Last week, Rose Joseph sent me an e-mail. I’ve known Rose for 25 years. Our boys, now our men, went to Pilgrim pre-school together way back when. Mostly, though, I know Rose as the co-owner (with Iris Yipp) of the Magic Tree Bookstore on Oak Park Avenue.

She sent me a quote from a newspaper in Turkey from a fellow who has concluded that the best way to know if the city you are visiting, or contemplating moving to, is “cool” is to look at its bookstores. He asks: Do those stores sell books in foreign languages? Do they have a range of stock from cookery to philosophy? Can you walk around the store with your cup of coffee?

“It is an ultimate plus for the intellectual outlook of the city. … Bookshops, with their design, their smell, their location and their staff, are among the important visitors’ attractions of a city, although not many people think about bookshops as ‘places to visit,'” he wrote.

The guy has nailed it. Oak Park gets judged and rated all the time. There was some magazine claiming, a couple weeks back, that Oak Park was a great place to find young, really rich singles. Even I, middle-aged, not rich, and not single in my memory, knew that was a crock. We’ve been labeled as a great place to raise kids, a great place to see Wright’s work, even as the sexiest ‘burb, which if true, says nothing good about the sexual vibe of American suburbia.

Now, Rose knows I’m a bookstore guy, having managed one, the now forgotten Cannon’s Book Store, in its death throes as a young man, and having started a used bookstore, The Booksmith, that lasted for decades over on Marion Street, though only under my family’s wing for its first few years.

So I’m predisposed toward bookstores. But is there actually a better indicator of a town’s vitality than its bookstores – if any? Oak Park currently has four bookstores and, regrettably for the past several years, no used bookstores. That we are supporting four stores, all of them fine stores in their own ways, is pretty wonderful. In a town where you can’t buy underwear, you can choose from many editions of Dickens.

Magic Tree is marking its 25th year. Think of that. In a world of Amazon and Wii and teens endless texting, this independent store focusing on selling books for kids from “Goodnight Moon” to “Harry Potter” is still there, still thriving, still recommending, still bringing in authors, still stocking book fairs in local schools.

Still being what an independent bookstore is meant to be.

When I wrote back to Rose, I mentioned that I’d become a fan of The Book Table on Lake Street in Downtown Oak Park. I had been in a reading rut for a couple of years, I’m sad to admit. Piles of half-read books on my nightstand, as I was consumed only by newspapers and magazines, the 2008 election, the state of my industry, and the cartoons in the New Yorker.

In this funk I had missed The Book Table. Then they moved to a much larger space, I read a review of a book I was curious about, I visited and, well, bibliophile kismet. Going back to our Turkish friend, The Book Table feels and smells like a bookstore. I am positive the owners and staff actually read books. And it has the magic of surprise. You wander in thinking you want To Kill a Mockingbird, and soon you have three other books under your arm.

So, Oak Parkers, you’ll have to find your own rich, sexy, single person. But if you want to judge this town by its bookstores, you are in a rich and wonderful place.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...