#MyChicagoBookstore Adventures on Independent Bookstore Day — Part 1

#MyChicagoBookstore Adventures on Independent Bookstore Day — Part 1

By Elizabeth Harper

This is a three-part series. Each part will run on three consecutive days.

I got up early (for me) on Saturday April 28, took a shower, had a cup of coffee and my morning pills, which I always have to take with food, but I wasn’t hungry for a full breakfast yet, so I had a Snickers Mini. I responded to any Facebook messages and emails I thought couldn’t wait. Rather than take my chances with the busses that early, I took an Uber to Volumes Bookcafe to make it there in time for Storytime with Becky Cattie at 10 a.m. I wanted to get a signed copy of her children’s book I Am Famous to give as an end-of-the-school-year present to a young friend of mine. I want to encourage her to practice reading over the summer. On the way, I had a very engaging conversation with the Uber driver about literacy and attitudes about education in the United States compared to other countries. I learn so much from my conversations with Uber drivers.

I arrived in time, and thank goodness I was able to get coffee and a danish before the reading started. The owners of Volumes, Rebecca and Kimberly George were there. Rebecca was getting ready for the reading and giving out stickers to the many toddlers there. The kids also received star-worthy sunglasses and other fun things from the author Becky Cattie. The children were entranced as she read to them and showed them the  illustrations in the books.

After the reading, I waited, letting all the kids and parents talk to the author and get their books signed before me. Toddlers are great, but sometimes they’re hard to wrangle, even without making them wait. At last I got the book signed by the author, made out to my friend by name. Becky Cattie thanked me for my support. And I realize it does take a lot of support for a successful book launch. Authors visit bookstores, give readings, talk to potential readers and customers. The independent bookstores provide a place for that to happen.

I browsed a bit, and, of course, something caught my eye: a new translation/edition of a very old book (1896) that just came out this year (2018): Imaginary Lives by Marcel Schwob translated from the French by Chris Clarke. It is a book of ficto-biographies, apparently the result of imitation, imagination, amalgamation, and plagiarism. What grabbed my interest reading the inside of the book jacket were the authors he had influenced, including Paul Valery, Alfred Jarry, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Jorge Luis Borges, and been influenced by, including Edgar Allen Poe and Walt Whitman.


After I brought the book home, I had to read some of the author’s preface and the translator’s afterward to understand what exactly this book was, and I even sought out a review. I wondered if Schwob had been an influence on one my favorite authors, Kathy Acker, and thanks to the internet, I was able to find this about his niece Claude Cahun which mentions her as a precursor to Kathy Acker and Lynne Tillman, another favorite. So just from coming across this book by chance, I’ve learned about a writer that I didn’t know about, and now am very glad to know about, and that has led me to learn about other authors and ways of thinking about biography and literature.

I bought my books, after pulling out a random piece of paper with the amount of the discount I would get. I got my #MyChicagoBookstore passport and got that stamped. Of course I brought my own bags to wrap and carry my books in. I took a moment to get myself get organized and think about my plan of attack and then left Volumes to walk to my next destination.

I walked north to The Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Co whose mission is to support the non-profit 826CHI writing programs for Chicago students. I saw my friend Tyler who works there. They had books in their bargain bin for $8.26. They have many fun things there, gift-y, novelty things, but also some books by contemporary Chicago poets, plus books about Chicago and education and anthologies of writing by their students from their creative writing programs. I found a copy of Your Invitation To A Modest Breakfast by Hannah Gamble, which has been on my wish list for a while, so I grabbed that. I also found A Cure For Suicide by Jesse Ball, apparently a somewhat absurdist novel, which looked interesting to me, so I grabbed that. At checkout, I spun a reward wheel and received a strip of paper with writing by students on it as my prize. I got my passport stamped, packed up my purchases, and went out the door to continue my adventures on this brisk, but not unpleasant, sunny day.

I walked toward Quimby’s via Wood Street. When I got to North Avenue, Fed Ex was there, and I remembered that getting passport photos had been on my to-do list for a very long time. My passport expired years ago and I keep meaning to get one in case there’s a circumstance in which I need to show it at an airport. I was able to take care of that relatively quickly and painlessly. Things have changed since I last had it done. I had to tie back my already short (for me) hair, so that my ears would be clearly visible, and I was told not to smile. The pictures are not pretty, but at least that part of the errand is done. At some point, I have to fill out the paperwork and take it downtown.

I went on to Quimby’s. Seems like almost every time I go into Quimby’s I find something to buy. Even if I have to squat by the rack of poetry chapbooks, digging through looking for literary gems, I always find something. It’s always good to see Liz Mason, the manager at Quimby’s. She’s been there for years and is always so kind and helpful. I didn’t think they had sold any of my books, but I checked anyway since I was there, and it turned out they had sold quite a few (relatively), so that was good news. Quimby’s is a great place to sell your chapbooks and zines on a commission basis. Sure, they take their cut, but it’s a chance for someone to come across your book who wouldn’t have seen it otherwise.

While I was there, I picked up Liz Mason’s zine Awesome Things # 2 (and of course it is awesome) and the absolute best book about suicide I have ever come across: How Not to Kill Yourself: A Survival Guide for Imaginative Pessimists by Set Sytes and with introduction by Faith G. Harper put out by Microcosm Publishing. I asked Liz to recommend a place to eat, and I took her suggestion to try Dimo’s Pizza, which I had heard of but hadn’t been to before. I was very happy with the special, The Chicago Dog pizza.

After that, I walked to Milwaukee, thinking I could get the #56 Milwaukee bus to City Lit Books, but it wasn’t coming, so when I got to the intersection of Milwaukee, Western, and Armitage, the Western bus was coming, so I got on that one. (I suppose I could have gotten on the Blue Line or taken the North Avenue bus to Halsted or various other routes, but I didn’t.)

Hey, dear reader, be sure to come back to Literate Ape tomorrow for #MyChicagoBookstore Adventures on Independent Bookstore Day — Part 2

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