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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Feature Wed Feb 21 2007

Bookstore Profile: Unabridged

I've always enjoyed being a woman of my own means. However, living on what means I have often involves adhering to some sort of budget and, as any booklover knows, bright shiny new books, in hardcover or even paperback, can easily put a crick in one's financial plans. The budget-conscious may then resort to traversing the aisles of local used bookstores – and goodness knows we Chicagoans have a great many of those to choose from – but the problem inherent to used books is there in the title: they're used. Yes, I am one of those readers who never breaks the spine, or dog-ears pages and nearly cries when she accidentally drips coffee on her morning read. This neurosis does not lend itself well to the pre-read book and though I'll admit that I've purchased a good number of my books used and in good condition, I'll also admit that I've often passed up books I've really wanted because they didn't pass my stern standards. It's a constant struggle between literary desire and affordability.

Imagine my joy when I discovered Unabridged Books. Nestled in the heart of Lakeview just north of Belmont, this independently owned bookstore of twenty-six years offers not only the most recently published titles, but also a hearty selection of discounted and remaindered books. While most bookstores only offer discounts on books they haven't been able sell, Unabridged often stocks their sale section with books that have been out for less than a year. Of course, like any store that sells discounted books, you can't rely on any particular title being on the shelves, but that just makes the joy of finding something you covet that much greater. I've found everything from Anthony Bourdain to Michael Chabon to Salman Rushdie to the most recent Harry Potter hardcover here. I've even seen Susanna Clarke's massive Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell on these shelves and nothing I've purchased has been over $10 – an amazing price even if you studiously wait until the titles you want are out in paperback. And because these are the remaindered books that didn't sell the first time around, they're beautifully new. It's an anal-retentive, budget-conscious, booklover's dream.

As wonderful as Unabridged's sale section is, I'd be remiss if I didn't commend the fully stocked shelves of the remainder of the store. A fully functioning bookstore, Unabridged offers a vast array of fiction and non-fiction, spanning everything from political memoirs to classic literature to the latest darlings of the bestseller lists. While the front section houses newly released hardcovers, a few steps into the store will bring you to interior design and art books. Turn a corner and you'll be met with mystery, fantasy and science fiction. Drama, literary criticism, reference, poetry, humor, graphic novels, history and current events are also housed here, along with a healthy selection of classic and contemporary fiction. The north side of the store is home to titles for children and young adults and, bridged by the sale section, Unabridged offers a unique specialty section of gay and lesbian books that includes everything from queer fiction and non-fiction to travel to coming out stories and more. Venture downstairs and you'll find cookbooks, gardening, Chicago books, general travel and calendars so numerous they're sure to have something for everyone's taste. Approaching Unabridged from the outside it's difficult to imagine such an abundance of titles fit inside the store's walls, but taking the time to discover each section makes each visit a fruitful one.

Of course, you could still go to your nearest Borders or Barnes & Noble if price is no issue and personality means nothing. It may be of no comfort to you to see the same faces of the small, full-time staff stocking shelves, ringing up purchases and offering their erudite opinions on subjects as diverse as Nelson Algren and Lemony Snicket. You may not care to read their in-depth personal book recommendations, spread throughout the store on handwritten cards, or have award winners and nominees brought to your attention in the same manner. You may want to just stop in, pick up what you've set out to buy, make your purchase and leave, as though you were sent out to the grocery store for dishwashing liquid. And you could do that here – Unabridged's staffers don't make a habit of accosting their customers and pushing them to make purchases they don't want – but you'd greatly miss out on everything this highly personable and knowledgeable bookstore has to offer. If, however, you do want to share your love of books, enjoy taking a few hours to peruse new titles and feel a sense of accomplish when you acquire an armful of books without lightening your wallet too much, Unabridged is like finding a second home.


Unabridged Bookstore is located at 3251 N. Broadway in Lakeview. To find out more about the store, their monthly book group and to sign up for their newsletter, visit the website at or call 773-883-9119.

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Taylor / February 21, 2007 9:40 AM

I love Unabridged and have been shopping there pretty much since I moved to Chicago three years ago. My only problem is that I've found they generally only stock one of a particular title at any given time for a number of books, so I've left empty handed a lot of times when I'm looking for something in particular. Obviously, they'd be more than happy to order it for me, but when I'm without something to read I need instant gratification. That sort of thing is expected with a small bookseller, however, so I don't really mind. I also love the little note cards placed around the store recommending things. :-)

Maire / February 21, 2007 2:59 PM

I can't say enough about the notecard recommendations--these are, hands down, some of the most unique recs out there. I've often been amazed at how much I've enjoyed some random title that I bought entirely because Ed had a notecard about them. Taylor's right, though, about occasionally running out of stock. I've found that if I only want to go in for a particular book (no browsing) I'll give them a call and ask. They are the nicest people on the phone (well, and in person too). One time someone accidentally told me that they were out of a book, but he called me back 10 minutes later to say that he had kept looking and had found a copy!

Mike Doyle / February 21, 2007 6:42 PM

I hate to say it because I love Unabridged, but their basement--which now is the best travel section in the city since Savvy Traveller lost its lease--often smells like sewage. Badly. Pungently. Poopily. Cat pee-ishly.


I've complained many times and the polite staffers always say they know. That it's simply "common sewer gases" that everyone gets in their lakefront basements and that there's nothing they can do about it.

I beg to differ. Here are a few suggestions:

--Improve the ventilation;
--Buy a fan;
--Clean your drains;
--Use some Glade.

There's really no excuse. Common or not, sewer gases aren't supposed to be allowed to build up in an enclosed space. For one thing, sewer gases stink. (Twice in the past two months the stench has driven me out of the store).

For another, they can explode. They're methane. As in "let's hook the flatulent cow up to a turbine and generate power" methane.

I can't be the only person to notice the problem there. I'm even more sure I'm not the only regular customer who's gotten the brush-off from the staff about it.

For me, at least, they brushed me right into Borders.

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