The great Twin Cities bookstore bike tour

A bike tour of Twin Cities bookstores
A bike tour of Twin Cities bookstores
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Saturday was Indie Bookstore Day — a celebration of the brick-and-mortar stores that have weathered the rise of online shopping and are still going strong.

Shops typically mark the occasion, now in its third year, with author readings, book sales and other literary shenanigans (last year, a poet typed away in Magers & Quinn's window display; this year, pop-up Shakespeare performances went on throughout the store).

This year, 10 stores banded together for the Twin Cities Independent Bookstore Passport project, challenging people to visit all 10 and get their passports stamped.

A bookstore challenge? This is like my Olympics.

On Saturday, I put some air in my tires and mapped out my route. I'd planned to travel by bike for two reasons. One, I have no car — that makes the decision easy. And two, being limited to just a backpack really reined in the number of books I could pick up.

My current to-be-read pile is already tall enough to issue avalanche warnings, so on my Saturday route, not only did I have to want each book, I had to want to carry it with me for 30 miles. I now understand why people ditched their china hutches halfway along the Oregon Trail.

My first stop was SubText in downtown St. Paul. The strategy was simple: Hit the farthest store first and work my way back. SubText had people waiting outside before it even opened at 9 a.m.

(I was not there at 9 a.m. Best intentions aside, I rolled in around 10:30 after getting sidetracked at a garage sale by a matching pair of life-size monkey statues that I really wanted, but, alas, would not fit on my bike.)

That led to purchase No. 1 of the day: "Mislaid" by Nell Zink. I've been meaning to get on the Zink train for a while. She has one of the wildest publishing stories in recent years: She partially owes her success to some snarky, bird-related emails she sent to Jonathan Franzen.

Then it was back along Summit Avenue to hit Common Good Books and the Red Balloon Bookshop. That was the plan, anyway, but I couldn't not stop at Sixth Chamber Used Books, even though wasn't on the passport tour.

At Sixth Chamber, I picked up Lorrie Moore's short story collection, "Birds of America," for less than the late fines I paid the last time I checked it out of the library. A steal.

At Common Good, people were on the hunt for the elusive Neil Gaiman coloring book — a limited-edition item available only on Indie Bookstore Day. They were sold out. Hearts were broken.

At Red Balloon, a children's bookstore that also has a well-curated section for adults, I picked up "Oh No, George!" — a charming book my nephew will drool all over. (Literal drool. He's a year old.)

With my St. Paul sweep complete, I pedaled over to Daybreak Press Global Bookshop, which sits right on the light rail line on the University of Minnesota campus. I'd never been there before, and browsed their collection, which is focused on activism and underrepresented voices in literature.

Then it was back across the Mississippi for another six shops. I added a few extra miles to my route with a wrong turn on the Cedar Lake Trail, but let's just call it a scenic detour. (All the best scenic detours happen while biking against 20-mph winds.)

At Birchbark Books, located just a few blocks from Lake of the Isles, I walked in to hear National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich explaining to a small crowd why she first opened the store in 2001. She'd wanted a small space, she said, that could build community and offer space for Native voices. As she talked, former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak was browsing the shelves.

At Birchbark, I bought Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Buried Giant." The staff recommendation tag was written by Erdrich herself, who said she loved the book, but people kept buying it before she could finish reading it. Sorry, Louise.

From there, I biked around Lake of the Isles to Magers & Quinn, a store that I have never walked out of without at least two books. That day, though, with limited backpack space, I managed the feat: I picked up only Rajesh Parameswaran's "I Am An Executioner: Love Stories." The cheery title got me.

Next, a quick hop around Lake Calhoun and south to Wild Rumpus, which was like the bookstore equivalent of a Chuck E. Cheese — and I mean that in absolutely the best way possible. There were children everywhere, laughing and reading books to each other and looking under tables for the store's resident cats and chickens, which I think I had gone into hiding with all the ruckus.

I picked out "Grumpy Pants," about a particularly grumpy penguin, for my niece, who has a thing for penguins — and for being grumpy.

Outside, the sky had turned gray and was threatening rain, even though my phone kept promising it wouldn't. My weather app showed only those ominous curly lines — wind gusts that make you feel like you're biking in place.

Along Lake Harriet and then farther south was the Paperback Exchange. It's a hole-in-the-wall store packed floor-to-ceiling with enough books to remind that even if you lived to 110, you would never put a dent in the vast number of books in the world.

After that, it was off along the Minnehaha Parkway trail for the final stretch. I biked to DreamHaven, a combination bookstore/comic shop in the Standish neighborhood. I picked up a book on the real world of taxidermy: "The Authentic Animal." (To be clear, it is not a how-to guide.)

My final stop, Moon Palace Books, is painted so bright it's impossible to miss. They were handing out sloth stickers (the sloth is their mascot) to people who rode their bikes to the shop. I was moving at about sloth pace at this point, so it felt appropriate.

There, I picked up "Mermaids in Paradise" by Lydia Millet, against my backpack's better judgment.

On the way home, after roughly eight hours, 11 stores and 37 miles, all I could think about was the stores I didn't get to. Yes, I filled out my official Bookstore Passport. But I hadn't been to Once Upon a Crime or Boneshaker Books or The Book House or Eat My Words or Addendum or Uncle Hugo's and Uncle Edgar's...

Next year, I guess. With a bigger backpack.

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