While Amazon.com continues to take over the book-buying world, those of you who relish in that je ne sais quoi of hanging out in bookstores—or simply hate waiting for that required reading assignment to arrive in the mail—fear not: Hyde Park has an eclectic selection of bookstores.
While the so-called "campus bookstore"—aka the U of C Barnes and Noble (970 East 58th Street, (773) 702-7712)—is certainly the most generic option for books on campus, it is by no means your only or even your best option. The campus Barnes and Noble is the most reliable place to buy textbooks, language books, and occasionally some other books for class; it also offers the non-academic fare that is standard of any Barnes and Noble. Further, in catering to University visitors, it houses more U of C paraphernalia than you would ever imagine existed. (Now there's an idea when you've got to get a quick gift for a family member.)
But then there's the real bookstore—the kind that you go to for that bookstore feeling, with mazes of shelves and friendly nooks and crannies. The best option for books on campus is the Seminary Co-op (5757 South University Avenue, (773) 752-4381, semcoop.com). The Co-op stocks virtually all of your books for social science and humanities classes.
It's called the "Co-op" for a reason: You can buy a stock in the store. Lifetime membership costs $30, and with the 10-percent discount on all purchases that you get with membership, you will easily make back the initial fee on purchases during college. You can even sell your membership back when you graduate. Right before classes start, the line will wrap around the Co-op's labyrinthine structure, so either get there as soon as you know your class schedule, or just get the books you know you definitely need for the first week of class and then go back and make returns or additional purchases as needed.
No one needs to buy Core books at full price. The University of Chicago Marketplace (marketplace.uchicago.edu) is a great option for intra-campus exchange of furniture, electronics, and most importantly, books. At the beginning of each quarter, students regularly sell their old Hum, Sosc, and Civ books on the site for significantly reduced prices, and buying textbooks on Marketplace can save you $50 or more. Just make sure when buying textbooks that you're buying the correct edition, since some classes require a more recent edition than what you can easily find online.
For books outside the academic sphere, there are plenty of options outside the campus bookstore. 57th Street Books (1301 East 57th Street, (773) 684-1300, semcoop.com) is another bookstore offering the benefits of a Sem Co-Op membership and specializes in more popular books. It's where professors' children and the kids who attend the University's Lab Schools go for SAT and children's books, and it also houses an excellent literary selection for college students.
Powell's Bookstore (1501 East 57th Street, (773) 955-7780, powellschicago.com ) is Hyde Park's primary used bookstore. While the selection is hit-or-miss, you can find some excellent books at exceptional prices. For a more general book-and-music megastore without a U of C connection, Borders (1539 East 53rd Street, (773) 752-8663) is the way to go.
Of course, the University library system is one of the best in the world and has millions of volumes available to be checked out. Unlike at most other universities, you can check out a book for an entire quarter; this will help you with research papers throughout your time at the U of C. Furthermore, most professors put course books on reserve, where you can borrow them for a set number of hours.
As you can see, bibliophiles rejoice in the options available at the U of C. And while Amazon.com is always lurking in the background, it's good for the community if you support the local bookstores, so the Sem Co-op and the like should be your first priority. You certainly are not short-stocked for options.