Worn down by the giant chains, a jaded book lover searches for sanity in the indie-bookseller underground
Into the heart of Africa
Afrocentric Bookstore (4655 S King Dr at 46th Pl, 773-924-3966). It was a shame when this store left its space in DePaul's Loop campus to make way for a Barnes and Noble, but it's found a happy home at the 47th Street Market shopping mall in Bronzeville. The store carries 7,000 to 10,000 titles of African-American and African interest at any given time, says owner Desiree Sanders. The store also hosts regular events; academic bad-boy Michael Eric Dyson spoke and promoted his new book here last month.
Centuries and Sleuths (7419 W Madison St, Forest Park, 708-771-7243). What do history and mystery have in common, other than that they rhyme? Plenty, says Augie Aleksy, founder of this history and mystery bookshop.
"Being a historian is like being a mystery writer," he says, explaining that while many historians piece together the past, mystery writers often focus on the myths of historical events. Driving the point home, Aleksy cites Robert Goldsborough's series of Nero Wolfe mysteries in which the lives of Richard J. Daley and Al Capone blend into the plots.
Perhaps mystery offers what history can't. "Evil is punished," Aleksy says. "The reader's sense of justice is satisfied."
Centuries and Sleuths also carries foreign mysteries, and the top price for paperbacks is currently $8.50.
It came from another land
Europa(832 N State St between Chestnut and Pearson Sts, 312-335-9677). In a city so full of ex-pats, it's strange there aren't more bookstores serving Chicago's foreign community. Europa carries more than 250 foreign language and international newspapers and periodicals.
Readers can also find a wide variety of books for English speakers learning another language and popular titles in French, Spanish, German, Italian and Polish. Along with the diversity of titles and publications, the store offers shoppers an extra bonus with expert staff, says salesperson Laura Eyring: Every employee at Europa speaks at least one foreign language.
Myopic Books (1564 N Milwaukee Ave between North Ave and Honore St, 773-862-4882). Bookworms are notorious night owls. That's why there's Myopic, open until 1am six nights a week (10pm on Sundays). There are between 65,000 and 80,000 used books occupying the wooden shelves of this converted three-flat. Fiction is the largest section, and old paperback classics go for a few dollars. Myopic fuels its nocturnal readers with $1 coffees and hosts regular events on the spacious third floor, including a Sunday night poetry reading and chess night on Wednesday.
Unabridged Bookstore (3251 N Broadway between Aldine Ave and Melrose St, 773-883-9119). Robert McDonald has worked at this Lakeview institution for eight years, but that's dwarfed by some of his co-workers, who've put in more than 20 years. That level of dedication among the staff makes Unabridged unique, McDonald says.
A general-interest bookstore carrying the latest titles, the Boystown establishment openly supports and carries many titles of interest to the GLBT community without pigeonholing itself as a strictly gay bookstore. It sells new books at the usual market prices, but it's also known for its selection of "remainders" (marked down hard covers) and the in-depth, staff-written recommendations taped to shelves.
Left of Center Bookstore (1043 W Granville Ave between Kenmore and Winthrop Aves, 773-338-1513). Owner Arlene Levy sells the latest works of the world's top progressive thinkers and journalists at her cozy, comfortable book nook, which celebrated its first anniversary in February. Left of Center is refreshingly different from many left-wing bookstores, with slick, clean digs as opposed to the usual dusty anarchist squat.
While many leftist bookstores, in Chicago and elsewhere, tend to align with certain parties or ideologies, Left of Center caters to anyone interested in progressive politics. And Levy has made sure that her establishment doesn't become simply a chapel for preaching to the converted. The store recently hosted iconoclast journalist Christopher Hitchens, who discussed his own split with the Left.
Oddities and spooksComix Revolution (600 Davis St, Evanston, 847-866-8659). Don't fear; comic-book stores are not hostile environments manned by anti-social, condescending snobs as portrayed in The Simpsons. The area's leading comic-book haven stocks more than 100 titles in addition to tees and gag gifts such as antidepressant refrigerator magnets. The store focuses on circulating new books and merchandise, and doesn't carry expensive collector's items. The mentality here is that comic books are a source of entertainment, not something in which to invest.