Sunday 31 August 2008

Scrumping Brochures

There's nothing like being part of a group being herded around town by a responsible adult to make you gleefully regress to adolescence. The LCB's summer academy was one of those wonderful opportunities. On top of informative presentations by critics on various subjects (to come), we also visited five Berlin-based publishers, which I'll report on in due course. Naturally enough, that meant quite a bit of traipsing around in the capable hands of Jürgen Jakob Becker (not literally, don't worry).

Now I'm the first to moan about groups of tourists blocking up the pavements, but I found myself doing just that on numerous occasions. I also did quite a lot of straggling behind the others in a huge expanding crocodile, talking loudly and excitedly, and not looking where I was going. There were two readings at the LCB while we were there and our prescence was announced with great pride - almost like saying, "Now children, as you may have noticed, we are playing host to a group of pupils from our twin school in Monteaudio, so I hope you'll all be on your best behaviour and help them to find their feet." Which gave us a licence to act like proper foreigners, waving our arms at each other in public and loafing around demanding alcoholic drinks. So general adolescent school exchange-type behaviour.

The high point, however, was on route from one publisher to the next. Remember the whole German Book Prize Longlist Reader saga? Well, it turned out one of the people sharing his wisdom and judgement with us, Wolfgang Schneider, had been involved in said brochure's production. Being a nice kinda guy, he went out of his way to let me know where on earth I could get hold of the bloody thing. And the one bookshop in the remote vicinity to have ordered it happened to be round the corner from one of our publishers.

I did a quick recce beforehand, casing the joint and sussing out the owner. She pointed to a meagre pile of brochures, unwisely placed right by the door. Now these things are free, but she obviously expected anyone who took one to buy something as well. Eyeing the pile, I asked if all my twelve mates standing around outside could have one too - but Ms Bookscrooge was having none of it. "I've only got a few left," she mewled, squaring her shoulders. Well, we translators were not impressed - it was a free brochure and we were going to get one each, come what may. After all, it was vital for the spread of German literature that each of us could read extracts from the books longlisted for the German Book Prize, for goodness sake. And this measly-minded bookseller was not going to stand in our way. As she reached for her shotgun, twelve hands sneaked in the doorway one by one, each removing a copy in lightning succession. The clack as she finished loading her slugs rang out just as we escaped around the corner. Two shots grazed our hats and one of us dropped a brochure, the pages scattering across the pavement in our wake. Our adrenalin-fuelled laughter masked the bookseller's screams of rage as she gathered up the remains of her pile of brochures, now dusty and betrodden. We beat a hasty retreat to the station and jumped on the caboose of the departing train, swinging our hats in a trimphant farewell gesture.

I haven't had so much fun in years.

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