Dec 05 2017

A Publisher’s Reflections on the Frankfurt Book Fair 2017

Published by at 9:45 am under Uncategorized

A Publisher’s Reflections on the Frankfurt Book Fair 2017

Michael Eskin

As almost every year, I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair earlier this fall. Among other things, I strolled around the booths in the domestic and international halls, met an agent we have recently signed a representation agreement with to discuss rights sales for one of our authors, attended a renowned German publisher’s annual reception, and was invited – one of several international publishers – to a dinner at an Italian restaurant hosted by yet another agent aiming to pitch one of his authors. Upon my return to New York City, I was asked to share my reflections on my Frankfurt experience this year.

By way of an introductory profession de foi, I have to confess that I truly love being a publisher; I feel there is a kind of complete coincidence between me and what I do – I never feel that I am playing a part, but simply that I am doing what I am doing for as long I will have been doing it for real. One of the reasons for my being so internally aligned with being a publisher is, I believe, the sense that what we at Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc. are doing is adding real value and meaning to people’s lives and the world at large, that we are doing something truly noble and good. Not to mention the fact that I simply like books – reading, writing, and making them – as well as the unique buzz surrounding their acquisition, creation, production, and launches.

This year, too, then, the Frankfurt Book Fair ­– the most important global fair of its kind – was a palpable reminder that publishing, making and distributing books, educating and entertaining humanity, is a noble pursuit indeed, taken seriously by tens of thousands of professionals, and, more importantly, by tens of thousands of readers, who flock to the fair in droves on the last two days when it opens to the general public.

On most of my visits, usually at the hotel at night, I also get to read new books given to me by publishers to be considered for acquisition and publication in English by Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc. Which is how I sometimes discover unsuspected gems.

This year as well, I had such a unique reading experience. But it was not afforded me by one of my publisher colleagues but by a friend who had just published a book, which I started reading at the airport while waiting to board my outbound flight and which I finished before arriving in Frankfurt. Remarkably, as I was heading to the most important annual global literary exchange, I was reading a book about the global, trans-historical “power of stories to shape people, history, civilization” – thus the book’s subtitle.

Martin Puchner’s breathtakingly erudite and elegant The Written World, which covers anything and everything you ever wanted to know about anything and everything book-literature-politics-and-the-world-at-large-related from pre-biblical to postmodern times provided me with a perfect backdrop to get myself into the proper ‘book fair state of mind’. Not only did it confirm the validity of the publisher’s purpose as someone who facilitates the proliferation of stories, thus helping to shape people, history, and civilization; but it also – and more importantly, I should add – enjoined me to take a fresh look at what I had taken for granted about the book fair: the co-presence, for a mere five days a year, of thousands of publishers hailing from different cultures, continents, and nations, and reaching their audiences in hundreds of languages. If The Written World suggested a global space of ‘world literature’ charted by an ever-expanding network of stories sharing plot elements and narrative structures and availing themselves of border-crossing techniques and technologies as they exert an indelible impact on the changing socio-political realities surrounding them, the Frankfurt Book Fair appeared to be driving home the exact opposite: myriads of tiny principalities, speaking and writing in different languages, embodying different cultures and nationalities, and only communicating with each other, on rare occasions, thanks to the diligent work of translators whose services are engaged less often than one might imagine.

As I was wandering the aisles of the various exhibition halls, browsing the shelves of Croatian, Serbian, Spanish, French, Indian, and many other publishers, I couldn’t help thinking that, while the written world might be both a humanizing and idealistic prism through which to interpret our past, present, and future, it might also behoove us to recognize and acknowledge the harsh reality of many written worlds that do not necessarily communicate with each other. Which is where the Frankfurt Book Fair and similar events in New York, London, Hong Kong, New Delhi and elsewhere come in: much-needed islands of communication that bridge the gulf between our desire for one written world and the many actual written worlds we are confronted with every day.

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