Independent Bookstore Day 2017

The rain and wind didn’t scare away lovers of independent bookstores Saturday, with many participating in and more than 30 completing the #mychicagobookstore challenge. A lot of that is thanks to the bookstores themselves, who didn’t disappoint–special discounts, events or just general encouragement was found at every stop. And sometimes that encouragement was needed after a long run from the car, bus, or train stop in the rain, arriving soaked but ready to shop!

My boyfriend and I were among those that successfully completed the challenge, and my hard work going over and over my schedule the day before was well worth it! Knowing that there’s always intangibles, I chose one of the schedules I created (I created four options) that had us going to more than 10…just in case we happened to spend too much time at one place and didn’t get to each stop before it closed. This was definitely the right move, because once I get started with my book browsing, it always takes much longer than I think it will. In the end, we did have to skip a few on our list, but the plus side was that we ended up attending several bookstores we’d never been to before. Of the 10 we visited, 7 were new for me and 8 were new for my boyfriend. I was shocked at this tally, since I thought I’d been to so many, but Independent Bookstore Day definitely introduced me to several new ones that I’m very excited to visit again in the future. And it also introduced us to neighborhoods we hadn’t yet fully discovered or hadn’t yet been to.

Volumes Bookcafe filling up on Indie Bookstore Day.

 

Below is the order I visited the stores, with a short two-word description of my experience at each, whether it was the overall feeling, the selection, or the staff:

Open Books: Humorous and chill

Seminary Co-op: Wise and welcoming

57th Street Books: Magical and intimate (kind of like the princess castle of my childhood dreams, only underground.)

Gathering for samples and champagne at Read It & Eat It.

Powell’s: Intellectual and inspiring

Sandmeyer’s: Quaint and soothing

Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Co: Youthful and vibrant

Volumes Bookcafe: Feisty and inclusive

Quimby’s: Unreserved and edgy

Read It & Eat It: Inviting and generous (like a good party hostess)

Women & Children First: Relevant and relatable

 

Each one of these stores is unique but the underlying vibe of community is the same. The day is really about them, but they spent it all focused on us! So I hope each and every worker took a well-earned day off to rest and read this week, knowing just how many people love the work they do–so much so that they’d brave what is hopefully one of Chicago’s last cold, windy and rainy weekends of the spring. Cheers to our Independent Bookstores, we’ll see you again very soon!

Head to City Lit for a Bibliotherapy Session

Last weekend, I made my first visit to City Lit Books in Logan Square. This was exciting for a number of reasons: First, I finally live in Chicago (not the suburbs) and I am determined to visit every independent bookstore I haven’t been to yet (and hence also write many more posts on this site). Second, I feel a little tied to City Lit as the founder of LitCity. And third, this month they’re featuring a Book Apothecary, curated by bibliotherapists.

I’ve always been a supporter of therapy and a lover of books, so I was naturally thrilled about this concept. After interviewing a number of independent publishers in the Chicago area*, I found their answers to “Why is reading so important?” the most interesting. All of them said, in some form, that reading develops empathy — it feeds the soul. This resonated with me, as I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many people I’ve met who say they “don’t like reading” or “can’t remember the last time they read a book” seem to be lacking just a bit in the empathy area. Or perhaps that’s just my lack of empathy for non-book lovers. Either way, reading truly is one of the easiest methods to access different perspectives and experiences from your own.

We’re also comforted when reading because we suddenly feel a little less alone. We see there are others who experience the same frustrations and pains we do. And then sometimes we see that maybe our struggles aren’t so bad or so difficult to overcome — we’re inspired by the stories of others who overcame greater odds.

On a Saturday evening, City Lit opened its doors to those looking for a little comfort, and invited five writers to read from works they would prescribe. Kyle Beachy, Rebecca Makkai, Kathleen Rooney, Martin Seay and Christine Sneed all read from their selections and highlighted the ailments they hoped these books might help.

