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Celebrating Independent Bookstore Day with Author Favorites

by Andrew DeCanniere

It may be hard to believe, but it’s that time of year again — Independent Bookstore Day is almost here (this Saturday!). This year I had the opportunity to ask a few of my favorite authors about some of their favorite books and independent bookstores. It should also be said that just as this list represents some of their own favorite books and independent bookstores, this list is a representation of some of my favorite books and authors as well. So, once you’ve perused the list of each of their recommendations, take a moment to find out more about each of the books that the authors featured here have written themselves by clicking on the links below each of their names, leading to interviews about their own work. 


MOLLY ANTOPOL (photo by Debbi Cooper) 

Author of The UnAmericans 


All Aunt Hagar’s Children

by Edward P. Jones

Every one of these stories blows me away: Jones writes with precision, heart, and such a deep sense of history and politics. I must have read this book a dozen times, trying to figure out how he managed to give every one of these stories the heft and scope of a novel.


Going to Meet the Man

by James Baldwin

It was only when I first read Baldwin that I saw how emotionally direct stories can be without seeming sappy. It’s as if every one of his stories is something Baldwin felt he needed to write, that he was more interested in being honest than wowing the reader with his cleverness.


Transactions in a Foreign Country

by Deborah Eisenberg

I once bonded with someone over our love for Eisenberg, and he articulated perfectly what I admire most in her writing: it’s as if, in each story, she takes us on a tour of a house, showing us every room, every photo on the walls, every item in the drawers — only for us to discover all along, there’s been a secret attic no one new about. 


Second Person Singular

by Sayed Kashua

Kashua writes movingly and hilariously about the intersecting lives of two Arab-Israeli men, a social worker and a wildly ambitious criminal lawyer. A truly beautiful and heartbreaking book.


Vaquita and Other Stories

by Edith Pearlman 

I imagine many of us can remember exactly where we were when we encountered a favorite book. I had just graduated college and was living in Jerusalem when I came upon Edith Perlman’s stories, and I immediately fell in love with her characters: passionate and courageous, self-aware and sometimes solitary. The stories bring us into the lives of people in settings as disparate as Jerusalem, Boston and Central America.


Ours: A Russian Family

by Sergei Dovlatov

A dissident back in Russia who immigrated to New York before the fall of communism, Dovlatov’s stories are filled with warmth, intimacy, wit and enormous compassion.


Enormous Changes at the Last Minute

by Grace Paley

What I love about Paley is that she writes such voice-driven stories while still giving us a sense of the larger events happening around her characters. The politics of her fiction extends so naturally from her characters that I never feel she’s spoon-feeding me any opinions.


Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

by Alice Munro 

It’s hard to choose just one Munro collection — every one of her books has been hugely influential to me. I love Munro for her brilliant psychological acuity, emotional generosity, and deceptively simple sentences that are gorgeous but never showy.


The Anastasia Krupnick series

by Lois Lowry

These were my favorite books when I was little. I used to pretend that Anastasia had a sister named Molly who she did everything with. I imagined that I, too, had a tower bedroom, a younger brother to harass, a pipe-smoking poet father who watched Nova every night. I recently reread the series, wondering if my niece would be old enough to appreciate them, and I found them just as wonderful as I had as a kid.


The Puttermesser Papers

by Cynthia Ozick

Ruth Puttermesser is probably my favorite character of all time: complex and nuanced and lovingly rendered, compassionate and witty, self-deprecating and self-aware


Molly Antopol’s debut story collection, The UnAmericans, won the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award and the French-American Prize and was a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. The book was nominated for the National Book Award and was a finalist the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, the Barnes & Noble Discover Award, the National Jewish Book Award and the California Book Award, among others. The book appeared on over a dozen “Best of 2014” lists and will be published in seven countries. Her short fiction has been published widely and won a 2015 O. Henry Prize. She teaches at Stanford University and is currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, where she’s at work on a new book.



Author of Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness 


Word Bookstore

126 Franklin Street, Brooklyn, NY & 123 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, NJ or

Word was my local bookstore when I lived in Greenpoint years ago. Now I live much further away, but I still take the trip to the Greenpoint and Jersey City locations. This is a special bookstore with the loveliest staff.


The Golden Notebook

29 Tinker Street, Woodstock, NY or

The Golden Notebook is a tiny gem in the Catskills. The small store boasts a remarkably well-curated selection of books — especially about Woodstock (the festival and the place). This store is the highlight of my trips upstate.



37 Main Street, Brooklyn, NY or

Powerhouse is a large, open bookstore with a staggering amount of specialty and art books. I make the trek here when I’m looking for a gift. Powerhouse hosted my book launch so it holds an extra special place in my heart.



163 Court St., Brooklyn, NY or

This sprawling bookstore has a large back room devoted to live events. It’s my favorite place to catch an author speak.


Books I’ve read in 2016 so far…


Being Nixon: A Man Divided

by Evan Thomas

I’m not super into presidential biographies, but this one focused on the psychology of President Nixon — a compelling portrait of a complex and often misunderstood man.


On Immunity: An Inoculation

by Eula Biss

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while. I started it a few months ago and once I dove in, I couldn’t stop reading. Biss provides an erudite and well-researched discussion of a controversial topic that is never condescending.


The Gene: An Intimate History

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

“Gene,” out in May, is the follow-up to Mukherjee’s first book, the remarkable “Emperor of All Maladies.” Like “Emperor,” it’s wide in scope — “Gene” traces the history of genetics from Darwin through today — and is just as impressive.


Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories

by Stephen King

My favorite parts of this short story collection are the insights into the writing process that King provides at the beginning of each story. Read this along with my favorite writing book of all time, his “On Writing” and you have a master class in writing.


Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry

by Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD with Ogi Ogas

This is a fair and balanced perspective on the history of psychiatry by an expert in the field. Highly recommend for those interested in the topic.


The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson

by Jeffrey Toobin

I picked up this book halfway through the FX series of the same name — and the book even surpasses the intoxicating series. Toobin is a master of narrative journalism and he provides a fresh perspective on the most covered trial in history — no small feat.


The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir

by Ruth Wariner

This memoir had me at its opening line: “I am my mother’s fourth child and my father’s thirty-ninth.” It’s emotional, disturbing, and, most importantly, well written.


Loner: A Novel

by Teddy Wayne

This one is not out until September, but as a fan of Wayne, when I received an advance copy I read it in a frenzy. This book will mess with your head — and you won’t be able to put it down.


St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street

by Ada Calhoun

Had the pleasure of watching Ada Calhoun speak at The Golden Notebook (one of my favorite bookstores) and after just had to read her expertly researched book. I enjoyed every page of this rollicking history of New York.



by J.R. Salamanca

This is an oldie but mostly goodie. “Lilith” is a novel that is loosely based on Chestnut Lodge, a private psychiatric hospital that I’m researching for my next book.


Susannah Cahalan is the author of the New York Times bestseller Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (soon to be a motion picture), and writes about books for the New York Post. She is currently at work on her second book. You can find out more about Susannah and Brain on Fire by logging on to her website at



Author of Adventures in Solitude & The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie


32 Books

3185 Edgemont Boulevard, North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

This is the last-standing independent bookstore on the entire North Shore of Vancouver, and is run passionately by owner Deb McVittie and her staff. The tidy, small store works so well because they know their customers interests really well and are extremely supportive of local authors.


Galiano Island Books

76 Madrona Dr., Galiano Island, British Columbia, Canada

This bookstore is so good, an entire literary festival has spun out from it. Run by voracious readers for like-minded customers, every book on the shelf is handpicked. This store should be both your first and last stop on the island, since it’s your first left turn right off the ferry.


