Stop at this Pop-up Bookstore during your commute

We were wandering the Pedway one Friday evening after work in search of a good Happy Hour deal when I first spotted it. . . Could it be? In the middle of Block 37, a high traffic area, a pop-up used bookstore? Was I having a blissful dream I’d soon wake up from?

It’s very much real—so real that I’ve now been three times in the last month. And after talking to the staff working last week, it sounds like Carpe Librum may be around for the remainder of the summer. The pop-up used bookstore is thanks to the nonprofit Turning the Page, an organization that links public schools, families and their community to ensure students receive valuable educational resources and a high-quality public education. The Chicago pop-up store in Block 37 supports programming at Turning the Page’s six partner public schools, located in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

What can you find here? Oh so very much! It’s used books, DVDs and CDs, all spanning a wide range of genres. And the prices can’t be beat: The highest price you’ll pay is $4.00 for hardcover books. Trade paperbacks are only $3.50 and mass market paperbacks are $1.00. According the sign posted last week, you can browse their selection Monday through Friday from 10 am to 8 pm and on Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm. Be sure to follow them on Facebook to get all of the latest updates.

For me, this pop-up shop has been the perfect post-work stop, always available when I feel I need a little book retail therapy. And with these prices, you don’t have to feel bad about it! Not to mention that it goes to great cause. So if you’re shopping or dining at Block 37, or taking the Blue line through there, be sure to check out this gem!

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!

Are you ready for Independent Bookstore Day?

It’s our favorite day of the year tomorrow: National Independent Bookstore Day!

Chicago is celebrating with a #MyChicagoBookstore challenge. If you visit 10 of the bookstores participating, you’ll receive 10% off at all of the bookstores on the list for the rest of the year. And if you visit 15 of them (quite ambitious, whoever does it, I will be seriously impressed) you get 15% off. Check out the list on the Facebook event page.

I’ve come up with several possible schedules for myself tomorrow and it almost drove me a little nuts, but I’ve settled on one that I think sets me up for success! I’ll be sharing my progress over on our Facebook page throughout the day, and I’ll share a recap afterward. So stay tuned! And be sure to share your progress with us in the comments or on Facebook.

If you’re in need of some help planning your stops, someone created this handy map of all the participating bookstores. It was very helpful!

Even if you aren’t participating in the challenge, be sure to stop by a couple of your favorite stores. There are some not participating in the challenge but who still have fun events going on all day, so be sure to visit them too.

Good luck to all challenge participants, and Happy Independent Bookstore Day to all!

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 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

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.

City Lit Books

CITYLITStepping into City Lit Books brought me back to my high school days, when my friends and I used to frequent the now defunct Borders. A few things gave me that impression: the clean look and feel of the wooden shelves and carpet; the wider selection (compared to other stores at the time); and more seating dispersed throughout the store, rather than off to the side.

Aside from being much smaller than Borders, there were other aspects that made City Lit Books stand out, the most notable being their feature displays. In the store windows, and all throughout the shop itself, were tables of and shelves of feature titles. Some were new, others were currently trending. I could tell that a lot of time and effort must go into setting these displays up.

When browsing, I found that not only does City Lit Books include the more well-known authors, but also an array of lesser known and local authors (I noticed Sleep Tight by Jeff Jacobson, an author previously featured on LitCity).

To go a step further, staff have taken it upon themselves to stick notes beneath certain books throughout the store, providing a short summary of that book and why s/he would recommend it. It’s like a more personal version of an online recommendation system, and very creative. This system made even more sense once I got in contact with store owner Theresa Kirschbraun.

“We are continually evaluating the titles in the store to make sure that we are carrying books we know our customers will be looking for,” Kirschbraun said. “So there is a curating process here that is hard to match online.”

In addition to being responsive to customers’ interests, City Lit Books hosts a family-friendly Story Time every week, as well as author events, and monthly book clubs.

Being near the Logan Square CTA blue line stop has only helped to increase business.

“This is a perfect location,” she said. “Being next to Lula [Cafe] and the other businesses here has been great for visibility also. There is always pedestrian traffic passing by.”

Kirschbraun’s idea to open up City Lit Books first came to fruition when she decided to merge her love of books with her management consulting background. “I prepared a business plan and found that not only was the number of independent bookstores low relative to the population in Chicago, but also, Logan Square would be a perfect spot to open a store,” she said, “… based on demographics, competition, and strong support of local independent businesses.”

When asked if the notion that bookstores (and books themselves) are “dying” was true or just an exaggeration, Kirschbraun agrees with the latter. “The rise of ebooks has been greatly exaggerated,” she said. “About 25% of all books sold now are ebooks. That leaves 75% — the great majority — in print. Their sales appear to be plateauing.”

Visit City Lit Books at:
2523 N. Kedzie Blvd., Chicago, IL 60647

Mon: Closed
Tues-Fri: 11AM-8PM
Sat: 10AM-7PM
Sun: 10AM-5PM

Bucket o’Blood Books & Records

When I found out there was a local bookstore named Bucket o’Blood, I of course had to check it out, being the aspiring horror writer I am. My discovery of this place happened to coincide with a big change (for the better) on their end.

Recently, Bucket o’Blood moved from their location on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square to the corner of Elston and California in Avondale. I had the opportunity to speak to owner Grant McKee (who runs the store with his wife Jennifer) and asked what prompted the move.

