New books: Great Lakes biking, Chicago fun, Iowa food

On my desk is a growing stack of recently released books, and I crave time to delve into them. The arrival of summer should make that easier: Here is an introduction to what I consider the best.

“The Great Lakes at Ten Miles an Hour: One Cyclist’s Journey along the Shores of the Inland Seas” by Thomas Shevory (University of Minnesota Press, $17) – To really get acquainted with a piece of this Earth, don’t let somebody else do the driving. What you see and remember depends on how you pay attention to detail while navigating it.

The author uses a bicycle to follow the shoreline of the five Great Lakes, a four-summer project that he presents in diary form. The Ithaca College professor of politics grew up 25 miles from Lake Erie and – like a good teacher – provides a helpful reading list, to tempt or prepare others for similar journeys.

Why explore by bicycle? “It fosters an openness that can never be replicated by automobile travel,” Shevory writes. “A bicycle encourages particular ways of touching, seeing and thinking about the world.” Traveling by auto covers more in miles, but a two-wheeler invites more adventure and deeper perspectives.

“111 Places in Chicago That You Must Not Miss” by Amy Bizzarri (Emons Publishing, $20) – Why 111? The Germany-based publisher likes the way “one” looks in triplicate, and as the identifier for a growing series of guidebooks that covers the world. Installments include major U.S. cities.

The word “guidebook” suggests an exhaustive and all-inclusive approach to a destination’s attractions, lodging and restaurants. Good news: That’s not what “111 Places” delivers. Expect nothing less than an insider’s view of the Windy City, via appetizing little stories about lesser-known spaces.

Here is where you’ll find Aloft Loft Circus Arts (in a century-old Logan Square church) and the Zebra Lounge (a Gold Coast piano bar with zebra-centric motif). Both Bizzarri and photographer Susie Inverso live in Chicago and share 111 little secrets of the city. Topics: slinky Bollywood boutique to dive-bar turtle racing.

“A Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby (American Palate, $22) – What we eat reveals who we are, and this book explains how food defines the Hawkeye State. The author deftly blends culinary history and cultural traditions, shares classic recipes and makes no apologies for down-home cooking in America’s Heartland.

A macaroni salad recipe comes from Mary Jo’s Hobo House in Britt, population 2,000 and a popular stop during the National Hobo Convention, held every August since 1900. A recipe for strawberry pretzel squares is a nod to Iowans’ love of Jell-O (Des Moines has led the nation in Jell-O consumption, per capita). Iowa Turkey Federation shares the recipe for grilled turkey tenderloins, an Iowa State Fair favorite.

“Milwaukee: A City Built on Water” by John Gurda (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $29) – What impact do rivers and a Great Lake shoreline have on Wisconsin’s biggest city? This longtime Milwaukee historian and prolific writer (with 22 books and newspaper columns to his credit) patiently documents how waterway issues and opportunities have explained and influenced Milwaukee challenges, triumphs and character.

Industrial growth, wastewater problems and recreational attractions are a part of the story about how water complements, complicates and confounds Brew City living.

“How to Make a Life: A Tibetan Refugee Family and the Midwestern Woman They Adopted” by Madeline Uraneck (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $23) – The most fulfilling donations of time, talent or money are those for which the giver receives something of value in return for her efforts.

Sometimes it’s simply the satisfaction of contributing to a good cause, goal or person in need. And sometimes true value is revealed with the passage of time. That is the story here: Uraneck begins by helping Tibetan refugees feel at home in the United States. They eventually help her adjust and deepen the meaning of family.

The author, a former Peace Corps worker, is no stranger to connecting with people from other countries. An international education consultant for the state Department of Public Instruction, Uraneck arranged hundreds of connections between Wisconsin classrooms and visiting teachers from other countries.

“Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy” (HarperCollins, $26) and “Danger – Man Working: Writing from the Heart, the Gut and the Poison Ivy Patch” (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $19), both by Michael Perry – No one mixes blue-collar sensibilities and white-collar intellect better than this guy, a rural EMT, farmer, musician and author of New York Times bestsellers. His catapult from obscurity began with the 2001 book “Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbor One Siren at a Time.”

Perry’s newest releases are thoughtful, clever essays – some heartfelt, some humorous – about life as he knows it. In “Montaigne,” he pulls the writings and observations of a long-ago French nobleman into the 21st century, using them as a springboard for dialogue about modern-day life.

“As a writer,” he says in the “Danger – Man Working” intro, “I find my greatest privilege lies not in telling my story; it lies in being trusted to tell the story of another.”

To hear the author in person, make your way to Big Top Chautauqua tent shows, near Bayfield, where Perry hosts “Tent Show Radio” and sometimes performs with his band, the Long Beds. Stay up-to-date with other performances and readings at