There’s nothing like the smell of an independent bookstore or the thrill of finding your new favorite literary spot. Read up on these favorite booksellers around the Midwest, and one or two a bit closer to home, and start planning your next literary road trip. Your bookshelves will thank you.
Iowa City has long been a literary haven of the Midwest, thanks in large part to the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop of the nearby University of Iowa. Seventeen Pulitzer Prize winners and six US Poets Laureate have been graduates of the program, attracting international literary fame to Iowa City. This culture is best represented at Prairie Lights Bookstore, a massive four-story independent shop that has serviced the local literary community since 1978. Check out great recommendations from their resident book buyer at Paul’s Corner or take in an art exhibit at their on-site café.
Magers & Quinn Booksellers holds the title of the largest independent bookshop in the Twin Cities, a fact that’s hard to miss. They have called the current Uptown neighborhood location home since 1994, though the large and commanding building itself has been around since the 1920s. Expect to find thousands of new and used books in their selection, including fiction, non-fiction, and rare volumes. You can even sell them your used books and buy their in-house merchandise if you just can’t get enough.
In 1983, a gigantic warehouse that previously held a glove factory was transformed into John K. King Used & Rare Books, and it’s been delighting Detroit and the entire Midwest ever since. First established in 1965, this used and rare books business moved around Michigan a few times before settling in the famous building. King still owns and operates the shop, stocking more than one million books, nearly 100 different rare collections, and three storefronts around Detroit. His website is extremely simple and bare-bones, speaking to his book traditionalist character – firmly skeptical and resistant of the digital age.
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Common Good Books uses the tagline ‘Live Local, Read Large,’ which reveals something about their business. Though they’re less than a decade old in the bookshop world, they have managed to make a big impact. Hundreds of readers flocked to their tiny store, forcing them to open a larger space just six years after their establishment. Now it’s light, airy, full of windows, and a perfect spot to spend an afternoon. They also have a close-knit family feel – one felt right when you walk through the door. Check out the carefully curated list of their staff’s recommendations to feel like you, too, belong to the family.
You’ll find Boswell Books just off the coast of Lake Michigan, about 90 miles north of Chicago. The shop on the northeast side of Milwaukee is the only location and draws residents in from all across the city. They’re big on hosting events, some of which are free and others that require tickets. It’s mostly authors of recent releases that come to the store – almost every night of the week. And if you live in the area, you can even join their book clubs, which are always open to the public.
If you’re looking to stay a little closer to town and you’ve never been to Evanston’s Bookends & Beginnings, your afternoon is set. It’s quaint, with a stooped ceiling and an old-book smell, and has nothing on the stature of the other massive bookshops on this list. You’ll find it tucked away at the end of an alley off Sherman Avenue, and it’s every bit as a diamond in the rough as it seems. Their shelves, tables, and stacks of books are interspersed with handmade jewelry, clothing, notebooks, and other accessories for the average book lover. Come for one of their frequent community events or just to get lost in the atmosphere.