Bookstore tourism

This weekend I was in Chicago, the city that dyes its river green for St. Patrick’s Day. They tossed the dye in a few days early this year due to the Vatican’s worldwide request that celebrations take place on the weekend rather than during Holy Week. Besides stopping on Michigan Avenue next to the Wrigley Building to peer down into the river, thick and shiny like “Lucky Charm Green” poured from a can of Benjamin Moore, my husband, son, and I stopped at a few other city sites, maybe not as eye-popping but certainly equally or more gratifying.

In Wicker Park, we stopped at Myopic Books, one of Chicago’s oldest and largest used bookstores and one of my son’s favorites. Three floors of little alleys and aisles and cubbies formed by wooden shelves. The upstairs had a great reading room in front of a large window overlooking North Milwaukee Avenue, with wooden tables set up like an old library where you could hunker down and read and read. While we were there a man had fallen asleep at one of the tables and eventually an employee came and gently awakened him, telling him they were ready to settle on the books he’d brought in to sell. In an abbreviated form of bookstore tourism, I love finding places like this in cities I visit.

Online virtual bookstores are great when you know the book you want and you just want to get it without too much fuss. But that convenience can never match the serendipity or grace that allows real books to jump off real shelves as if someone is tossing them right to you, matching a present need, use, desire, or interest, or anticipating one yet to come. A used bookstore has the added benefit of extending that pool of books to find--or that find you--into the netherworld of out-of-print books and other books that for whatever reason can’t command a place on a trade bookstore shelf.

Of course I bought some books, including a book of essays on Georgia O’Keeffe, one on pseudonyms of Christ in the modern novel, one by Alfred Kazin on writers and God, a book for my father (“The Introspective Engineer”), and if he’s reading this he’ll know about the book before I even give it to him, a book on transcendence and the gospel of John, another by de Chardin with a great title, “The Divine Milieu”, and a book about an unnamed topic, which I’m going to set aside as a resource for a future essay. None of the above had I looked for or even heard of, but suddenly there they were and they were for me. Lucky, lucky.