Book group discusses Robert Sayre book about “essential” Iowa Dec. 17
Sayre’s collection of photographs and travel pieces go beyond tourist attractions

For immediate release December 8, 2008


Contact: Jeff Morgan,, (515) 281-3858

(DES MOINES) – The State Historical Library will discuss Robert Sayre’s book, “Take the Next Exit: New Views of the Iowa Landscape,” at its book group meeting this month.

Book Discovery Discussions will meet at 11:45 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008, at the State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines. The book group explores literature that defines, reflects or captures the history of Iowa. Meetings are free and open to the public. Pre-registration is recommended, but not required, by visiting Participants are encouraged to bring a brown bag lunch. More information is available at 515-281-6897 or by email to

“Take the Next Exit” is a collection of photographs and travel pieces on the essential Iowa, not just tourist attractions. The book visits small town cafes, hardware stores and churches – the places of history and tradition that make Iowa different from other states and an American ideal.

During its discussion, the group will highlight a Mira Engler essay about Iowa communities that commercialize and market their cultural heritage as tourism commodities. The essay, “Drive Thru History: Theme Town in Iowa,” is the 13th chapter in Sayre’s book.

Sayre comments on the essay in the book’s introduction: “Ethnic traditions, pioneer history, small-town culture and country charm are being commercially packaged and sold to visitors… to get them to spend money. But do we want this? A lot of it, according to one’s taste is kitsch, funky provincialism, and a waste of time, rather than instructive and charming.”

But other writers note that accommodating tourists can be done in a way that enhances the community. Book group participants are encouraged to share their thoughts about this interesting and unique topic.

Following is the remainder of the BDD schedule:

Jan. 21, 2009 – 11:45 a.m.
Much Obliged: The Inventive Life of Ray Townsend by Walt Shotwell
In 1946, former blacksmith Ray Townsend introduced the first Pork Skinner, Townsend Model 27. He followed that original invention with 60 years of innovation and reliability, obtaining 100 U.S. patents and more than 300 patents in countries around the world.

Feb. 18, 2009 – 11:45 a.m.
Colored Sugar Water by Venise Berry
The mystery of voodoo mingles with the search for spirituality and faith in the lives of two young women, each facing the challenge of understanding what a meaningful relationship might be in this entertaining novel by Venise Berry, author of the Blackboard bestsellers All of Me and So Good.

March 18, 2009 – 11:45 a.m.
From Six-on-Six to Full Court Press: A Century of Iowa Girls’ Basketball by Janice Beran
Janice Beran’s book recounts the century of girls’ basketball in Iowa prior to the final conversion to five-player basketball. It is a rich, vibrant history of a sport handed down from mother to daughter that helped sustain community life in small Iowa towns for decades.

April 15, 2009 – 11:45 a.m.
Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind the Legend by John E. Miller
Legends have attached themselves to Laura Ingalls Wilder, beloved author of the eight Little House novels. Before this biography, little has been known about her adult years. John E. Miller tracks the evolution of one of America’s most popular children’s writers.

May 20, 2009 – 11:45 a.m.
The Rise of Jonas Olsen: A Norwegian Immigrant’s Saga by Johannes B. WistOriginally published serially in the Norwegian language newspaper, Decorah Posten, in the 1920s, The Rise of Jonas Olsen illustrates an immigrant’s struggle to preserve his identity and heritage while striving to become fully accepted as an American.

June 17, 2009 – 11:45 a.m.
Chautauqua Summer by Julie McDonald
This novel takes the reader along with young Lem, a 17-year-old musician plucked from Harlan, Iowa, to travel the Chautauqua circuit with the Royal Serenaders. It is a coming-of-age story heavily sprinkled with historical tidbits of people and places from the early part of the 20th century.


The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa's historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa's past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa's historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit or call 515-281-5111 for more information.

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