The main floor of this River North bookstore is misleading. The space is cool and comfy, but the selection of new books, while smart and idiosyncratic, isn’t much to write home about. The basement is where the action is—and also where it isn’t, and therein lies its bliss. Quiet and stocked floor-to-dangerously-low-ceiling with a rich hodgepodge of possibilities, it’s a well-laid trap for bookworms with an afternoon to kill. History, literary criticism, fiction, and mysteries are particularly well represented, but nature and science make a good showing, as do politics and biographies.
While it doesn’t have the sheer labyrinthine mass of Powell’s or Myopic, what After-Words does have is fantastic pricing, a generous exchange rate, and location, location, location. But even if it wasn’t right next door to the Reader offices I’d still come downtown to get lost in the stacks on a regular basis. In a River North that’s become congested and overpriced and riddled with chain-store tedium, After-Words and its neighbor to the east, Jazz Record Mart, are about the last places left in this area to shop for the life of the mind on a human scale. 23 E. Illinois, 312-464-1110. —Monica Kendrick
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