Librairie Drawn and Quarterly

211 Rue Bernard O, Montréal, Quebec, Canada

A spin-off of the Drawn and Quarterly publishing house, this English-language bookstore in the Mile End neighborhood of Montreal is a beautiful place to visit, shop and discover new books. They specialize in graphic novels, but there’s also an excellent selection of hand-picked new fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books. There’s also a stage for author events and music performances.


Bacchus Books

409 9th Ave N., Golden, British Columbia, Canada

Located on the shores of the Kicking Horse River in the Rocky Mountains, this bookstore is a carefully curated delight to visit on any road trip. They have a fine selection of new, used, and plenty of outdoor adventure books, and an upstairs cafe and backyard patio within feet of the river. I finally found Chester Brown’s “Louis Riel” here!


Village Books

1200 11th Street, Bellingham, Washington

This sprawling space in Bellingham’s quaint Fairhaven neighborhood feels like almost more of a literary community center than a bookstore. Besides a huge selection of books, they also offer a consistently full calendar of events, reading groups, writers’ workshops and classes. Truly a reading and writing utopia!


Never Cry Wolf

by Farley Mowat

An exciting and funny adventure memoir set in Canada’s barren far north that was way ahead of its time in environmental, ecological, and humanitarian storytelling. Decades after it was first published in 1963, the same issues (misguided wolf culls) still exist in Canada.


Tintin and the Prisoners of the Sun

by Herge

This is possibly the best book in the best graphic novel adventure series of all time! Of the dozens of Tintin books, this one, drawn, written and published in the late 1940s, is possibly Tintin and Herge at their most detailed, daring and adventurous best. Set high in the Andes mountains of South America, this book is worth it alone for the ingenious twist that saves Tintin and his friends from being burned at the stake by the Incas.


The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across The South Seas

by Thor Heyerdahl

Another brilliant memoir chronicling a team of Norway adventurers setting sail on a balsa wood raft, aiming to prove that the South Sea Islands were settled by the indigenous people of South America, by simply following the sun and currents across the largest ocean in the world. An incredible story!


The Orenda

by Joseph Boyden

By far the greatest Canadian novel I’ve ever read, “The Orenda” chronicles three colliding characters in the late 1600s in early Canada: a mighty Huron warrior, a young, female Iroquois prisoner, and a French priest attempting to convert the First Nations to Catholicism. It’s an epic story of blood, guts, and the early seeds of what would become Canada.


The Revenant

by Michael Punke

A truly gripping and authentic frontier adventure story that is much more layered, detailed and satisfying than the film (not a big surprise) and also follows a very different narrative after the major inciting incident of the grizzly bear attack (not a spoiler, it’s depicted on the cover and in every ad for the movie ever). The author now works for the Obama administration and is not allowed to promote his book!


Grant Lawrence is the author of Adventures in Solitude and The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie. He also has hosted the top-rated CBC Radio 3 Podcast with Grant Lawrence, a monthly showcase of Canadian independent music, and is the host of CBC Radio 3’s popular web radio station, also airing on Sirius XM 162. He can be heard throughout the week on various CBC Radio One programs such as DNTO, North by Northwest, All Points West, RadioWest, On The Coast, and various afternoon programs across the country, and has been a frequent past contributor to Q, Spark, and Sounds Like Canada. In the summer of 2012, Grant hosted The Wild Side on CBC Radio One, and in 2014, he won a Canadian Screen Award for his onscreen work with CBC Music presents: the Beetle Roadtrip Sessions.

Grant is married to Canadian singer Jill Barber and they live together with their son, Joshua, and daughter, Grace, in Vancouver, BC, Canada.


REBECCA MAKKAI (photo by Philippe Matsas)

Author of The Hundred-Year House & Music for Wartime


The Book Cellar

4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL or

This is one of those bookstores I could live in. A wine/coffee/snack bar on one side so you can sit and write; comfy chairs by the windows; fabulous staff picks cards on impossibly tall, labyrinthine shelves; and a strict Vonnegut-lives-behind-the-cash-register-only policy. They throw some of the best book launches, too, complete with cake.


Women and Children First

5233 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL or

A storied feminist bookstore in my favorite neighborhood of the city. If you want to feel, viscerally, how integral a bookstore can be to a neighborhood, spend a Saturday afternoon here. 


Northshire Bookstore

4869 Main Street, Manchester Center, VT or

I'm pretty sure I fell asleep and dreamed this place up. It's like a castle of books, with more rooms than you'd ever imagine possible. A pilgrimage bookstore, if ever there was one.


Watermark Books

4701 E. Douglas, Wichita, KS or

I've encountered some amazing hospitality on tour, but this place might take the crown for event organization and bringing in an enthusiastic crowd in a city where I knew literally one person. Their basement is signed by every writer who ever read there--quite a collection.


R.J. Julia Booksellers

768 Boston Post Road, Madison, CT or

One of the most physically beautiful bookshops you'll ever see. If you were going to get locked into a bookstore overnight (poor you), I'm not sure you could do any better. 


Rebecca Makkai is the Chicago-based author of the short story collection Music for Wartime, which appeared in 2015, and of the novels The Hundred-Year House, winner of the Chicago Writers Association’s Novel of the Year award, and The Borrower, a Booklist Top Ten Debut which has been translated into eight languages. Her short fiction was chosen for The Best American Short Stories for four consecutive years (2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008), and appears regularly in journals like Harper’sTin House, and New England Review. The recipient of a 2014 NEA fellowship, Makkai has taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Tin House, and Northwestern University. 


TAYLOR JENKINS REID (photo by Elly Schaefer)

Author of Maybe In Another Life


Willow Books

279 Great Road, Acton, MA or

Willow Books is my hometown bookstore in Acton, Massachusetts. I love it so much I used it as the setting of my upcoming fourth novel, “One True Loves.” With a welcoming staff and the scent of pages the moment you walk in, Willow Books has long been one of my favorite places to visit when I’m home.


Vroman’s Bookstore

695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA or 

Vroman’s has the biggest selection and most incredible display of any independent bookstore in Southern California. It’s two floors featuring an amazing event space with an informed sales team and a great atmosphere.


Book Soup

8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA or

Book Soup is somehow both literary and rock n’ roll, right on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Sometimes I wonder if I’m even cool enough to shop there.


The Last Bookstore

453 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA or 

The Last Bookstore, in Downtown LA, is your best bet for stumbling across a great book you’ve never heard of. It’s also a very cool place to hang out. Every section of this store is Instagram-worthy.


Skylight Books

1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA or

Skylight Books on the East Side of Los Angeles, has a tree growing in the middle of the store! All your hopes about finding a great book in an adorable bookstore and your fantasies about reading under a gorgeous tree come true in one place.


All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps

by Dave Isay

A book that you can reread a million times and still never want to put down. True love stories from couples of all ages and backgrounds from all over the country, told in their own words. It doesn’t get any more romantic than that.


Dept. of Speculation

by Jenny Offill

Can be read in a day but keep you thinking for weeks. I found myself having to stop and bookmark page after page. So many of the sentences, while succinct and seemingly effortless, ring so beautifully true.


The Lover’s Dictionary

by David Levithan

Another page turner with sparse pages that you can read in one sitting. The words David Levithan chooses to define and the way he chooses to define them somehow build into a heartbreaking and incredibly moving story. Simply brilliant.


The Little Prince

by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Simply cannot be topped. I’m bummed I never read it as a kid and yet I think I wouldn’t have truly understood the depth of it until I was an adult anyway. Everyone should own a copy and turn to it when their soul hurts. It is the very best medicine there is.


The Most of Nora Ephron

by Nora Ephron

This book will make you fall in love with Nora Ephron all over again. She was the very definition of an original and I feel lucky to have been born in a time when I could read everything she published.


Taylor Jenkins Reid is an author, essayist, and TV writer from Acton, Massachusetts. Her debut novel, Forver, Interrupted, has been optioned with Dakota Johnson attached to star. She is adapting her second book, After I Do, for Freeform, formerly known as ABC Family. Her most recent novel, Maybe In Another Life, has been featured in People, US Weekly, Cosmo, and more. One True Loves will be released in June.

