by Alex Barnes
A few blocks west of the LaSalle blue line stop, Chicago’s 33rd Printers Row Lit Fest lay tucked neatly in a four-block T, quietly bustling with tents, wide-eyed readers, and mazes of books. Folded between Haagen-Daz trucks and loud people slinging the Chicago Tribune, 20+ booths harbored stacks of book-filled boxes and ’All Items $5!’ signs.
As a cheap highschooler who dragged myself there after a 3 hour shift at work and who is usually exhausted by the high-energy atmosphere of festivals, I was not excited. On my train ride there, I had flashbacks of those grade school Scholastic book fairs that popped up in school cafeterias and libraries; glossy princess picture books and ’Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ style realistic fiction. I imagined those paperbacks that you can buy in Walgreens, bearing a shirtless man with hair longer than the horse’s he is riding, or a girl with her dress falling off, caught mid sigh.
But upon walking through the traffic barricade, I found the atmosphere to be calm and bright. At the very first tent (which I would usually advise not buying from at festivals until you have seen everything else), I bought a Sir Walter Scott book for $2.50 and a gorgeous animal illustrations book for $.75.
The prices were amazing, books being bought for as little as a quarter, and bargaining very possible. The quality was also very impressive, as I found few of the tears and water stains that I usually check for when buying used books. The vendors were all as quiet and uninterested in interaction as I was, if not more. This was one of the only street fairs I have ever been to where I wasn’t cornered or yelled at by sellers, making me happy to see that they were all very shy librarian types. Better yet, there was an abundance of hand bound books, many unique, which are many reader’s guilty pleasures. Not limited to books; paintings, drawings, records, and other odd items were also available, but everything held the same library charm.
Beyond the admission-free walking area, book talks and author signings were available for $5 or $35 tickets (the more expensive ticket allows seat choice). Of some of the most popular speakers were Karem Abdul-Jabbar, NBA top scorer and a NY Times best selling author; Luvvie Ajayi, author of NY Times bestseller “I’M JUDGING YOU”; Megan Abbott, award winning author and HBO writer; and Chicago local Quraysh Ali Lansana, a faculty member at SAIC.
Printers Row Lit Fest is an annual event in Chicago, which means it will be happening around the same time next year — and is highly recommended. If next June you find yourself stressed about finals, sick of the piles of last minute assignments, or bored and graduated, grab $10 and hop on the train. This festival is exactly the calm and summery atmosphere burnt out high schoolers need to relax.