Without debating whether it’s appropriate to say 2016 was a hard year, it’s undoubtedly been a pivotal year, especially for the Chicago lit scene.
The Chicago Review of Books, a literary review website that focused on small presses, launched in the late winter. The Chicago Writers’ Association announced that they’d be starting a literary tour of Chicago. Plans were revealed for the American Writers Museum to open in Chicago.
Two new bookstores opened, which is huge and propitious. Volumes Bookcafe opened in Wicker Park in March and Curbside Books & Records opened in the Loop in August. Bibliophiles city-wide rejoiced. But perhaps they celebrated too soon, because the success of independent bookstores is still uncertain as expressed by the director of the Seminary Co-op Bookstores Jeff Deutsch in a letter he sent to the store’s 53,000 owner-members this past summer. The Hyde Park bookstore is unarguably the most beloved bookseller in Chicago, but it’s very deep in the red. Deutsch explained to members that bookstores like the Seminary Co-op actively ignore best business practices and instead work to curate a selection of books to inform, educate, support and inspire regardless of their profitability by selling books that you didn’t know you needed, the books that will not bring in a profit. “Inefficiency has its place. In raising children, in most artistic endeavors, and in bookselling, a modicum of inefficiency is in order,” said Deutsch. “I am asking for your assistance as ambassadors, as advocates and as owners. What does this mean? It’s very simple: buy a book and convince others to do the same.”
As bookstores like the Seminary Co-op struggled this year, Amazon announced the imminent arrival of a brick and mortar shop on Southport Corridor. Booksellers, authors and book readers asked “what will this mean?”
Independent bookstores in the city wasted no time before forming the Chicagoland Independent Bookstore Alliance. Comprising 23 stores, the ChiBA will host literary events, support authors and work to create a safe and vibrant space for Chicago book lovers.
This year has been challenging for all those affected by the looming arrival of a bookstore that represents the biggest threat to local booksellers since the advent of Barnes & Noble. This pernicious corporate giant is greeted by a vibrant community of readers and writers. In the category of Chicago-centric nonfiction alone, it’s been a banner year with the publication of Natalie Y. Moore’s The South Side, the Defender by Ethan Michaeli, Mary Wizniewski’s Algren, Dave Hoekstra’s Disco Demolition, and Bill Savage’s annotated The Olde Time Saloon. At Third Coast Review, we’ve felt privileged to read and write about so many amazing books and literary events this year. Below I’ve listed some of our favorites in no particular order.