In addition to her novels, Taylor’s essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, xoJane, and a number of other blogs.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Rabbit.



Author of Box Girl: My Part-Time Job as an Art Installation


Equator Books

Closed — Formerly located at 1103 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA

In LA, my all-time favorite bookstore was Equator Books on Abbot Kinney in Venice, but sadly it closed during the recession.


Skylight Books

1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles CA or

Skylight Books in Los Feliz will always have a special place in my heart because it’s where I did my first BOX GIRL reading. We packed the place and it sold out of copies.


The Last Bookstore

453 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA or

The Last Bookstore in Downtown LA is especially awesome and how great is the name?


City Lit Books

2523 N. Kedzie Blvd., Chicago, IL or

In Chicago, City Lit Books in Logan Square is wonderful, with a solid reading series.


A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

by Dave Eggers 

Early in life, it was A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. I haven’t read this book in so long I wonder if it would have the same impact on me now but wow, did it ever when I read it for the first time. It sort of busted wide open the whole concept of memoir for me. What you were allowed to do, what you weren’t, and that they’re actually aren’t really any rules.


A Confederacy of Dunces

by John Kennedy Toole

 Another early favorite. One of the funniest books of all time, and also one of the saddest.


Varieties of Disturbances

by Lydia Davis

Discovering Lydia Davis was also a revelation. Davis’ stories — typically no longer than four pages and sometimes as short as a sentence — are not weighed down by adjectives or descriptions of the weather. They are, for the most part, devoid of descriptors of any kind. Is it fiction? Does it matter?


On Writing Well

by William Zinsser

This book was taught in my college journalism school and I try to re-read at least parts of it every time I’m working on something new, especially the chapter “Bits & Pieces.” Zinsser is all about writing that is lean and efficient. He says something like “Adjectives are sprinkled into sentences by writers who don’t stop to think that the concept is already in the noun.” I’ve always loved that.


Mrs. Bridge

by Evan S. Connell

Speaking of efficiency, Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell. Man, does this book of short paragraphs, about a housewife in 1950s Kansas City, pack a punch.


As for other works of fiction, I love the old Southern Gothic writers, Flannery O’Connor,  etc., but I especially love Carson McCullers. Her Collected Stories are phenomenal and especially the novella — do people still call them that? — The Member of The Wedding.



by David Sedaris

No one does self-deprecating humor better than Sedaris, and though I’ve read them all, I think this is his best book.


Without Feathers & The Insanity Defense

by Woody Allen

One of the funniest writers ever. Without Feathers and The Insanity Defense are ridiculous and hilarious.


The Boys of My Youth

by Jo Ann Beard

My favorite genre is narrative non-fiction/memoir and The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard is at the top of that list for me. The Chapter, “The Fourth State of Matter” is one of the best essays I have ever read.


The Liar’s Club

by Mary Karr

Karr is a poet, first, and that it evident in her gorgeously connected sentences. She is also funny as hell, and manages to find the humor in some of the most tragic situations.


Slouching Toward Bethlehem

by Joan Didion 

It’s almost cliché to say you love this book — so does every other 20-something girl. Well I am no longer 20-something and I still do. I read the essay “Goodbye To All That” when I was 27 and it had a profound impact on me.


Operating Instructions

by Anne Lamott

It is such a beautiful book about being a new mom. It took me six months to read it after my son was born but I laughed and cried through every page, totally sleep deprived. It is hilarious, and honest, and so incredibly touching. If you are a new parent, read this book!


Lilibet Snellings was born in Georgia and raised in Connecticut. She earned her MFA from the University of Southern California and currently resides in Chicago. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, Anthem, Flaunt, and This Recording, among other publications. For additional information about her book, Box Girl: My Part-Time Job as an Art Installation (Soft Skull Press, 2014) and event information, please visit


Independent Bookstore Day takes place on Saturday, April 30, 2016. To learn more about Independent Bookstore Day, or to locate the independent bookstore in your area, consult the Independent Bookstore Day at


This article originally appeared in Chicago Splash Magazine.



Local Spotlight: Luft Studio

NorthShore University HealthSystem Mammogram Event in Skokie, Illinois | Photo: Bob Coscarelli

by Andrew DeCanniere

In the summer of 2012, I had the privilege of interviewing Crystal Grover (now Crystal Hodges) and Linsey Burritt (now Linsey Rosen), the extraordinarily talented duo behind INDO, a company that was located in Chicago’s West Loop that created window displays and installations made out of reclaimed materials. Last year, after eight years spent working together, the two decided to close the business and strike out on their own, with each opening their own respective business. More recently, I had the opportunity to interview one half of the duo, Crystal Hodges, about her new solo business venture, Luft Studio. Read on to see what she had to say about how she got into her line of work, how she made the decision to open her new company and what the experience has been like and much more.

NorthShore University HealthSystem Mammogram Event in Skokie, Illinois | Photo: Bob Coscarelli

UR Chicago Magazine: For those who may be unfamiliar with Luft, how would you define your new company? What is Luft and – come to think of it – how did you come up with the name?

Crystal Hodges:The name is the Swedish word for air, I spent some time there and it is where my perspective on my work and contribution to life in general shifted a bit. So the name is a reminder to me of that time in my life. I encourage the studio to remain open to new opportunities and creative ideas like seeds to the wind, while at the same time encouraging the growth of new relationships and personal development. We are a creative studio with work spanning from interior art installations to interior design to set design and it is all exciting and fun work for us!

UR: How did you get into your line of work in the first place?

CH: I got into my line of work as a happy accident. I worked in retail design for a while, and while it was very exciting, there was something authentic missing between the wastefulness of retail in general and the materials being used. While there was potential for creativity there, there wasn’t as much as I would have liked. So, one day I saw an amazing window display in Wicker Park and asked someone in the store who did it. They said they didn’t know but anyone could! And that really got me excited. That was the seed that started the collaboration with Linsey and hence INDO. Simply putting a seed of possibility into a young designer’s mind.

Chicago Community Trust Event Installation | Photo: Courtesy of Crystal Hodges

UR: Speaking of which, how did you decide to go from working together at INDO to going off on your own to form this new company?

CH: We both had different things happening in our lives. Linsey was getting married, and I had a kid, and we were just at a point where we felt like we wanted to grow in different ways. So, we both decided to close INDO and start new chapters individually, so that we could have a fresh start and a fresh perspective on what we were doing. I really enjoyed the foundation that INDO had built for me as a designer, and I wanted to take all of that beautiful knowledge and put it into a new endeavor. With Luft, I’m doing similar installations — I’m definitely building off of the installation component of what INDO had done — and I’m trying to do more events and more interiors, as well as some art direction.

I work with more commercial clients. My approach is changing, so that instead of using only recycled materials, I am trying to have a more diverse range of clients whose timelines may or may not be super long or super tight, and there isn’t always the opportunity to use recycled materials for every single project. Now my approach is more diverse, where I’m still practicing conscious consumption, but instead of using recycled materials upfront, I’m looking for partners. One of them is Creative Pitch. I donate materials to them and different organizations after the end of an installation, so that other people can have the opportunity to use those materials and have access to them. Creative Pitch sources materials and then they give them to students and organizations that are really in need of art materials for their art programs.

