To survive the world’s largest book fair in Frankfurt, Germany you need to a) wear something
summery – it gets hot and stuffy in there. Leave the wool sweater in your bag b) comfortable shoes for kilometres of walking c) a big water bottle and a bar of chocolate for in between (there are
plenty of coffee bars and restaurants, but there isn’t always enough time) and d) notebook and pen to jot down the titles and authors of all those fascinating new works.
My notebook had forty titles by the end of the first day and I was being extremely choosy this year. Eighteen more were added when I visited the Finnish publishers.
Finland is the Guest of Honor in 2014 and is already advertising.
This year it was Brazil and I realized shortly before the book fair that I had not read a single Brazilian author in 2013. Last spring I thought we could spend part of the summer sipping caipirinhas and listening to salsa while reading my way through a stack of Brazilian novels (yes, my fantasies did include a hammock). This never happened. No caipirinhas, no salsa, no Brazilian literature. I will be much more prepared for the Finns.
If you understand German, the Wake-Up Slam in the morning is the greatest way to start the day. At 10:30 a.m. on Saturday we listened to Björn Högsdal and Sven Kamin explain much about the world in a most entertaining fashion. Steffis Vorschlag was on Sunday and this time Christiane’s daughter Sonja and her friend (both 17) joined us, as did Barbara, a friend of Christianes. All were grinning enthusiastically as we dispersed for the day. At which point I should mention that there is little point in moving through the book fair with a buddy because your interaction with a book is always one-on-one, tastes vary and there is too much to see. A good strategy is to meet up at intervals, at author readings and for coffee and lunch. Although the author reading meeting point does not always work out so well either. Christiane and I had agreed to meet at Jonathan Stroud’s reading of Lockwood, but were unable to find each other there because of the sheer mass of people crowded around the stand. After his presentation, people were allowed to ask questions and the most important one seemed to be “are you going to write another Barthimaeus novel?” When Mr. Stroud answered that he thought yes, there probably will be one more coming at some point, there was a collective and overjoyed hurrah from the entire crowd!
Listened to an interview with Jo Lendle who will be reading at Slawski later on this month from his latest novel “Was wir Liebe nennen” and then spent a few more hours perusing literature. One would think that eight hours would be enough, but I had the feeling I hadn’t even really made a dent.
Almost five hours more on Sunday before rushing off to catch the ICE to Hamburg in the late afternoon. A camera would have been great that day. ¿Por qué leer? This question caught my eye while wandering through the Spanish publishers section. Underneath it were answers printed, each in the author’s handwriting. “Probablemente la segunda mejor cosa para hacer en la cama” wrote Anónyma, for example. Or “Leer te permite vivir muchas vidas. Tantas que, mientras lees, casi eres immortal” from Rosa Montero. There were so many more, but I’m only a beginner in the Spanish language and it would have taken me far too long to decipher the longer quotes. Hopefully they will be there again next year. And I will have a camera. Or at least a smart phone (I still use an old Nokia to the dismay of family and friends. Last month somebody looked at it and exclaimed “oh, a pre-war phone!”)
As usual, the crowds at the fair were brightened up by the countless cosplayers dressed up as their favourite manga or comic figures, many of them in unbelievably extravagant costumes. Even later, at the Frankfurt train station, two teenage girls dressed as colourful fuzzy creatures kneeling on the platform next to the train track, re-packing their bags to accommodate the enormous piles of new Mangas they had obviously just bought at the fair. (Books are sold only on Sunday.)
Shortly before leaving on Sunday, I thought I’d take a look at Hall 8 where the English language publishers were located. Bag search at the entrance. Really? By 2 p.m. the hall was pretty empty, almost all of the booths abandoned but for a few stray piles of brochures. Books from Scotland was one of the few places where potential customers were still welcome and they were selling off their remaining books for extremely wallet-friendly prices. I bought these three paperbacks for only €10:
Daniel Pink – Drive. The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Started reading this one immediately and could not stop. Every single manager should read this, and I rarely say that about books.
Michel Faber – Under the Skin
Just finished reading this one as well. Unlike anything I have read before. Good.
Katie Roiphe – In Praise of Messy Lives
Haven’t read this one yet, but now that I’ve pulled it from the shelf, I think I’ll place it on my nightstand right away…
Books seen at the fair which I would not buy include crafts books showing what one could do with old books (slice them open and make sculptures out of the pages, for one). Paging through that one, I was reminded of Gunther von Hagens Body Worlds which I visited years ago in Munich. Extremely fascinating but also a bit creepy when you stare at them for too long.
Stationery and post cards. Art books. Cooking. Gardening. Handmade books. Would have needed at least one more day. While walking through the international halls, I looked at Czech and Russian books which I cannot read at all, paged through Spanish and Portuguese novels and drooled over Swedish cookbooks. Wished I could speak more languages and felt the presence of entire universes which could have been, if only this or only that, following me silently as I literally passed through an entire globe made up of the written word. As though worlds had been laid out before me, waiting to be discovered; only I didn’t hold the keys to unlock them all.
Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Nonetheless, I know exactly where I will be October 11-12, 2014.
Especially because: Finland.Cool. !