Friday In Iowa: More Summer Reading

(Editor’s Note: BFIA returns to The Prairie Progressive: A Newsletter for Iowa’s Progressive Left for Prairie Dog’s summer reading list. More engaging books to read during this exceptionally pleasant summer weather).

Five Books You Must Read This Summer
By Prairie Dog

“Whither goes thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”
~ Jack Kerouac, 1959

1959: The Year Everything Changed by Fred Kaplan

Pick a year, any year. A case could be made for almost any of them– 1914, 1963, 2001– as the year everything changed, but born-on-the 4th-of-July journalist Kaplan is very convincing about the impact of the year preceding the vaunted Sixties. Readers old enough to remember their first transistor radio might agree; at $49.95, just in time for Christmas, it became the biggest-selling consumer product in history. Earlier in the year, the first two US soldiers were killed in South Vietnam. Khrushchev toured the Garst farm in Coon Rapids, scene of the first media scrum of the modern age. Fidel Castro also visited the U.S., three months after ending 60 years of US dominion over Cuba, while Ike and the CIA plotted his assassination. The IBM 1401, the first practical business computer, went on sale. NASA coined the word “astronauts,” much catchier than “spacemen.” The cultural ground shifted, too: Allen Ginsberg, James Baldwin, Miles Davis, Jackson Pollock, and films by Truffaut and Godard set the stage for the explosiveness of the next decade. Buddy Holly died in Iowa as the Silver Beetles were being born in England. The Prairie Progressive welcomes its readers’ opinions. What is your choice for the year everything changed?

The Lost Clerihews of Paul Ingram by Paul Ingram

As every customer at Prairie Lights knows, Ingram’s enthusiasm for books and writers and words is contagious. We now know that clerihews are contagious, too: Paul Ingram Has now gone big time. But at the Prairie Progressive, he’s one Prairie Mouse we’ll never think less of with the publication of his own book after decades of selling others (much like an ornithologist becoming a bird). We congratulate Paul and thank him for his many contributions over the years to Prairie Dog’s Summer Reading List.

Good King Bad King by Susan Nussbaum

Can a novel about life in a residential facility for teenagers with disabilities be funny, furious, and hard to put down, without being sentimental or despairing? Yes, as proven by Nussbaum’s sharply-drawn, vividly alive characters, each giving their perspective in authentic voices usually ignored. Perhaps most compelling is the young sales rep for a nursing home franchise who, as she comes to know residents as humans rather than widgets to fill beds, gradually evolves from corporate cheerleader to clear-eyed whistle-blower.

The Noble Hustle by Colson Whitehead

One of the keenest observers of American life– commercial branding, the zombification of our society, racism overt and subtle– has hit the jackpot again, this time in Las Vegas. Who cannot love a book that begins, “I have a good poker face because I am half dead inside.” Whitehead’s cast of poker players include Helen, whose sweet housewife face hid a kung fu heart: “she was bluffing the minute she walked into a room.”

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Loss, desire, and terror abound as the worst flood in American history inexorably bears down on the dirt-poor town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Sensitive readers might want to skip the dogfighting scenes, but Alabama-born Ward distills much tenderness and beauty as a motherless family struggles to hold together in the ten days before Katrina strikes.

~ Prairie Dog

Check out Prairie Dog’s 2013 summer reading list here.

Reprinted with permission from the Summer 2014 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter, available only in hard copy for $12/yr.!! Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.

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