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A Bookworm’s Guide to Chicago

Sep 5, 2012
From the fast-talking politicians who inspired its Windy City nickname to the book lovers who slowly peruse the annual Printer’s Row Lit Fest, Chicago has always been a city of words. Today, bibliophiles gravitate to freshly printed pages and antique, leather-bound spines awaiting discovery in the city’s diverse bookstores and libraries. Those in the know have long frequented favorites such as Myopic Books in Wicker Park, which continually earns accolades for its collection of more than 80,000 used tomes. They haunt Quimby’s Bookstore—also in Wicker Park—to flip through small-press zines, comics, and other aberrant publications, or linger among the shelves of the famous Powell’s Bookstore, which has been in business for more than 40 years and maintains locations in Hyde Park and Lakeview. The even older O’Gara & Wilson in Hyde Park traces its roots back to 1882 and maintains that Saul Bellow considered it the best bookstore in America. But Chicago’s vibrant bookselling community doesn’t end with the august storefronts of these literary landmarks. A hunt for rare and out-of-print books takes readers through the doors of Booklegger’s Books in Edgewater, into the labyrinthine corridors of Ravenswood Used Books, and over to Lakeview’s Bookworks, where titles from Beat authors always occupy shelf space. Logan Square’s Uncharted Books peddles books on LGBT issues and women’s studies, and further works of feminine focus await within Women and Children First in Andersonville, which has been promoting books by, about, and for women for more than three decades. And the niches don’t stop there. Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records in Logan Square dishes out a feast of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. There’s also Revolution Books in Ukrainian Village, which unites radical thinkers via works of political theory and philosophy; Selected Works Used Books & Sheet Music in the South Loop, with its stockpile of second-hand sheet music; and the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in River North, boasting a collection of Lincolniana and Americana that has been evolving since 1938. The Harold Washington Library downtown may be the epicenter of literary lending in Chicago, but 2 miles north and across the river, The Newberry greets scholars with a noncirculating wealth of rare books and manuscripts spanning six centuries. Specialized institutions range from the Poetry Foundation Library and its 30,000 volumes of verse to the Pritzker Military Library, which aims to illuminate the plight of the citizen soldier.  In the Gold Coast, the International Museum of Surgical Science library guards more than 5,000 medical texts dating back to the 16th century inside a replica of Marie Antoinette’s Le Petit Trianon. The city also brings lit lovers together via scheduled social events. Crowds gather in Noble Square at The Hideout for Fictlicious, a reading series that incorporates stories and songs, and Write Club, an open forum for writers to argue opposing topics, such as fate versus free will. Since 1986, wordsmiths have also hit The Green Mill for the Uptown Poetry Slam, where they cast their words into the dark nooks and crannies of the historic jazz club once frequented by Al Capone.