11 Favorite Bookstores in “Flyover Country”
Sometimes referred to as “flyover states,” the states of the middle US are home to much worth seeing, including destination bookstores that are charming, well curated, and engaged with their communities. The editors of World Literature Today, which is in Oklahoma, have been on the road the past few years. Here are some of their favorite bookshop finds.
This delightful shop on Ames’s Main Street has nine book clubs—including Found in Translation and Good Trouble Book Club for Middle School Students—and three podcasts. Bonus: there’s a golden retriever in the store.
In addition to its exquisite range of book offerings, this shop near the Mississippi River offers the best selection of jigsaw puzzles. Just a few blocks’ walk and you’ll find both a Carnegie library and the Dubuque Museum of Art, a small museum focusing on Grant Wood.
Dickson Street Bookshop
Located just down a steep hill from the University of Arkansas campus, this local favorite (est. 1978) stocks more than a hundred thousand used and out-of-print books. BuzzFeed once listed it among “17 Bookstores That Will Literally Change Your Life.” BuzzFeed is no more, but Dickson Street Books is still going strong.
This independent sits on North High Street, a busy extension of shops and restaurants running south from Ohio State University. One of managing and culture editor Michelle Johnson’s favorite purchases: a beautiful, unabridged edition of Leaves of Grass.
Fulton Street Books & Coffee
This independent—with its cozy footprint in the historic Greenwood district—opened during the Covid pandemic and hosted more than a thousand attendees who took part in the hybrid launch of WLT’s “Redreaming Dreamland” issue in April 2021. Owner and founder Onikah Asamoa-Caesar calls the bookstore “a love letter to her younger self, a safe space for Black and Brown folks, an intersection and cumulation of her experiences as a Black woman in the US.”
A Room of One’s Own
The University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus is a scenic draw, with its student union overlooking Lake Mendota. There’s more to Madison, though, including this trans- and queer-owned bookstore several miles west of campus. The selection is broad, and the shop’s just steps away from the delicious Daisy Café and Cupcakery.
St. Paul, Minnesota
It’s hard to leave St. Paul’s largest independent bookstore without at least five books in your bag thanks to the presentation of its wide selection. One of Michelle’s favorite purchases? Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
Rowe Audubon Sanctuary
With its mission of conserving the Platte River ecosystem and the birds that rely on it, one of the best things about the gift shop at the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center in the central valley is its lovely view of the river from inside the store and along the walking paths around it. For a bonus, visit the nearby Ft. Kearny footbridge in March to see (and hear) the sandhill cranes, which Aldo Leopold called “the trumpets in the orchestra of evolution.”
Billing itself as Indiana’s largest independent, Morgenstern’s was forced out of business by large chains in the mid-1990s before reopening and returning to its status as a beloved local bookshop in this university town. Editor in chief Daniel Simon cherishes his copy of a book signed by Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal, who visited in the early 1990s.
This small, lovely bookshop in Minneapolis is owned by Louise Erdrich. Readers of her novel The Sentence will recognize the confessional, now a forgiveness booth. Birchbark is a great place to find signed copies of Erdrich’s work for adults and children as well as a nice collection of new releases.
Poor Richard’s Books
A scenic drive through horse farms from Lexington, Kentucky, to the state’s capitol, Frankfort, leads to Poor Richard’s Books, across the street from the old capitol building. While in Frankfort, the new (1910) state capitol building is worth a visit after lunch at Sage Garden Café. Fun book find: A Charm of Goldfinches and other Wild Gatherings: Quirky Collective Nouns of the Animal Kingdom, by Matt Sewell.