#Bookstrong: Eight Hours in Des Moines

Another Midwest Indie Bookstore from the Roadmap!

If you add up all the hours I spent in West Des Moines and Des Moines it totaled about eight hours (minus sleeping). Of that time, half was spent eating well. My son Tevis and I dined at Barn Town Brewing for dinner one evening. We enjoyed our food and smiled at the popcorn brought out to every table instead of bread (see below). With our cousins David and Diana (and friends) we also enjoyed an Italian meal at Billy Vee’s.

On my last day in Iowa, I had a later flight so I met up with my cousin John at a local coffee place (while a chain, still very much an Iowa place). The Smokey Row is a great place for coffee, ice cream and breakfast and lunch items.

I made a quick trip to Beaverdale Books to check out my last Midwest Indie Bookstore from the Roadmap. Then I went to the Des Moines Art Center. Admission is free, so it easy to spend as little or as much time as you like. I lingered over a special exhibit, “Lea Grundig’s Anti-Fascist Art.” Then it was time to head to the airport and return my rental car. I was worn out from driving but happy with the amount of time I had with friends and family.

#Bookstrong: Omaha, Nebraska


I am one state closer to fifty! I have visited Nebraska. I drove from Stuart, IA to Omaha to enjoy lunch and to check out a few more bookstores on the Midwest Indie Bookstore Roadmap. I drove directly to Old Market and then spent some time finding Our Bookstore. This bookshop is a well curated collection of novels, art books, and US history. I was able to find some interesting books on Native Americans for my brother’s birthday.


The Our Bookstore shopkeeper suggested I also check out Jackson Street Booksellers, a used bookstore a few blocks away. It had a lot of interesting books, but to be honest I felt a little claustrophobic and as a Californian it is hard to shop in a store where it is easy to imagine being buried in books in even a small earthquake.


I drove deeper into the suburbs to check out The Bookworm. It was more like Barnes and Noble with lots of gifts as well as books. There was this fun penguin game (below) that kids stopped to play. I was ready to find a post office to mail home a lot of the books I’d purchased along my road trip, especially to the friends and family I’d have to ship their book gifts to anyway.


I made one other stop in Omaha. I dined at Spezia Omaha since it is rare to find a family name as the name of restaurant. And I was craving Italian food. I was able to enjoy really good pasta garnished with a small steak. It was hugely satisfying–especially the tiramisu.


Omaha is a very pleasant city. What I experienced reminded me a lot of Sacramento… twenty years ago. I would have gone to the Omaha Zoo if it was not so darn hot that day. I figured if I wanted to hide in the shade, so would the animals. It is also in the top 10 zoos in America. (Not surprising given the Mutual of Omaha’s longtime relationship with wildlife television shows.) When I returned home and learned that my young neighbor is a nursing student at Creighton University, I could honestly tell her I liked Omaha.


#Bookstrong: The Book Vault in Oskaloosa

Book Vault, 105 S. Market St., Oskaloosa, IA

I love saying the town name Oskaloosa! The locals shorten it to Osky. So fun. They have a beautiful town square and a bank that that has been transformed to an independent bookshop. The Book Vault is wonderful. Lucky Oskaloosans. I found a classic hardback version of Clifford the Big Red Dog. I had not read The Wonky Donkey and my fellow grandmas/cousins pressed it into my hands.

I also discovered a map of independent book stores: The Midwest Indie Bookstore Roadmap. I was excited to see there were two indie bookshops in Omaha, NE plus one in Des Moines.

I am supporting the arts on this #MiddleAmericaTour. Big time. I mailed an entire box of books home!

#Bookstrong: Parnassus Books in Nashville

This bookstore may need no introduction to readers of novels. Ann Patchett and her husband own and operate a wonderful bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee called Parnassus Books. I was driving from Greensboro, AL to Louisville, KY and needed to break my journey. I’ve been here once before and I knew it would be a good place to stand around for awhile after driving for hours.


The children’s book section is especially good. The young woman who assisted me hand sold me two YA books I didn’t know I needed to read until I had a conversation with her! I’m reading Maggie Stiefvater’s thrilling The Scorpio Races now.

It was hard to get back in my car and continue my journey, yet at least I knew I had plenty to read. #MiddleAmericaTour

#BookStrong! Alabama Booksmith

It’s not easy to spot Alabama Booksmith (trust your GPS) and it is off the beaten track, yet totally worth the effort to find.

I’ve launched my #MiddleAmericaTour. I landed in Birmingham, Alabama, picked up my rental car from Alamo, scooped up friends Petrea, Dia, and Romy, and headed to the bookshop, Alabama Booksmith.

IMG_8187It is featured in the postcard collection of best bookstores in the world. The painting on the postcard is accurate–that is very plain. Until you walk in. Then, voila, a beautiful collection of books, all signed by the author. If you look at the top shelf in the photo above you’ll see a blank spot where we bought the last two copies of City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Kevin  provided good book recommendations and shared his favorite coffee place–Revelator Coffee. We made a beeline and it WAS good! 

Even though I’ll be going to Parnassus Books in Nashville later in my trip, I bought a signed copy of the book Lambslide by Ann Pachett. I would have gladly bought more! Romy and Dia each separately picked out a YA book by the actor Octavia Spencer. They are sharing on their road trip.

Stocked with books to read, and fueled with coffee, we headed out to Greensboro, Alabama for our next adventure.

P.S. I’ve started the hashtag #BookStrong to support independent bookstores.