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There's More To Books Than Words

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

This weekend in Akron, Ohio, hundreds of people lined up to admire, touch and maybe even buy old books. They were gathered at an antiquarian book festival. Even in the age of the Kindle and the iPad, booksellers there are keeping the faith that traditional books will never go away if they're special, if they evoke memories and if they have that certain smell.

M.L. Schultze from member station WKSU was there. She sent us this postcard.

M.L. SCHULTZE: It's 10 minutes before the 29th Annual Northern Ohio Antiquarian Book Fair opens, and there's already a line down the hall at the John S. Knight Convention Center. Inside, some four dozen dealers are carefully setting up their displays of thousands of books. Some books are wrapped in plastic.

(Soundbite of plastic)

SCHULTZE: Others invite the browsers to flip through.

(Soundbite of paper flipping)

SCHULTZE: There are old cookbooks and first edition mysteries signed by the authors, arcane collections like Arkham House Publishers and really prime copies of juvenile books like Rafael Sabatini's "Captain Blood." The prices range from 10 bucks to as much as 3,000.

Char Douglas is at her stand, checking her smartphone for directions to a chicken restaurant for dinner.

Ms. CHAR DOUGLAS: We're not Luddites here...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOUGLAS: ...although we are dealing in a product that maybe many people feel is just so 20th century. But no, we sell online. I have a Droid here.

SCHULTZE: But she does not have a Kindle, and she does not intend to get one.

Ms. DOUGLAS: I like to touch books. There's just something about turning a page and holding it in your hand that's part of the visceral experience of reading. I'm just - and I'm contemporary. I mean, I like electronic gadgets, just not those electronic gadgets.

SCHULTZE: High school sophomore Amelia Brittain(ph) has been shopping at the book fair with her family for years. She says she's no technophobe, but there's nothing, nothing, like a book, better yet, a whole bunch of books.

Ms. AMELIA BRITTAIN: You walk into an old book shop and there's tons of books all over the place. And you can walk along and feel on the book shelves, like the spines and you just go down the row.

SCHULTZE: That emotion is even tied to smell. Becky Scott says everyone at the book fair knows that smell. She says it's the smell of a very comfortable memory.

Ms. BECKY SCOTT: The old paper has a rag content to it, so it just smells different than newspapers or books nowadays. You walk into a book shop, been there maybe for 40 years, and you say: Ah, the smell of the books. And maybe there's a little tobacco mixed in with it. I mean, it's just a nostalgic smell.

SCHULTZE: Reene Alley(ph) knows that smell, and the thrill of the hunt for one of the dozens of books she's looking for. I pull out my cell phone and show her my downloaded books. She's got me beat.

Ms. REENE ALLEY: I have some books that were printed in 1798. And the history of that book is in the book itself. So I know where it traveled, from Ireland to England to Cape Cod to Boston.

SCHULTZE: But the number of dealers at this fair is down. There used to be a dozen more. And like the big booksellers, like Borders and Joseph-Beth, many of the small dealers are struggling. Some blame it on the Kindle, but not Ken Hebenstreit(ph). Like the others, he loves a good book, and he doesn't even have a cell phone. But he sees a silver lining created by e-books for his rare first editions.

Mr. KEN HEBENSTREIT: If the printed stuff ever goes away, it'll just make them rarer.

SCHULTZE: So the dealers say the trick is have special books to sell, ones that have just the right smell.

For NPR News, I'm M.L. Schultze. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.