Cats on cleaning robots and silverbacks with wine glasses – a report from the Frankfurt Book Fair
So that was the Book Fair! My first as “author” or “poet”–I was repeatedly designated as such, amicably and respectfully, and it delighted me and made be blush a little–but it’s not really earned yet. And it doesn’t have to be! That’s the beauty of side projects–that you don’t have to adhere to new identities. I’m happy that I’m allowed to be here, among the authors and poets and publishers, among the crafty lions and silverbacks with their wine glasses. As a tourist in a world I’ve loved since I’ve been able to read. As for me, I’m going primarily with this: “I have written a book. With animal poems, for adults. Yes, children can certainly suffer through it as well, but I conceived it for, er, adults. And yes, I love Robert Gernhardt.”
But in reality this is not my first Book Fair. As a child I tagged along in Frankfurt at least twice with my mother, in her role as a literary translator. I can easily conjure up the dreamy look of a child’s eyes, as big as saucers, when I wander among the stands with their countless, heavy, tactile books. Yes, I was one of those kids, the ones who stick the fork into their forehead at mealtime because they’re reading, who miss the bus because they’re reading, who keep a flashlight under the covers at night, and almost sustain a fracture with every visit to the public library. The Book Fair was and is a land of milk and honey for me. The Geek shall inherit the earth.
The same feeling comes over me now, as I traipse through the aisles after Tropen Publishing’s Mara Ebinger, from interview to interview. I constantly want to linger, and get lost among the stands–but on Wednesday I have a tight schedule. Interviews, most of them before an audience, from ten in the morning until five-thirty in the evening. The nice people from Tropen are astonished at my fortitude, but the truth is–I’ve seen much worse. Across the board,
the interviews are interesting, the journalists well-prepared and candid; they all seem generally delighted about me and my book. Besides that, I’m delighted that Vanessa Karré, whose autograph graces the book’s “insanely beautiful” illustrations, hovers nearby kindly and patiently, grinning at me reassuringly every now and then.
And, who would have thought: most of the people enjoy talking about animals. A cameraman tells me about his girlfriend’s animal-hair allergy, an accomplished silver-haired critic mentions the death of his beloved dog, a woman from the state-funded television network speaks of the guinea pigs on her balcony. And I, who can talk so gladly and at such length about hardly any other topic, stroll blissfully relaxed (but at a good clip) from stand to stand.
In every interview I’m permitted to read at least one of my poems out loud, which to me is clearly the best way to present my book. Because, honestly, talking about poems is like foxtrotting to Alban Berg. And the abundance of the interviews can’t alarm me, because I’m grateful for the attention to my wrong-headed book, and besides: I know this business in a completely different way. Releasing an album means Book Fair-like promotion, every day, for two weeks at a stretch, and these two weeks are only rush hour on the clogged freeway leading to the charts.
Until now the book business has seemed, who’d a thunk it, considerably more relaxed to me than the whirring, arms-flailing music business. The main difference is probably a technical one: the release of a recording, despite all instincts to the contrary, is always hysterically geared toward the release date.
The obsolete chart system puts an artificial emphasis on the position in the charts in the first week of sales. The debut on the chart is closely squinted at, and affects radio play and important TV appearances, which in turn affect the charts. And all this, even though everyone involved knows they would sell their own grandmother to Dussmann to manipulate the charts–you only have to sell a few more CDs to move several notches ahead. And despite that, record companies, artists and promoters are in an absolute state of emergency three months in advance of D-Day, trapped in a cyclone of activity that turns on the one, all-important, exclusive day.
With a book, especially a volume of illustrated poetry, the day of the release seems to be what it perhaps should also be for music distribution–a beginning. And to me, as an author (yikes, there it is again!), it’s absurdly welcome. It may also have something to do with the fact that I didn’t write the book I was probably supposed to write, but rather the one I wanted to write, and could write, thanks to the lovely people at Tropen. If I had written the novel that’s been requested for years, about “Buddhism, but with a bit of humor–and perhaps sex, and a bit about travel, and perhaps cooking?”, who knows, maybe the machine would really heat up here too.
I wander around, in any case, feeling fortunate and joyful about my first genuine Book Fair, blessed in my position as an outsider, half-observer, half-participant, and the only thing that can cloud my mood is the fact that the skin on my face is starting to flake off. The air in these halls is so dry that it sucks all the fluid out of your body, no one can drink as much as he’s likely to lose just exhaling, and the neon light (worthy of an operating room) doesn’t really lend itself to peaceful contemplation.
The second day goes quite a bit more peacefully, only half the day is planned out, and all the interviews take place in a little cubby at the back of the public space. Again today: nice, interested, clever people, who can speak (like me) with equal enthusiasm about Robert Gernhardt and robot-vacuum-riding cats.
The last interview of the day throws me a bit off course–because, with questions regarding the “refugee problem,” it touches on a subject I had to set aside temporarily to be able to function here at the fair, one which has disturbed me much more since my appearance with Aeham Ahmad on the previous Sunday in Munich. In addition to that, this is the first interview where I’ve felt miscast–precisely because the subject is so close to my heart, and I don’t feel called upon to dispense quote-worthy “statements” about it.
Finally, after the question “What does German High Culture mean to you,” I answer with a bit more impatience than I intended, and with more aggravation than the nice, bright interviewer deserved. Because of that, I need half an hour to sort myself out and to note that I’m free for the rest of the day, and can amble around the fair as I wish.
In the transition to free-time mode, it helps that I’ve just met several of my freshly-minted Twitter friends in the flesh–and I immediately feel uplifted and understood, in a way that–in public–perhaps only the Twitter community can uplift and understand. I no longer feel that I have to explain who I am, but am rather allowed, once again, just to do what I do.
These very Twitter followers are also the ones who can finally explain to me where I can find the Graphic Novel-Community, and the independent publishers with the lovely books about post-capitalism and degrowth–my antidote after all that High Culture.
And so I quickly find, after a brief digression among cookbook booths, educational publishers, Christian consciousness-raising literature and Indigo Children, the booth that is my heart’s delight–that of the wonderfully beautiful Reprodukt Publishing, and alongside it, those of Avant and Edition Moderne. At Reprodukt I swap my hot-off-the-presses book for wonderful conversation, a beer (“whatever, so long as it’s liquid”), and a stack of beautiful graphic novels and children’s books for non-stupid children.
I will give you detailed recommendations for these books here (during the Christmas shopping season, at the very latest), but first just a few pictures of (a portion of) my loot. You can buy sight unseen everything that’s listed below, I swear. The “why” you can figure out later. And greetings to the great publishers I didn’t manage to get to–Carlsen, for example, and the great people from Terzio with their Ritter Rost…
And yes, I know that there also could have been great new novels and nonfiction books, but I had to strenuously hold back that floodgate, lest you find me delirious among the stalls at midnight.
So now I’m in my seat on the train back home, the impressions of the Book Fair mixing with the disturbing emotions of the previous Sunday, the encounter with Aeham Ahmad and the many volunteers in Munich.
I’m going to let my head, and my heart, clear for a days, and then I’ll probably also write about that.
In thanks to all the people I met during this wonderful week,
An excerpt from the Reprodukt catalog–
and for children:
And from Avant:
Then, with many thanks to Eva Mair-Holmes from Trikont:
… in spite of everything, it’s lovely to be reminded of great music at the Book Fair.
Oh, and: this is a copy of a book my mother translated. Available from Klett-Cotta.
Now, I’ll go read…