Frankfurt Diaries: TUESDAY
Frankfurt Diaries: TUESDAY
Let me explain something.
This man is the King of Frankfurt during the Buchmesse: Omar. He’s the boss in the bar area. “This is my 42nd Book Fair!” he told me today. If you are friends with Omar, miracles – like getting fresh strawberries served as breakfast before you go to bed at 7 AM – can happen.
The Frankfurt Book Fair starts – for most people – on the Tuesday, with appointments in the Frankfurter Hof, the posh hotel where people behave very professional in the day time, and less so at night. The fair officially opens on Wednesday, so until then it’s lots of people packed in one hotel area, desperately seeking other people, most of whom they have not met and therefore have no idea what they look like. The other thing we are all looking for are steckdose to recharge our most vital external organ: the iPhone 5.
First rule of Frankfurt Book Fair: You do not talk about Fight Club.
Instead, you talk about books.
We talk about all our successes, our brilliant new acquisitions, the rights we sold, the current bestsellers, the upcoming bestsellers and of course we all just pre-empted thé book of the fair – imagine that, the fair has not even started!
After a week self-hatred kicks in and you get bored and tired of our own repetitive jokes and same old oneliners: all you want to do is to quit publishing and go home.
And guess what? We (as in the royal we: meaning Lebowski Publishers) pre-empted at 11AM this morning the winner of the Deutscher Buchpreis 2015, before the fair has even started!
May we present: Frank Witzel with the 800 page long The Invention of the Red Army Faction by a Manic-Depressive Teenager in the Summer of 1969. It tells the coming-of-age story of a 13-year old boy in West Germany in a period marked by Cold War, domestic terrorism and dealings with the past. As the jury said: ‘Frank Witzel's work is, in the best sense, a boundless novelistic construct.’
Here’s a trailer (auf Deutsch):
Second rule of the Frankfurt Book Fair: You do not talk about Fight Club.
Off to the Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof: ‘Set in the financial district, this elegant hotel dating from 1876 lies 1.4 km from the Zeil shopping street and 2.3 km from Palmengarten, a 19th-century botanical garden.’
I see my good friend Niclas Salomonsson (who, in a previous life, acted in Andy Warhol films), the inimitable Jamie Byng and my oldest friend in the business: Ziv Lewis. All good.
First meeting is with the lovely Kathrin Scheel, who’s selling rights for Schöffling & Co and who has just set up her own agency, called This Book Travels. We bought a fantastic classic from her: Berlin Finale, by Heinz Rein, a book from 1947, the same year Hans Fallada published his famed Alone in Berlin. The Rein is 700 pages, not as long as Witzel, but still a short read compared to a Serbian masterpiece I am offered, which is around 1000 pages.
Next in line is Christopher Hassenzahl of Suhrkamp, and his Dutch sub-agent Linda Kohn. They have moved one table compared to our meeting last year, in Oscar’s, the in house restaurant at the Hof. We speak about Walser and new Suhrkamp talent, and hey: here’s a thousand page long novel by a major talent, how about that?
Off to Simon Prosser, one of my favorite international publishers. We ‘share’ some great authors, Dave Eggers being one of them. Has he heard when The Dave will deliver? No. Adjustment of planning and budget needed. We also talk about ‘nature philosophy’. People want to go off-line, off-road tracking, off-anything. Chase clouds, march along without plan – sort of like going the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Nature is the space between the hotel lobby and my taxi, Woody Allen once said (I think). I have nothing against nature, but I don’t see the point of walking in areas without 4G or wifi.
Let’s go rural, but also let’s not exaggerate.
I recommend Simon the stories of Breece D’J Pancake: rural anarchist.
I go out of the hotel to have a drink and talk with the mighty Carlo Feltrinelli. Feltrinelli is bigger than life: there are 100 Feltrinelli bookstores in Italy, they publish great authors (Arnon Grunberg, amongs others), they opened a restaurant in Sicily (street food) and they have their own TV-channel. And now Carlo is aiming for the stars: an institute for social sciences in the heart of Milano.
Talk about thinking big.
He invites me – and my lovely wife Manuela – to stay with him in Milan. I don’t say no.
We walk back to the Hof and he hands two cigarettes to one of the many beggars in Frankfurt. Earlier in the day, I saw this man (on the photograph below), I thought he was praying (maybe he was), then, looking better, saw he was begging.
He must be one of those 'fortune seekers' I keep reading about in the newspapers.
Off to dinner now, more tomorrow.