I received an email last night from Mexico City. Macmillan de Mexico published a book with the absolutely scintillating title „Basic Junior Active Context English“. It might not win the prize for the oddest title but it must be one of the most boring. However, it has gone on to sell more than 11 million copies.
Also last night a vibrant gathering of German, British, Swiss and Finnish publishing personalities raised a glass to German books and much else. I was invited by the Editor of New Books in German which was founded ten years ago by eccentric publisher and scholar, John Calder and others. It tries to tell the ignorant Anglosaxons that there are books written in languages other than English ( specifically German) which might just have some merit. Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler charmed Swiss lady of letters Angelika Salvisberger. Maria Antas, grande dame of Finnish literature, chatted with Irish and American translators, while Klaus Flugge of Andersen Press talked about elephants with a publisher from Thailand. An appreciation of German literature, elephants and red wine binds many.
This is the last day of the 2008 fair for me. Hall 8 is emptying. The bigwigs have all left for home and now the sales and rights directors have the place more or less to themselves. The atmosphere has been less hectic than usual, a natural consequence of the world economy. There seem to be fewer people but there is still business being done, albeit at highly competitive prices and with lower print quantities. For those of us in our dotage this is familiar territory. Batten down the hatches. Publish well. Waste less. Throw complacency out of every window. We have to hope that the fantastic value of books in economic, cultural and educational terms protects us – alongside clever deals, calculated risk-taking, honesty and creativity which are all on display in Frankfurt in October every year.
Just before leaving for the airport, I walked round Hall 8 with an editor from FAZ. We asked to see various people at various stands. This led us to devise a new Frankfurt Book Fair classification;
SBW – Superbigwig. Flies in by private jet for secret meeting at the Frankfurter Hof and leaves same day;
BW – Bigwig. Stays in Hessischer Hof or Frankfurter Hof and leaves on Friday;
MBW – Middlewig. Stays in Maritim or Marriott or Interconti and leaves on Saturday.
TW – Tinywig. Stays with friends or shares a room out of town. Works to the bitter end. Earns all the deals to pay for everyone else.
So, let’s hear it for the Tinywigs.
It’s been fun but tough writing this blog every day for the last five days. 350 words typed on a Blackberry while grabbing a few minutes between meetings isn’t the best way to create a literary masterpiece. The highlight of the week was being told by a distinguished publisher that these pieces have been boring and self-serving. My apologies to those who have been bored and my thanks to this newspaper if I’ve been allowed to be self-serving.
Auf Wiedersehen an alle – and the only really key piece of German required in Hall 8: Eine Quittung, bitte.