Bookstore Review: Bookends & Beginnings

Bookends and Beginnings interiorOn my mini-bookstore crawl in Evanston, I also came across a listing for Bookends & Beginnings, located in the legendary location of Bookman’s Alley. I became even more intrigued when I walked past a big B & N store and discovered they were located the next block north on Sherman — literally in an alley off the main street. As I approached, I found what looked like a very modest storefront and thought, this will be a quick visit.

Wrong. I walked in and discovered a store four or five times bigger than I expected, kind of like the stable in The Last Battle (or the TARDIS in Dr. Who) that was bigger on the inside than the outside. And even more surprising in the shadow of B & N, this store sells new books, ranging from serious literature and non-fiction to a section on the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field (hey, the Cubs are in the playoffs as I write!).

Book RecommendationOne of the most delightful things you won’t find in that big chain bookstore are handwritten reviews by bookstore staff underneath books throughout the store. For example under The Book of Strange New Beginnings by Michel Faber, I found:

“I usually don’t like futuristic novels, especially ones about a criminal who becomes a true believer. However this book was a wonderful engrossing read from first page to last.”

I don’t usually read YA fiction, but this succinct review intrigued me–not enough to buy the book–yet.

Children's BooksIn the back of the store, off to the left is a delightful children’s corner, complete with lots of stuffed animals and comfortable places to sit and look at books. Jeff Garrett, one of the partners in this enterprise considers this his pride and joy. The children’s section stocks books in 26 languages. In a former life, Jeff was a librarian, specializing in rare and specialized collections, 18th and 19th century German and Austrian library history, and global children’s literature. The store’s website says, ” He served twice (2004 and 2006) as president of the Hans Christian Andersen awards jury of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).”

Nina Barrett is owner and business manager for the store (and married to Jeff–no typo). Nina has published three books, acquired a professional chef’s degree, worked as a food reporter, and won two James Beard awards, a major award in the world of cooking and food. Needless to stay, the store also features a “rich selection of food-related books.”

A Bookselling TraditionI mentioned Bookman’s Alley. From 1980 to 2013, Roger Carlson was one of the premier booksellers in Evanston. When Nina and Jeff took over this site, they did not take over the books from the former store. My sense is that there is a rich history of bookselling in this location but Jeff and Nina have put their own distinct imprint on the bookseller’s trade.

The store is a beehive of literary and cultural activity. For example, today (October 13, 2015) there is a workshop on the art and craft of memoir with Dina Elenbogen, an Evanston History Walk, and a literary salon on “Ta-Nehisi Coates and the topic of race in “Post-Racial” America”. The store regularly features author readings. You can also sign up for a newsletter and emails to keep in touch with bookstore events, staff picks, and more.

This is a store for the whole family–children, teens, and adults of widely varied reading interests. The store also sells a distinct selection of cards, papers, notebooks, toys, jewelry and more. That big chain store down the street is cavernous, and just like the ones in my home town. Bookends & Beginnings was a far more intimate, personal space that continues a long history of bookselling in the heart of Evanston.

Contact info and hours:

1712 Sherman Avenue, Alley #1, Evanston, IL 60201, 224-999-7722,  INFO@BOOKENDSANDBEGINNINGS.COM

Tuesday through Saturday 10 – 7, Sunday and Monday 10 – 6

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