This year there was a satirical article about how you, too, can experience the Frankfurt Book Fair feeling at home, if you: a) surround yourself with lots of stapled books, b) get smartly dressed for an autumnal climate, c) then put on the radiator and all the lights in the room so that it's really hot, and d) start drinking the white wine around 10 am-ish. It's over the top, but it made a lot of us book fair afficiniados chuckle in agreement.
I do love the Frankfurt Book Fair. There isn't another like it anywhere in the whole wide world: ten gigantic halls full of books from all over the globe. Two of those halls consist of German books; the rest are in other languages. (Hall 8 is the one for English-publishing countries.) Now smaller book fairs elsewhere have their charm - I once visited the Greek one in Athens, which takes place outside (or at least it did a decade ago when I was there), which was nifty, and our own Leipzig Book Fair (having two book fairs, one in spring and one in autumn, is a legacy of having had two Germanies; personally, I'm all for it) is famously better organized when it comes to the authors-reading-from-their-works part of the event. (Otoh, other languages are hardly represented.) But Frankfurt is unique. I always spent the entire week there because obligations aside, I want the time to stroll through those halls and browse through all those new books. And because I'm a fast reader if I need to be, read through a lot of them if they capture me beyond "...could be interesting". Also it's great for catching up with friends from the publishing industries of other countries you otherwise don't see due to your respective places of living. And occasionally, you come across world famous authors. Or just plain interesting people. Some memorable experiences over the years:
- meeting Amy Tan at one of the receptions, where she showed me her Pekingnese dogs in her handbag; she claimed to have smuggled them on to and from the air plan as hand luggage; this was many years pre 9/11, but hand luggage was still getting x-rayed, so how she accomplished that, I don't know
- getting introduced to Dr. Ruth of decades of sex education fame
- listening to Ingrid Betancourt talking about her hostage experience and expertly dealing with the questions about the hostile depictions of her in her fellow hostages accounts
- hearing a nearly hundred years old Austrian who as a Jehova's Witness refused to serve in the army in WWII and because of this ended up in three concentration camps talk about his life
- cringing when the Book Trade organization folded to Chinese pressure and disinvited Chinese dissident authors, perking up when the German PEN club reinvited them instead so that they were presented at the Fair
- being stunned by the gorgeous display in the New Zealand hall when New Zealand was the guest of honour.
So I love all of that. Downsides of the Frankfurt Book Fair which I would change if I could:
- Better advertising of the readings-of-authors program, which does exist, but you often miss events for not figuring out what takes place where in time
- the Frankfurt Public Transport system, while having improved in the more than twenty years I've been attending the Book Fair, is still headache inducing in the way the final destinations and general directions of underground lines are never spelled out
- in the last five or so years, it's become common for US and Canadian publishers to start packing as early as Saturday afternoon. I miss the days they would stay until Sunday afternoon look everyone else, and it's not even good business, because on Sunday, books can be sold (so you don't have to transport them back), plus Saturday and Sunday are the two days of the Book Fair where it's open for the general public, not solely the publishing trade. The first time I ever visited the Frankfurt Book Fair, I was still in school in a small town with bookstores that didn't sell books in English, and being able to browse through all those English language books (and buy some of them) was great.
- the Book Fair Flu. This isn't anyone's fault but the almost unavoidable result of thousands and thousands of people in ten halls with air conditioning for a week. Still, having a cold at the mildest and being bed ridden if you're unlucky after the Frankfurt Book Fair is annoying.
- the dark side of that famous authors thing I mentioned. Because totally embarassing celebrities who have their memoirs ghost written count as authors, too, and if I never have to live through Dieter Bohlen promoting his autobiography again, and his publisher promoting it by wearing Bohlen related t-shirts, it'll be too soon.
There are some other minor annoyances, but nothing that ever spoils the experience for me. And you know what? Last year I read a biography of Renaissance cartographer G. Mercator. At one point, there was a contemporary description of visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair. Complete with partying in the evening in Sachsenhausen. In the Renaissance. Talk about immortal traditions!
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