It’s Independence Day in America. On this day 237 years ago (seems just like yesterday, right?), the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress. The original 13 colonies were on the road to freedom. Today, red, white, and blue bunting swings from porch railings, lawn chairs are lined up along parade routes, hot dogs and hamburgers are defrosting in refrigerators, and U.S. flags are waving in small towns and large cities across the country. Today we celebrate our independence.
What better time to celebrate the independent spirit of the local authors, publishers, and booksellers in Chicago?
Chicago is home not only to more than a hundred indie publishers (I know, I know: I keep saying it.), but also to scores of independent bookstores. In a day and age when it seems like bookstores are vanishing, Chicago and the suburbs boast some of the finest indie shops around. From The Book Cellar up north in Lincoln Square to 57th Street Books down in Hyde Park, the city is home to some great stores that do a fine job of catering to local clientele. The suburbs boast great stores, too, from The Book Table in Oak Park, to The Book Store in Glen Ellyn, to Anderson’s, which has locations in Naperville and Downer’s Grove. (Check out the blogroll at Chicago Book Review for links to some other fabulous indie bookstores.)
No doubt we’ve lost a number of good bookstores over the years. In fact, O’Gara & Wilson, the city’s oldest bookstore, is shuttering its doors soon. But there are still plenty of local booksellers around, shops that allow us to wander and explore and find new treasures as we amble from shelf to shelf, down one aisle and up another, pausing at endcaps, flipping through the pages of undiscovered gems. No algorithm or software in the world can match the fabulous, wonderful, haphazard way we discover books in a bookstore. Amazon couldn’t possibly predict that on my way to the Military History section I might pause to browse through the books on the Science & Nature shelves before checking out a few cookbooks and then wandering through the new fiction releases.
But I can do that in a bookstore.
Let’s turn Independence Day into “Independents Day” and celebrate local, indie bookstores, those heavenly oases of reading wonder. Visit your favorite shop. Check out a new one. Finally make it out to the shop up north or down south or out in the suburbs, that bookstore you keep meaning to visit but haven’t yet. Browse. Leaf through the pages of a brand-new hardcover, the spine uncracked. Pick up a paperback or two to take to the beach this holiday weekend. Chat with the owners and staffers, the folks who can hand-sell some key titles, the ones who can tell you about the books that will never make it to the best-seller lists but are still fabulous. Celebrate Independents Day!