When an eight million-volume library system won’t cut it

By Dani Brecher

To successfully live the “Life of the Mind,” a student must seek out sources of nutrition beyond ramen noodles and Red Bull. A steady diet of thoughtful conversation, contemplative silences, and, perhaps most crucially, teetering stacks of books is prescribed for the fledgling Maroon.

Luckily, Hyde Park houses a mind-boggling number of bookstores per capita, making it simple to come by your recommended daily serving of the printed word. However, if your bibliophilia remains unquenched by the South Side’s offerings, fear not: The Chicago landscape is lush with second-hand bookshops. Here’s your guide to the Windy City’s literary scene:

In Hyde Park:

University of Chicago Bookstore » A Barnes and Nobles in disguise, the “official” campus bookstore carries a very limited selection of reading material. Science and math students can’t really avoid the place, since the second floor stocks their course books. But for everyone else, except for the ritual purchase of the branded sweatshirt, you're better off at another Hyde Park establishment. Unless, of course, you desperately need a U of C rocking chair. 970 East 58th Street

Seminary Co-Op » Though not owned by the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), this underground labyrinth occupies the basement of the CTS and stocks all the required reading for courses in the humanities and most of the social sciences. You’ll find an excellent selection of scholarly books, but even if you only ever buy required reading here, the 10-percent discount you get for joining the Co-Op ($30 for a lifetime membership, cash or check only) will pay for itself in no time. 5757 South University Avenue

57th Street Books » The less intimidating sister to the Sem Co-Op, this charming shop is nestled in a shady corner of its eponymous street. The front table features new and local books, whose authors often drop in for a book signing. There’s an adorable children’s section in the back of the store, complete with colorful carpeting and tiny tables. 1301 East 57th Street

Powell’s » You can browse to the strains of NPR and Bob Dylan at Hyde Park’s most popular bookseller. Inventory tends to turn over quickly, so if you spot something amazing, it’s best not to wait to buy. Sometimes you can even find advance copies of recently published books. Check out the oft-overlooked basement, which houses a wide selection of fantasy and mystery novels, as well as a quirky and well-priced selection of overstock. 1501 East 57th Street

O’Gara and Wilson » Whether vintage Playboys or Depression-era agricultural pamphlets strike your fancy, there is likely some treasure hidden on the tall shelves of this antiquarian bookstore. A sculpture of Jerome, patron saint of books, watches over the appropriately dusty shop. Don’t be intimidated by the classiness of the place: There are bargains to be found, and the staff even puts a cart with $1 specials in front of the window. 1448 East 57th Street

Outside Hyde Park:

Selected Works Used Books & Sheet Music » A uniformed elevator man will take you to this cozy emporium on the second floor of the Fine Arts Building. The shelves may not be particularly organized, but digging through the out-of-print novels, unusual history books, and antique sheet music is part of the fun. A playful bookshop cat roams the store, adorably demanding the attention of every customer. 410 South Michigan Avenue

Myopic Books » The three-story shop is a Wicker Park institution, complete with disaffected hipsters behind the counter and a similarly aloof cat. The front of the store is dominated by a relatively large poetry section and an attention-grabbing occult shelf, but the real treasure is the vast and winding collection of (mostly) contemporary fiction. Be sure to tidy up after yourself, though: The staff mark up the price of every unshelved book by $1. 1564 North Milwaukee Avenue

Unabridged Books » Handwritten reviews on index cards direct customers to the books that employees at this Lakeview bookseller think are special. The giant travel section in the basement can inspire wanderlust among even the most committed homebodies. Unusual in that it sells both new and used books, the shop also provides benches so that you can comfortably peruse your selections before schlepping them back to Hyde Park. 3521 North Broadway Street