Book Expo America 2k16: The Quirk Books Guide to Chicago

Posted by Blair Thornburgh

Last year, I took it upon myself to hastily pull together carefully write the least most useful guide to Book Expo America—the publishing industry’s biggest North American trade show—ever. And I figured that, having gamely completed that arduous act of public service, I could rest on my laurels a bit and watch from my chaise longue as generations of writers, editors, publicists, marketing teams, sales managers, book buyers, librarians, and bloggers harvested the benefits of my BEA knowledge, sealed forever and for all time.

But then it happened.

A cataclysm was unleashed. Reality itself was RENT IN TWAIN. Because—and there is really no way we could have anticipated this—it turns out that there is MORE THAN ONE major city in the United States. I know, I’m shocked too!

Yes, this year’s Book Expo America will be held in Chicago—a plucky, big-hearted metropolis in the “Midwest” portion of the country. But NEVER FEAR. I am here to provide a guide to Chicago so thorough that you’ll swear I speed-read the Wikipedia article just prior to writing this post!*

*Which I did, but I also lived there for four years, okay?

Chicago! Chicity! The Windy City! The Second City! The City with Broad Shoulders! The Big Onion!*

(image via flickr)

Whatever you choose to call The Cupcake by the Lake**, you’ll find that it’s a book-lover’s paradise. Whether you’re struggling to find the pedestrian entrance to McCormick Place or getting lost in the bi-level streets of the famous “Loop,” Chicago will draw you in and make you never want or be able to leave.

*seriously, the name “Chicago” comes from the Miami-Illinois word skikaakwa, meaning “wild onion” or “wild garlic”
**Which is something no one calls Chicago

For those attending BEA, here’s a quick and dirty guide to the city, as well as some top tips on hot spots in the City in a Garden.

Time Zones
Chicago is in the part of the country governed by what I think is called “Midwest Time,” which is Eastern Standard Time minus an hour, plus lots of “you betchas” and hotdish. This means that if you are coming in from the East Coast, you have a great excuse to be exactly one hour early to everything. (For added lols, complain INSISTENTLY about the fierceness of your jetlag. People will love it!) If you are coming from New York specifically, please note that, because of differences in the relative gravitational fields, a “New York minute” can last as long as 75 seconds in Chicago.

There are two of them: Midway and O’Hare, and if you show up at the wrong one for your departing flight, there is no monorail/pneumatic tube system to quickly whisk you to your proper airport. Use this handy mnemonic to avoid confusion: Midway is WAY down from the MIDDLE of the city, and O’Hare was named in honor of naval aviator Edward O’Hare. You’ll never mix ‘em up again!

City Map

(Best guess, this is like…45% right. I was working from memory.)

McCormick Place
Named for its patron, the famed spice and seasoning tycoon Septimus "Timmy" McCormick, this majestic convention center is the largest in America and the stompin' grounds of this year's Book Expo. Although originally built to house gladiatoral combat, the complex was quickly repurposed after the invention of baseball caused a marked downturn in public appetite for bloodsport. Today, Wikipedia tells me, McCormick Place consists of four interconnected buildings, so good luck finding the one hall with the book signing you're after, sucker! Sound confusing? Let me make it easy with a vague and inapt sports analogy: McCormick Place is to the Javits Center as the Chicago Cubs are to the New York Yankees. Got it now?

Those Weird Tower Things in Chicago You’ve Probably Seen a Bunch of Places? Are in Chicago.

They’re technically called Marina City, but informally known as “the Wilco Towers,” “the background from that one shot in The Dark Knight,” or “how did Nickelback shoot a music video here.”

Home of President Obama
When he’s not living at the White House, I mean. If you go to Valoi’s diner on 53rd, they have a really good presidential special.

There Are Bookstores

(image via flickr)

Seriously, Chicago is JAM-PACKED with ‘em. Check out The Book Cellar, Anderson’s Bookshops, Women & Children First, 57th St. Books, Uncharted Books, Myopic Books, Unabridged Bookstore, Quimby’s, and…well, there’s a lot. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


If you hear someone say…  …it means
Pop Soda, or possibly father
Willis Tower Sears Tower, but in a disrespectful way
LSD Lake Shore Drive, usually. You might have to get this one from context.
The Bean This big shiny sculpture thing, which is actually called "The New Millennium" or something. (By law, you are required to take a selfie in front of it or else authorities will not stamp your passport)
“Daaaaaa bears!” I am a tourist who used to watch and enjoy a program known as Saturday Night Live!, I wonder what has become of it


Blair Thornburgh

Blair Thornburgh

BLAIR THORNBURGH is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she earned a B.A. in medieval studies and delivered a pretty good commencement speech. She lives in Philadelphia.