Fair and loathing


Basically I am an optimist because the great myth of the person who tells another person a story won’t disappear that quickly. There will always be someone who feels the need to tell a friend one of his ideas or one of his dreams.“

I heard the brilliant Daniel Keel repeating this Federico Fellini quote during a documentary about Diogenes and in response to a question about why, after 50 years, he still felt the need and desire to publish. I immediately took it to heart, literally, as for me it serves as a perfect summation of why stories matter and why we need them. I think of it as a prayer and repeat it often to myself and to others.

I love Frankfurt because for several days it serves as a unique catalyst to the sharing of stories. For this short spell the midwives to writing, the agents and editors and booksellers and scouts, retell one another the stories that they like and which they think matter.  At the heart of all this are the authors who supply the life blood without which we would wilt but what I have also come to appreciate is how we midwives, through our retellings, carry the mantle of the writers on.  Our responsibility is to connect the words of the writers with the minds of the readers and in Frankfurt we do this through our own retellings of the stories we have read. It’s heady stuff and tough on the vocal chords too!

Since yesterday I have had dozens and dozens of conversations and been told numerous stories and thought-provoking ideas. I’d like to think that I have given as good as I have got although there are two stories that I have been retelling more than any. One concerns a troubled family of abstaining vampires called the Radleys. The other is my retelling of Philip Pullman’s ingenious retelling of the myth of Jesus.  Whether I do justice to either of these brilliant books is not for me to say but I hope that my efforts are not in vain. Philip describes his book as „a story about how stories become stories“ and I think this serves as a neat description of the Frankfurt Book fair!

Daniel Keel prefaced the Fellini quote by saying that throughout his life he found the writers he published were far better at articulating what he felt than he was. For me it’s not just writers that do this but also the many eloquent people I bump into at the Fair (and elsewhere).

One of my most inspiring meetings today had at its core a serious discussion about the essence of stories and the way that stories harden when in fact truth is a very fluid element. The „official“ version of all events denies many other stories and as Anna Jarota and I discussed new retellings of the stories of Jesus and Joan of Arc, I came to make more sense of what it means to be a publisher. I was also reminded of why I love the Frankfurt book fair so much. For it is truly a human smorgasbord of story sharing!

Tomorrow I plan to tell the story of 3 nicks (Cave, Lilin and Amanitti) – living, breathing authors who will grace the city this week.  And to stay on the straight and narrow. So far so good.

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