So I was minding my own business this weekend when I see this list pop up on Yahoo! of The Top Ten Bookstores in the US. That sounded interesting and the usual suspects where there, a couple of stores in your typical East Coast West Coast settings— New York, LA, Seattle, Portland, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and a great and popular Denver store snuck in …leaving just one slot for the rest of fly-over country—The Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City.
Of course, this list by Daniel McGillivray is a subjective one, but I enjoy seeing things from Iowa continue to pop up all over the place in regards to the arts. (Of course, to many of us in Iowa the fact he Prairie Lights is so highly regarded is not that much of a surprise.) McGillivary writes of the bookstore near The Iowa Writer’s Workshop:
“Ahhh, Iowa. Lush fields of corn, flowing hills of grazing land, and the country’s most-famous writing program. The Prairie Lights Bookstore, though not associated with the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop, seems to have benefited from its reputation. The store is filled with over 30 years of history and has hosted internationally bestselling authors, Nobel Prize winners, and nearly every presidential candidate of the past 20 years.”
Think about that a moment. The Prairie Lights Bookstore is small considered to The Tattered Cover (Denver) and Powell’s (Portland) and Iowa City is a considerably smaller than cities like Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Miami, Kansas City, San Diego, Baltimore, Nashville, Cleveland, etc., but there it is in the top ten list.
I don’t know how many writers who have had films made from their writing have wandered through the isles at The Prairie Lights Bookstore but I’m sure there have been a few. The odds are pretty good that screenwriter Diablo Cody spent a little time and money there while a student at the University of Iowa —and before she won an Oscar for Juno. (The Juno—Iowa Connection.)
The last time I was at The Prairie Lights Bookstore I picked up Ethan Canin’s short story collection The Palace Thief. (Canin teaches at the The Iowa Writers’ Workshop and one of the stories in that book, The Palace Thief, was the basis for the movie The Emperor’s Club.) Prairie Lights also has regular readings from authors (Live from Prairie Lights). One I’d like to make is Sept. 13, 2010 when Susanna Daniel reads from her debut novel Stiltsville. (About an Atlanta woman who moves into a house on stilts in Miami’s Biscayne Bay.) Archives of pasts readings are available online.
I’m telling you there is something in the water in these parts. I often stop in The Prairie Lights Bookstore when I head through Iowa City in hopes that some of it rubs off on my own writings.