Then there’s this other organization, The Wasteshed, in Chicago, which focuses on receiving materials, keeping them out of the landfill and practicing reuse. I still feel very strongly about that. Then, for some of my projects I still have other sort of leftovers — things that are beyond materials, like furniture. I’m trying to do more pro bono work. We just did an installation for NorthShore University HealthSystem, where we had a whole ceiling of balloons, and then there were these butterflies in the window. There were over 1,000, and they were glued to a monofilament, and we had to take each one off of the monofilament by hand, so that they didn’t rip, and then they were donated to Creative Pitch. They’ve already been used in a kids’ art class. We received some pictures and they were adorable. Then, the furniture is pending donation to Mother’s rooms, it is something we are currently collaborating with 88 Brand Partners on, so that I could donate my design services to places that needed a little bit of a revamp and a little bit of a boost that wouldn’t get it otherwise. So, my approach is diversifying.

Rent the Runway | Photo: Stephanie Bassos

UR: And, at the same time, it sounds like the whole idea of recycling and reusing is still very much at the center of a lot of it, which I think just further proves that business can be environmentally conscious.

CH: And I believe there’s not just one solution. I don’t necessarily think there’s only one right answer to everything. For example, right now I’ve been struggling with that balloon project, because I have three trash bags of balloons sitting here and I’ve been trying to find a composting company that will take them. I haven’t found anybody yet, so my next step is to contact landfills in California that turn over the landfills to aerate them. So, I’m thinking that might be the route — where I have to send it to them — so there are definitely challenges, but my biggest goal is not to throw anything away.

UR: What has it been like going off on your own, starting a whole new business? I know that you had said that INDO sort of started off organically. What has this whole new chapter been like?

CH: It’s actually been very similar. I started up in May, and I was very busy. The amount of work has been consistent, so that’s fantastic. My website will be launching shortly. I was giving myself a bit of time to see how projects unfolded themselves. I didn’t want to have to plan everything out prematurely. I still enjoy the process of discovery and letting things kind of speak to you, of not forcing them. So, over the past six months I have learned a lot about the company and the way that I am going to be doing things in the future. Now I have the opportunity to design my website around how my business has been functioning, rather than putting it into a mold only to have to change it later. I’ve learned a lot about the company and how I am going to approach different projects, because there have been a very wide variety — commercial photography, commercial video, event installations, art installations, window displays — and each one has been a little bit different. I think that the process for me is always slightly organic, and a process of discovering what things are working well, what things aren’t, and of just having an opportunity to look at that and give that a little bit of space to develop.

DL Couch Window Display | Photo: Stephanie Bassos 

UR: So who are some of the clients you’ve had the opportunity to work with thus far? I know that you’d mentioned you were able to do some work with NorthShore University HealthSystem, for instance.

CH: With Luft I have worked with the Chicago Community Trust, JCPenney, Crate and Barrel, and 88 Brand Partners to name a few. I’m working on expanding community relationships with groups like Neighborspace and Creative Pitch as well.

UR: And what’s the whole process like? For instance, how does it work when a client comes to you?

CH: The individuals I am able to work with is key. Since this is a small business, we have a freelance network we tap into as needed. They are all extremely talented, focused individuals whom I admire. They give us the ability to stay scrappy and small, while doing thoughtful and detailed work. Our process changes per client, but it always involves material exploration, concept exploration, and a plan for what happens to the materials once the project is finished. This is where we are looking to expand our community connections, and donate things to Creative Pitch or The Wasteshed after a project is done, so each material has the longest life possible before it is recycled. It is our mission to creatively reuse materials rather than have to throw them ‘away’.

UR: Sounds like it keeps it interesting.

CH: Yeah. It’s fun. It keeps it fresh.

AD: And last, but certainly not least, is there anything coming up on the horizon?

CH: Right now we are working on getting into new areas of work. I am focusing on interior design right now, but we are hoping to do more event work, pop up shops and large scale installations this year.

Crystal Hodges is a designer and former Partner at INDO and is the Founder and Creative Director of Luft Studio in Chicago. Learn more about Luft by visiting their website ( or find them on Twitter ( or Instagram (

This interview originally appeared in Chicago Splash Magazine.


Previewing Chicago Book Expo 2015

by Andrew DeCanniere

This coming Saturday, November 21st, will mark the fifth Chicago Book Expo, which will take place from 11 AM until 5 PM at Columbia College Chicago (1104 S. Wabash Ave. in Chicago). The Expo first got its start in 2011, as a way to highlight Chicago’s publishers and authors, and attracts a wide array of area publishers, writers and literary organizations — totaling more than 100 exhibitors in all. “This is a literary event that’s centered around Chicago publishing and [the city’s] literary community. It’s a way to celebrate the literary world that exists in Chicago,” said John Wilson of the Chicago Book Expo.

In addition to the one-hundred plus exhibitors on the Expo floor, the Book Expo will also host 19 different programs, with topics ranging from food to poetry to music to fiction and mysteries and much more. “It’s an event at which I think every reader in Chicago could find something that interests them,” said Wilson. “It’s a great way to find out not only about [various] publishers, but also a lot of literary organizations that people may not have heard about. We’ll be having a panel by Literature for All of Us. We’ll have tables from lots of literary groups, and Open Books will be doing a book drive and selling used books. There are going to be a lot of different aspects of the literary scene brought together in one place on one day.”

Among the highlights of the event are Richard Nickel: Dangerous Years, with Richard Cahan, which will take place in Film Row Auditorium, and focuses on architectural preservationist Richard Nickel who died while trying to preserve one of the city’s most significant pieces of architecture. Another program of note is Chicago Authored with Nike Whitcomb, executive director of the American Writers Museum (which is slated to open in 2017) and John Russick of the Chicago History Museum and curator of the museum’s ongoing Chicago Authored exhibit. “Both of them [Whitcomb and Russick] will be talking about the process of curating a museum for writers. I think that there’s a lot of excitement over the Chicago History Museum’s exhibit, because it is the first crowdsourced exhibit that they’ve done. A lot of people are very interested in that. So, if you’re interested in Chicago in writing, that’s the place to be — and this will be one of Nike’s first appearances publicly talking about the American Writers Museum, since they announced that they found a space on Michigan Avenue. I think that should be of interest to people,” said the Chicago Book Expo’s Lynn Haller.

Chicago Book Expo 2014 (Photo: Rebecca Ciprus)

“I think one of the things worth highlighting is that…there are certainly a lot of things going on in Chicago.” said Haller “Not just with publishers, obviously, but the literary organizations that will be there as well. 826 Chicago will be there along with Literature for All of Us and Open Books. It’s kind of a good chance to find out about volunteering and getting involved and being a good literary citizen, which is something that people talk about these days. This is a chance to find out more about that — and also we’ll have some of the great organizations — groups like the Chicago Writers Association, Editorial Freelancers Association, et cetera. There will be several groups for writers, too, for different types of networking. So, it’s a good chance to talk to those representatives and find out more about what they have to offer. You can really connect with people and have conversations about what they’re doing.”

“Another thing about this kind of an event,” says Haller, “is that this is a good holiday shopping opportunity. Another question I have heard somebody ask is this question of ‘Well, what is this and why should I buy books there?’ And it’s like ‘Well, if you buy books directly from the publisher, they make more money. The margins are so thin in publishing and [in doing so] you’re supporting small press work and supporting a small business that’s local. Again, that’s why we always say ‘Buy local. Read local.’ If you buy directly from those people, you’re supporting their continued efforts. If you go to an event like this and put the money directly in the hands of the publisher, their margins are not quite so thin. That’s something to think about. Additionally, authors like Richard Cahan will be there in person, and he’s done these great books on Vivian Maier as well, and he’ll be available to sign them. Doug Sohn and Ina Pinkney will also be there, signing copies of their books. So, it’s this great way to be a part of the literary culture, be a good literary citizen and put money directly in the hands of people.”

It’s also worth noting that there will be a number of pre-Expo events around town as well. Among these is author Renee Rosen who will be at After-Words Bookstore (23 E. Illinois St. in Chicago) with former Chicago Tribune editor Marion Purcelli on November 18th at 6:00 PM. “The book takes place in the 1950s in the newsroom of the Trib. Marion Purcelli, who she will be talking with afterwards, was an editor at the Trib at the time. She started as a copygirl and worked her way up from there. She has a lot of interesting stories to tell about Chicago’s journalistic history, and about working as a woman in the newsroom at the time. I think that will be a really great event,” said Haller.