Immediately following the readings, bibliotherapists were available to hear about your ailments and prescribe their literary treatments. At the front of the bookstore were shelves of books marked “bibliotherapy” and matched with common maladies. It is this extra touch that I loved and that will bring me back to the store. It would have been easy for these to just have been a series of readings, but the personalization really made it feel like the store had an interest in both sharing great works and getting to know its customers.

On hand as the bibliotherapist that night was writer Ben Tanzer. I’ve seen Ben’s name attached to a number of local literary events, so I think it is safe to say he is a Chicago literary scene celebrity. I trusted him to give good recommendations, and he didn’t fail. My boyfriend and I came to him with our ailment of “Perfectionism,” mine leaning toward excessive people-pleasing. He recommended something a little edgier, a little less perfectly pleasing, and with a little humor. As any good book lover and bibliotherapist would do, his recommendation led to several other recommendations, until we had a pretty full prescription card (yes, the bibliotherapists actually had their own version of prescription pads). He assessed what types of books each of us liked to read and what might match our personalities. Among those he recommended to me are, “We the Animals” by Justin Torres, “Once I Was Cool” by Megan Stielstra, and “Meaty” by Samantha Irby. I’ve officially added these all to my reading list.

In addition to more books, I’ve also discovered another bookstore I’ll be making frequent visits to. City Lit is great space for intimate literary events and leisurely book browsing, all supported by a friendly and engaged staff. The Book Apothecary is running now until the end of April, so make sure to stop in for your prescription!

 

*So, it’s now been about four years since I interviewed these independent publishers and I’ve yet to follow through on my promise to share these clips on this website. I’ve also claimed I’d make several comebacks and revamp this website. I once had interns. But the 9-to-5 life took over, so I’ve decided to take this all is it comes and am posting when inspired. You may one day actually see these videos…or they’ll be so old that I’ll end up recording new ones and sharing them with you. Either way, it’s a win.

LitCity in the Suburbs: Prairie Path Books

PPBHighQualityTucked in the back of Toms-Price Home Furnishings in west suburban Wheaton, Prairie Path Books (appropriately named, as it is right off of the Prairie Path) is among my new favorite suburban bookstores. Even better, it’s within walking distance for me, and therefore is truly my neighborhood bookstore.

Yes, that’s right – the co-founder and currently only writer for litcity312.com lives in the suburbs. With a day job and an apartment out here, it has been harder to get out to my favorite Chicago literary spots and shows. But, thanks in big part to Prairie Path Books, I’ve realized I don’t have to live in the city to feel a connection to literary culture. That culture that I love and originally experienced in Chicago is very much alive miles outside of the city, and it is absolutely worth covering here on litcity312.com.

I’ve visited Prairie Path Books several times before, but owners Sandy and Jenny demonstrated why a local independent bookstore is so valuable for the community at their Champagne and Snowflakes Winter Book Review on Saturday, January 23rd. Over about two hours, Sandy, Jenny, and their readers (including Sandy’s daughter Emma, who reviewed Young Adult books) shared their best picks of the season. They did this to a full house in their reading room. The event was completely free to local booklovers (including champagne, coffee and snacks) and was thoroughly entertaining for a book nerd like myself. I felt right at home, even though I came to the event solo.

Feeling right at home is pretty easy in this bookstore, as it is a small cozy space in the back of a furniture store. As you can imagine, their event space has plenty of comfy couches and chairs. The staff is as inviting and friendly as the space, and more often that not, one of the owners is there, talking to you directly. Of course, it helps that both Sandy and Jenny talk to every customer in a way that makes you feel like you are old friends. Yes, they were reviewing books at this particular event and were open about the fact that they’d like you to buy the books at their store — as one should — but you never get a sales-pitch vibe.

At this particular event, the PPB readers went through each of their book reviews, covering fiction, nonfiction, young adult, and even cookbooks. All of us attendees followed along with a handout of their written reviews and ratings, which we could use to take notes and reference again later. As Sandy herself pointed out, this was a great opportunity to discover new books or become more open to ones we probably wouldn’t have considered. On the first page of the handout is a message from Sandy herself, reminding us that her readers “are west suburban people – who can relate to your reading preferences, probably.”

