In the beginning of October, Germany hosts the world’s largest book fair in Frankfurt and this year, I was amongst the visitors. Earlier in the year, as I was researching what attendance costs and all that, I came across the registration for bloggers and guess what, my request to be considered a blogger for this year’s fair got approved. This is a rather longwinded way of explaining why I was at the industry part of the Frankfurt Book Fair on Thursday. As blogging and reading is only a hobby, I couldn’t go on all the days I wanted to because of pesky real job things. Either way, I had a blast at the fair and saw some famous people I wasn’t expecting to see. Most of them I walked in on by accident though the one contemporary German author whom I really wanted to meet, I missed because I was too dumb to read my researched events properly.
This year’s guest of honour was Finland and as many of you know, I love my Scandinavian countries. There are a huge number of talks planned about the literary scene in Finland, I only went to one since time was of the essence and you can’t be in more places than one at a time. I listened to a talk about Swedish literature in Finland as Swedish is also an official language in Finland and there is quite a number of Finland-Sweds living in the country. It was interesting and I guess not a lot of people know there is a big Swedish speaking population in Finland. Also, I got to hear people talking Swedish around me and it was fantastic. God, I miss Scandinavia.
Early in the morning as I was making my way through the first hall, I accidentally ran into Ken Follett. Now I’m not the biggest fan of his writing, though I have enjoyed ‘Pillars of the Earth’ a lot back in the day, this was awesome because when else will I ever get the chance of being up close to him or seeing him talk about and read excerpts from his latest novel?
It was really cool and he does seem like a decent person. He talked a little bit about the way he researches the content for his books. Upon being asked how he knew how President Kennedy was behaving in bed, he told the audience that he had one of Kennedy’s mistresses (who was still alive and in the not so distant past has wrote a book about her experiences) proof read it . To me, this was a lovely anecdote and shows that he does care about the authenticity of what he describes.
I also saw German hiking/climbing legend Reinhold Messner who is currently promoting his latest book. Not being into climbing or Messner, I was happy to have seen him but quickly moved on with my exploration of the fair.
There were publishers from a LOT of countries though I have to say the German ones were the most interesting. I strolled through the international publishers, as I don’t speak that many languages though, this wasn’t as important to me. I took a look at the Scandinavian publishers, mostly the Swedish ones as they have lovely children’s books that were so much part of my own childhood (though in translation of course).
What I was missing were the English speaking countries, especially the UK and USA. I guess the US doesn’t give a damn about what we Germans do here but since most of what I read comes from overseas, I felt a little bit lost. When I found the latest novels of some authors it was always such a feeling of “oh well, this is not news to me”. I did a lot of wandering through the childrens and YA section of the fair and while they had a whole bunch of books, the authors that I love most were hardly present, if at all. Yes, the publishers sported the very popular translations of The Hunger Games, His Mortal Instruments, TFiOS etc. but they are old news. Even in German, they have been around for a while. I was sad to see that I couldn’t locate anything by David Levithan, Rainbow Rowell or Maureen Johnsson. Upon doing some research later, I was surprised to see that only one of Rainbow Rowell’s books, the latest novel ‘Landline’, is published or going to be published in December in German. How is that even possible? The woman is hugely popular in the English speaking world and has written 4 novels now. Everyone I know amongst my international friends seem to have read at least one of her books or are aware of who she is. Apparently, Germany is way behind here though. Similarly, Maureen Johnsson, who was written numerous YA novels, has only two translated novels in Germany. That’s a pity, in my opinion.
Maybe it is me who is not paying enough attention to the German literary scene, especially since I started hanging around the interwebs but I felt a bit lost at times. I saw a whole bunch of interesting novels though sadly they aren’t selling books until Sunday, at least not on the grand scale. Fortunately, a girl I went to high school with works for Suhrkamp, a large German publishing house and she gave me a goody bag.
I loved seeing all these people who work with words and for books and everything that has to do with it. It was pretty spectacular and I hope I get to go there next year. And hopefully I can visit on more than one day then. And I have to say, I’m impressed the Frankfurt Book Fair gives press cards to low-life bloggers like myself. There were a lot of cool things to do, like getting your picture taking at one of our TV station’s, dressed up as Watson or Sherlock Holmes. Obviously I chose Sherlock.
I saw books upon books, so many in fact that last night, I dreamed about it all. And mostly my dreams were filled with books and more books, which I am completely okay with.
One of the major themes of this year’s fair was digital publishing. There were booths and talks on that topic to no end. I guess the publishing houses in general are worried where that will lead to and what will become of it in the long run. It will definitely and already has for where I’m concerned, changed the way we handle books. But I think that’s normal and organic in a world with technological advances. To me it seems that the traditional publishers are a bit reluctant to embrace it, as they see their traditional distribution going away. But this has been the case for many other industries beforehand. It’s a matter of embracing or being left out of change and becoming obsolete in return. Now, I’m not saying we will not have printed books in the next ten years or so, but I do believe digital publishing and reading will become more and more important.
And on that note, I think this post has gone on for long enough. If you made it this far, congratulations. Here’s a funny anecdote to end this. As I was waiting for the shuttle bus back to my car, our former Chancellor Helmut Kohl was rolled past me in his wheelchair. At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was him or not since he seemed so much older than I remembered him. Still, I saw Helmut Kohl!