Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Day in Chicago Visiting The Book Table and The Book Cellar.

Last week I got to take a busman's holiday and spend the day in Chicago. The nice things about leaving the car in Milwaukee is that I didn't have to find a place to park, and I didn't get caught in traffic jams. In addition, I could brag about taking four different forms of transportation, starting with a Milwaukee County Bus and an Amtrak train.

Some Metra trains leave from Union Station, but the Elburn Line (also known as Union Pacific West, my brother-in-law Les wanted to know this) leaves from the 2nd floor of the Citibank building, which I guess is known as the Northwestern Transportation Center. A Hudson Booksellers replaced the Waldenbooks that was once located on the first floor of this building. I wonder if these stores, staples at airports, will expand into malls one day. They certainly look a lot like Walden and Daltons of old. But exploring this non airport store is an exciting task for another day, perhaps when I come back for the gift show in July.

It was only a 16 minute train ride to Oak Park (I wasn't comfortable enough with the trip to take the green line) and once I got there, I walked around before heading into the Book Table. Though Oak Park hasn't had as much growth as Evanston, its twin on the North Shore, it has still lost a lot of its old retail on Lake Street to chainy restaurants, and a Whole Foods strip center was an oddly jarring site for a town that values its architecture. I'm surprised they didn't force them to at least put the store in front and the parking in back, but what do I know.

I entered the Book Table to find Jason and Rachel working the front desk; they had noted to me that they are pretty much there all the time. The store was originally conceived to be heavily bargain books, but with the loss of Barbara's and Borders in the area, they are the de facto new bookstore for a town that seems like they would value something like that.

The store was fairly busy on a Saturday and I didn't get to chat as much as I wanted. One thing that's interesting to me is that they integrate new books and bargarin books everywhere, including their display tables. There are several of these book tables, which I guess is connected to the name of the store. And one way in which the store has gone its own way is that the new books are all discounted. One day I'll have to learn how he can make that work--we have a loyalty program that offers a small discount, but theirs was substantial.

I bought a copy of the new Anne Tyler, The Beginner's Goodbye, and a copy of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, but John Green and David Levithan, mostly because all the teen librarians I work with love it so much. One forgets that I read every Anne Tyler as it came out for years, only missing the last one.

I'm always interested in looking at cards and gift items in a bookstore. I was particularly envious of their overflowing display of Pomegranate book plates. I tried to order them in March and were told that they were no longer available. Really? All of them? So I asked when theirs had come in, and it turned out to be February. If only I hadn't putzed around so long on that order! They really are lovely. I taunt myself with a photo of the spinner, which was in the January 2012 catalog.

One of the specialties of the store is art and architecture, taking up a substantially larger percentage of space than at Boswell. They do have the clientele for this area (Oak Park is architect central) but even then, a lot of their books are value priced (if not bargains and hurts, then Taschen).

The Book Table doesn't have a dedicated event space (being that both Borders and Barbara's did) so they do their events at the Oak Park Library and the Unity Temple. Coming on April 18 is Jeffrey Gusfield, the charming author of Deadly Valentines who just visited Boswell.

I later found out that our Wiley rep Tom was there with his daughter just minutes after I left. It would have been fun to run into him, but sometimes coincidence just doesn't work out that way.

After stopping in a few other shops, one of which seemed to represent the entire Accoutrements catalog, I took the Union Pacific West line back downtown and switched out to the brown line el to Western and the Lincoln Square area. I made a quick call to our rep Anne who met me for coffee and walked over to the Book Cellar. It's my second trip to store, but it's been several years since my last visit, and I wondered if they'd made any changes.

The store was bustling (hey, we better be on a Saturday afternoon), but not so busy that we couldn't chat with a few booksellers. We asked about the new spinner of collectible glass animals. Yes, they are selling! Suzi the owner is respectful of the toy store across the street and tries not to overlap the core lines too much. But with the store configured the way it is, she also probably doesn't have too much square footage to play with either.

As we browsed the tables, Anne made a shout out for a book selling well called The Inquisitor, by Mark Allen Smith. It's a thriller, whose twist is that the protagonist is a professional torturers. Hey, it's like a contemporary Hangman's Daughter. From Kirkus: "Geiger, a strange, dispassionate genius at torture who hires himself out to clients in need of high-level "information retrieval," must confront deeply repressed memories of his traumatic upbringing when a duplicitous client uses a young boy as a pawn."

Book Cellar and Boswell sometimes share authors, as they also seem amenable to hosting events from small press authors. As Stacie noted, on Tuesday, April 18 (tomorrow for those reading the blog post in a timely manner), the store will host two of our upcoming authors together, Will Boast, author of Power Ballads, who is reading with Joe Means this Friday, April 20, 7 pm at Boswell, and Mary M. Clare, author of 100 Voices, who is at Boswell on Saturday, April 21, 2 pm. Mark your calendars for May 5, when Chicago author Laura Caldwell is joined by fave Sara Paretsky.  More on their event program here.

It was a short visit, as between my morning excursion and Anne's plans, our overlap was pretty slim. And I had to decide whether to take the 5:08 train home or wait for the one at 8. I decided to run for the early one, and made it with minutes to spare. I came back with a few ideas, and a reminder for a nice card line I should be carrying, but forgot to follow through last time.

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