Uncharted Books Putting Reading On The Map

Luis Badillo, Writer

Photo by Luis Badillo

Uncharted Books offers Logan Square a chance to venture into unknown waters for new reading material, literary functions and community events. Uncharted Books opened on January 13th, 2012.  Not even a year since opening their doors, the store’s quirky yet warm atmosphere has generated a lot of buzz. So much buzz in fact, that in June the Chicago Reader named it the best new bookstore in Chicago.

Before starting Uncharted Books, owner Tanner McSwain was no stranger to the business of books. Previously, he worked for Agate Publishing in Evanston, IL.  Directly before opening Uncharted, he worked an office job at McGraw-Hill, who may have published any number of text books Northeastern students could have owned at some point. “Corporate wage-slave wasn’t really my cup of tea. I wasn’t working directly with books as much as I wanted to” he said.  “Owning a bookstore was this pie in the sky idea. I always thought it would be a cool idea.” With last year’s closing of Border’s Bookstores across the country, a significant barrier of entry was broken down. “Logan Square needed a bookstore [and] It looked like there was going to be a hole in the market again,” McSwain said.

To facilitate this dream, McSwain needed some extra income to open up his shop.  A friend of McSwain’s, Nick Disabato, suggested that he use Kickstarter to help with acquiring funds. Disabato is no stranger to starting a huge project with little money on hand. Kickstarter is a site for aspiring entrepreneurs to call upon the masses to help fund their endeavors and Disabato had already successfully gathered enough supporters through Kickstarter to fund a self-published book.

McSwain’s Kickstarter amassed amazing support. “Man, we got backers from all over the place,” McSwain said. His Kickstarter proposal got over 200 donators, not just from Chicago, but from across the country. The likes of author Neil Gaiman, actor Wil Wheaton, and rock group Superchunk all caught wind of the project and proceeded attract more supporters by promoting it on their Twitter pages. “It was a crazy huge success,” McSwain said, continuing on to say that the Kickstarter became fully funded at $10,000 in just six days, coincidentally on McSwain’s birthday. And with an ending fund accumulation of over $12,500 it proved to be a very happy birthday indeed.

So what makes Uncharted Books so unique? The store’s atmosphere is noticeable when stepping foot into the shop. The store’s mascot, an adorable one and a half year old white husky named Ramona has become a Logan Square icon with her own biography and pictures on the Uncharted website. Friendly and welcoming, Ramona has gained her own following. For many of the store’s patrons, just showing up to say hi to this adorable pooch is enough to warrant a visit.

The store has warm lighting and chairs strewn about that encourage customers to grab any book they like and read. The store is littered with all sorts of pop culture references. For Halloween, there is a creepy replica of a Weeping Angel statue from the Doctor Who TV series, and by the entrance is the decapitated effigy of a Game of Thrones character.

But the real draw is the personality-driven service and selection that Uncharted has to offer.

McSwain and the other employees of Uncharted personally screen the books they buy and sell, selecting only books they feel are good literature. McSwain has also made it a point to create what he calls an accessible and non-judgmental feel to the store, citing the tendency  of other independent bookstores to be “snobby” about their knowledge in books. “What we’ve set up here is for browsing and discovery.” McSwain and his crew are versed enough to help even the most discerning book lover find something to read and love.

The personality works in conjunction with the numerous events that the store holds, such as readings from local authors, comedy nights, and a weekly game night hosted by local game maker Max Tempkin. These events are sponsored by and all in service of creating a community that surrounds Uncharted books. “We wanted to build a community even before we launched” McSwain said. “[It’s] critical to what this bookstore is.” Uncharted books is located in Logan’s Square at 2630 N. Milwaukee Ave. Visit them online at http://www.unchartedbooks.com/ for a detailed schedule of events.