Powell's Books- “Nothing in life is free,” my mom once told me. This is true, until you check out the almost omnipresent cardboard box of free books outside of Powell's, containing free novels, anthologies, and much more. Powell's has been in Hyde Park since the ’70s and sells books both used and new on East 57th Street and South Harper Avenue. The best part is that Powell's sells its books far below full price, usually just a couple of dollars. As it is a used bookstore, the selection is far more varied than your usual Barnes & Noble, with cool finds like British editions of Harry Potter and an entire basement section dedicated to biographies of Jack the Ripper. At the checkout counter, there is a stack of copies of Chasing Vermeer, a bestselling novel set in Hyde Park, in which Powell’s serves as the backdrop for teenagers attempting to solve an art crime. These days, there isn't much crime solving to be had in Powell's, but you're sure to find respite from the crime of exorbitant book prices.
BEST PLACE TO: find a good deal and FREE BOOKS.
Myopic Books- This Wicker Park used bookstore is one of the largest and most historic bookstores in Chicago. Though the storefront looks small in width, the inside of the eclectic space is gigantic in depth and height, with three and a half stories and no shortage of nooks, crannies, and bends with (you'll never guess) books stuffed into them. The store has some pretty strict regulations—no phones, no photography, and leave all bags at the front desk if you want to explore the upper or lower levels. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Myopic has an antique rather than intimidating feel, more like a collection than a commercial center. The floor-to-ceiling shelves evoke a roof literally held up by books, and if you climb all the way up to the open gallery area on the top floor, the only space not crammed with tomes of literature, you can enjoy the semi-weekly series of readings and occasional poets' talks and live music on Monday nights.
BEST PLACE TO: enjoy live entertainment, see a bookstore cat (Leonard).
Seminary Co-Op- The Seminary Co-Op has been on the Hyde Park bookstore scene for a while, but they're still breaking in their spiffy new locale, located at East 58th Street and South Woodlawn Avenue, right next to the historic Robie House. The Co-Op is cooperatively owned by its 53,000 members (3,500 of whom are located overseas) and sells shares of stock for $10 each; a purchase of three shares constitutes a membership, which provides a 10 percent discount. The Seminary Co-Op is a popular location for students to purchase course books, located in the basement, and to sit down and peruse literary works ranging from biographies on modern political powerhouses to introduction guides to ancient medicine—comfortable reclining chairs are located next to the Co- Op's expansive windows. Finding the perfect academic read at the Co-Op will be no problem; the bookstore stocks the largest selection of academic volumes in the United States throughout its extensive maze of shelves.
BEST PLACE TO: find that new carpet smell (the Co-Op's building is just two years old).
57th Street Books- Entering 57th Street Books feels a little like entering the dwelling of a strange, literary forest sprite. The small awning outside boasts a shingled roof and a healthy growth of moss, lit by a single light bulb. Further, you have to venture down a number of stairs to enter the bookstore, giving the impression of entering an underground cave. Inside, the bookstore feels like a secret tree house, lined with books and various nooks in which to sit and leaf through a book. With multiple rooms market by cheekily pointing signs, the bookstore is easy to navigate, with each section—young adult fiction, photography, Chicago, and self-help, among others—in a separate bend of the store. Don't know which book to read next? Staff recommendations are taped to almost every shelf, giving a brief summary and personal thoughts on a particular book or series. Signs inside and outside of the shop remind patrons to “shop local,” an easy task when the local wares consist of beautifully designed (albeit pricey) copies of all the classics in several different prints and editions. 57th Street Books is part of the Seminary Co-Op bookstore network and is famous for its mystery, science fiction, and cooking sections, and occasionally holds events in its space or in the grassy, fenced lot next door. Other attractions include a children's reading area and twinkly Christmas lights that are present year-round.
BEST PLACE TO: start a themed book club—have you seen the window displays?
University of Chicago Bookstore- Your typical college bookstore, the UChicago Bookstore is many a student's first stop during O-Week to get a maroon sweatshirt to proclaim their collegiate pride. Come first week, you'll likely head there again, this time to the second floor to purchase books for your non–Hum and Sosc needs. The campus bookstore offers every type of UChicago-emblazoned paraphernalia possible as well as proudly displaying stacks of alumni- and faculty-authored works. Forgot your headphones at home? Too much luggage to bring your collection of multicolored highlighters? No worries—the campus bookstore has all the school supplies a student could possibly need, often imprinted with the UChicago logo, from notebooks to mugs to computer programs. The building also houses a Starbucks to keep students caffeinated between classes.
BEST PLACE TO: show some Maroon pride.
Quimby's- This eclectic bookstore located in Wicker Park distributes “independently published and small press books, comics, zines, and ephemera, [favoring] the unusual, the aberrant, the saucy, and the lowbrow.” Walking in can be a little overwhelming if you don't know exactly what you're looking and even more overwhelming if you do, because the majority of the store's contents are small, hand-produced booklets brought in by artists and authors on consignment. These “zines,” as they are termed, range in topic from radical parenting to trans oral history projects to anarchy and politics to minicomics to chapbooks produced by Chicago middle schoolers. Toward the back, you can find the sale section, on an elevated platform, guarded by a cross-legged, red- hued devil woman, and near the cash register, there are “grab bags” for purchase, where one can acquire 10 randomly selected art periodicals for $2.50. Quimby's does offer some commonly commercially available books, but a limited selection, usually, “stuff that deals with topics that in some way relate to outer limits, carnies, freaks, conspiracy theory, lowbrow art, miscreants, mayhem, that kind of stuff.” Quimby's mascot is the cute Quimby the Mouse and their venue is the location for many monthly literary events, featured on the events section of their highly informative and user-friendly website.
BEST PLACE TO: support independent artists and authors.