By Donald G. Evans
Lately, I’ve been writing a short story called, “The Year of the Fucking Silver Lining.” It’s based on…well, the kind of year I’m having. The kind of year most of us our having. For a while now, it seems like my days, sometimes whole weeks, are hijacked by the kind of unexpected disasters that must be dealt with NOW. Not after I finish what I had intended to do or what I had scheduled or what ten minutes ago seemed pressing. NOW. For example, my Aunt Pat had a heart attack. For another example, a water pipe burst in my basement. Example III: ten inches of sewer water flooded the storage space in which I kept my beloved Chicago book and memorabilia collection. Example IV: a family of (seven) raccoons dug through my roof and took up residence in my attic.
Each time, when the worst of it is over, I try to tell myself, “Well, sure, X was bad, but because of it I was finally able to do Y.”
The covid-19 health pandemic is, of course, top on the list of 2020’s Stop Everything moments.
Chicago’s exceptional independent bookstore community, like most retailers, suffered a big loss when forced to close up their shops. Many teeter on the brink of bankruptcy. As the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame’s executive director, I’ve done what I can to support movements aimed at helping these stores get through the crisis. As an organization, it’s clear to us the vital role independent bookstores play in the health and prosperity of our literary community, and equally clear that it’s our mission to do what we can to be a part of any solution.
I wanted to do something personally, as well.
I adore so many of these bookstores and over the years have become friends (or at the very least friendly) with a large number of them. I desperately want my post-covid world to include every one of these treasures.
There are many, many such bookstores on my list. I cannot possibly afford to help them all (getting rid of raccoon piss, it turns out, is a MAJOR expense) and it’s hard to choose where to start.
Here, using my Silver Lining approach to 2020, is what I decided:
I will choose a bookstore a month (or so) and splurge. I’m going to push all my discretionary monthly spending (and then some) into getting a whole lot more books than I need or can afford, thus improving a great bookstore’s sales and building/re-building my Chicago book library.
Already, I’ve made three such book buying binges, all of which I feel pretty good about. It’s exciting, and perhaps a bit self-serving, to frame an existing passion (buying books) as philanthropy (helping bookstores). It’s outright awesome, though, to rationalize a spending spree. Over the next few weeks I plan to detail, in this blog, my individual splurges. I’ll try to highlight some of the more worthwhile titles (though, honestly, I’ve barely started reading through these three piles) and give some insight into why these stores in particular mean a lot to me.
The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame’s blog also includes a lot of conversation about the Chicago book world, including one that features a fairly comprehensive database of Chicago’s independent bookstores. Others take notice of the activities in and around the stores during the current health crisis.