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Literary St. Petersburg: Lighthouse Books

Walk through the white picket fence, and enter the modest blue bungalow that houses Lighthouse Books in midtown St. Petersburg. The family-owned and operated antiquarian bookstore has been open for nearly four decades.

Proprietor Michael Slicker stacks mostly scholarly titles from floor to ceiling on a wide variety of topics. Slicker has a particular interest in local material: "We have a substantial selection of Floridiana," he says, "including Florida history, both fiction and nonfiction by Florida authors, and Florida-related ephemera." Lighthouse Books also places a strong emphasis on Americana, including presidential histories, biographies, and even ephemera like maps and rare prints. Slicker tells us that the shop's military history collections also have a "significant following," with topics on wars from the Civil War to Vietnam.

Bibliophiles looking to venture further afield will not be disappointed. Tucked into every conceivable space, you can find everything from Latin American and Caribbean history to gardening books and children's literature.

One of the oldest bookstores in the Tampa Bay area, Lighthouse Books works with the Florida Antiquarian Booksellers Association to put on the annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. The fair, which takes place during the second week of March, is the largest of its kind on the Southeastern United States and is held in St. Petersburg's Coliseum. Lovers of old and rare books descend upon the city to buy and sell books, prints, maps, autographs, and ephemera.

More recently, the store has also helped to establish the new SunLit Festival, which Slicker calls "a nine-day celebration of literature that begins the weekend before the book fair." The festival includes everything from lectures and dramatic readings to a literary pub crawl across the city.

St. Petersburg is great place to be for book lovers- and Slicker at Lighthouse Books is certainly one of the city's most visible. "There is a visceral pleasure in opening a traditional book and spending time with it that cannot be duplicated with an ebook," he tells us. "A traditional book is a work of art: it is the paper, the typography, the illustrations, the ink, the binding, all carefully selected to give you a unique experience. The Italian philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco said: 'The book is like the spoon, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented, it cannot be improved.' We totally agree. This is why we have been doing this for forty years."

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