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Quimby's Bookstore

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

By Nate Martin

Quimby's Bookstore is a haven for the literate eclectic. Comic book enthusiasts and fiction aficionados feel equally at home among the scattered racks and tables stacked high with printed guides to everything from radical poetry to political philosophy, craftivism handbooks to macabre art. Though not short in any sense of gems straight from the professional printer, Quimby’s collection of handmade zines and chapbooks has made it an international destination for those who relish the underground network of DIY publishing. In the point-and-click era, Quimby’s remains a major hub for those who stay true to the write-print-fold-staple-send (as in, with a stamp) method.

Quimby’s opened in 1991 in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood with a mission statement penned by original owner Steven Svymbersky: “I really want to carry every cool, bizarre, strange, dope, queer, surreal, weird publication ever written and published … because I know you're out there and you just want something else, something other, something you never even knew could exist.”

Seventeen years later, Quimby’s is based around the corner from its original location and operates under the stewardship of Chicago Comics owner Eric Kirsammer. But even as Wicker Park has morphed from a sort of dingy bohemia into a host for chic boutiques and bank branches, Quimby’s has remained relatively unchanged. Chicagoans come to find the newest issues of their favorite independent publications, most of which Quimby’s sell on consignment, and visitors from around the world seek it out. (Quimby’s manager, Liz Mason, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, said the store is something of “a tourist destination for cool people.”)

Quimby’s fiction selection is relegated to only 12 shelves, but the denseness of its quality makes one wonder how the planks stay fastened to the walls. Five steps sideways can move your eyes over titles by Sam Lipsyte, Will Self, Dave Eggers, John Fante and Ed Park. Mason explained that the process of curating the fiction stacks is entirely up to the employees, whose sensibilities are largely in line with those of the clientele.

Besides its role as bookseller, Quimby’s also offers its space to an array of book-related events. Whether it’s Timothy Archibald presenting photographs and anecdotes from his book on homemade pleasure devices, Sex Machines, or members of the Temporary Services collective describing their tribulations dealing with penal authorities during the creation of Prisoners’ Inventions, each occasion offers its own delightful bafflement.

During a stop at Quimby’s on a recent reading tour for her novel, Vacation, Deb Olin Unferth told the audience, “When I lived in Chicago, I came to Quimby's all the time, and I thought it was the coolest place on earth. … I was definitely not cool enough to be in here. So when they invited me to give a reading, I was like, ‘Wow, I have reached the pinnacle. I am officially cool now.’ But when I showed up, I felt strongly that I still wasn't cool enough to be here.”

Don’t let the shop’s coolness dissuade you. Visit them at 1854 W. North Avenue in Chicago, or online at www.quimbys.com.

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