Loitering—January 12, 2007

By Echo Gonzalez

A bespectacled employee slouches behind a wooden counter amongst boxes of miscellaneous literature, a handmade mannequin, and a pot of brewing coffee.

Each wall is shelved nearly to the ceiling with used books, and the dry smell of old paper hangs in the still air.

At first glance, Myopic Books in Wicker Park may seem like one of Chicago’s many other tiny, hodgepodge bookstores. Further inspection, however, reveals that this is only the front room of a labyrinthine depository of what seems to be every genre of book imaginable, from Eastern Religion to Parapsychology to True Crime. Indeed, it is one of Chicago’s oldest and most expansive used bookshops, reminiscent of a more vast and homey Seminary Co-op.

The store carries over 80,000 editions, which are all subdivided into such oddly meticulous categories as Railroad History and Runes. Narrow hallways bring readers to the ceaselessly creaking staircase, which is embellished with framed etchings, eerie photographs, and dusty paintings. Here, one is led to the indoor balcony, where the fiction section begins and where I found a man with emo glasses and a poncho lecturing a bandana-sporting gentleman on the origins of the Russian Intelligentsia.

The second floor is laden with houseplants and places to sit down and read. Lots of table space makes this a great place to study, especially with coffee brewing downstairs for one dollar a cup (fifty cents more for a bottomless mug!) A large bay window—adorned with simple stained glass and oversized, crusty snowflakes—looks out onto the busiest and most youthful part of Milwaukee Avenue, making the space divinely peaceful, but not too noiseless. Down the hall, in the cooking and gardening section, are four tall windows overlooking an El track. A big, tacky couch faces them, soaking in sunbeams. It’s here that one is likely to discover a calico cat being lulled to sleep by the periodic, low rumble of the Red Line.

The basement level, home to Biography, Foreign Language, and Science Fiction, is also fun to explore, but it’s a little more dank and unwelcoming than the other levels.

The combination of winding bookshelves and lumpy, lopsided flooring make this a somewhat overwhelming environment. A long table is available for study to anyone who is willing to put up with the annoying hum of the space heater and the faint odor of a cat litter box.

Myopic Books also holds the title of Chicago’s longest-running experimental music venue, showcasing a variety of local and internationally renowned artists. Brian Diblee, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Aram Shelton, and Jason Roebke run the Myopic Music Series, which hosts a different experimental musician each Monday at 7:30 p.m.

Weekly poetry readings have been hosted here for 15 years and are held each Sunday at 7 p.m. If you are looking to sell some books, be sure to come on a Friday evening or a Saturday, the store’s allotted times for book-buying. (Check the store’s website for a list of unacceptable books.)

This bookstore is not only a good place to find inexpensive and interesting literature. Cheap coffee, late hours (they are open until 1 a.m. on Monday through Saturday and until 10 p.m. on Sunday), and eccentrically soothing intellectual surroundings make it an excellent study spot.

Myopic Books is a perfect urban haven for the studious lover of atmospheric creature comforts.

Myopic Books

1564 North Milwaukee Avenue

(773) 862-4882