Now that we can get books online and read recommendations on sites like Goodreads, I think Sandy’s statement is one of the biggest things we miss out on by taking our relationship with books solely online. Don’t get me wrong, I love sites like Goodreads and I use them, but they serve a different purpose. At the end of the day, websites cannot replace the experience of gathering in a room full of your neighbors, all for the sole purpose of sharing your collective love for good stories. And nothing can replace a bookstore owner who can get to know your tastes and make recommendations on a personal level.

City dwellers, as much as I like seeing all of you and your wonderful bookstores and shows, stores like Prairie Path Books make me proud of the suburban life. If I didn’t live here, I may have never discovered the lovely bookstore tucked inside the local furniture store. The experience is truly unique, and one that is worth the trip – whether you’re two blocks or a 40-minute train ride away.

La Grange Welcomes Anderson’s Bookshop

I was first introduced to suburban independent bookstore Anderson’s Bookshop when wandering through downtown Downers Grove, waiting to catch a train to my evening class in the city. I was in my second year of a master’s program in writing and publishing at DePaul University, and had recently started a course on small presses (the very class from which the idea for litcity312.com began to take shape). With the recent exit of Borders from many communities and the only nearby bookstore being a large Barnes and Noble buried within busy Oak Brook Mall, I was thrilled to find a bookstore I could comfortably wander through. It was clean and organized, smelled purely of new books, and was peaceful enough to read a book jacket undisturbed. It was a place where you knew people respected the sacredness of books and weren’t there just to use the restroom or grab a coffee between their trips to JCrew and Nieman Marcus.

IMG_0840When I moved back to the Wheaton area, I discovered the Anderson’s location in Naperville. It quickly became one of my favorite spots downtown. And after this weekend, another popular suburban downtown is gaining this community staple: A new Anderson’s Bookshop location opened Saturday morning in LaGrange, IL. The independent bookstore was welcomed with a full grand opening celebration, including a ribbon cutting, champagne toast, and author visits throughout the day.

The Anderson family spoke after the ribbon cutting, sharing their excitement about the new location and their hopes to use books to build bridges and bring members of the local community closer together. The village president also warmly welcomed the business. He noted the legacy the family had created with its bookstores, which began in 1875: the great-great grandfather of the current owners opened a pharmacy in Naperville, IL and began selling books on the second floor. The family opened its first official bookstore above the pharmacy in 1964, and the bookstores continue to grow and thrive to this day, with three locations in suburbs.

IMG_0824Also spotted at the opening: CBS 2 Evening Anchor Rob Johnson. For the kids, the Cat in the Hat, Curious George and Clifford were there to take pictures. Later in the day, romance writer Susan Elizabeth Phillips signed copies of her book, Heroes Are My Weakness. On Sunday, the store welcomed former Playboy Bunny Holly Madison to sign copies of her new book, Down the Rabbit Hole.

Congratulations to Anderson’s on a successful opening! And it’s not too late to contribute to the Indiegogo campaign: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/i-built-a-bookshop#/story.

More to come – we’re working on getting an interview with Anderson’s bookshop to talk more about how they began, the challenges and successes they’ve had as an independent bookstore, and what’s ahead for the family-owned business. Stay tuned!

 

IMG_0848 IMG_0827

 

A Note from the Editor: Miss Us? Bringing Back LitCity312

LitCity312_Logo_4C_HiResLike many small projects and startups, LitCity312 was born as a side project that a couple of creative people were very passionate about — but as the years passed, our day-to-day lives grew busier, and LitCity312 got a little less love and attention than we intended.

From the day the idea of LitCity was born in Co-Founder Chris Green’s independent press class at DePaul University, I knew it was one worth pursuing. And while that was three years ago, I still feel strongly this is a valuable project and one that I can’t easily let go. Every time I visit a literary event, I remember why Chicago’s literary scene is so unique, and that there are so many stories here to tell.

