After a semi-long haitus, I have returned! I know that my updates are sporadic at best, but this latest hiatus wasn’t my fault – I was out of town for a week, and then when I got back my laptop decided that that was the ideal time to crap itself and die, so I haven’t been able to update this blog for a few weeks. But I’m back, and with a very exciting two-part Bookstore Haul!
I went to Chicago for a relative’s wedding recently, and while I was there, I had a few extra days to devote to sightseeing. Did I eat deep dish, take a selfie at the Bean, or climb the Sears Tower? No, dear readers – I went to bookstores. I mean, I did other stuff, too. But bookstores were the only thing I researched before leaving, so do with that what you will.
When compiling my list of bookstores to visit, I consulted several “best of” lists, and Centuries and Sleuths was the store that caught my eye, because it’s a bookstore that specializes in history books and detective novels. Attentive readers of this blog will know that those are basically my two favorite genres, so of course I had to make the trek.
And let me tell you, dear readers, it was a damn trek. Living in Atlanta, where it takes forty minutes to ride the East-West line from beginning to end, I thought it wasn’t a big deal that Centuries and Sleuths was located in Forest Park, a suburb of Chicago at the very last stop on the Blue Line. It took an hour and fifteen minutes to take the train from the middle of the Blue Line to the Forest Park stop, and then another ten minutes to walk to the bookstore. By the time I finally found the store (located in the downtown area of Forest Park, which as far as I could tell is a very lovely suburb with lots of antique stores and Irish pubs), I was tired and a little frustrated, so in fairness, the deck was stacked against Centuries and Sleuths from the beginning.
That being said, it was pretty disappointing. The store is just one medium-sized room, and only enough shelves to line the walls – the center of the room was left open with some couches and stuff, which I imagine are used for readings and events. The lack of shelf space meant that selection was pretty limited. Frankly, I’ve seen bigger history and mystery sections in bookstores not specifically devoted to those genres, so that was kind of a letdown. Also the store sold mainly new books, which meant nothing was cheap. There were some secondhand books available, but weirdly they were sold in threes, tied together with string (I noticed a secondhand Georgette Heyer mystery I would have liked to buy, but didn’t want to gamble with the other two books that came included with it). But I had spent over an hour getting to the store, so the last thing I wanted to do was turn around and leave. I ended up buying three books, from a combination of guilt (I was the only customer in the store) and stubbornness (I spent over an hour getting to that store and I was going to browse, dammit). Here’s what I got:
1. An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer
Whenever I’m browsing in the detective novels at a bookstore, there are two authors I always look for: Dorothy Sayers and Georgette Heyer. Centuries and Sleuths didn’t have any Sayers titles that I could find, and the only Heyer I could find (besides the secondhand one sandwiched between two other books) was this one. Not that I’m unhappy with it – Heyer is more well-known for her historical romances, and some additional research into this book (which centers around the battle of Waterloo) revealed that it’s considered so well-researched and accurate that it’s required reading at some military college whose name I forget. I’ve read three Heyer mysteries and find that her characters and dialogue delightful, so I’m looking forward to seeing how she applies those skills to romantic stories.
2. The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O’Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea by Barbara Sjoholm
It’s a book about lady pirates. I don’t know what other justification you want from me.
3. My Venice and Other Essays by Donna Leon
Donna Leon is not one of my favorite mystery writers – her books always tend to be bogged down by filler scenes and overly-long conversations, and the mysteries themselves are never as well-constructed or compelling as I want them to be. But what keeps me coming back to her books is the setting. Leon has lived in Venice for over twenty years, and the way she presents the city in her stories is wonderfully compelling. No matter what I think of her books, I can’t deny her love for Venice, and that love comes through clearly on every page. I’m looking forward to learning more about Donna Leon’s Venice, and sharing her fascination with the city. And as a bonus, this book was the reason I ended up having a short conversation with Augie, the nice man who owns Centuries and Sleuths and works the register (he confided to me that he can’t keep Georgette Heyer books in the store because his wife is a huge fan and always snatches them up before he can sell them). He met Donna Leon at a reading once, and is a huge fan – apparently she’s very nice, and while she was signing books she sent her husband out to get her some ice cream.
Stay tuned for the second installment of the Chicago Bookstore Haul, in which I visit a drastically different bookstore – twice (I have a problem).