully-curated, with a strong fiction and biography section, an Iowa books section in a vault, a fabulous cookbook section, and a test kitchen in the back. On the balcony are SF, children’s books, Y.A. books, and a few used books.
I found many books on my TBR list (but of course could not buy them all): I am dying to read award-winning Jonis Agee’s new novel, The Bones of Paradise, “a multigenerational family saga set in the unforgiving Nebraska Sand Hills in the years following the massacre at Wounded Knee.” Agee is VERY good. I also long to read Garth Risk Halberg’s City on Fire, now in paperback. And I considered a “Rediscovered Classic” published by Chicago Review Press, Gwen Bristow’s 1959 historical novel, Celia Garth, about a dressmaker during the American Revolution who becomes a patriot spy. (No idea if Bristow, a journalist-turned-novelist, was any good: perhaps she’s like Edna Ferber?)
And the mysteries are in a vault! I think that’s the funniest thing ever.
WHAT DID I BUY? In the Iowa section, I found a new book published by University of Iowa Press, A Sugar Creek Chronicle: Observing Climate Change from a Midwestern Woodland, by Cornelia F. Mutel, a science writer. She alternates journal entries of of a year of observations in the Iowa woods where she and her husband live with memories of explorations of nature in Wisconsin when she was growing up and information about climate change. It is beautifully written, and I am loving it.
I also bought an SF novel, Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, winner of the Quill Award.
I really did want more, but even I have limits.
And then we went next door to the huge coffeehouse, Smokey Row.
On the left is a photo of my coffee and what I’m reading. Yup, I’m on my Kindle, so you won’t have the faintest idea what I’m reading.
Below is a photo of me at me at Smokey Row. Since a recent–ahem!–birthday, I look exactly like my Aunt Frances, a consumer economist whom we all greatly miss. The great thing about going older? It no longer matters how you look. It’s who you are.
And here’s a blackboard with a quote from Willa Cather, in front of the Smokey Row entrance to The Book Vault.
Next to Smokey Row is a picturesque alley, which has plants, iron tables, and posters of historical figures from Oskaloosa. The only one you’re likely to recognize is Phil Jones, drummer for Tom Petty.
I was fascinated Virginia Knight Logan, who sounds like a Willa Cather character! She was educated in Chicago, was a soprano with the New York Opera company, and then moved to Oskaloosa, where she taught music. Her son, Frederic Knight Logan,who studied music in New York, was known as “America’s Waltz King” and the composer of the “Missouri Waltz.”
A lovely day in a small town!
What a lovely trip and what a glorious looking bookshop – I love the idea of having the mysteries in the vault! Old bank buildings are wonderful (I speak as someone who worked in banks for many years in my youth) – and they’d make great houses if converted, like old railway halts in the UK sometimes are. And that’s a lovely pic of you – isn’t it funny how we start to notice family resemblances as we get older? When my mum was in hospital last year and I spoke to the consultant about her, the first thing he told me was that he could see I was her daughter. And my youngest is the spitting image of one of her great great aunts – genetics are strange!
It’s such a nice bookshop! It still has a “bankish” feel with the vaults. Yes, I didn’t look like anyone in the family for years, and suddenly it’s all there. Frances was my favorite aunt. How fun to look like a great-aunt!
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Love the store! I’ve just written up a post on Bookstores of New England, and it’s great to see how individual they all are. Let’s do all we can to help those wonderful indies keep going!
Oh, I can’t wait to read your post! I love bookstores, and there are so few of them.
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I read Bristow’s Calico Palace in the early 70s and remember liking it, it was a straightforward narrative about the gold rush. I also read one of hers called The Jubilee Trail too, but i dont remember as much about that one. I am not sure about Celia Garth, I was reading anything then that was hefty that my public library had in the shelves. I read A Lot of Frances Parkinson Keyes then too. Historical novels may be to blame for my eventual history degree!
Oh, these historical writers were so much fun! I do love Edna Ferber, and certainly Bristow was always “around.” I read Rosemary Sutcliffe, Frank Yerby (my aunt tells a story about my grandmother throwing her Yerby book into the fire because it was racy), Lloyd c. Douglass, Georgette Heyer… I was not picky!
Oooo, that’s just fantastic. I love it. Really!
I did enjoy it!