The way we read may have changed dramatically since Gutenberg, but not everyone thinks e-books will make print go the way of stone tablets.
“The escalator hasn’t gotten rid of the stairs,” said Jeff Morris, who owns Wilson’s Book World, a used bookstore at 2394 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N.
Morris is among nearly 100 book dealers hauling countless volumes into the Coliseum this morning for this weekend’s 32nd annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. The three-day event, which runs through Sunday, will showcase an array of tomes from first-edition cookbooks to maps from 17th-century Europe. This year’s theme is “mysterious Florida” and celebrates the work of authors such as Carl Hiaasen and Randy Wayne White.
Wilson’s specialty is something called incunabula, meaning any book printed before 1501.
“From Gutenberg in 1450 to 1500,” he said.
That genre is not as obscure as you might think. A recent episode of “Pawn Stars”
“Someone had done modern illumination on it, which for all intents and purposes ruined the book,” he said. “As a purist, I’m going, ‘No!’
The book fair also will include a range of more accessible – though no less-interesting reading material.
Owen Kubik is a Dayton, Ohio-based book dealer and specializes in military books as well as fantasy and science fiction. With the new “Wizard of Oz”
“That ink doesn’t usually stay shiny over the years,” he said.
The Coliseum is the fourth venue to host the book fair. Organizer Mike Slicker, owner of Lighthouse Books on First Avenue North, said the event started out in one of the ballrooms at the University of Tampa’s Plant Hall.
After outgrowing that venue, the show skipped across the bay to the downtown St. Petersburg Hilton and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus. It moved to The Coliseum 15 years ago.
Slicker is expecting as many as 5,000 people this year, making the book fair the biggest event of its kind south of New York and east of the Mississippi River. He attributes the event’s popularity and the appeal of printed books over digital to the personal connection that can be gained from thumbing through a physical book.
“You can look at a lot of stuff online,” he said.
As he spoke, Wilson turned the pages of a large world atlas, printed in Italy in 1699, that showed the Gulf of California running all the way up to the Canadian border and Atlantis, not Australia, flanking the South Pacific. Its pages are made from shredded old rags and its cover was velin, a type of treated cowhide.
“On the other hand, when you touch these pages, it’s a completely different experience. It gives you a sense of time and what was going on in that period.”
Slicker’s daughter, Sarah Smith, manages the book fair.
She said each of the thousands of books brought into The Coliseum has a meaning beyond the words printed on their pages. “These books really represent the shared knowledge of our culture,” she said
Not far from The Coliseum is Haslam’s, a storied bookseller that famed novelist Jack Kerouac is said to have frequented while he was in St. Petersburg, where he died in 1969.
While its shelves don’t sport Civil War Era manuscripts or religious musings from the Renaissance, its countless rows of books appear to serve as a monument to St. Petersburg’s continuing romance with the printed word, at a time when chain bookstores are receding from the cultural landscape.
“Reading online or looking at a phone hurts my eyes after a while,” said Katherine Chioma-Vigrass, 18, who was holding “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles” by author Haruki Murakami. “Plus, I think it’s nice to have a book. I’ve always felt comforted by having lots and lots of books.”
The Florida Antiquarian Book Fair runs from 5 to 9 p.m. today, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at The Coliseum, 535 Fourth Ave. N.
The event will feature live music today; Saturday’s schedule includes lectures, and Sunday will have live appraisers on hand. Admission is $10 and covers all three days.