Bookseller Christopher Rohe, who "quietly shaped Chicago's famously robust literary scene, largely behind the scenes, tracking down, curating and selling the words and ideas and stories that would fill the bookshelves and minds of generations of readers," died May 17, the Chicago Tribune reported. He was 61.
While still in his teens, Rohe joined Paul Rohe & Sons, Booksellers, the family's used and antiquarian book business. After the storefront closed in 1997, Rohe transitioned to selling books online, making it possible for him to, in his words, "keep putting good books into people's hands." He served on the Board of Directors of the Midwest Antiquarian Booksellers Association for more than 30 years, and also managed the group's annual Chicago Book Fair at Plumbers Union Hall.
"You've heard of the book, A Gentle Madness?" said Jeannie Hoff, who married Rohe in 2010. "It was more than gentle. It was a deep, deep passion. Getting good books in people's hands who could appreciate them, but also the thrill of the hunt--to find the rare book, the amazing book. Sometimes books would come back around that he sold in his store. He'd go to an estate sale and see his price markings in them. The idea of this worldwide circulation of an object--it was fascinating for him. Not for everybody, but definitely for him."
Hoff also recalled that Rohe first saw her at the Seminary Co-op bookstore: "We met at a bookstore. Of course we did, right?"
"It's a lot of knowledge lost," Ric Addy, Rohe's longtime friend and the former owner of Shake Rattle and Read, told the Tribune, adding that Rohe taught him everything he knew about selecting and selling books and magazines. "I really didn't know what I was doing at first. If you brought a record to me, I could tell you about it right away. Chris was that way about books."
Shortly after Rohe died, Hoff asked his siblings and a friend of hers to help write an obituary. "One of my friends called him, 'A quiet man with a wry sense of humor who was intellectual without pretension,' " she recalled. "I thought that was right on. He was quiet. He grew up in a house full of intellectuals. But he was also kind of punk. He didn't follow directions and he didn't do what he was told by anybody. And I loved that."
Noting that Rohe "died too young and too quickly," the Tribune wrote: "But his sharp, curious mind and his generosity of spirit will live on, in the quiet, countless ways he fed Chicago's boundless, hopeful appetite for books and all that they teach us, about ourselves and one another."