Additionally, there will be a number of writing workshops that will be available, free of charge, at the Expo, presented by a number of different organizations including Chicago Publishers Resource Center’s From Chicago with Love Writing Workshop, Chicago Zine Fest’s Zine Making Workshop, along with The Tool Box: The Tool Kit for New Poets.

For more information about the Chicago Book Expo, including complete listings of exhibitors, speakers and Pre-Expo events, as well as an Expo schedule, please log onto the Chicago Book Expo website at You can also find the Chicago Book Expo on Twitter @ChicagoBookExpo and on Facebook at

This article originally appeared in Chicago Splash Magazine.


Celebrating Independent Bookstore Day: A Sampling of the Chicago Area’s Independent Bookstores

by Andrew DeCanniere

With Independent Bookstore Day this weekend (Saturday May 2nd), I recently had the opportunity to speak with a number of owners of local independent bookstores — some of which have been a part of their community for many years, and others which are significantly newer. While the following does not, by any means, represent an exhaustive list of the fine independent booksellers in our area, they do represent some of my personal favorites — and, in my opinion, some of the very best that the Chicagoland area has to offer.

Jeff Garrett | Partner of Bookends & Beginnings

1712 Sherman Ave., Alley #1
Evanston, Illinois

UR Chicago Magazine: For starters, I always wonder about the history of the bookstore, particularly when it’s something of an institution in the community, as I know Bookman’s Alley — which previously occupied the space — had been in Evanston.

Jeff Garrett: Well, this goes back to October 2013, when Nina and I decided that we wanted to leave Northwestern and do something entirely different and do it together. We thought about various things. I mean, Nina has a cooking degree and thought of starting a restaurant, but that didn’t leave me with much to do because I don’t cook. Then we had the idea of starting a bookstore. Her background is actually in journalism, but she worked at Women & Children First, the feminist bookstore in Andersonville, on-and-off for about 15 years. She has bookselling experience and, as you may know, I was a research librarian for most of my career — for 30 plus years — and so we decided that this would be at the confluence of our interests and made the decision [to open a bookstore]. That very same day, we went to visit Roger Carlson in Bookman’s Alley, because we knew that he was trying to close, and we felt that this is the most desirable space for a bookstore in Evanston.

UR: And it really seems that there’s this sort of resurgence in independent bookstores.

JG: Definitely. There is, and we were aware of that and decided to ride that wave. Also, the economy has been recovering, and bookstores are very dependent on people having a little bit of surplus money. So, we felt that bookstores were coming back and that the time had come to start an independent bookstore in Evanston.

UR: How do you envision the future of the independent bookstore?

JG: Honestly, I think the new book economy is taking shape now, and the new book economy is going to be a parallel development of online shopping — online shopping for either physical books or e-books — and then independent bookstores will continue to recover and multiply. There has to be someplace where readers can have a physical encounter with books and also speak to live human beings to get suggestions and find out of the way things. People come into the store and say ‘What’s that book that has a bird in the title and it has a light green cover?’ and odds are one of us will remember what that is.

It’s very similar to what’s happened in food and shopping and restaurants. Cheaper is not always better. I think that certainly, in a place like Evanston, people have realized that you may pay more for meat or vegetables at a place like Whole Foods, but you’re getting something more for that. If you’re willing to pay a little bit more, you get a whole lot more for it. I think there’s going to be a sort of bipolar book economy. There’s Amazon on the one end and the independent bookstores on the other, and Evanston is just a wonderful laboratory for that because there’s everything. There’s Amazon, there’s Barnes & Noble and then there are bookstores like Amaranth or Howard’s or Market Fresh. Each of them is different.

UR: And I have to say that yours is a wonderful addition. It’s so great to come in and find something new — or just completely unexpected.

JG: We — Nina and I — really like talking with customers who come in, even if they know what they’re looking for. Sometimes, we can tell them something they otherwise wouldn’t know. Actually, 20 minutes before you called, I was talking with one of our regular customers who is a photographer and photography historian. I knew we had just gotten a book in on the Chicago Columbian Exposition. It was not in the photography section, but I knew where it was and he was delighted. There also was this illustrator, and I remember she was asking for books from Poland. We didn't have any books from Poland, but when I was in Germany I found a catalogue of children’s book illustrators. She would never have found this otherwise, and it was from an exhibit of Polish illustrators that took place in New Delhi in 2014. These are things you would probably never find at a Barnes & Noble and you’d probably never find them at Amazon. That’s why human intermediation is a good thing in a certain type of bookstore.

UR: Speaking of making recommendations, would you happen to have any recommendations?

JG: Well, obviously books that I have read and like are ones I am going to recommend to others, if I sense that their tastes go in that direction. One author is Alan Furst. He writes these sort of 1930s spy novels. If someone comes in and says that they have a four-hour plane ride and that they want something to read that isn’t going to upset them but will hold their attention and entertain them in a serious way, I’ll recommend his work. I’ve had a profound affection for Kazuo Ishiguro ever since reading The Remains of the Day, which I think is one of the great quiet novels of the late 20th century. In other words, my likes and dislikes are going to come into play, but I think people appreciate it. Also, customers will sometimes talk with other customers about ‘Have you read this? Is it any good?’ and so there are all kinds of ways we can stimulate new ideas in readers, and that’s a good thing.

UR: Any plans for Independent Bookstore Day yet?

JG: Yeah, on May 2nd we definitely do have plans. First of all, it’s a national event — so we signed up with 399 other bookstores to take part and we’re getting a lot of the special books that have been created for this event. For example, Roxane Gay has put together a collection of essays that will be available only through independent bookstores and it will premiere on May 2nd. We are also going to be taking photographs of people holding a whiteboard with the author and title of their favorite book of the past year. Those photos will be going up on Facebook.

UR: It’s amazing how much the event has grown. I know it initially started in California, and it’s just really taken off.

JG: We’re also doing something else you may not have heard about yet, because we’re just beginning to crank up the publicity. It’s the Evanston Literary Festival, which is going to be from May 11th to May 18th. We’re one of the sponsors, together with Northwestern, Evanston Public Library, Northwestern University Press and the Chicago Book Expo. So, we’re the only sponsoring bookstore in that group. We’re going to have some really wonderful events.

Bookends & Beginnings is owned by Nina Barrett and is operated by Nina and her husband and bookstore partner, Jeff Garrett. The bookstore is located in the heart of Downtown Evanston, just blocks from the Davis CTA Purple Line station. To locate the bookstore, locate the alley on Sherman Avenue, about halfway between Church Street and Clark Street on the west side of the street. Enter the alley and you will come upon Alley Gallery. The entrance to Bookends & Beginnings is directly across from the entrance to Alley Gallery. You can learn more about Bookends & Beginnings by visiting their website at You can also find the store on at

Stephanie Hochschild | Owner of The Book Stall

811 Elm Street
Winnetka, Illinois

UR Chicago Magazine: First off, I’m kind of curious about the history of the book store. I know that The Book Stall has been a part of the community for many years now.

Stephanie Hochschild: Yeah. The store has been here for over 30 years and Roberta Rubin, the store’s previous owner, really made it what it is today — a thriving independent bookstore that’s known for doing an incredible array of events. We have lots of authors that we bring in with our downtown partners — The Union League Club, The Standard Club, The University Club and The Women’s Athletic Club. At one point our family moved from Winnetka, and when we were moving back, I wanted to make sure we came back here, because I wanted to be close to the bookstore. Little did I know what that would mean for me in the end.

