Chicago definitely isn't short on great bookstores. But when you've got a particular literary itch to scratch, it can sometimes feel like no one carries what you're looking for. Next time you're craving a particular genre, make the trip beyond your neighborhood bookseller.
Each of these shops specializes in a particular genre, so whether you're seeking a hard-to-find mystery or the best browsing selection of lesbian literature, you'll be sure to find a bevy of books and some like-minded readers.
For mystery or history, visit Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore
Though it resembles the reading room of a beloved grandparent (think rocking chairs, forest green walls and red Scottish rugs), this Forest Park bookstore lures history and mystery buffs to its small but well-stocked shelves. If you've come to browse, owner Augie Aleksy is knowledgeable in his recommendation; aside from manning the front counter of his bookstore, he regularly gives history and mystery lectures. If you're looking for the latest release in a well-loved series, odds are he has it stocked first, as he orders English titles directly rather than waiting for the American versions to be released. A mystery discussion group meets the third Saturday and a history discussion group meets the last Sunday of each month.
Find alternative press treasures at Quimby's
To put your finger on Quimby's specialty, look no further than the sign near the entrance, which boasts of the sale of "unusual publications, aberrant periodicals, saucy comic booklets and assorted fancies as well as a comprehensive miscellany of the latest independent 'zines' that all the kids have been talking about." The store was opened in 1991 by Steve Symbersky, the creator of more than 50 zines, and his passion for self-published zines hasn't waned since. Quimby's is a book browsers dream, with a gaggle of zine-filled shelves near the front, an impressive wall of hard-to-find magazines, and shelves of graphic novels (including foreign language, pornographic and vintage), film criticism, fiction, and poetry.
For gay and lesbian titles, head to Unabridged Books, Inc.
No surprise that the two authors of A Field Guide to Gay and Lesbian Chicago met while working at this Boystown bookstore, known for its vast selection of gay and lesbian titles and a staff that's as approachable as it is knowledgeable. This two-story shop doesn't stop at gay and lesbian books, though; it stocks particularly strong travel and fiction sections and has one of the biggest inventories of kids' books in the city. Unabridged makes browsing even easier by posting staff reviews of books and lists of each year's favorite books. For a real deal, make sure to look through the stacks of marked-down hardcovers throughout the store.
Spells it out in a foreign language at Europa Books
Though this bookstore looks more like a university textbook purveyor than a charming European bookshop (we were hoping for rich tapestries and trays of mints, we got light wood and thin carpets), it's still the best shop in town to find foreign language books. Specializing in French, Italian, German, Polish and Spanish books, Europa also carries books for English speakers who are learning foreign languages and a slew of foreign-language children's titles. Check out the more than 250 foreign-language periodicals that line the back of the store, or ask for a recommendation...each staff member speaks at least one language other than English.
School up on academic titles at Seminary Co-Op Bookstore
Though "academic" may not seem like a genre to some, brainy bookworms know that nothing can compare to a no-frills, labyrinth-like bookstore that skips such niceties as kid's books, magazines and, well, sunlight. Located in the basement of the Chicago Theological Seminary, this bookstore boasts more than 100,000 titles, mainly in the humanities and social sciences. No matter which academic subject you've got on the brain (gender studies, anthropology, religion, philosophy, economics), the Co-op will have you covered in spades. It's also got a fantastic fiction and poetry section, and some tables near the front registers that are always full of good suggestions.