To paraphrase Mark Twain, the report that “print is dead” has been greatly exaggerated.
According to Nielsen BookScan, 2015 saw a 2 percent increase in printed book sales over the previous year, a statistic that suits antiquarian and collectible bookseller Michael Utt just fine.
“There has yet to be an author-signed Kindle book,” Utt says. “The [physical] book can also be a piece of art with fine bindings, beautiful plates, maps and illustrations.”
Operating out of Fort Worth since 1995, Utt sells his wares online and at book fairs throughout the country, including this weekend’s North Texas Book and Map Show, a long-running event that will take place at the Arlington Convention Center for the first time.
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There has yet to be an author-signed Kindle book.
“This is one of the best book fairs in the state,” Utt says. “Vendors vary from booksellers to authors to publishers to others in the book business. Some of the participants are full-time, some are part-time and some are hobbyists.
“The exhibitors are from throughout the United States and beyond,” he says. “This year we have a vendor from Madrid, Spain, a map seller from Cheyenne, Wyo., and a book and map seller from Maine.”
Utt says the material exhibited will vary greatly — from inexpensive to rare and valuable, from recent to vintage, from bestsellers to literary classics — and everything in between.
“There will be items published as early as the 1500s,” he says. “There will be signed copies of works by the likes of Langston Hughes, Nelson Algren and James Jones. There will be first editions of such authors as Mark Twain, Jack London, Jules Verne and Herman Melville.
“There will be exhibitors who specialize in Texana, cookery, modern first editions, exploration and travel, native cultures, fine press books, poetry and so much more.”
Customers also can shop for budget-priced children’s books, along with more desirable first editions by L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll and J.K. Rowling, among others.
“With J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, young people have entered collector status,” Utt says. “And now their children are reading and being read those works, which has increased the readership of books and hence collectors.”
As its name implies, the North Texas Book and Map Show will offer more than just books for sale.
“Dealers these days handle all kinds of related material, from ephemera including posters and postcards, menus, broadsides, maps, pamphlets, handbills and the like, to manuscript material such as letters, diaries, journals and logs,” Utt says.
“Many of these items are difficult if not impossible to find via an internet search. You’ve got to go to where the material is to even know what the possibilities are.”
Utt advises first-timers not to feel intimidated by the “aisles lined with glowing glass cases, the serious-looking booksellers in suits or high heels and the sense of money in the air.”
He says most book dealers won’t pressure browsers into buying something.
“They tend not to be into hard selling,” he says. “They’re not in the used-car business, and they don’t have quotas to fill. They tend to wait for a customer to approach them, rather than hovering.
“This can sometimes make them seem standoffish. I assure you; that is very rarely the case.”
Utt advises attendees not to be shy about perusing the printed material.
“You’re allowed to step into the vendor booths,” he says. “You’re there to look at books up close and personal, not to admire them from afar. If a book is behind glass, chances are it’s still OK for you to handle it. But it’s definitely considered polite to ask first before simply reaching into the case.”
While browsing the stacks, attendees will likely meet likeminded readers and collectors.
“Book fairs are filled not just with fascinating books but also fascinating people — people who love books just as much as you do and are always happy to talk about them,” Utt says.
The show has partnered with the Virginia Garrett Lectures, which are being held at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“The Virginia Garrett Lectures is a biannual lecture series that focuses on maps, cartography and cartographers,” says Alexandria Reyes, one of the show organizers. “... Attendees of the lectures will be granted free admission to our show. We will be showcasing items that highlight the theme of the lectures.”
The North Texas Book and Map Show
- Arlington Convention Center, 1200 Ballpark Way
- $8, 12 and younger free; parking $5