Book browsing at its best: Lose a few hours in some of the best independent bookstores Chicago has to offer
By Amanda Parker
As a former bookseller, I know that independent bookshops are often very dear to the hearts of book fanatics and casual readers alike. I thought I’d check out some independent bookshops around the city to see what makes each one unique, and as I predicted, due to my love of both literature and indie stores, every shop turned out to be a treasure that I would be remiss not to frequent more often.
3251 N. Broadway
What they know best: In its basement, Unabridged has what I’d undoubtedly call the most extensive travel section of any Chicago bookshop. They have complete sets of all the classic travel series like Rick Steves, Fodor’s and Eyewitness Travel to name a few. Whatever place you’re traveling to or just want to know more about, you can take your pick.
Catching our eye: There’s an extensive sale section, with books ranging from older paperback favorites to recent hardcover releases. They’re steeply discounted, so you can pick up three for the price of one normal new release.
What we’re reading: An entire section is dedicated to LGBTQ material. There are books on gay photography, fiction, non-fiction, mystery and fantasy, among others. I picked up Flagrant Conduct by Dale Carpenter, which a sign informed me is about a landmark gay-rights case that won the Lambda award for best LGBT non-fiction in 2013.
The Book Cellar
4736 N. Lincoln
What they know best: Not only does this Lincoln Square gem have a great selection of all types of books (I was particularly impressed by the amount of children’s picture books), but half of the store functions as a café. Pick up a new book, buy a glass of wine and settle in.
Catching our eye: Hanging off of every shelf are hand-written recommendations from the staff. They not only review specific books, but suggest the order in which to read books by a specific author or what else to try if you liked a certain title.
What we’re reading: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg is the April selection for The Book Cellar Book Club. Several book clubs meet at the shop — there’s one for adults who read young adult books, one for classics, and another for books about Chicago or authored by Chicago-area writers.
1564 N. Milwaukee
What they know best: Myopic Books is one of the oldest and best-stocked used bookstores in the city. If you’re looking to sell books, this is a great place — they offer either store credit or cash. The shop carries and buys books from myriad genres including your standard fiction and sci-fi to math and the occult.
Catching our eye: The atmosphere here is truly curious. If you’ve never visited the Wicker Park shop before, your first trip will have you wandering through the three-story maze of sagging plywood shelves in wonder. Even if you’re not looking for a single book in particular, meandering through the narrow aisles, ducking under teetering shelves and settling into a comfy chair upstairs is an experience unparalleled by any other bookshop I’ve been in.
What we’re reading: Since this shop carries some stuff that’s pretty out there, I decided on Valerie Worth’s Crone’s Book of Magical Words, which is exactly what it sounds like — a book of poetic spells, incantations and charms. Why not?
23 E. Illinois
What they know best: They sell both new and used books in this massive two-floor store. If a book you seek can’t be found, the staff may be able to order what you’re looking for and have it shipped over. They can even get their hands on some books that are out of print!
Catching our eye: The downstairs level houses the largest used fiction section I’ve ever seen. I’ll definitely make this a destination when stocking up on some titles from my to-read list. Even better, any book with a price tag dated at least a year ago gets an additional 25 percent off.
What we’re reading: There are a lot of great titles in the signed-books section, and I was especially interested in a copy of The Road to Dune signed by Frank Herbert. This genius author’s signature would be an awesome addition to any book collection.
714 S. Dearborn
What they know best: Located in a fantastic loft building in Printers Row, Sandmeyer’s has a great selection of books about Chicago and the neighboring areas. It’s been family owned and operated for more than 30 years, so you know the extremely tight-knit, literary-savvy booksellers are committed their customers.
Catching our eye: Sandmeyer’s has a very distinct atmosphere — it’s small, clean and organized, and the creaky floors and soft jazz music make the shopping experience enjoyable.
What we’re reading: I found myself particularly interested in the array of journals and cards. They have cards for any occasion, and I found them to be more creative and look more handmade than the generic types that are easy to come by at other stores.