My partner in crime and fellow mystery writer Anna Adams and I sneaked away for an autumn “research trip” in downtown Chicago. We love kicking along fall foliage, which was still damp from the previous day’s storm, seeking inspiration for mystery and mayhem in the city. We also love not being at our day jobs. [*and if we ever make any money writing, we’re going to expense these trips]
Sadly, one of our favorite haunts, Selected Works, closed earlier this year. This iconic bookstore was tucked away in the Fine Arts Building (an amazing architectural wonder in its own right), its bookcases and floor space crammed full, and the scent of old books wafted through the air as soon as you stepped in. Used books and sheet music were the wares, but the main attraction was Hodge the Cat. Everyone understood that the primary purpose of the visit was to pay homage to Hodge. Purchases of books to ensure a continuing supply of cat kibble were, of course, highly encouraged. There’s even a book about Hodge!
Selected Works afforded space for a community of book aficionados, writerly types, and of course, cat lovers to congregate. We were sorry to hear of their closing. Keith, Hodge, and the books will be missed.
The high tech, interactive exhibits (which even we could operate) impart an abundance of knowledge about the significant work of American Writers, some famous, some less so. The Nation of Writers orientation video and Word Waterfall alone are worth the price of admission. And should one be inspired, the exhibit of vintage typewriters in pristine condition invite visitors to compose their own prose or poetry. The typewriters are primed each day with fresh paper and a writing prompt, provided by the staff.
Without doubt, the most charming exhibits are in the Children’s Room. (Trigger Warning – Dr. Seuss is prominently displayed – the curators apparently missed the memo that Dr. Seuss is sooooo tired and cliched). The most mesmerizing aspect of the room is not pictured on the website, so I’ve included it here. One entire wall features a hand painted mural depicting a huge tree with squirrels reading their favorite children’s books.
The book covers are highly detailed and immediately recognizable and there is so much individual personality in each squirrel. (Mama squirrel is reading The Cat in the Hat to baby squirrel in the middle of the tree, but it was too high for me to get a clear photo.)
Recalling the magical worlds these books created in childhood, both our own, and those of our children, we were transported back in time. An enjoyable book never loses its power to swallow up a reader. Having stuffed our minds at the mental table of bounty, we finished the day with a fabulous meal at Le Colonial and Champagne at Pops.
Life may not be perfect, but it certainly can be good.