Wooden shelves are filled with books at the book fair.
The Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair held in the Michigan Union as a benefit for the William L. Clements Library Sunday afternoon. Arushi Sanghi/Daily. Buy this photo.

The Rogel Ballroom in the Michigan Union buzzed with chatter Sunday afternoon as students, booksellers and local bibliophiles scoured tables covered with hundreds of rare books for their own piece of literary history. This year’s event marked the 43rd annual Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair and attracted over two dozen booksellers from across the nation. 

The fair started in 1976 as a three-day event in the Michigan League. Almost every year since, readers and collectors across the city have come together on campus to shop the stacks of used books. Jay Platt, owner of the West Side Book Shop, organized this year’s book fair. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Platt said book collecting is an exciting hobby for literary enthusiasts. According to Platt, there is nothing quite like the thrill of finding one of the only copies in the world of a certain book.

“I think it’s important, in terms of books — and book collecting too — that people have to physically handle the books,” Platt said. “I’m a firm believer in open book shops, and that’s how a lot of people get started, and (they think) ‘Wow, I can buy books that are out of print. I can’t find them in a new bookstore.’ ”

Though it is often easier to quickly access books online, Platt said he sees a special value to holding a physical book in one’s hands and being able to feel the paper as the page is turned. The Antiquarian Book Fair aims to recognize the value of that experience, Platt explained.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind discovery, kind of discovering things that you didn’t know existed before,” Platt said. “We’re not dealing with digital avenues or virtual objects, we’re dealing with a real thing.”

Rackham student Eli Forrester said he isn’t a book collector but wandered into the fair curious to browse all of the rare books. He said attending the fair was a bit like perusing a museum, but one where he could physically interact with the display.

“(The fair) also sort of functions like a visit to a museum,” Forrester said. “We probably couldn’t afford to take home most of these, but it’s cool just to be able (to touch them). (In) most museums, there’s no-touch policy, obviously, but here you can pick up these old books and really look through them.”

At one table, a black sign with “Poetry” printed on it in large white letters hung in front of a plaid tablecloth. A variety of poetry books sat on book stands atop the table. Jett Whitehead ran the poetry table and explained to The Daily that the process of publishing poetry collections often means that those books are more likely to be rare because fewer copies are published.

“Poetry has a smaller audience, so all poetry is pretty much done in small press runs,” Whitehead said. “If you’re talking to a dealer who may be selling somebody’s novel, their first novel may have printed 10,000 or 20,000 copies. With poetry, maybe the first book would only have 100 copies because the publisher doesn’t know if it’s going to sell or not.”

At a table in front of the ballroom’s fireplace, with a display featuring a variety of sci-fi and fantasy books, Africa Schaumann, owner of the Dawn Treader Book Store, told The Daily about her process for selecting books to sell at the fair. She said she tailors the selection to book collectors, who are often some of the most passionate patrons at the fair.

“In a venue like this, sometimes you’re selling to the collectors that are looking for a special edition of a book that they may really love,” Schaumann said. “Or maybe you’re selling to other dealers who are looking to add books to their collection as well. And (the selection is) also a response to what I see people in Ann Arbor like.”

Forrester, who has previously attended the event, said he appreciated the geographical diversity of the 26 booksellers represented at the fair, several of whom were from out of state.

“A lot of cool dealers come out,” Forrester said. “One of the other things that’s neat is it’s not just the booksellers in Ann Arbor, but when I was here a couple of years ago, I met folks from all over the country. What appears to be kind of this humble book fair actually is this national bookseller convention in disguise.”

Shaumann also said the chance for booksellers and book enthusiasts to come together and talk about their love for literature is one of the best parts of the fair every year.

“I get to connect with other colleagues that are in this field,” Schaumann said. “It’s always nice because everybody knows something that I don’t know, and maybe I know something that they don’t know. You get this ‘meeting of minds’ and passions for books.”

Daily Staff Reporter Abigail VanderMolen can be reached at vabigail@umich.edu