A Rare Non-Food Related Post: Prairie Lights and Independent Bookstores

I suppose that I can make a tenuous connection between the subject of today’s post and the theme of this blog, that connection being that Prairie Lights bookstore sells cookbooks and has a café on the second floor. It’s a thin, gossamer thread, I know, but I really want to write about both this bookstore in particular and independent bookstores in general.


Those who know me (and now, those who don’t) have heard me rail about the alleged demise of reading anything long-form, as well as the Amazonification of the American—and, increasingly, global—retail experience. Between a populace that can’t seem to read anything longer than a Facebook status update or a tweet, along with our “get it cheap, cheap, cheap, all other costs be damned” mentality, I fear that the future will be nothing more than a contemporary Bread and Circuses, in this case the bread and circuses being Chinese-made electronics at rock-bottom prices and following the Kardashian sisters. This is why I support independent bookstores, especially general purpose ones.

I live in East Central Indiana, a reasonably close drive from Indianapolis. Indiana has a dearth of such havens, even (especially?) in Indy (the CAPITAL, for chrissakes). Barnes and Nobles, plus some niche and/or used bookstores, yes, but where is the general bookstore, the one where a customer can wander in and serendipitously encounter a new author? I am well aware that one can do this at Barnes and Noble—given the paucity of other bookstores, I choose to visit them regularly—but it feels much more corporate and sterile. I yearn for a place that not only fills me with joy, but is also a part of the local community.

I lived in Iowa City for a year about a decade ago. While finishing up a Ph.D., I took a one-year contract faculty position at the University of Iowa. It got me out of Delaware. Once in Iowa City, I discovered Prairie Lights.

Where I taught my first class during my Iowa Year.
Where I taught my first class during my Iowa Year.

Prairie Lights is a welcoming haven, complete with a knowledgeable staff and an excellently varied selection of books. A café on the second floor (with Stumptown Coffee) serves one’s coffee/tea/pastry needs, as well as offering patrons beer and wine.


Regular readings by authors are part of what Prairie Lights presents. This place was one of my favorite haunts when I lived here. And I always make sure to visit it when I come back for a visit.

Be subversive. Read a book. And buy it from a local, independent place, if possible.


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