Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Harpers Magazine on the Frankfurt Book Fair

For those who haven't yet seen it, the March issue of Harper's magazine in the US features a cover story about last year's Frankfurt Book Fair. Entitled, "The Last Book Party," and subtitled "Publishing Drinks to a Life After Death," it's a wry, well-observed if too cynical look at the Fair.

The author, Gideon Lewis-Kraus takes in the Fair on the arms of a few key US and UK players, most notably, Bob Miller of Harper Studio, and Morgan Entriken of Grove/Atlantic, agents Ira Silverberg and Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie, and the New York Times' publishing reporter Mokoto Rich -- a cast, aside from Rich, of "usual suspects." (It's not news, as such, that Morgan likes to party, but has dialed it back with the arrival of his AARP card.)

Things get a bit more interesting when Lewis-Kraus, encounters the likes of Random House CEO Marcus Dohle, whom he rather unkindly refers to rather unkindly as "the printer" and HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray, whose pants are, deemed "too shiny." Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch is described as "the kind of man you would be chuffed to have as your uncle."  (As it happens, Bob Miller is sort of the author's uncle -- Miller's mother was the author's second wife.)

Throughout, the not-so subtle suggestion is that an army of dull, technocratic Germans are running the traditional community of Jewish creative/intellectual elites out of the publishing business. (The Frankfurter Hof, where many of the parties take place, is explicitly referred to as "Hitler's favorite hotel."). However clever that observation may appear to be -- it's a superficial one. Publishing has been largely diversified, ethnically and racially, for decades, and at least as long as any of those working in it can remember.

Then again, the author also seems to think that everyone in publishing is also sartorially challenged (what people are wearing consumes plenty of space) and ever-so-slightly uncool.

The Fair is summarized as "part industry convention and part endurance trial" a place where everyone comes across as weary of the work and unfashionable (what people are wearing is a big theme). It's a bit of a shame that the author and so many of the people quoted here, as well as the author (who is attending his first Fair) come across as so jaded.  

Call me crazy, but if you love books -- what could be more stimulating than a few thousand, or tens of thousands, or over the course of a week -- hundreds of thousands -- of people gathered together to talk, peruse and, yes, sell books? If you can't find something at Frankfurt to get excited about with regards to publishing, you're not looking.

Follow-up: The LA Times interviewed the author of the piece here


Anonymous said...

Is the person who wrote this a native English speaker?

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