THOUGH CHICAGO MAY lack the
industrial infrastructure of a
publishing powerhouse like
New York, there’s a lot going on here
if you know where to look. Home to
two respected university presses (at
the University of Chicago and
Northwestern) and established operations
like Chicago Review Press and
the Afrocentric Third World Press—which had a breakout hit this year
with the Tavis Smiley project The Covenant With Black America—Chicago’s seen a surge of publishing
activity in the last few years from
upstarts like Evanston-based Agate Publishing, Punk Planet Books (an
offshoot of Punk Planet magazine),
and OV Books (from the literary
journal Other Voices). Locally published
journals like Another Chicago Magazine, Make, and the broadsheet
The2ndHand are regular outlets for
short fiction and creative nonfiction.
And after philanthropist Ruth Lilly
dropped a $175 million bomb on tiny
Poetry magazine in 2003, the Poetry
Foundation became one of the largest
literary foundations in the world and
amped up its activities accordingly.
On September 29 the organization
brings Pulitzer winner Mark Strand
to the Art Institute of Chicago.
Hands down the biggest literary
shindig of the year is the Printers
Row Book Fair, where 100,000 bibliophiles
descend on South Dearborn
Street, the heart of the city’s historic
printing district (in 2007 it’s June 9
and 10). Booksellers peddle their
wares while a mess of author appearances,
panel discussions, book signings,
and kids’ programming add to
the general commotion. A little more
highbrow, but no less popular, the
Chicago Humanities Festival brings a
host of writers and thinkers to town
each fall for two weeks of intensive
intellectual activity, with panels,
talks, film screenings, and performances
organized around an overarching
theme. This year’s festival,
“Peace and War,” starts October 28;
look for the Reader’s guides to both
festivals in Section 2.
Want to get out and throw down
with other book nerds? Both local
and touring authors pop up regularly
at the bookstores (see below),
but if literary events are your thing,
there are plenty of lively alternatives—though to attend many of
them you need to be 21 or older. The
Reader’s Readings & Lectures listings
in Section 2 has a complete
rundown of what’s happening
around town each week.
Once a month or so, Bookslut
editor Jessa Crispin (bookslut.com)
entices three or four writers to an
upstairs room at the Hopleaf Bar
(5148 N. Clark, 773-334-9851); a few
weeks ago a crowd of 30 quaffed
Belgian brews from the bar’s extensive
beer list as novelist Pagan
Kennedy and others read from new
work by the light of the vintage
jukebox; coming up on the 27th are
Ned Vizzini, Brian Evenson, and
Cristina Henriquez. The monthly
Sunday Salon Chicago series takes
over the homey (and nonsmoking)
confines of the Charleston (2076 N.
Hoyne, 773-489-4757) on the last
Sunday of the month; reading on
the 24th are Megan Stielstra, L.C.
Fiore, and David Treuer.
For the popular Dollar Store series
Jonathan Messinger, who also runs
the fledgling Featherproof Books, and
comedian Jeremy Sosenko challenge
their guests of honor to write an original
short story based on random
items picked up at a dollar store.
Participants take the stage at the
Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433) on the first Friday of every
month to read the results to an
appreciative, PBR-gripping crowd. A
bit to the north, the series RUI:
Reading Under the Influence (readingundertheinfluence.com) tweaks the
bar-and-bibliophiles formula even
further: every month the organizers
pick a theme (this month it was
labor; October’s is love/hate) and
writers gather at Sheffield’s (3258 N.
Sheffield, 773-281-4989) to read from
their own work and that of a famous
author, pelting the audience with
trivia questions about the famous
one. Shots are done, prizes are won.
On the poetry front, things can
get just as rowdy: Chicago is, after
all, the birthplace of slam poetry,
and Marc Smith’s Uptown Poetry Slam, the granddaddy of them all,
is still going strong every Sunday
night at the legendary Green Mill cocktail lounge and jazz club (4802
N. Broadway, 773-878-5552). The
long-running Danny’s Reading
Series, at Danny’s Tavern (1951
W. Dickens, 773-489-6457) in
Bucktown, draws from local and
national talent to present a pair of
poets on the third Wednesday of
every month. And on the same
night, over at the California Clipper
(1002 N. California, 773-384-2547)
in Humboldt Park, the multicultural
Guild Complex hosts the bilingual
Palabra Pura poetry series (the
Guild Complex hosts a prose series
at the same venue on the first
Wednesday of the month).
As elsewhere, the big chains dominate
the retail market, but a cadre
of indies keep the scene lively.
Barbara’s Bookstore moved its flagship
store from Old Town to spacious
new digs in the University
Village development south of UIC
in 2004. The UIC store (1218 S.
Halsted, 312-413-2665) and its twin
in Oak Park (1100 Lake,
708-848-9140) are regular
stops on the literary
with recent appearances
Vachss, Joyce Carol
Oates, and Jennifer
Egan, to name a few.
Up in Andersonville,
Women and Children First
(5233 N. Clark, 773-769-9299)
carries an extensive stock of—surprise—books of particular interest
to women, from fiction to feminist
theory, and children. The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square (4736 N.
Lincoln, 773-293-2665) does
double duty as a wine bar and cozy
cafe. Lakeview’s Unabridged Books
(3251 N. Broadway, 773-883-9119)
is distinguished by its informed staff
recommendations and a large selection
of gay and lesbian titles—though the store carries a lot of
general interest titles as well.
In Hyde Park, you can get lost for
hours in the warrenlike basement
that houses the venerable Seminary Co-op Bookstore (5757 S. University,
773-752-4381), whose shelves groan
with new titles from university
presses and other special interest
publishers. Two blocks away its sibling
57th Street Books (1301 E.