My circumstances as an editor of this site have not changed: I am still employed full-time elsewhere, and LitCity312 will remain a passion project (or what some might call a “side hustle”). But this does not mean this site is any less needed or that I am any less capable of keeping it alive. Whenever I get discouraged, I remember how many of these talented people I’ve interviewed — from authors to press founders and co-founders — keep their side projects and passions going strong regardless of what other daily responsibilities they might have. There are late nights and early mornings, but they are making it happen because they believe in their work.

I believe LitCity312 can be a great resource for anyone who loves lit (and particularly indie lit) in Chicago. But for me to keep this running, the future model of LitCity will look a little different.

Our job here at LitCity312 is to tell the stories of the people who are building Chicago’s literary scene. Going forward, the primary objective will be to showcase profiles of the individuals, groups, shows, organizations, and companies that are out there building and contributing to this scene every day. In short, LitCity312’s mission is to document the growth of Chicago’s literary culture.

As one person with a large website, I welcome other volunteers who are interested and willing to help. Please email litcity312@nullgmail.com if you’d like to contribute, or if you think your project/business/show is something we should feature. Expect to hear more from us soon!

Author James Gordon on Publishing & Marketing His Work

BoboG.P.A. (Greatest Poet Alive), aka James Gordon, is a Chicago poet, performer, storyteller, and most recently, a children’s book author — and that’s just to name a few of the big items on his resume. His newest book, Hi, My Name is Bobo: A Weekend in the Life of a 5th Grader, has received top ratings on Amazon and Goodreads. James was also recently nominated for Poet of the Year in the National Poetry awards, and you can vote for him here.

Camera in hand, I sat down with James to discuss publishing, the live lit scene, and the writing life at Muldoon’s Irish Pub in Wheaton, IL. This post is the first part of our lively discussion, and is focused on publishing — stay tuned to read and view more clips from our interview with G.P.A.

—–

James Gordon’s journey as a published poet and author began in 2007, when he published his first book of poems, A Confessional Heart of a Man. He’d always written poems (though, he confesses, he at first wrote them to woo women), but his dad had always told him to write a book. He set a deadline for himself, allowing only 30 days, and stuck to it. When it came time to publish, he went the route of subsidy publishing. He wrote, edited, and marketed the book himself, and hired a company to help him print it. “I just got my book out and I was happy,” says James. “I didn’t know there would be a second book or a fourth book or fifth of sixth book, anthologies — I didn’t know that. But I love writing.”

Though he didn’t see it coming, James has had a lot of success publishing his own work. But he admits it took time to get used to the idea of book marketing and promotion: “It wasn’t until the progression of time [after my first book] and networking with people that I said ‘Hey, you know what, you’ve got to have something in your budget for promotion,’” says James. “You’ve got to give away something free sometimes, as part of the promotion, to garner readers. So it was a learning process.” Recognizing that no one could be a bigger advocate of his work than himself, he set out to promote his work by immersing himself in Chicago’s literary scene. He performed in live lit events, promoted himself and his work on social media, and attended as many events as possible — putting his books directly into the hands of readers.

“I believe nobody pushes you like you push you,” says James. “I’m aggressive . . . I’m always looking for opportunities because the opportunities are always there. Facebook and Twitter, your social network — they’re all always opportunities.”

It wasn’t until Hi, My Name is Bobo, that James changed up his promotional habits. With his previous work being a sensual book of poetry, James surprised his fans and reviewers with a book for children. Instead of promoting it online and at events before it was available to readers, James waited until it was published to share it with his fans. The sudden change in genre caught the attention of readers, who were excited to see his range as a writer. James says the book is the first in a series, and readers will soon hear more from Bobo.

Watch the video clip to learn hear what James has learned from publishing and promoting his own work.

 

Editors Speak at StoryStudio Chicago

Maria and Panelists

Maria Hlohowskyj, Brian Solem, Ben Tanzer, Sarah Dodson

On what was a warmer-than-usual Saturday afternoon this March, StoryStudio Chicago hosted a panel of local literary magazine editors in their comfortable loft space in Ravenswood. The room quickly filled up with writers, taking every available seat, and all of them eager to hear what editors had to say about the submission process. The panel of experts included: Sarah Dodson, executive director of MAKE Literary Productions; Ben Tanzer, director of publicity & content strategy for Curbside Splendor; and Brian Solem, co-founder and editor of graze.