My kids grew up learning to read here. I came up here all the time. Every time I read a book review, I’d come here to buy the book. Then, at a certain point in my life, I was thinking about what to do and a friend of mine mentioned that the bookstore was for sale. I called Roberta and asked if she wanted to have coffee. We started talking and continued talking for all of that summer. In September of that year, I started sort of working here — shadowing people, learning as much as I could about what to do — and then, in July of the following year, there was a transaction and I became the owner. It was unlike anything I’d done before, but I did always follow the publishing industry and I have read avidly my whole life.

UR: What did you do before taking over the store?

SH: Right after college I had a job at Merrill Lynch in finance. Then, I went to law school and worked in law for several years. After that, I stayed at home a little bit with my kids, but I always loved reading and loved the publishing world, so it just seemed like the stars all lined up.

UR: Sounds like perfect timing.

SH: It really was. I consider myself incredibly lucky.

UR: How do you see the role of the independent bookseller or the independent bookstore in the community?

SH: Apart from functioning as a bookstore, of course, I also think that they’re community places as well. There are lots of conversations that are struck up in different sections of the bookstore, or even as you’re waiting to buy your book. People see what book you’re buying and they talk. It’s the kind of thing you can’t duplicate easily in another way. It has to be a bricks-and-mortar operation. So, I think we’re sort of opening up the world to people who want to come in here. I think people come to the bookstore because they like looking at a curated collection of books. I mean, there are so many books out there you can choose from. It’s hard to know what you really want to read. People here are very committed to keeping up-to-date and reading, and who love to talk about books and recommend books. That’s one reason to come in. It’s great to bring your kids in here, because developing a love of reading early is so important in life. Then, it’s a great place to sort of connect with authors and other readers.

UR: Which, as an avid reader myself, I think is great. Do you have any plans for Independent Bookstore Day? I know it’s coming up.

SH: On May 2nd, we have lots of authors coming in. We have lots of kids authors coming in, as well as adult authors. Renee Rosen is coming in and she’s local. We’ll have Rebecca Makkai and Peggy Wolff.

UR: Speaking of kids authors, another one of the things that makes your store rather unique — and something that stood out to me as someone who has been reading from early on — is that you also have a book club for kids, right?

SH: We do have a children’s book club. Grandparents or relatives can sign up and have books sent to kids on a regular basis, however they choose. Then we have lots of programming for the kids. We have authors who come in, we have events that revolve around a book but not necessarily the author. So, there are lots of things going on.

UR: And, last but certainly not least, speaking of books, do you have any recommendations?

SH: I have a couple of favorite books. I loved The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, which is a novel and it’s sort of a Sci-Fi story, but it’s about much bigger things. It’s about religion and faith and relationships and marriage. I think it’s a really incredible book. I also loved a book called Just Mercy. It’s by Bryan Stevenson. He’s a lawyer who defends death-row inmates. It’s an incredible story. He was in Evanston a couple of weeks ago, and he’s brilliant. Everybody should read his book or hear what he has to say. He’s a great writer and tells a really compelling story.

You can find out more about The Book Stall by visiting their website at You can also find them on Facebook at and Twitter at or @thebookstall.

Teresa Kirschbraun | Owner of City Lit Books

2523 N. Kedzie Blvd.
Chicago, Illinois

UR Chicago Magazine: To begin at the beginning, could you share a little bit of the history of the bookstore and how it got its start?

Teresa Kirschbraun: I opened the store in August 2012, so about two-and-a-half years ago. I started from the ground up. I gutted the space and ordered the books and everything. It was the first new independent bookstore to open in Chicago in eight years. I think used bookstores and that sort of thing had opened, but Book Cellar opened in 2004 and then I opened in 2012. There were no other independent bookstores that opened in that time. It was good for me because it made an impact. People noticed and were thrilled that the independent bookstore wasn’t dead.

UR: What did you do previously?

TK: I was in healthcare for a long time. I was a provider and administrator. I have a Master’s in Administration. I was a consultant, doing management consulting for large health systems. I traveled for about 10 years and that got difficult, so I stopped and really assessed what I wanted to do. I thought about how I’d managed small businesses, I told everyone else how to manage a business, and I’ve always loved books. I thought maybe I could try to combine that. So, I made a business plan and actually took a course in how to open an independent bookstore. Everything just seemed to be supportive. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 25 years, and it just seemed like a great time to put a place like this here. When I went to the course on how to open the store, I learned the risk isn’t as great as you might think, so I just went forward.

UR: And I always think that it’s a great addition to a community. It really seems to play an important role in whatever community it’s in.

TK: And it develops a community of its own, which has been really cool. I know that I’m part of it, but sometimes it just happens around you that people just start finding this place and making it their own.

UR: It really seems there’s a resurgence of independents and a renewed appreciation for them — a recognition of their importance.

TK: I agree with you. Hopefully when people are thinking about it, they see that it is possible and maybe it will help some people think about opening a store.

UR: Do you have any favorites you would like to recommend?

TK: Ruby by Cynthia Bond was one of my favorite books of the last year. It’s just a beautiful, haunting novel. Also, in terms of non-fiction, The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. It’s a great look at the development of Wonder Woman and the man who created her. Another book that just came out in paperback is Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis. I love her. She can pack so much into a page.

UR: And I know that Independent Bookstore Day is coming up shortly.

TK: I don’t know if you covered it last year, but it was just so phenomenal. I think that the support every store got was incredible. It was like Christmas here that day. It was just a terrible, rainy day and people came out. Some of them had books that they needed to buy and waited to show their support on that day. It’s fun for us to do, but it’s also a phenomenal showing of support.

You can find out more about City Lit Books by visiting their website at To learn more about this year’s Independent Bookstore Day events, go to

Susan Takacs | Owner of The Book Cellar

4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, Illinois

UR Chicago Magazine: For starters, I’m kind of curious about the history of the place.

Susan Takacs: I opened The Book Cellar in 2004, so it will be 11 years this June. It’s an independent bookstore in Lincoln Square, and we feel that we’re very much part of our local community and the Chicago community as a whole. We host author events in the store — both local and national authors — and we have many book groups that meet at our store. We collaborate with the Chamber of Commerce when they do neighborhood events. We have a weekly storytime that’s very popular. We help with off-site sales in other places — so restaurants, the Harold Washington Library, different hotels. When they have a keynote speaker or a speaker with a book, we help provide the book sales in those circumstances. We also have a cafe and serve light fare — we have sandwiches, salads, soup, beer and wine.

UR: How did you get your start? When and how did you decide to open a bookstore?

ST: Prior to the bookstore I was a women’s healthcare Nurse Practitioner. I was in private practice with a group of physicians at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. I live about a mile-and-a-half from the store, and at that time there wasn’t an independent bookstore in the area and I am an avid reader. I really thought that we were missing one, so I went to the Women’s Business Development Center and learned how to create a business plan. I did that and I presented it to the Alderman at the time, and he said that they were actively trying to recruit an independent bookstore. The neighbors had been requesting a bookstore. So, it was very serendipitous in terms of my timing. I decided to try a career change, I took a year to learn all that I could about the book business and found a space. I got an architect and had plans drawn up and permits — and more permits — and we built the store. So, there’s a steep learning curve, because English or writing or publishing — none of that was my history, but I think we’ve come a long way. I think I still learn something new every day, but I think we’ve grown and become a staple in the literary community in Chicago.

UR: And it’s great to see this sort of resurgence of the independent bookstore. Personally, I really do feel that they’re just so integral to a community. Speaking of which, I was wondering what your take on the role of the independent bookstore in the community may be.

