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.

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Marcy Farrey is a storyteller with a passion for all things literary and independent. She has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University and a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University. Despite living in Illinois most of her life, she only recently became an official resident of the City of Chicago. She spent the first two years of her career working as a one-man band TV news reporter and producer, and she's still recovering. She now works as a corporate communications professional in Chicago.

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