57th, 773-684-1300) carries literature,
general interest nonfiction,
and children’s books—and is
another active venue for author
appearances. The Newberry Library(60 W. Walton, 312-255-3520)
is home to the third of the co-op’s
outposts, the A.C. McClurg
Bookstore, specializing in history,
cartography, geography, calligraphy,
and other subjects relevant to the
Quimby’s (1854 W. North, 773-342-0910) in Wicker Park is one of
the country’s—if not the world’s—
best sources for zines, comics, small
press books, vintage erotica, and all
manner of subcultural effluvia. It
also hosts frequent readings and
events that could have you snuggled
up against the gay porn next month
to hear from vintage Japanese baseball
card collector John Gall
(Sayonara Home Run!) and
Iranian-via-Parisian comics artist
Marjane Satrapi (Chicken With Plums). Over on Milwaukee, Myopic Books (1564 N. Milwaukee, 773-862-4882) has a a vertiginous floor-to-ceiling stash of merch that can render the most hardcore used-book
junkie placid and happy.
They’ll buy your old books too
(details at myopicbookstore.com).
Powell’s Bookstore—the progenitor
of the legendary
store in Portland,
Oregon—has three outposts
in Chicago. The
Hyde Park shop (1501
E. 57th, 773-955-7780)
specializes in used
scholarly books covering
the spectrum of academic
disciplines; the Lakeview
store (2850 N. Lincoln, 773-248-
1444) carries a lot of fiction, art,
architecture, and photography,
and includes a rare books room;
the South Loop location (825 S.
Wabash, 312-341-0748) is the
retail warehouse and, in their
words, stocks “a little bit of everything.”
The Lakeview Powell’s is also
home to the Powell’s North Reading Series, a monthly event pairing an
established author or poet with one
or two emerging writers.
Then there are the specialty
stores—everything from the
Abraham Lincoln Book Shop (357 W.
Chicago, 312-944-3085), purveyors
of Civil War porn, to the New Agey
Transitions Bookplace (1000 W.
North, 312-951-7323), which presents
psychedelic proselytizer Daniel
Pinchbeck on September 26. The
Prairie Avenue Bookshop (418
S. Wabash, 800-474-2724) is a
famous resource for books on
architecture and design.
Rare book dealers range from
Bookman’s Alley in Evanston (1712
Sherman, 847-869-6999) to O’Gara
and Wilson in Hyde Park (1448 E.
And don’t forget the libraries: the
Harold Washington Library Center
(400 S. State, 312-747-4300) and
the Sulzer Regional Library (4455 N.
Lincoln, 312-744-7616) are both
hubs of literary activity—not to
mention an obvious, if under-appreciated,
source of free reading material.
And speaking of free reading
matter: if you had any lingering
doubts that literary culture was
alive and well in Chicago, look
closely around the sidewalks of
Logan Square, where this summer
one enterprising citizen filled a
Reader honor box with used
books, painted “Community
Book Exchange” on the side,
and in a flash founded the littlest library in town.
A Chicago Library
A selection of some but not all not-to-be-missed Chicago
books, with apologies to Saul Bellow (The Adventures of
Augie March), Theodore Dreiser (Sister Carrie), James T.
Farrell (the Studs Lonigan trilogy), Studs Terkel (Division
Street), and a multitude of other contenders.
American Project: The Rise and Fall of an American Ghetto | Sudhir Venkatesh | As a U. of C. sociology
grad student, Venkatesh spent almost ten years doing
research in the Robert Taylor Homes to create a nuanced portrait
of life in the public housing development.
Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago | Mike
Royko | It doesn’t get much better than this: Royko’s classic,
withering account of the career of King Richard the First.
The Coast of Chicago | Stuart Dybek | Lyrical short
stories that combine to create an intimate tour of the ethnic
Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse | Steve
Bogira | An unprecedented look by Reader staff writer Bogira
at how the American judicial system, in the form of the Cook
County Criminal Courthouse, works—and doesn’t.
Crossing California | Adam Langer | A former
Reader contributor’s wry take on growing up Jewish in the 70s
in West Rogers Park.
The Devil in the White City | Erik Larson | Justly
acclaimed historical fiction weaving together the stories of
architect and city planner Daniel Burnham and serial killer
H.H. Holmes, set against the backdrop of the 1893 World’s
Fire on the Prairie: Chicago’s Harold Washington and the Politics of Race | Gary Rivlin | The definitive chronicle of Chicago
politics in the tumultuous 70s, by a former Reader staffer.
Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago | Eric Klinenberg | A dissection of the social
and political conditions that led to the deaths of hundreds of
people during the heat wave of 1995.
The Jungle | Upton Sinclair | Muckracking 1906 novel
that blew the lid off the inhuman working conditions of the
Chicago stockyards and inspired lasting political change.
Not for the squeamish.
The Man With the Golden Arm | Nelson Algren |
Dark classic about poverty and addiction that offers a gritty
look at West Division Street and its denizens long before Mirai
Sushi moved in.
Native Son | Richard Wright | Powerful and brutal,
a landmark indictment of racism and social injustice in
Nowhere Man | Aleksandar Hemon | Through his
fictional alter ego Chicago’s most famous Bosnian sketches
the immigrant experience in Uptown in hilarious, painful detail.
There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America | Alex Kotlowitz | Controversial true story of two
brothers growing up in the Henry Horner Homes that’s become
required reading for both urban journalists and children’s
The Time Traveler’s Wife | Audrey Niffenegger |
Full of shout-outs to Chicago sites like the Riv and the
Newberry Library, this breakout 2003 novel by printmaker
and book arts teacher Niffenegger is both an intricately
structured fantasy and a three-hankie love story. | MB