Why We Need Actual Bookstores.Posted: April 12, 2009
There are two kinds of unreal book store. One is Amazon, a fine virtual source, and the other is Borders, which is to books as spray cheese is to food.
The test of a real book store is, will you ever come across in it a book you never knew existed but now need to have? Amazon is great for books you already know exist. Borders is great for best-sellers. But in neither place are you likely to discover through pure accident a book that nobody is writing about, or to which your attention hasn’t already been drawn through other channels, and which you now must possess.
In Unabridged Books in Chicago — a great, real bookstore in the East Lakeview neighborhood — I found a new memoir by Tom Davis — of the erstwhile comedy team Franken and Davis — titled Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss: The Early Days of SNL from Someone Who Was There. I haven’t even opened the book and I know how much I love it. There is no way I would know about it if I hadn’t happened to wander into Unabridged, and if Unabridged weren’t run by smart people who think a little like me and know that somebody like me is going to walk in and need that book. I haven’t seen the book written about anywhere. (Some guy named Al Franken gets most of the press these days.)
While I always knew that Franken was responsible for much of the twisted brilliance the pair contributed to the first five years of Saturday Night Live (as performers and as writers), it was also quite clear at the time that Davis had a sick genius of his own. But unlike Franken, he never “took off” as a solo and I never knew what became of him after that. I’m about to find out.