Monday, 15 October 2012


I'm all Frankfurted out. It was lovely. Except when it was horrible and I'd had enough of seething masses of bodies and glossy displays and superficial conversation. But even then I ran into the perfect grumpy person with whom to indulge in a great moaning session.

I do love book fairs, and yes, I know I've told you that before. I love strolling around and meeting people and saying hello and getting chatting and exchanging compliments and swapping tips. Because it's the social aspect that counts most for me. I'm tempted to just write a long list of all the lovely people I met and all the lovely people I missed, but that might not be very interesting for anyone else. So here's what I did instead.

I hung out a little with Naveen Kishore and Sunandini Banerjee from Seagull Books, who publish many of my translations. Which is always a delight but suddenly got much more popular once they announced Mo Yan's Nobel win on Thursday lunchtime - because they have two of his books on their list. Lots of people kept popping by to congratulate them, total strangers included, who I suspect were pleased that a small (but perfectly formed) press based in Calcutta will benefit from the Nobel-imbued glory. Also I looked after their booth very briefly while they had an appointment elsewhere, which was the most fun ever. Did you ever go to furniture stores as a kid and play house? This was like that, only with real coffee. Would you like a catalogue, sir? They'll be right back in ten minutes, ma'am, do take a seat. Like being a housewife, I wouldn't want to do it all the time but short bursts are fine.

There were some other prizewinners too: Finn-Ole Heinrich won the German Children's Book Prize and Anna Kim won the European Union Prize for Literature. I'm terribly pleased for both of them. You can read one of Finn's short stories in my translation at Words Without Borders and you'll soon(ish) be able to read Anna's The Anatomy of a Night from Frisch & Co. The German Book Prize winner Ursula Krechel was very present in general at the fair but I don't feel quite ready to comment on her book yet.

I also moderated an expert panel about the German book trade and translation funding. It was called a "morning briefing" because it started at 8.15 a.m. Actually it went fine, there were actually a number of people in the audience and none of them actually fell asleep. Amazingly, they also asked lots of questions. We'll probably do it again next year but I suggested a later time-slot - although it was a surreal experience to walk through the halls of an empty book fair.

What it meant, however, was that I had to go to bed early on Thursday night, in order to be sufficiently gorgeous on Friday morning to calm my nerves. Which was a good thing, as somebody took my photo afterwards ("That looks great. I'll just take another one though."). But it was not helped by someone inviting me to a surprise reading on Thursday ("It'll be great. And then we'll go to the XY party, and then we'll go to the YX party, and then..."). I didn't go. A friend of mine has a wonderful motto for times like these: Willst du gelten, mach dich selten. It doesn't work when the fomo gets this acute though. And it doesn't help when the trade press publishes full-colour spreads of publishing people partying. Every day of the fair. But hey, I never get invited to those parties anyway and I'm not terribly good at gatecrashing.

So I had to make up for it on Friday night. My divine hosts treated me to home-cooked dinner and made me break the golden rule: First eye make-up, then schnapps. Doh! Nobody commented though. And then it was off to the Hotlist indie book award ceremony and party. After various rather out-there events in previous years (difficult locations, wacky moderators), this time was lower key and just plain better. The lovely Axel von Ernst and Thomas Böhm did the honours in a totally un-hysterical manner and the prize went to the excellent Droschl Literaturverlag of Vienna for Tor Ulven's Dunkelheit am Ende des Tunnels. It's a translation from the Norwegian, and I'd have forgiven the excited publisher for not thanking the translator in person if it hadn't just proved very difficult to find his name on their website. It's Bernhard Strobel, and I found it on Amazon in the end. The prize money goes straight to the publishers for their hard work, and I do understand the logic of that, but still. Congratulations, Bernhard Strobel. They couldn't have done it without you.

There followed a party. There were drinks (some of them cold), there was dancing, there was much standing around chatting and drinking, there was an apology to someone for un-friending them on Facebook but they hadn't even noticed - bizarrely, because I post way too much on Facebook - there was a whispered poem about fat, there was a numismatic exchange and an explanation of fomo to the main culprit, there were compliments from the kind of people who count (i.e. women with impeccable taste), there was a failed attempt to recruit a new DJ partner, there were sleepless Cubans, there were more drinks, there were embarrassing spillages from my purse, there was a fantastic staircase at the Literaturhaus that was unfortunately too crowded with bodies to recreate any Hollywood movies, there was totally tactless discussion of facial hair fashions, there was an apology to someone for having written he looked like a bum - he doesn't, he looks like an angel - there were some more drinks and not enough dancing, there were uncalled-for confessional moments.

Then it seemed like a good idea to go to the Hoff. Everybody talks about it at the fair, all the Americans are like, "You gotta go to the Hoff!" and I'm like, "Well..." Really it's the Frankfurter Hof incredibly posh hotel, where I was overwhelmed by the prices and the carpets but underwhelmed by the bathrooms and the people-watching. Nobody was lying across Alice Schwarzer's lap, in fact Alice Schwarzer wasn't even there, and nor was Arnold Schwarzenegger. There was a man with a bad wig coming on to a very young blonde woman and another man who was rude about Acton. I left before finding out what unspeakable thing my companion did there last year.

Life will seem so dull now.


Helen MacCormac said...

I just love it when you do book fairs - it's like being there, only better because you find all the interesting things, or make all the things you find interesting. Danke Schön.

kjd said...

Ahh, thanks Helen! Actually I just leave out all the boring bits.