ST: I think it’s great that we have such a solid bookstore community in the City of Chicago. I think it speaks highly of the people of Chicago and their love of reading. I believe it’s important. I believe it’s what makes cities and neighborhoods interesting — these little shopping districts. If there are interesting bookstores and other retail shops and restaurants, it’s a great place for when people visit to come and walk around and see the personality of the city. If those little shops go away, and those interesting neighborhoods or shopping districts go away, then when you visit there’s nothing that’s different or interesting to see. It’s all the same. So, I think it adds value to the homes nearby if you have a thriving shopping district. It adds value to a city as a tourist spot. It adds value for the people that live in the city, because it’s often associated with things to do — neighborhood events, author events. We also have a comedy group called ‘The Kates’ that performs at our store twice a month. All these things contribute to the value of a community.

AD: Are there any books you would recommend? What draws you to that work in particular?

SH: I just finished this book that will be coming out. It’s called Great Kitchens of the Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. I was drawn to the book because it had a lot of food references and wine references. It’s a great story. It’s a linked story, so it’s written in an interesting fashion. It’s not just a linear story, so I think all those things led to a great and interesting read.

You can learn more about The Book Cellar by visiting their website at For complete details regarding Independent Bookstore Day events at The Book Cellar, please visit You can also find the store on Facebook at and on Twitter at  or @BookCellar.

Sarah Hollenbeck | Co-Owner of Women & Children First Bookstore

5233 N. Clark St.
Chicago, Illinois

UR Chicago Magazine: Can you share a little bit about the history of your store? I know it has been something of a fixture in the community for a number of years now.

Sarah Hollenbeck: Sure. The bookstore was started in 1979. The original owners were Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon. They were two graduate students studying literature at UIC and were interested in gender studies. They were very aware of the fact that when they went to general bookstores in Chicago, there were tons of books that were written by men but not a whole lot of contemporary fiction written by women. Most of the books by women were either classics — like Jane Austen — or they were all romance novels and that was pretty much it. In order to fight that disparity, they decided to open a feminist bookstore. At that time, there were actually over 100 feminist bookstores across the country, including two in Chicago. They were committed to promoting contemporary works by women and when the store opened they only had women authors on the shelves. That has changed significantly over the last 35 years. Actually, a lot has changed. Now there are only fewer than a dozen feminist bookstores in the country, and we’re one of them. We do sell books by both men and women, but we are still committed to all of the books that we sell being feminist in some way or promoting gender equality. We believe that feminism is not so much about just fighting for the rights of women now, but challenging the idea of the traditional gender binary. So, that’s kind of the newer mission of the store. In August of last year, the store was purchased from Ann and Linda, both of whom decided to retire, by myself and co-owner Lynn Mooney. We renovated the store in January, so we have a totally reimagined space. It’s much more contemporary, but still has the same heart and the same books.

UR: It’s always just so interesting to me to learn a little bit about the background of the store. Speaking of which, how did the two of you get into it? What did you do beforehand, and how did you come into this?

SH: Lynn and I both worked at the bookstore. I was a bookseller and Lynn was the manager. I’ve worked at bookstores part-time since I was 22, so it’s always been a part-time job. I’ve also worked in publishing. I worked for an independent publisher in Chicago, and then I’m also involved in the creative writing and storytelling community in Chicago. I graduated from Northwestern University with an MFA in Creative Writing, so I’m very connected in the creative writing community here. Lynn also worked in publishing and then had worked at the bookstore, first fox six years as a bookseller and then as the manager.

UR: It seems that there’s really been this resurgence in the popularity of independent bookstores again. Things have kind of come full circle, and people really seem to be recognizing the importance of the independent bookseller in the community and have this renewed appreciation for them.

SH: Definitely. I agree. We’ve really seen a huge renaissance not only in people buying books from independent bookstores, but also in this interest in feminism and what feminism is. People identify themselves as feminists. So, we’ve been hugely lucky. We’re really happy with the tide shifting.

UR: Any thoughts on the resurgence in general and, more specifically, on the role of the independent bookseller in the community?

SH: Well, we’re really lucky. Women & Children First was recruited by the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce to move to this location. We weren’t originally in this location, but they wanted us to move here and serve as a neighborhood anchor. I think we’ve fulfilled that mission. We generate a lot of foot traffic, but also a lot of community support. One example of that is that our recent renovation was funded entirely by an Indiegogo campaign. So, the community made the renovation happen. I think it’s a huge symbol of the way in which people believe in bookstores as being integral to the neighborhood and integral to the local economy. We really do feel an essential part of the area and of the bookstore community.

UR: That is amazing. I had no idea the renovation was funded entirely in that way.

SH: Yeah. We raised $35,000 just from people donating anywhere form $10 to $500 to $1,000.

UR: Well, it’s a worthwhile cause and it’s wonderful to see so many other people feel that way, too.

SH: Yeah. I think they felt it was time to just invest in the space itself. It’s really been a work of love of everyone in the area, not just us.

UR: Any book recommendations?

SH: Sure. I love Eula Biss. Her recent book, On Immunity, was very popular. She is a former professor of mine, and I just really respect the work that she does. I also recently read Citizen by Claudia Rankine. So, that’s been a recommendation of mine. I just started Maggie Nelson’s forthcoming memoir, The Argonauts, and I’m really excited to continue reading that before it publishes in May. We also have recommendations on our website.

Some of my favorite books of the last year were Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I always recommend that one to someone who wants a very engrossing novel. I just read Ann Packer’s The Children’s Crusade, which is an incredible psychological study of a family in California. It traces their relationships from childhood to adulthood. I really enjoyed Kim Gordon’s memoir Girl in a Band. All of my recommendations are also on our website,

UR: Do you have any plans for Independent Bookstore Day?

SH: We do. We’re going to start the day with storytime at 10:30 with Miss Linda, the former owner of the bookstore who still does storytime every Wednesday. Then we’re going to have cookies on-hand. There’ll be refreshments all day. The cookies are made from a recipe in Mindy Segal’s cookbook Cookie Love. We’re going to have Aleksandar Hemon stopping by later in the day to sign his new book The Making of Zombie Wars. We’ll be selling exclusive merchandise all day for Independent Bookstore Day, including a Roxane Gay chapbook and a Hyperbole and a Half broadside, as well as a bunch of other stuff. We’re one of the bookstores that will be handing out pages from the original Stuart Dybek short story, and customers have to visit all 12 participating bookstores in order to collect the complete story. The event is posted on our own website and on our Facebook page, so you can always follow up there.

You can learn more about Women & Children First Bookstore by visiting their website at You can also find the store on Facebook at and on Twitter at or @wcfbook.


The Best & Worst Films of 2014

by Justin Tucker

The 10 Best Films of 2014 

Everyone knows the Academy Awards ceremony is a sanctimonious, seemingly never-ending dog and pony show. Generally out of touch with audiences, the Academy will at times make questionable picks for Best Picture and ignore certain films altogether. I mean, does anybody actually believe Slumdog Millionaire is a better movie over The Dark Knight? Is Crash actually going to stand the test of time as a work of art?

I am here to cut through the crap and the pretentiousness to present the actual best pictures of 2014. They are as follows:

10. Visitors

If experimental maestro Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi) and composer Philip Glass’ names ever appear together in the same credit sequence, audiences can surely expect to be immersed in a sonic, sensorial experience. The film, shot in stark black and white to be exhibited in the latest digital projection technology, is a nonverbal montage of faces, human and otherwise, flowing in a meditative stream. Like the Qatsi trilogy before it, Reggio and Glass skillfully combine image and sound, redefining cinema as a form of art.

9. Jersey Boys

American Sniper may be getting all the award nominations and box office dollars, but no one should lose sight of the fact that Jersey Boys is the best Clint Eastwood movie of 2014. Based on the Tony Award-winning musical, it tells the story of The Four Seasons from their humble beginnings in 1950s Belleville, New Jersey, to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Eastwood’s direction is deliberately old-fashioned, and the delightful performances by John Lloyd Young, who originated the role of frontman Frankie Valli on Broadway, and Vincent Piazza (“Boardwalk Empire”) as Tommy DeVito make for a mellifluous outing.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy

One of the better entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this fun and hilarious superhero space adventure follows outlaws Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) as they blast their way through the galaxy. Their goal: keep a powerful orb from entering into the clutches of the maniacal Ronan (Lee Pace), hellbent on destroying the planet Xandar. Director James Gunn (Slither) brings the comic book to life on a scale that rivals Star Wars and Star Trek. Killer soundtrack as well.

7. Interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s first film since the conclusion of The Dark Knight Trilogy is a science fiction saga that takes cues from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact and Solaris, exploring how the intersection of science and spirituality shape how humankind views their place in the universe. Set in a future where civilization is on the decline amid ecological catastrophe, it stars the terrific Matthew McConaughey as an astronaut who leaves behind his son and daughter--joining a NASA mission to enter a wormhole to search for a new home for humanity. Nolan once again raises the cinematic bar, telling a stirring story based on the latest science featuring state-of-the-art special effects.

6. Whiplash

Miles Teller stars as drummer Andrew Neiman, member of an elite ensemble, who is abused and humiliated by jazz instructor Terrence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) at a prestigious New York music conservatory. Neiman is driven to zealous lengths to prove his worth to the fierce Fletcher, obsessed with perfecting his skills to become a modern Buddy Rich. Simmons gives the most memorable performance of his career, and Teller continues to grow as an actor. Based on his 2013 short subject of the same name, writer/director Damien Chazelle emerges as a bold new storyteller.

5. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

It’s no wonder that Alejandro González Iñárritu’s well-executed existential comedy about tortured artists clashing with the egos of other tortured artists won Best Picture. The Academy eats that sort of thing up. Nonetheless it’s a darkly funny tale about aging action hero Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), who hopes to stage a Broadway comeback in a dramatic role, reversing a stalled career after leaving a popular superhero franchise. He is berated by his Birdman persona, becoming increasingly consumed by his alter-ego as the pressure mounts to make his play a success. Keaton and Edward Norton, playing a maniacal method actor, give two of the best performances of the year. Iñárritu (Amore perros, 21 Grams) continues to wow.

4. We Are The Best!

One of the best things that can ever happen in one’s life is to get into punk rock. Unfortunately I wasn’t old enough to experience punk’s initial wave like the heroines of this 1980s-set Swedish coming-of-age story were able to, but the film is still a nostalgic joy. Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson (Together) and based on the graphic novel Never Goodnight by his wife Coco, it tells the story of three Stockholm teenage outcasts who form a punk rock band at their youth center to raise some hell and channel their adolescent angst, regardless of musical ability. This film is terrific because it teaches that it’s okay to be yourself —the central tenet of punk rock.

3. Boyhood

Director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life) has been behind some of the most iconic and innovative movies of the past quarter century. His most ambitious film to date is the epic Boyhood, shot over a twelve year span, about the journey from adolescence to adulthood of Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), who becomes a man before our eyes. Also featuring knockout performances by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his divorced parents, Coltrane’s rite-of-passage is an unprecedented achievement.

2. Life Itself

What better way to pay tribute to the memory Roger Ebert than a documentary from Chicago-based maestro Steven James? The Hoop Dreams director gives an insightful chronicle of the life of the legendary film critic, from humble beginnings and his fight with cancer through his relationships with his wife Chaz and partner Gene Siskel. A heartfelt and reverent homage to one of the great American men of letters.

1. The Lego Movie

It’s not hard to speculate why this masterpiece was snubbed. The Oscars are all about the craft of cinema and not the commercial aspects. The film proved that a 101 minute advertisement for toys, comics and video games can not only be fun and exciting, but also a carefully crafted work of high art. Set in the Lego world, it tells the story of Lego construction worker Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) as he teams up with the Lego likes of Batman, C-3PO, Han Solo and Gandalf to battle the menacing Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the 21 Jump Street series), this dazzling, subversive work of animation stands head over shoulders against Best Animated Feature nominees Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2. And who wouldn’t want to see Star Wars and DC Comics together in the same movie? I am happy to see Warner Bros.’ animation wing spring ferociously back to life. Without a doubt, one of the best movies of the new millennium. If only Sergei Eisenstein were alive to see it.

Honorable Mentions: Big Eyes, Cesar Chavez, Draft Day, Finding Vivian Maier, Gone Girl, The Imitation Game, Locke, Nightcrawler, Selma, X-Men: Days of Future Past

The 3 Worst Films of 2014

Bad movies seem to be everywhere these days. Quality, originality and innovation continue to be lacking, and as a result, Anno Domini 2014 proved to be another showcase of shitty films.

It’s no secret that the major studios aren’t making movies as great as they used to. But if you get off on terrible moviemaking, let me present the most gruesome of 2014.

(Note: I have not seen Saving Christmas with Kirk Cameron yet, because I had no means to see it. I’d much rather spend my time trying to watch good movies.)

3. I, Frankenstein

Bill Nighy’s status as one of the most distinguished actors in the world today has been thrown into question thanks to this POS. Aaron Eckhart stars as Frankenstein’s monster, who is still alive and living among us today. He has also allied with angels, who are protecting Earth from demons such as Nighy’s character. And then the angel and demons fight and stuff. The plot of this Underworld offshoot is as thin and fragile as a single strand of angel hair pasta, and the special effects are even worse. If this movie is any indication, Eckhart was seemingly displeased that Harvey Dent died in The Dark Knight and he felt entitled to play another character with a crazy scar for an entire movie. Selfish asshole.

2. Left Behind

Unfortunately “Duck Dynasty” exists. Why is there so much attention given to these redneck derelicts? What’s even more unfortunate is that “Dynasty” co-star Willie Robertson has decided to enter the movie business as a producer and star in order to poison the cinema. His first credit as executive producer is the fucking horrible Left Behind, the reboot to the fucking horrible 2000 original with Kirk Cameron. Starring the increasingly pathetic Nicolas Cage, the film takes place on his pilot character’s plane during the Rapture, a prophesied Biblical event where believers are instantly taken to Heaven before the Apocalypse. Also pathetic is the acting, most notably Lea Thompson and Cassi Thomson, as well as the special effects. The most unfortunate part of his movie is the film’s intended audience actually believe an event like the Rapture is imminent. Don’t encourage these freaks; avoid this movie all together.

1. Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?

Who cares at this point? As a fan of Ayn Rand, I am very disappointed in how the Atlas Shrugged trilogy played out. Part I was no masterpiece, but it thankfully helped thrust Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) into the spotlight as heroine railroad tycoon Dagny Taggart. That film failed; rejected by the very free market the novel championed. Against conventional wisdom, producer John Aglialoro recast all the characters and released Part II the following year to even less fanfare. Now we’ve got the third and thankfully final Who Is John Galt?, easily one of the worst films of the new millennium. Again completely recast with an even smaller budget than its predecessors, the film continues the story of Taggart and her fellow industrialists as they continue their strike against a tyrannical United States government. The rotten script, co-written by Aglialoro, takes the second half of Rand’s novel and distills it to whatever they could afford to shoot. It addition to being anti-climactic, it completely breaks the flow of the first two films, halting character and story arcs that have been developing over the series. Worse than the acting and chemistry of the leads are the cameos by Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, both of whom I’m sure Rand would have fucking hated. The cast and crew of this turd must atone for their sins.

Bad But GoodGod’s Not Dead

In terms of story, character and technical merits, this Christian drama from director Harold Cronk is bad by any standard of measure. It stars Shane Harper as a Christian freshman college student who must debate the existence of God with his atheist philosophy professor (Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo) after he refuses to deny his existence in class. Also some of his fellow students consider getting saved despite objections from their families. With paper-thin characters, a melodramatic flair and made-for-television aesthetics, this cinematic piece of Christian apologetics is amusing because of its unintentional camp and extreme earnestness. I couldn't help but root for the characters to be saved. Oh! And Willie Robertson has a cameo!