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A short while ago I was lucky enough to go on a bookish trip to Chicago. It was not only my first time in Chicago, but my first time in the US. And although I was meeting friends once there, I was travelling from the UK alone.
We stayed in the loop, at an Airbnb which was just a short uber drive from the city proper. As we were all bookish friends, who met through having a booktube channel, it was only right that we spent some time exploring some of the many bookstores that the city had to offer. And I’ve been promising this post since my trip so I thought it was high time I got round to sharing it!
Chicago has a good number of interesting and independent bookstores and I was sad that I didn’t manage to get to them all; but I’ll share those that I did along with some of the others which were recommended but missed.
A short note on those travelling from the UK; if you are travelling to the USA then you are required to complete a visa application. If you meet certain requirements however then it is possible to apply for an ESTA, rather than a visa. Applying through the ESTA form is extremely straightforward, takes just a few minutes and costs £29.95. The ESTA form should take about 5 minutes, can be paid for online and will be confirmed by SMS or email once approved. You are required to show your ESTA on arrival in the States so it is something which must be sorted prior to your trip. Strangely it was one of the things I was most nervous about, but was super easy and definitely preferable to going through the formal visa application process.
It’s also worth noting that ESTA’s are valid for two years once granted, and visitors can travel an unlimited number of times to the USA during that period; so if you are a frequent traveller you needn’t worry about having to apply separately for every single trip. The ESTA covers trips which are no longer than 90 days and is only valid whilst the passport with which it was applied for with, is valid.
But now…to the books!
This is one of the few independent bookstores left in downtown Chicago, and it was a slight trek for us to get to but I’m so pleased we made the effort. It is set over two floors and boasts more than 70,000 books with a wide selection to choose from. We must have spent hours wandering and browsing although my favourite element was the ‘Banned Books’ table that they had on display. It is fascinating to me some of the books which were included (and have been and in some cases still are!); this being something of a foreign concept here in the UK. You can see some of the examples in my vlog.
This was actually the final bookstore that we went in, and we managed to squeeze in right before closing time but I sort of wish it had been the first!
Open Books is a huge used bookstore but it’s also a nonprofit organisation who run literacy programs for the city’s young people. It’s located in West Loop and had some of the cheapest books I came across whilst in Chicago, as well as a massive diverse selection to choose from.
It’s probably worth pointing out here that the books in general were more expensive than you might expect to find compared with the UK. I went with a specific list of books in mind which are difficult to get hold of in the UK but it was very much in the back of my mind that the books were more costly. No £2 charity shop bargains (or dollar equivalent) to be found! That said, buying from Open Books meant I knew I was giving to a good cause so it took out the sting a little bit.
Located in Chicago’s Wicker Park, Myopic Park definitely gave me book lover vibes. It had the close, musty environment that you would expect with books piled here there and everywhere. If you like your bookshelves groaning with offerings and don’t mind having to do a little hunting to find a gem or two then I think you’d enjoy browsing here. It’s collection seemed weighted more heavily in the direction of fiction, which was just fine for me and I managed to snag a copy of Lilac Girls which I had long been on the lookout for.
This isn’t a bookstore I visited but is one which would be high on my list for the next time I was in the city. Situated in Lincoln Square it boasts a quaint cafe and a cosy seating area which is perfect for curling up with your newly purchased reads. There’s even a wine bar so I mean…where do I sign up?!
Another one which would be high on my list during a return visit would be 57th Street Books…if I could find it! Rumour has it that this unassuming bookstore is actually a delightful mazelike shop filled with all kinds of literary treasures. One of the biggest draws however, is the size of the children’s section which happens to be world-class. It’s also a nonprofit organisation, providing another great reason to visit and do some purchasing!