Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Report from Frankfurt Book Fair

By Levi Asher on Monday, October 24, 2005 10:14 pm
Panta Rhei (Anemone Achtnich) reports from the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest trade fair for books, multimedia and communication:

"We got up at 5am, hopped on the bus at 7am and endured a three hour train ride (which, in fact was kind of funny, as I got into a surreal conversation with a fat red-haired CD producer lady and a guy who looked like a Yugoslavian hobo and picked up some undefinable mushrooms at an autobahn stop and devoured them while telling fairytales). We arrived at Frankfurt at around ten in the morning, and entered the halls of chaos.

As always, I started slowly. I took my time in the international halls, looking at some wonderfully artistic Czech children books, at weird and wild Roald Dahl play sets for kids produced by a British publishing company, at exquisite facsimiles of a small Israeli publisher (almost bought a beautifully made bilingual version of Celan's 'Death Fugue'), and at great Italian black-and-white photography books.

Three hours passed like nothing, and I pondered whether I should spend the remaining four hours wandering around the agora, the huge patio in the middle of the halls where young German authors read from their work in the mirror tent and where this year's guest of honor, Korea, offers various cultural shows and events, like taekwondo performances, poetry readings, art exhibitions and Korean puppet shows -- or whether I should continue strolling through the halls and look for interesting books, interviews and readings.

I decided to do the latter, and entered the halls where the German publishers were presenting themselves.

Giocondo Belli was signing books. I heard an interactive audio-book presentation called "Learning English with Stephen King". I listened to various interviews (or at least parts of them): with Wim Wenders, who talked about his book "A Sense of Place"; with Marc Levy, the author of the book on which the film "As Long As You're There" is based; with Franka Potente ("Run, Lola, Run"), who talked about her book "Los Angeles - Berlin"; with Hanna Schygulla (German actress and singer who was just awarded the German literature film prize).

I heard Nick Hornby speak, but couldn't see him... too many tall folks in front of me.

I waited for Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish author who was just awarded Germany's highest literary honor, the peace prize of the German book trade which is awarded by the German book trade association every fall to coincide with the Frankfurt book fair (past recipients of the peace prize include Susan Sontag who won it in 2003). He was supposed to appear on the so-called "Blue Sofa", a place where various authors and other book-related folks are interviewed during the book fair by the local TV channel, but unfortunately he didn't appear.

I spent some time at an interesting discussion of German author Monika Maron ("Flight Ash") and Israeli writer Joshua Sobol ("Whiskey's Fine", a book I'm definitely going to read, btw) about the role of writers in today's society -- the question was whether authors can be considered as or should understand themselves as "warning/reminding prophets".

Despite the very shallow moderator who seemed to have no personal interest in this discussion and to be merely checking off his list of questions without ever really going into what Maron and Sobol said, the discussion itself was quite inspiring due to the two thoughtful and original participants.

Other great names at this year's book fair were Margaret Atwood, Ken Follett, Albert Uderzo ("asterix" cartoons), the Dutch poet, novelist and playwright Cees Nooteboom, and Austrian Arno Geiger who on past Monday became the first recipient of a new literature gong, the German book prize, that is intended to be the German-speaking world's equivalent of the Booker prize. I saw neither of them.

I had a peek into the film "Marchenschatten" (fairytale shadows), a documentary of the work of gunther grass illustrating the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen; there also was an interview with the author and illustrator of the book, but all of the sudden I realized I had to run to get back to the exit hall if I wanted to catch my bus back home.

On my way back, I rushed through the cartoon hall and run into some hysterical, mostly Asiatic teenagers who were going mad about a nearby manga hero. I then raced through the international center again and passed a reading by Yehuda Amichai's widow, who was reading from her deceased husband's work -- I stopped for a moment and would have loved to stay, but had to continue running back.

Luckily, I caught one of the fair's shuttle busses that took me across the huge area and back to the gate where I had started seven hours ago. I hopped onto the bus again, and almost four hours along the rainy autobahn later, we arrived. Then I walked through the rain to the Greek restaurant where my husband and my daughter were waiting for me to take me back home.
"
15 Responses to "Report from Frankfurt Book Fair"

by judih. on

unbelievable!What an amazingly intense experience at the "Book Fair." Did you take photos, Anemone?You managed to see so much, and such a varied sampling of all that was offered. At such times, one really needs the option to clone.Thanks so much for writing the details. I wonder how many LitKickers wish they, too, will be able to catch this event next year.

by panta rhei on

i took a few pics, yes - but unfortunately, the batteries of my camera became exhaustted very soon due to all the flashes, and i, of course, had forgotten to bring some extra batteries with me.still, several pics do exist.and, yes, cloning would be a useful talent at the book fair... or else, having at least the whole five days at one's disposal.thanks for reading, j!

by stevadore on

RefreshingIt's awesome to read a fresh account of a normal person attending the fair. All we ever get to read are accounts by people who have some type of agenda.Thanks for giving us litkickers your point of view! Wish I could be there.

by Billectric on

A Wonderful AccountVery nice report. I almost felt like I was there.

by Billectric on

Is there a way we could see the pictures?

by panta rhei on

Hi Steven,yes, it's totally different to go there for pure pleasure instead of being tied to a tight agenda of appointments and meetings.I have been doing both; I had my first book fair experiences during the two years I worked for a publishing house in D

by panta rhei on

so do i!heh...

by panta rhei on

i am trying to upload them to flickr right now... i'll let you know if it works out.

by panta rhei on

Bookfair PicturesI uploaded some pictures here.... hope it works.or try this link... i'm a bit confused about how that flickr thing works.there should be 38 pictures.

by Billectric on

Great pics! The first link works fine. Wow, I love the big book circle. And what a crowd! Giddy Manga action shots. And I finally get to see you. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

by panta rhei on

glad you like them, bill.if you search for "bookfair" or "buchmesse", you'll find more pics, by others who were there.i think i got the flickr thing now, btw:http://www.flickr.com/photos/panta is the correct adress, it seems to me.thanks for looking.(and remember: women who read are dangerous!)

by judih. on

you've flickr'd, panta rhei!thanks - interesting place. Love those big books.

by mtmynd on

Panta - A very interesting report and your series of pictures made it even more so. I also could not help but notice how clean the area was despite the large crowds.Thanks for sharing these!

by brooklyn on

Agreed, thanks for the pictures, Panta.I was at NY BookExpo this past summer, and I have to say Frankfurt kicks NY's ass in the public art department. That Stonehenge of Books sculpture is awesome. I guess the organizers of NY BookExpo thought they could skimp by on the good looks of the attendees.

by panta rhei on

hi cecil - great you had a look. clean, you say? hm.... to enter the fair area you have to pay nine euros and pass bag controls, and i don't think that anyone has any interest in bringing garbage in. and the only food you can buy in the fair area are frankfurter sausages and expensive meals on plates, so people mostly bring their own water bottles and food in tupper boxes... this causes no litter. and the brochures and leaflets that people grab are about books and literature they're interested in - so why throw them away?the only remaining source of litter i can think of are cigarettes, and i am sure you'd find quite a few of them in the outside area...levi - this fair gave view to quite a few attendees whose looks were some undefinable betwixt of good, weird and art(s)y - the comic halls were a source of visual contortions.