Storystudio Chicago’s Creative Programs Manager (and DePaul MAWP alum) Maria Hlohowskyj served as the moderator. Being a writer herself, Maria asked all the pressing questions writers might have had about submitting work to these well-known and respected Chicago magazines.

The panel was a great excuse for me to get out and discover the wonderful resource that is StoryStudio Chicago. It feels like a writer’s space the moment you walk in, and it was the perfect spot to drop by on a Saturday afternoon to hear from local literary leaders. I found two interesting pieces came out of this event for me: Of course, the first was insight into the submission process, and second was the growing collaborative community now forming around Chicago literary ventures.

When it comes to the submission process, here’s what we learned:

  • Always read the magazine before you decide to submit.
  • Most editors seem to prefer digital submissions these days, but they’ll always want to produce a physical copy in the end.
  • It’s okay to follow up with editors about your submission.
  • Get out to events and meet the people who run the magazines you like and want to submit to.

I found the last tip the most fascinating, and it certainly hints at this community that is forming in Chicago. Ben Tanzer was the first to mention that he enjoys meeting the writers, and he also said writers should be submitting their work now because this is a very exciting time for the literary scene in Chicago. It’s becoming greater and bigger, he said, and you should submit so you can be a part of something great. We should try to have as many people as possible be a part of it, and I couldn’t agree more.

All of these editors were clearly friends in the journey. I asked how they worked together, if these literary leaders were as collaborative as they seemed to me, and they all agreed this is something they are in together. They root for each other’s success, and Brian mentioned that the other panelists were inspirations to him as his co-founder and he worked to build Graze.

After the panel, the editors stayed and talked to each person who had questions or comments to share with them, and they were among the last people to leave. This is not something many panelists at events I’ve been to have done with such enthusiasm — often editors can seem inaccessible or unapproachable. But in this exciting time for writing and literature in Chicago, it’s clear that we’re about to enter a far more collaborative space, one that values writers, editors, and readers alike. After all, we all have one common goal: sharing our stories with the people who want — and possibly even need — to hear them most.

Be sure to check out Curbside Splendor, MAKE magazine, and graze magazine. And to learn more about StoryStudio Chicago, visit their website and drop by their free class open house event on Thursday, March 27th at 6 PM.

Panelists Talking

The panelists stayed after to talk with the writers.

PanelCrowd

The panelists spoke to a room full of writers

Welcome to LitCity312!

BooksellersWelcome to LitCity312! We are your new resource for news, commentary, and observation of the independent literary culture in the Chicagoland area. We hope to cover everything you need to know about the independent literary scene: independent publishing issues and trends, live lit performances and literary readings, independent bookstores, indie titles, and indie authors. We also hope to soon bring you a new literary magazine focused solely on the work of writing students currently enrolled in Chicagoland writing programs.

Why are we doing this? For the love of independent lit! We want to work with everyone in this wonderful community to celebrate and raise awareness of Chicago’s literary culture.

This project began in Spring 2012 in a DePaul University MAWP (Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing) independent press course, led by professor and poet Chris Green. The graduate students together gathered interviews with more than 100 independent presses around the country and globe. This information will be gathered into an ebook titled Independent Voices: A Small Press Sampler.

Realizing how exciting the culture right here in Chicago is, graduate student Marcy Farrey began gathering video interviews with independent presses in the area. Wondering what to do with all of this great information, Chris and Marcy spent the next year evaluating and organizing the content. After much thought and review, they decided to create a website focusing on Chicago’s indie lit scene, and LitCity was born.

We have brought some dedicated DePaul interns onto our team, and they help us keep this site alive with great content! Be sure to check out our first batch of reviews from writer and DePaul student Amanda Hanna.

LitCity312 remains a work in progress, but we hope that you will join us on this journey as we build and expand the scope of our website. Be sure to email us with any thoughts, suggestions, or submissions at litcity312@nullgmail.com.