Author Layne Fargo knows a thing or two about the Midwest. She lives in Chicago and grew up in Ohio, plus her psychological thriller Temper—out now in paperback—revolves around the Chicago theater scene, with a violent twist. Embracing the drama in both setting and intensity of conflict, her story weaves a fast-paced web of ambition and artistic obsession, perfect for fans of Black Swan.
Since Layne is quite knowledgeable about Midwest independent bookstores, we asked her to share her favorites spots, as well as best ways to support these stores. Be on the lookout for her next thriller They Never Learn, coming October 2020. Thanks Layne!
Right now, most of us are shut inside social distancing, self-isolating, and sheltering in place to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. And while some people might be dreaming of escapes to exotic vacation spots once this is over, all I can think about is how much I miss visiting my favorite bookstores.
Here are some ways, social-distancing approved, to support the stores below (or any independent bookstores!):
- Order from Bookshop.org or libro.fm for audiobooks.
- Buy a gift card. This also makes for a perfect present for anyone who’s celebrating their birthday while social distancing!
- Preorder a copy. This gives bookstores some extra support without needing to immediately ship an order (and really helps authors: check out this Twitter thread from novelist Andrea Bartz about why preordering is so important, whether we’re in the middle of a pandemic or not).
- See if the stores ship or offer curbside pickup. Some bookstores are even offering home delivery to their local areas right now, just like your favorite takeout places.
- Follow them on social media and sign up for their newsletters, so you’re in the know about all the virtual events, online book clubs, and other fun at-home happenings many stores are hosting!
Here are a few of the shops I can’t wait to return to once we’re all allowed to go outside again. Call them the Seven Wonders of the Bookish Midwest!
Chicago boasts so many excellent independent bookstores, and this cozy shop in the Lincoln Square neighborhood is one of the very best. Not only does the Book Cellar have a wonderfully curated collection (including a section featuring local authors like me!), they’re known for throwing fabulous author events in their on-site cafe. Books and wine—what more could you need?
This sunny shop in Bexley, Ohio, is another fabulous event space for book lovers. My scheduled reading there this spring was, unfortunately, canceled due to the pandemic, but I’m already looking forward to stopping by sometime in the fall. And if you’re a caffeine fiend like me, Gramercy Books is an ideal destination: not only do they have an attached coffee shop, they’re a few doors down from my favorite tea salon in the world, ZenCha!
Ann Arbor, Michigan, is the perfect college town in my opinion, and it boasts one of the best little bookstores I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. From the chalkboard section titles to the black-and-white painted floor to their adorable typewriter logo, Literati is as aesthetically pleasing as it is inviting—and they even have their own coffee brand, Literati Coffee.
The newest addition to Chicago’s stellar independent bookselling scene, Madison Street Books had its grand opening just as the city was starting to shut down for the pandemic. I got to see the space a few weeks prior when it was mostly moving boxes and drywall dust—and it was already abundantly clear how special this shop was going to be. As soon as the Windy City is done sheltering in place, this will be one of my first stops. (And in the meantime, as with all the stores on this list, you can throw them some love by placing an online order!)
This warm and welcoming bookshop has been a fixture in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for years now. Boswell has an amazing selection of titles, and they also host a variety of super-engaged book clubs (one of which I had the pleasure of meeting with last fall!). Milwaukee is one of my favorite cities in the Midwest, and criminally underrated in my opinion. I’m already fantasizing about a post-quarantine day trip there—including a stop at Boswell to stock up on new reading material, of course.
I can trace my bookstore obsession back to this legendary, labyrinthian shop just a short drive from my central Ohio hometown. If I had to be quarantined in any bookstore on earth, it would be the Book Loft, no question. The world is an uncertain and terrifying place right now, but I’d happily hunker down in their 32 (yes, 32!) rooms of books until the end of time.
Last but most certainly not least: the indie bookstore of my heart, Chicago’s own feminist mainstay, Women and Children First. Before the pandemic, I stopped by to browse almost every week, and there’s no place in the city I miss more right now. The sign in their window says, “Opened in 1979, Open Today, Open Forever,” and I know that’s going to prove true. Because like all the best independent bookshops, Women and Children First isn’t just a store: it’s an enduring, and essential, community.