“It was two-fold,” McKee said. “We had the desire for a bigger space to host larger events, [and] the other store was in bad shape” (i.e., water leaking at the back of the store and not-so-great heat and air-conditioning in the winter and summer).

Knowing Bucket o’Blood had just moved explained the emptiness I felt when I walked into the new location. On one side were bookshelves, fully stocked. On the other was the checkout counter. Straight ahead, at the back of the store, were vinyl records. Between those three sections was a vast expanse of space with nothing filling it yet, emphasized by the light creak of the wooden floor as I walked across it.

Despite this emptiness, I enjoyed the setup so far. The bookshelves were separated into three sections: horror, fantasy, and speculative science fiction. What made each section even more distinct were the figurines dispersed throughout that side of the room: a plush Frankenstein casually sitting atop a shelf of horror books; a stuffed red dragon over the fantasy titles; and a statue of a knight in full armor standing between two shelves, just to name a few. There was even a small bookcase of graphic novels, a signed copy of The Last Unicorn displayed on top.

Moving past the books, there were three tables of vinyl records lined along the back of the store, shielded by a rack of DVDs (consisting primarily of horror titles). On the left, next to the checkout counter, was a shelf of cassette tapes, something I haven’t seen since at least 2001. Bucket o’Blood even has their own t-shirts, as well as various patches, pins, and stickers in the glass display case at checkout.

When it comes to price, both books and records are very affordable and won’t break the bank. Because Bucket o’Blood specializes in specific genres, there is a much bigger selection in those categories, unlike in stores where there a multitude of genres are sold.

You can follow Bucket o’Blood’s progress in the new space on their Facebook page and check out any upcoming events they will be hosting on their website. Since my visit, they have set up a listening center for the records and a mystery section!

Visit Bucket o’Blood at:
3182 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, IL 60618Avondale neighborhood
Sun-Wed: Noon-7PM
Thurs-Sat: Noon-8PM

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 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:

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!


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Armadillo’s Pillow

It’s pretty hard to find something bad to say about Armadillo’s Pillow, other than the fact the trek up might take a little while. It’s located Rogers Park in close proximity to Loyola, but the trip is worth it every time.

Armadillo’s Pillow is not the largest bookstore, though there is a truly wide variety of books you can find there. They like to pride themselves on their uncommon and rare book selections, which is valid. Of course you’ll have to look through all of the sections they have to find those rarities: cook books, religion, fiction, poetry, philosophy, death, the occult, language, Native American studies, just to name a few. They’re there: anything from author’s letters, to different translations, and even some really cool, old hardcovers that’ll make your friends think you are distinguished once they see it on your bookshelf.

The aesthetics of Armadillo’s Pillow is really charming. You will find yourself skimming spines between narrow and tall bookshelves, maybe on a stage, or seemingly trapped in a corner. They definitely make the best use of their space, and the books are all pretty organized!

Learn more about Armadillo’s Pillow on the bookstore’s website:

Sandmeyer’s Bookstore

SandmeyersWEBSandmeyer’s Bookstore (New and Sale Books)

714 S. Dearborn St. Chicago, IL. 60605
South Loop
Mon. – Wed. 11 AM – 6:30 PM
Thurs. – 11 AM – 8 PM
Fri. – 11 AM – 6:30 PM
Sat. – 11 AM – 5 PM
Sun. – 11 AM – 4 PM

Location + Feel:
Sandmeyer’s Bookstore, an independent and family-owned bookseller, is located on a quaint and quiet nook on Dearborn Street in the heart of Chicago’s South Loop. The exterior of the building is painted in yellow and purple with huge and inviting windows showing off the display books in an effective and vibrant way. Upon climbing the steps and entering the store, one is immediately confronted with an attic smell permeating the air. The antique feel of the store is enhanced further by the creaky (but not creepy) wooden floors as one peruses. While this might, at first, seem to be a negative characteristic for some, the loud floors and the intense attic or basement smells actually make the bookstore even more delightful and inviting. From the moment that I walked in and was pleasantly greeted by the desk bookseller, I was comfortable here. Though not many places to sit and read for a few moments, or a few hours, there are a couple of chairs dispersed in a corner here and a corner there. What I most appreciate about Sandmeyer’s is that it is a decently-sized bookstore that doesn’t overwhelm readers/perusers with an abundance of books. At the same time, the size of the space itself along with how the aisles and books are arranged still make one feel like he/she is engaged in this moment and this is a fruitful experience. The calm, ever-so-soft, classical music playing in the background doesn’t hurt, either.

Book Display:
Sandmeyer’s has just about every book genre one could inquire about or be interested in, including, but not limited to, Biography, Penguin Books, Cookbooks, Fashion, Children, Young Adult, Music, Drama, Travel, and Sale Books. I was especially pleased to see a wonderful fiction and poetry section toward the front of the store. As far as the book display itself, I appreciated both the uniformity and spontaneity of the book arrangements. On just about every aisle, some books were laid out flat on their backs while others sat upright, showing off their spines. This back and forth arrangement did great things for the human eye and for my focus and engagement throughout the store.

Parting Thoughts:
Quaint, beautiful, modern, antique, engaging, and friendly: everything you could want in a bookstore is found here, at Sandmeyer’s.