As Bookie’s celebrates its 29th anniversary this month, it also celebrates its first in the new Western Avenue location.
The expansion that took place last July has made Bookie’s a destination bookstore that some have compared to the best on Chicago’s North Side.
“It’s still evolving,” owner Keith Lewis said. “I’m listening to the customers to hear what they’d like to see in their neighborhood bookstore, and I’m trying to implement as much as I can and win over the people who haven’t yet discovered what a bookstore, as well as other independent businesses, can do for a community. I’m still learning every day.”
Lewis is particularly proud of the Second Sunday Book Club, which has met at Open Outcry Brewing Co. for over a year. The book club has welcomed many special guests to its meetings.
The list includes mystery writers Lori Rader-Day and Clare O’Donohue, Irish historical fiction writer Roger Higgins, horror writer Jac Jemc, award-winning author Christine Sneed, as well as Skype sessions with authors from around the world: Hazel Gaynor (Ireland), Eleanor Brown (Colorado), Paul Kitcatt (England) and Melanie Joosten (Australia).
“I learned early on,” Lewis said, “that having a special guest adds a lot to the discussion.”
Lewis recounted the attempt of book club members to read a difficult classic in October of 2017.
“We read ‘The Man With the Golden Arm,’ by Nelson Algren. A lot of people in the group didn’t make it past 50 pages.”
However, Bill Savage, Northwestern professor and co-editor of the 50th-anniversary edition, attended the meeting. According to Lewis, Savage’s insights had such a profound effect on the group that most of the attendees went home and finished the book.
“I vowed never to pick a book for the club again unless we could get a guest,” said Lewis.
Bookie’s has welcomed many guests since it moved to Western Avenue. Three-time New York Times best-selling author Jonathan Eig came in for a signing and discussion of his latest book, a biography of Muhammad Ali.
One of the few remaining Tuskegee Airmen attended a signing of a new biography of his life, “Tuskegee Airman Jack Lyle: Captain of His Fate.”
Children’s book authors Jacob Grant, Kathleen Dragan and Tracy Watland have done readings. Local writers’ organization, FLOW (For Love of Writing), has hosted readings as well.
Lewis said two events stand out, however. In October, Pixar/Disney/Dreamworks artist Armand Baltazar came to Bookie’s in support of the first book in his new middle-grade series, “Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic.” Lewis said this book is his go-to recommendation for middle-schoolers looking for a high-interest read.
The other highlight was when dog-themed literacy organization, Sit Stay Read, brought dogs to the store to lounge around as children read them stories. One parent told the story of how her daughter, terrified of dogs, overcame her fear to read stories to one of the docile dogs.
“It felt wonderful to read that story,” said Lewis. “That’s what independent bookstores can do. They help provide experiences, give an important personal facet to the book buying process.
“We have employees who can recommend books based on your previous literary likes and dislikes. We can find books for struggling and reluctant readers. We can recommend gifts based on your loved ones’ interests.”
Lewis has owned Bookie’s for almost four years now, and he has big plans for the future.
“There are more events being planned all the time,” Lewis said.
Children’s author Jamie Swenson is coming to read her new book, “A Fall Ball for All,” on Sept. 8. There are authors lined up for the Second Sunday Book Club well into the next year.
Perhaps the biggest and most exciting change for Bookie’s is the expansion of the store to a second location in south suburban Homewood (2015 Ridge Rd.) planned for later this month.
Lewis said he loves to tell the story of how he came to be the neighborhood bookstore owner, which is quite a change from his previous life as a high school English teacher. However, he said the story of how the new Homewood location came about may even be better.
Stop by Bookie’s, 10324 S. Western Ave., and ask him about it. Then pick up a couple of new books.
For more information, call (773) 239-1110 or visit the website at bookieschicago.com.