In the words of Irving Berlin:
The snow is snowing, the wind is blowing
But I can weather the storm!
What do I care how much it may storm?
I’ve got my love to keep me warm.
For the book trade we have something else to keep us warm. Banks may crash, derivatives flounder, hedge funds wither, dot coms rise and fall but somehow or other writers, publishers, booksellers, literary agents, publishing consultants and old bookish friends always manage to congregate for the Autumnal bunfight known by the single word, Frankfurt, (Incidentally, the book world, or at least the British one, is rather cliquey and has its own jargon.
‚Frankfurt‘ couldn’t possibly refer to a motor show, a city, a sausage, a newspaper or a soccer team. The Publishers Association could only mean the British trade body – nobody else may use that phrase. And of course, first names are all that’s required to identify the big beasts of the book trade – Tim, Nigel, Gail, Vicky, Caradoc, Gillon, Salman etc. Who needs surnames?)
But I digress. For me the book fair started as it (nearly) always does with a delayed flight from Heathrow and meeting up serendipitously with publishing friends all on the same mission – to survive another Frankfurt and try to do a little business at the same time. I resisted the temptation to calculate the total cost to the book trade of all the airfares, the hotel rooms, the sausages, the sekt, the shoe leather, the taxis and the purchasing mmistakes caused by ‚Fair Fatigue‘. Maybe I’ll do that towards the end of the week.
Arriving late meant missing out on the evening’s main event, the award of the German Book Prize. This would have involved listening to quite long and complicated speeches in German, which I’ve always found to be a hugely relaxing pastime at the end of a stressful day, given that I don’t understand more than about three words of German. In some ways I’m glad to have missed the event because Berlin Verlag’s wonderful book by Ingo Schulze, Adam und Evelyn didn’t win. Congratulations to Uwe Tellkamp with Der Turm nonetheless.
Tuesday morning kicked off with a highly confidential meeting of the International Advisory Board of the Frankfurt Book Fair where the first item was to debate the best English translation of the word ‚geschniegelten‘ in an article in this newspaper yesterday which contrasted my appearance with that of my Bloomsbury colleague, Nigel Newton. I have always believed that book publishing’s renowned lousy remuneration should allow us a certain laxity in dress code.
The other items were discussed under the Chatham House rule but I can reveal that in publishing at least the sky is not falling on our heads, the world hasn’t stopped reading (or writing) books, and that our industry is still populated by decent, intelligent individuals who care deeply about what they do. One in particular, Alain Gründ, is celebrating his fiftieth Frankfurt (I’ve only managed 34 so far). Alain is one of the most important protagonists for retail price maintenance in Europe as a way of protecting creativity and allowing diversity of bookselling to flourish. Contrary to my previous views and seeing the mayhem in British book retailing I’m inclined to agree with him.
This evening is dedicated to receptions and the most important one of all where Berlin Verlag invites its friends from all round the world to watch the results of the Man Booker Prize for fiction being announced live from London on a giant screen. And so to bed and preparation for the first business meetings of the 2008 Fair on Wednesday morning. Morgen.