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What's The IPR Staff Reading?

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It may not surprise you to hear that there are some big readers on the Iowa Public Radio team.

We asked our staff — the voices you hear on the radio, the bylines you see on the website, and everyone who keeps the IPR wheels turning — for summer reading recommendations to share with our listeners (and some of us couldn't pick just one). Responses range from classic science fiction to in-depth reporting to 2021 hot releases and beyond.

Those responses are listed here so that you can grab a recommendation and a comfortable seat and read with us.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

IPR's picks

Kassidy Arena | Reporter
“Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
"I highly recommend “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I read it in one afternoon and basically forgot to eat anything that day because I couldn’t put the book down. It’s a perfect mixture of horror, mystery and romance. It’s a great addition to diversify anyone’s reading list."

Nicole Baxter | Sales Assistant
“Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury
"No other novel captures summer like Bradbury's hazy and nostalgic tales of sunbaked adventures in Green Town, Illinois. Like the titular bottles of dandelion wine, this quick read encapsulates the joys and sorrows of youth through the eyes of an imaginative 12-year-old boy."

Nick Brincks | Broadcast Operations Specialist
"The Simple Path To Wealth" by JL Collins
"I love reading about personal finance, and this is the number one book I’d recommend to someone wanting to set themselves up for a lifetime of financial stability and independence, particularly to young adult or teenage readers with many investing years ahead. This book is full of short, yet practical and easy to digest investment advice."

Kelly Edmister | Finance & Operations Director
“Nobody Will Tell You This But Me” by Bess Kalb
"A quick read that will have you laughing and crying. Reminded me of conversations I had with my much-beloved grandmother and how much I miss her!"

Nathan Grambau| Radio Broadcast Engineer
Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” Series
"Because, who wants to read anything serious after a year like 2020?"

Jacqueline Halbloom | Senior Music Producer
Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees" by Peter Wohlleben
"Remember the wild moment in 'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers' when the Fangorn Forest came alive? That’s how I felt after receiving 'The Hidden Life of Trees' as a holiday gift. You’d think a book written by a forester would be dry and lifeless. Instead, it is an intriguing and unexpected adventure."

Myrna Johnson | Executive Director
“Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” by Olga Tokarczuk
“'Drive Your Plow' is a wonderful read, full of delightfully quirky characters, literary references, crazy twists and humor. While the story is ultimately a murder mystery, it is so much more. I picked it up because Tokarczuk is a Nobel Prize winner, and I am so glad I did."

Ben Kieffer |Host of River to River
“The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” by (Des Moines native!) Bill Bryson
“I read this when it came out in 2006 and loved it. I just listened to the audio version read by the author — he’s one of the few authors who reads his work better than any professional voice actor could. It’s a memoir of his childhood growing up in 1950s Des Moines as the son of a well-known Des Moines Register sports reporter. So many LOL moments (think David Sedaris-style) and connections you may recognize from your own childhood.”

Ed. note: "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" is the Talk of Iowa Book Club pick for August! You can find the complete reading list here.

Mark Maddy | Development Analyst
“A Backpack, A Bear and Eight Crates of Vodka” by Lev Golinkin
"A re-read for me this summer. I find that the crushing torrent of current news cycles and unrelenting political spin can numb us to the human hearts and stories at the core of these reports. Memoirs like Golinkin’s provide a portal to zoom out and re-frame current polarizing issues, such as trans-border migration by considering them from the perspective of a previous generation’s journey. Humanity in all its forms are explored and revealed in this unexpectedly funny, often infuriating and extremely poignant American tale — an engrossing memoir which tells the story of a young Russian Jew and his family finding a new home in America at the end of the Soviet Era in the late 1980s."

“The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller
"Madeline Miller is a Classics scholar and author who makes the Epics accessible, and their heroes divinely human. Fans of Greek history and mythology will enjoy this imminently enjoyable re-telling of the Iliad and the Trojan War — as revealed through the relationship of two of that legend’s most enduring characters, Achilles and Patroclus."

Lindsey Moon | Senior Digital Producer
“Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America” by Vegas Tenold
“This book details how the far right has organized itself over the last decade, and it’s a shocking and imperative read for anyone who is alarmed by the growth of the far right or white power movements in the United States.”

On Lindsey’s to-read list: “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot” by Mikki Kendall

Charity Nebbe | Host: Talk of Iowa
“Parable of the Sower” by Octavia Butler
"After re-reading "Kindred" for the Talk of Iowa Book Club, I decided to dive right in to Butler’s vision of our future during a time when society in the United States has crumbled due to climate change, corporate greed, a gulf between the haves and have nots, drug use and rampant gun violence. The book was published in 1993 and, chillingly, it takes place in 2024. Once I started reading I couldn’t stop and finished it in three days. It’s brilliant and thought-provoking, and should definitely be taught alongside or in place of other classics like '1984' and 'The Handmaid’s Tale.' I have 'Parable of the Talents' standing by."

“Susan, Linda, Nina, and Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR” by Lisa Napoli
"I probably don’t have to explain why I’m eager to read this one, but I can’t want to find out more about the women who I’ve listened to, admired and learned from for so many years. I’m also acutely aware that I wouldn’t be where I am without their trailblazing work."

