On Saturday, Favorite Wife and I took an ambling drive on Highway 14 through the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin. The term "driftless area" was coined to describe this area of rolling hills and deeply carved river valleys, which escaped glaciation in the last glacial period, dating back to the Paleozoic Era. "Drift-less" refers to the lack of glacial drifting in the area. The area along this route is loosely contained within the Wisconsin River, crossed at Spring Green, trending northwest up to LaCrosse and the Mississippi River. One also crosses the Kickapoo River, just south of Viroqua, which was our terminus on this trip. The river bluffs and rolling hills make for gorgeous scenery, one of the most beautiful drives in Wisconsin. Tourists interested in Frank Lloyd Wright will also find this drive interesting, as his home, Taliesen, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center are found in Spring Green, and Wright's hometown, Richland Center, is just a short drive further.
Following on a theme of my last post, I wanted to stop in Richland Center and get a shot of Ocooch Books and Libations. Like the Book 'N Barber in Grafton, Illinois, Ocooch has added a second line of business to make ends meet. Inside they sell new books, particularly those with strong regional interests and affiliations, along side craft beers and regional wines. I picked up a local product called Frank Lloyd Wright's Warehouse by Margaret Helen Scott about the only Wright designed building in Richland Center (and the only warehouse he designed). Inexplicably, I put it back without buying it, and now I wish I had. I know of at least one more bookshop that sells spirits along side their books, in Milton, WI, and I hope to share a photo of it in a future post.
Though our aim was to drive the hills of the Driftless Area, I, of course, had a bookshop in mind as a destination, this time Driftless Books in Viroqua. My local paper, the Wisconsin State Journal, has chronicled the survival of Driftless Books over the past couple of years. Proprietors Allegra Wakest and Eddy Nix built an on-line book business in nearby Viola, only to have it partially destroyed by catastrophic floods. At the urging of volunteers who came to help Wakest and Nix clean up, they opened an open shop in Viroqua. A recent article from the past week announced that they had opened in a larger venue, the Viroqua Leaf Tobacco Company's warehouse, seen to the right (with it's top hacked off by yours truly, a careless photographer) on the east side of town by the railroad tracks. On arriving, I didn't know what to expect to find in their stock. I guessed there may be a mix of recent bestsellers and lots of old books, culled from the local countryside, such as you might find in antique malls across the country. Though such vintage books are usually heavily soiled and valueless, one with a nice, bright decorative binding occasionally turns up and makes it worth a look. What I found at Driftless Books, however, was quite a surprise. Upon entering, Favorite Wife and I
approached an interior entrance decorated with ephemera found in used books and pasted into a mural, which will get any used book collector's heart pumping. After this entrance, the interior opened up into a large, well, warehouse-sized room. I estimate the premises contained at least 10,000 books, and with so much space, the browsing was easy without any need for digging or worrying about backing into another patron. This is a new venue, of course, so my suspicion is that the space will continue to fill with over time.
The shop contains lots of fiction and books in most non-fiction areas. My surprise was in how well curated the stock is. The first case I looked at contained a large selection of titles relating to Surrealism. There was also a large selection of books in French. Both contained a number of titles from the poetes d'aujourd'hui series that I wrote about in a previous post. Also on hand was a case devoted to Beat writings, several cases of literary criticism and literary biography and a case of less-than-usually-seen regional titles. My favorite title of the day came from the latter case: Coffee Made Her Insane & Other Nuggets from Old Minnesota Newspapers. I did see quite a few ex-library titles, which can be discouraging for a book collector, but many of these were scholarly titles. Since libraries were the primary buyers for these books, it's often just reality that these will be found with stamps and tapes on them. For fans of vintage material, there were several shelves of the above mentioned vintage books, some with nice decorative bindings. I also spotted a W.R. Burnett first and took home a first of Zone Gale's Friendship Village Love Stories (without jacket). Though Gale is from nearby Portage, Wisconsin, the book is not. It has a stamp on the title page from the York, Maine Library. I also spotted some Sci-Fi pulps and the occasional vintage paperback--I bought an Ace double by G. C. Edmondson in very nice condition containing Stranger Than You Think and the original publication of The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream. Along with Gale's book I bought Companions on the Trail, the literary reminiscences by another Wisconsin product, Hamlin Garland. (Mr. Nix says that Garland's home in nearby West Salem is open for viewing and even has a small bookstore attached. This is probably where he got the Hamlin Garland t-shirt (!) that he claims to own.) I also bought a fine edition of Malcolm Cowley's book on the Lost Generation, A Second Flowering, and parodies by Alex Atkinson and Ronald Searle of Mayhew's famous work London Labour and London Poor, culled from the pages of Punch into a volume named The Big City or the New Mayhew. All together, there are books for anyone at Driftless Books and the prices are very fair, even modest. For ephemera collectors, Mr. Nix says he has been collecting the ephemera that he finds in books into boxes, excepting that which makes it onto the mural, and, though unsorted, is available for perusal. Hungry? You can even pick up a loaf of locally made bread while you're in the store. You can find Driftless Books on the web at http://www.driftlessbooks.com/ .
To other potential tourists, I should also mention that this is Amish country. Terrific baked goods and Amish handicrafts are available in Viroqua and its environs. Favorite Wife and I decided to play a game of spot the horse and buggy, but soon gave it up when we realized just how ubiquitous the carriages are.
Cool New Books in Bookstores Now: Driftless by David Rhodes and published by Milkweed Editions--the best novel to come out of Wisconsin in a generation. Available now in paperback. Also, The Becoming of the Driftless Rivers National Park, self-published by Bryan J. Stanley--a plea for a national park in the area and packed with brilliant color photography. The book can also be purchased by emailing Bryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.