I don't know what your relationship to bookstores is, but mine is REAL REAL complex. I like that word: COMPLEX. It makes my unhealthy obsession sound like it might have taken an independent study in onomatopoeia or iambic pentameter. WELL, LOL YOU GUYS ... my bookstore feelings boast a PhD in crazy. When it comes to bookstores I am your wacky Aunt Wanda who still stalks Oprah every time she visits Chicago (even though everybody KNOWS Oprah is living in a tree swing with Gayle in California). I LOVE BOOKSTORES AND I DO NOT CARE WHO KNOWS.
Some of my first memories are of running wild in the small bookstore of my hometown. OMG. Remember when your tiny little town could maintain a bookstore? Remember way back when your small hometown bookstore wouldn't be referred to as INDEPENDENT? Yeah, girl, I am ONE HUNDRED YEARS YOUNG and I remember the real good old days way back before books were machines and a kindle involved an actual fire.
My hometown store was called Mad Cats. It was cute and huge (to my tiny little baby self) and full of every book you could ever imagine AND those weird Wizard of Oz figurines that are only found in tiny bookstores and theme parks. I remember crawling around the musty floors of that place with copies of my favorite children's books, and wondering through the shelves of mysterious adult titles. My mom and I would lose entire afternoons in that small town dreamland, a practice I continue.
These days I throw away hours at Women & Children First. There's something comforting to me about walking through the mountainous shelves of a bookstore in search of new reading material. No matter how often I go, no matter how many titles I'm reading at the same time ... I search for new books as if my little eyes and mind have been on a weeks-long fast.
I visit Women & Children First EACH AND EVERY WEEKEND. I'm not kidding. EVERY. WEEKEND. Rain, sleet, snow, or shine we are there. My husband and I have brunch and then we take a stroll down to WCF to see if there's something new. It's a ritual I love and could never do without. What if I find a new treasure I didn't hear about? How can I live without the latest Roxane Gay or Samantha Irby or some other amazing title. HOW COULD I FACE THE WORLD HOW COULD I GO ON?! (I clearly could not).
Do you get it yet? I LOVE BOOKSTORES, and it is with this determination and love that I recently visited the new Amazon Bookstore in the Southport Corridor. You know about Amazon's Bookstore, right? It's an actual physical storefront full of real life paper books that you have to purchase with your real life body by walking through their actual doors while holding out your American dollars with your hand like a human person NOT by clicking your mouse like the robot we've allowed you to become. The store opened in Chicago a couple weeks ago and it has all of Chicago in a tizzy.
It sounds terrifying. When you think Amazon, you think HUGE GIANT MEGA EVERYTHING. You think EVERYTHING I WANT RIGHT NOW. Well, that's not what they're offering. At least not yet. The books they have on hand appear to be a selection of what Amazon already knows is a hit. It's like visiting a well lit version of the best seller portion of their website. In fact, as I walked around the store I was overcome with the feeling that I was walking around inside an actual website. Four star this five star that. It was shopping from a pre-assigned list. Beyond the pretty polished concrete floors and back lit copies of whatever you're supposed to read according to their algorithms ... there wasn't much to get excited about.
This isn't a place you pop over to because RuPaul just told us one of his favorite books. They aren't going to have that play you didn't read in college that you suddenly feel compelled to pick up, in fact ... those bitches don't even have a theatre section. BECAUSE I HAVE AN MFA IN THEATRE, DUDE AND I LOOK FOR THAT SHIT FIRST. They want you to have what is popular, not whatever your offbeat, weird ass reading taste has you craving at the moment. Don't go looking for that special edition of The Glass Menagerie, go for your copy of The Underground Railroad (WHY HAVEN'T YOU ALREADY READ THIS IT IS EXCELLENT).
I should have known I was in for a real dud of an experience when I passed a white dude wearing a t-shirt that said, "I AM QUINOA FUELED," as I walked in the front door of the place. We get it dude. You eat clean. Nobody wants to know that other than your boyfriend (Hiiiii ... that's a joke for bottoms).
I visited the store not because I wanted to hate it. I actually wanted to love it, to be blown away and mesmerized. I wanted to report back to you and encourage you to write a condolence note to your favorite bookstores. Friends. I can't. The only thing I got excited about was a copy of Alexander McQueen's Savage Beauty. The giant and gorgeous book was out of the plastic rapping and right there on a table the minute I walked in the door. They clearly saw my gay ass coming.
Their cookbook selection was pretty rad, but I'm like 99% sure that's just because the shelves have fancy lighting and I'm dumb and like shiny stuff. I will say that the one super cool feature is you can get your Amazon Prime discount at the register. BUT. Who even cares. I'm not gonna haul my ass over to Southport for that.
So yeah, you might save a couple dollars, but you cannot shop at this Amazon MEH-gaplex. If you have learned nothing from the current state of the world, then please walk away from this article knowing that dollars have power and where you spend them is your vote. If you take a couple extra minutes and sure maybe a couple extra dollars and go somewhere fabulous like Women & Children First you'll have more shopping options AND ALSO do a bit of good.
Amazon's bookstore does not have personality. Amazon's bookstore doesn't have a performance space or host events with your favorite authors, or book clubs or any number of other activities. Amazon's book store does not have a storied history of fighting for ... anyone. They only want your money, they won't support your community and when gentrification moves everyone further north ... they'll move right along with them leaving you in their dust.