"Add 'Clap When You Land' by Elizabeth Acevedo to your list! That’s the July pick for the Talk of Iowa Book Club. It’s a beautiful and deeply absorbing coming-of-age novel written in verse. It’s technically a young adult novel, but definitely sophisticated enough for adult readers. At first we think the book is about Camino Rios, a teenager living in the Dominican Republic and waiting for her father to arrive for a summer visit. Her father’s plane never arrives. Then we learn that Yahaira Rios, who lives in New York, has also lost her father, a man who had many secrets. I read this book last summer with my fourteen-year-old daughter. We both loved it and it gave us a lot to talk about. I highly recommend recruiting a child or grandchild to read along with you.

The on-air book club conversation will be on July 20."

Amy O’Shaughnessy | Development Associate for On-Air & Outreach
“The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett
"I loved 'The Mothers' by Brit Bennett, and I absolutely adored 'The Vanishing Half,' a story about twin sisters: one who lives her whole life as a Black woman, and the other who disappears at age 16 and passes for the rest of her life as white. When their daughters meet one another by chance, this story centered on identity gets all the more fascinating. Beautifully told; an absolute pleasure to read."

“Broken Horses: A Memoir” by Brandi Carlile
"I’ve long admired Brandi Carlile as a human and performer, and this book filled in so many details about her story and ended each chapter with lyrics and photos from the time she’s writing about. A really fun, wonderful read. Would probably be great as an audiobook, too!"

“Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us about Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans” by Michaleen Doucleff
"I approached this book skeptically, as it was talked about a lot on NPR, to the point that the Public Editor received listener comments about how much it was chatted up. But I read it and really enjoyed it — as a parent (and human being), what I’m looking for is wisdom more than helpful tips, and this offered me both. (It was due back to the library before I was finished and I sat on the library steps to read one more chapter before dropping it in the box)."

"And I have to recommend the Clementine series for kids (by Sara Pennypacker)… I’ve been reading them to my five year old and we both LOVE the books… honest, silly heartfelt stories that are legitimately funny, of a family navigating the world with kindness and good humor."

Kate Payne | Eastern Iowa Reporter
“The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson
"I cannot say enough about this book. It’s a defining account of the Great Migration, detailing how generations of Black Americans fled racism, seeking asylum in their own country, and how they reshaped the United States in the process. A story of power, politics and survival, deeply researched and beautifully told."

Barney Sherman | Senior Music Producer
"Nine Nasty Words: English In The Gutter," by John McWhorter
"A linguistic and social history of the words I will never, ever, ever say on the radio. I laughed out loud more than once and was entertained throughout, but no, I can’t tell you what the nine words are. The mic may be live!"

Matt Sieren | Digital/IT Manager
“Senlin Ascends”by Josiah Bancroft (Book one of “The Books of Babel” four-part series)
"For those looking for a new(er) fantasy with original creative concepts and an adventure both in story and character growth, this is a captivating – and quick – read. Soon after they reach the [Babel] Tower, newlyweds Thomas and Marya Senlin are separated. Thomas embarks on a solo journey up the rings of the tower to find his lost bride, facing temptation, betrayal and the corruption of the tower. It’s a fantastic start to the series, full of world-building and prompting the reader to ask – do you have the guts for 'adventure?'”

Katarina Sostaric | State Government Reporter
“The Far Field” by Madhuri Vijay
"It’s a beautiful, mysterious story of a young woman traveling through India to a village in Kashmir to find a long-lost friend."

Monica Starr | Talk of Iowa Book Club Associate Producer
“There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job” by Kikuko Tsumura
"Set in present-day Japan, the narrator’s somewhat disconcerting journey through a series of peculiar jobs feels simultaneously unrecognizable and all too familiar. It is a clever, occasionally bizarre meditation on searching for meaning in work and life."

Caitlin Troutman | Digital News Producer
"Where the Wild Ladies Are" by Aoko Matsuda
"I was completely engrossed by these short stories, which are retellings of traditional Japanese folktales. I found this on a ‘best of’ horror list, but the stories are more like fairy tales set in a modern office than scary stories that might give you nightmares."

“Anxious People” by Fredrik Backman
"I enjoyed Backman’s “A Man Called Ove,” which I listened to as an audiobook, so I was excited to read his new one. Despite his absorbing writing style, it took me a bit to warm up to it, but ultimately I was won over by how goofy and incredibly sweet this story and its characters are. Just what I needed after a stressful year. Also, as a self-proclaimed 'anxious person' it's a good book to carry around for prop comedy."

On Caitlin's to-read list: "The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood; Youth; Dependency" by Tove Ditlevsen

Read on

For even more summer reading suggestions, check out Talk of Iowa's picks for 2021. If you're looking for books for the young readers in your life, here's Talk of Iowa's Summer Books For Kids, Young Adults, And The Young At Heart.

And, for even more IPR book content, check out the Talk of Iowa Book Club. The July selection is "Clap When You Land" by Elizabeth Acevedo. You can also chat about book club selections and other literary interests with Charity Nebbe and hundreds of other readers in the Talk of Iowa Book Club Facebook Group.

Caitlin Troutman is a talk show producer at Iowa Public Radio