Corn and graveyards

Two things are notable when driving through Iowa.

The first one is of course the corn fields. Iowa ranks first in the country in corn production. They make up for almost 20 % of all the corn in America. It has to grow somewhere, and if you’re off the freeways, that’s about the only thing you find.

The second things are the graveyards. For long stretches of time, corn fields is the only thing you see, every now and then interrupted by silos. And graveyards. They appear depressingly often, in the middle of the corn, far away from the closest church or town. The farmers of Iowa who lived among the corn and now rest in it. My own theory is that the gravestones are what’s left when small communities and family farms were swallowed by industrial agriculture and bigger cities; sometimes as many as fifty, sometimes as few as six. You see them, you blink, they’re gone again.

Dewey Readmore Books

The reason we’re in Spencer is of course obvious: their library used to have a library cat named Dewey Readmore Books. By now, Carina has asked everyone we’ve met in Iowa if they’ve heard of this cat of theirs. Everyone has said “no”, so I think she’s beginning to believe I’ve made “the damn cat”, as Carina lovingly calls him, up.

But they know about him at the motel:
Carina: “So, you know about this library cat, then?”
Motel-guy: “Dewey? Sure, he’s a big deal around here.”
I may have smiled rather smugly.

Dewey Readmore Books is the world-famous library cat that was found half frozen to death in the night drop one cold January morning. He is also the protagonist in the increadibly charming books Dewey – The Small-Town Library Cat that Touched the World. It’s written by Vicki Myron, och it’s also one of two reasons why my own book The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend takes place in Iowa. He does of course have his own webpage: –  the touching story of “An Abandoned Kitten [that] Transforms the Spirit of an American Town.”

And here we are now. Right outside the authentic Spencer Public Library. “Look!” I say to Carina while she is arranging our photo shoot. “A completely authentic library borrower! With a book!”. Carina notes somewhat drily that we are standing outside a library (se image!)

Inside, we’re met by a rather ugly statue of Dewey/The Damned Cat. I sign their guestbook and talk to the friendly woman behind the counter. She didn’t work here in Dewey’s time, but Vicki still comes by often. She is still working on her second book, which might be a childrens book about the miracles surrounding Dewey. As a writer I deeply sympathise with her: it must feel a bit tricky to try to write another book after having written one about her self and the town that sold to tens of countries. I mean, there’s only one library cat.

The friendly woman gives us the full Dewey-tour: the drop box where Dewey was found (see image), the heater where Dewey liked to sleep (for some reason I forgot to document that one) and the memorial plaque (see image). Carine suggest I should kneel reverently by it. I think she might be ironic.

But Dewey is a big deal. When he died it was announced on the tv-news. His orbituary appeared in 250 newspapeers, including the New York Times. Tourists used to visit the small town, even though most of them did it when he was alive. He made the library a part of the community, and he was there for people when family farms were being sold, through ecomonical crisis and lack of jobs, rising oil prices and whatever the world might throw at them. And now I’ve seen his library.

The books

Some interesting facts about books in America: some 292,014 books are published every year, making the USA the country which publicize most books in the world.

Sweden is number 48, a long way down after both Finland and Denmark, which can’t reasonably be accurate. The statistical nerd in me quickly establishes that it isn’t: the numbers for Sweden is for 2010, those for Finland from 2006, and Denmark from 1996, making them strictly, statistically speaking, difficult to compare.

I’ll get to the bottom of this one day. Unfortunately not today, since I have a novel to write.

The USA of small towns, survival, corn and craziness

Helen Hanff, the great woman who wrote 84, Charing Cross Road, quoted some guy who’d said: everyone goes to London with their very own image of what they’re going to find there, and everyone find exactly the London they’re looking for. I think it’s the same with the United States.

So this is the USA I’m looking for: small towns, size, craziness, originals, books and corn.

The plan

Things I wanted to see in Iowa: small towns. The library in Spencer that once had a library cat named Dewey Readmore Books. Corn. Soya beans as a back-up plan. So before the trip I talked about it with Carina.

She: “Who wants to see soya beans?”
Me: “I just didn’t want you to think I was unreasonable if we were driving around Iowa looking for corn fields and not finding them.”
Carina: “We’ll definitely see those corn fields”, and then it was settled.