Booksellers Rock! Jason Smith, The Book Table

Name: Jason Smith

Bookstore: The Book Table

Title: Co-owner

Brief Bio: Jason began selling books in 1991, moving from one Chicago independent bookstore to another. In 2003, he and his wife, Rachel Weaver, opened The Book Table in Downtown Oak Park, IL.

What books recently rocked my world: Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, Ted Heller’s Pocket Kings and Adam Levin’s Hot Pink. 

Best damn event(s) we’ve hosted: We had Chris Ware and Charles Burns together for an evening at Frank Lloyd Wright’s modern masterpiece, Unity Temple. Whenever you can bring two icons together for an evening with several hundred dedicated fans, you know you’re doing something right.

Most entertaining author(s) we’ve hosted: I once sold books at a benefit for The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights where the featured speaker was Luis Urrea. Like a lot of benefits, there were lots of other speakers and right before Urrea went on there was the cutest performance by the Pilsen/Little Village Children’s Choir. They could not have been more adorable and I’d never seen Urrea speak, so I was terrified that there was no way that he could possibly follow them. As he was being introduced, he walked by my table, looked at me and said, “All right, let’s sell some books.” Then he took the stage and just killed/maimed/destroyed. He did a talk that had people laughing so hard they were falling out of their chairs and then right after that he had people crying from heartbreaking stories.

Strangest question a customer has ever asked: Well, just a week ago a customer said, “I already have books on Norway, do you have any books on the country of Norwegian?”

Why our store kicks ass: Because every day our store shows that indies can indeed compete on price. Because when we opened our store a block and a half away from a chain store, everybody told us we were crazy, but we’re still here and they’re not. Because words like “community” and phrases like “a sense of place” may have turned into Madison Avenue buzz words, but we prove every day that they can indeed be real.

What makes our neighborhood and customers awesome: Take a very urban suburb, add the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway, drop in Frank Lloyd Wright’s first prairie style home and studio and add another 24 Wright homes for good measure, populate the Village with a (mostly) progressive citizenry known for promoting racial diversity in the 60’s and GLBQT issues for decades and you get a community that has embraced us since day one and uses our store to discuss and debate (often loudly and with wild gesticulations) literature, art, film and politics as much as my wife and I do.

I promise you won’t find this at any other store: We have a photograph of Henry Tabor that looks over our art section. Henry was a giant in the industry. He worked for Kroch’s and Brentano’s for 40 years and ran their art department at their flagship Downtown store until he was forced out in 1993 (one of the many disastrous moves in the chain’s final years that culminated in their bankruptcy in 1995). You can watch older Chicagoans do a double take all the time when they see the photograph and it often leads to the sharing of great stories about the history of bookselling in Chicago.

Why I do what I do: I don’t even understand the question. What else could I possibly be qualified to do?

If I weren’t selling books I’d be: Giving them away for free because the only two events that would end my career would be either winning the lottery or after the Revolution when the Council of People’s Commissars hopefully still lets me hang out around books.

Books that changed my life: Malcolm Bradbury’s My Strange Quest for Mensonge for showing me that sometimes fiction is the best medium for explaining complicated subjects and The Nijmegen Proof by S. Barkworth (a pseudonym for Arthur Freeman) which is the greatest bibliomystery ever written and showed me that just because I was a bookseller didn’t mean that I needed to give up a life of solving crime.

Top three authors, living or dead, I’d invite to my dinner party: Emma Goldman and Leon Trotsky with Ayn Rand in the middle to be used as a metaphorical (or literal) punching bag

 

Top three songs on the soundtrack to my life: “My Favorite Mutiny” by the Coup, “Old Chunk of Coal” by Billy Joel Shaver, but sung by Johnny Cash, and “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” by Phil Ochs

My last meal request: Whatever would be the most fun for medical students to find when they dissect my body.

 

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