I used to walk down the street blindly, reading a book and only peeking at my path every few steps. Or I’d trail after my mother in grocery stores — a novel completely covering my face, with just enough peripheral vision below the pages to follow her heels as they clomped across the white-tiled floor. Or I’d sit under the jungle gym at age 10, hanging out with Harry Potter and members of The Babysitter’s Club because we’d just moved and I hadn’t made friends yet.
Growing up, reading books felt like my calling in life. The thing I was best at. And because my book obsession bordered on religious fervor, bookstores were always my place of worship. Even today, walking into a bookstore fills me with deep reverence and a sense of awe. Sure, the world has changed in terms of physical bookstores and I’m as guilty as anyone of ordering a book for the beach on Amazon or loading up a Kindle to lighten the load, but the magic of a brick and mortar bookstore can never be replaced by convenience.
Indie bookstores are important to our society. So if we want to keep them around for subsequent little girls who wander with a book in front of their faces, we need to visit them and help them thrive. Start with one of these book paradises around the country.
1. Women & Children First — Chicago, Illinois
Women & Children First is a small store in an unassuming location in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. It’s not towering with a million books — displayed with artistic, sculptural impressiveness. It’s not also a bar and there’s no garden with globe lights in the back for comedy. At first glance, it’s a pretty ordinary bookstore, but it’s hard to explain the feeling you get when going into this magical place. You can just sense that it’s special. That every person at this feminist indie spot loves books. The staff suggestions are deeply thought out and detailed. You can read every one of the suggestion cards and know, “Oh that sounds interesting, but it’s not for me” or “Yes, that’s exactly the kind of book I need in my life right now.”
Women & Children First may be the inspiration for Portlandia’s “Women and Women First” spoof, but there’s truly nothing disingenuous about the store itself. It’s a place you just want to linger