This weekend, I went on an adventure.
Ever since moving to Iowa and getting caught up in the online book world, I kept hearing things about Iowa City. In particular, Prairie Lights is said to be a great indie bookstore (I even included it in my Bookish Bucket List a while back), but the city itself is supposed to be a great place for bookish folks. It’s actually been granted the title City of Literature – the only one in the U.S. – by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
So I’d been thinking for a while that I should really take a day trip and go check out some of what Iowa City has to offer.
And when I included Prairie Lights on that list, Tif (who I’d forgotten lived in the area) responded: “If you make it over before I move, let me know. Maybe we can meet for coffee?!?”
So I did. And we did.
As I mentioned last week, I was super nervous about meeting someone that I knew from online and completely ruining her opinion of me… but it was a lot easier than I expected it to be. It didn’t at all feel like we were meeting for the first time, except maybe at the beginning and at the end, where my awkwardness at real human interaction shone through.
After Tif left, I wandered around the city on my own (or at least a tiny portion of it), and I enjoyed it so much. They have a pedestrian plaza…
…where I found this!
There’s also a “literary walk” with plaques set into the pavement. (I didn’t get any pictures of these, mostly because my shadow was doing stupid things.)
So the city itself just has this great atmosphere. The University of Iowa is right there, so it has that academic feel as well. And when I stopped for lunch, I got a garden pita just like the ones I used to get at NIU back in the day. So, this day really made me miss my college days.
Of course, I didn’t just wander around aimlessly. As I said, my first planned stop was Prairie Lights.
To be honest, when I walked in, it didn’t really feel all that special. It’s big for an indie; I guess that alone is notable. And I loved that they have a café. But I guess from all the praise I’d heard for this store in particular, it just didn’t have quite as much character as I’d expected.
The Haunted Bookshop, on the other hand, was all character.
This one is a used bookstore, it’s set up in what clearly used to be a house, and walking into the shelves is like walking into a maze… but an organized one. This had a lot more of that indie feel that I was expecting.
I also (of course) visited the public library.
Now, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love my library, but this one was impressive in a completely different way. It’s so sleek and modern. I don’t know because I didn’t use any of their services, but it gave the impression of being very efficient. And I also loved that there were study rooms and carrels (I told you this trip was getting me nostalgic). I do wonder, with the university practically across the street, how many students come through here, or if they pretty much stick to their own library.
I did peek into Iowa Book, which turned out to be the university bookstore, and Daydreams Comics, mainly because I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a comic book store (though I walked past St. Mark’s Comics when I was in New York).
I had a couple other places on my list to potentially visit – the Old Capital Museum, the Museum of Natural History, some of the city parks – but I decided I was tired, and left it at being a purely literary excursion.
I’m thinking about going for the Iowa City Book Festival in the fall (slightly more accessible than BEA, and not nearly as commercial). But, whether for that event or not, I would definitely like to go back.
What are some of your favorite literary destinations?
The Haunted Bookshop sounds so awesome! I would love to go on a literary excursion — might have to do some research and see what kinds of sites are in my neck of the woods.
I would highly recommend it! You never know what’s there until you look.
I had no idea Iowa City had such a cool bookish presence! I should take a trip, that’s only a few hours from me…
It was really a great day. Low-key, but worth the trip for sure.
I always love going to new cities and making a list of the bookstores in the area. I tend to find that the creaky little bookshops are more appealing, too.
Oh, and they had a bookshop cat! I don’t know that I’d like that kind of a shop if I were looking for something specific, but they’re perfect for browsing.
That’s really cool – I had no idea about the ‘city of literature’, but it’s awesome that you went to check it out! And that your meeting with your online friend went well, too. I love creepy old bookstores. There are a few close to where I live and it’s just a fun atmosphere inside.
I visited a really neat bookstore in Columbus when I visited a friend years ago. The Book Loft in German Village. It was so adorable and quaint and I loved it. http://www.bookloft.com/
I’m actually going to be in Columbus this summer! But I doubt I’ll have any free time for exploring, unfortunately.
I was not familiar with Iowa City and it’s literary lifestyle! Great pictures, and spotlighting of the bookstores (The Haunted Bookshop sounds like my kind of place!) I suppose you didn’t buy any books at the shops?
My favorite literary destination is the birthplace of the Brontes in England – Haworth. It has a lovely cobbled street with a couple used bookstores which I loved visiting.
I didn’t, unfortunately; I keep myself on a pretty strict book-buying budget and there was nothing on my buy list at the moment. Although I did spend a lot of time looking in the “vintage children’s books” section. So many old Nancy Drews bringing back memories!
If you do come back to eastern Iowa, I highly recommend check out ICON 39. We have a great line up authors coming to our event at the end of October/beginning of November.
I attended the Iowa City Book Festival 2 years ago and it was tons of fun. It was in July that year. Last year they moved it to the fall.
You’re actually the second person to recommend ICON to me in the past week! I’ll have to check it out (and Cedar Rapids is even slightly closer than Iowa City is).
Send me a message if you decide to come or need details! I’m on the planning committee.
I have always imagined meeting Tif IRL would be “easy peasy lemon squeezy” just like she is online! I never have known much about Iowa other than farms. Honestly had no idea about it, isn’t that terrible?
Well, that is sort of what we’re known for, along with most of the Midwest. University of Iowa is supposed to be a great school, though, so I guess it makes sense that the city around it would be so full of culture as well.
I am so glad that we got to meet up before I move away!! Yay!!!
The Haunted Bookshop is definitely my favorite bookshop in the area! Prairie Lights is fun, but Haunted has so much more personality that is right up my alley!! And, I adore the library here. There is tons of college kids that study there that I have noticed when I’ve been either hanging out or taking my kids there every week. I am sad that I will be leaving this library and likely going to one that is not quite as strong and awesome!
I hope you make it to the Book Festival. Keep me posted!!
It is sad that you’re leaving such a great library. One of the things I was bummed about when I came here was leaving the Chicago library system, where I could get any book from any library through interlibrary loan for free. (We still have ILL here, but there’s a charge for it… I guess because it’s nowhere near as convenient as back in the suburbs.) But the quality of this one library makes up for not having access to 65 of them.
I love to go to literary places in cities. I really make an effort to visit these places too. Every time I visit a town I go online to see if they have a cool library and if they do I make it my mission to go to that spot and see it.
I look for the libraries and bookstores in my own town when I move, but I don’t usually seek out places to visit elsewhere, so this was a new experience for me.
Iowa City… I never would have thought. I have a friend who went to law school there… But I’m an East Coast Girl. Anyway! It looks like y’all had SO MUCH FUN. I got to meet up with Jennifer over at Bookalicious Mama and it was tons of fun getting to know the person behind the blog.
I wouldn’t have thought either. You just don’t expect to find a city with such a rich cultural presence in the middle of cornfields… but it was really great. And I think the fact that it is a smaller city, rather than a Chicago or a New York, really helps give it the atmosphere that it has.
You should definitely go back for the Iowa City Book Festival! I’m going to St. Louis in September for a few days with my husband who has to go for work, so I should check out the literary scene ahead of time and find out what to do there.
Laurie C … Jumping in on this conversation! I used to live in St. Louis and can totally give you some hints if you want!! Just let me know if you are interested!! :)
You should. It really was a lot of fun, and it will give you something to do on your own while he’s working… and, looks like you’ve already got a resource!
This looks really cool. Never thought I may had to put Iowa somewhere on my non-existent bucket list.
Well, I’m sure there are more interesting places closer to you (with the exception of Iowa City and Melbourne, every other “City of LIterature” is in Europe). But I was really excited to see such a fun city in the middle of nowhere.