Sunday, 15 March 2015

Leipzig Report

I've been going to the Leipzig book fair longer than I've been blogging, and I just looked back at my entries on it from 2008. Oh boy, was I enthusiastic. Three blogs in a row, one looking forward to it, one more general, and one on the now sadly defunct German-US literary festival Krautgarden. I don't bother with the ritual "looking forward to Leipzig" piece any more, partly because I don't want to write the same thing over and over again and partly because I'm a bit older and more jaded and don't get quite as excited about it any more. But I do still enjoy my first day at any book fair enormously.

This year I didn't go until the Friday. The fair opens on a Thursday, when the prizes are awarded. Unfortunately, these prizes seem to have little impact abroad. The translation section is kind of irrelevant to sales of German books (going this year to Miriam Pressler for Amos Oz's Judas) and the non-fiction prize tends to honour titles that are a too challenging or too specialized for your average British/US reader (in this case a history of neoliberal Europe by Philipp Ther). Even the "belles lettres" prize doesn't pack the punch of its autumn counterpart, the German Book Prize, with only five of the ten past winning titles either already in English or underway. To some extent, that's a good thing in my view, because it reflects the award's broader scope and less commercial orientation – the judges are all critics, with no one from the "real world" of bookselling involved, for example, and have given the prize to a number of short story collections (by Ingo Schulze, Clemens Meyer, Clemens Setz), to books that aren't straightforward fiction (David Wagner) and this year to a poetry collection. Only to two women ever, but hey. That's not their job. In Der Spiegel Georg Diez gets all het up that the winner isn't relevant to the world today, but hey. That's his job. Although I share his exasperation with the "eternally present" Hubert Winkels, I'm glad there is a prize that doesn't give a shit about societal relevance or commercial viability – even though that means I can't leverage it to get translation work.

This year, the fair also opened wide its metaphorical arms to embrace (German) book bloggers. They had a special lounge, which I didn't spot but then I didn't look for it either, and ran a campaign with bloggers reviewing the titles nominated for the prize. 54books assesses the highs and lows of the new focus – worth a read. So what was I doing? I was pretty much mooching around, noting down books I want to read and chatting to people I ran into, not a single appointment, not a single party or reading. And also I was being a mum, because my teenage daughter and a friend came along bright and early on the Saturday (hence the non-partying), mostly to see the second Manga Comic Convention. To be perfectly honest I wish I hadn't been there on the weekend, because the fair was incredibly crowded with visitors in groups of at least two, making navigation difficult at best and my mood, let's say, dampened. But we did have the added excitement of extreme numbers of cosplayers, who seem not to walk around quite as much as everyone else, which is kind of them. My daughter arrived all excited and announced eyes aglow that she'd seen a lady axe-murderer on the train. By the end of the day the two girls had counted 36 Pikachus. We sneered slightly because you can buy ready-made Pikachu onesies, and where's the inventiveness in that – but in fact, it must take guts to spend all day dressed as a yellow velventeen rodent in public.

In tribute to them, I intend to spend all of today in my pyjamas. The book fair is dead – long live the book fair.

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