To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Frankfurt Book Fair (the history of which actually dates back hundreds of years, although the modern version started shortly after WWII), the FBF newsletter is focusing each month on another decade of the fair. This month they look at the 1980s and talk to Peter Mayer, who, at the time, was the CEO of Penguin International and is now the publisher of Overlook.
Sounds like the 80s were a particularly good period of growth for the fair (in 1988 there were 7,000 exhibitors from 92 countries), and Peter’s description of the importance of the fair seems pretty accurate:
You have attended the Frankfurt Book Fair for over 40 years. What does the Fair mean to you?
Publishing as an activity, while centered on books and authors, is not only about them, although when I was younger I thought it was only about them. We live in a book community, the community matters to me and Frankfurt is a great coming-together place. One often drinks a lot and stays up too late; one loses one’s voice. One smiles at people whose face one knows but whose names have been forgotten over the last 12 months. One comes to know who is married to whom, and to whom no longer, how many children each acquaintance has, how these children are getting along, where friends live. Sometimes I have been lucky enough to visit them in their own countries or have them visit me in mine.
On the business side, I always have a very busy schedule. There were many years when there were very “big” books and I think the fair became a center point for the publishers and agents to excite their foreign counterparts and thereby manage to extract some very high advances. The same regarding co-publishing art books. The opportunity to do that leads agents and publishers often not to sell rights to the books before the fair because at the fair high-pressure and event fever can be generated. For Overlook Press, this worked with Robert Littell’s The Company when literary agents Andrew Nurnberg and Ed Victor and I worked very closely together to produce some very pulsing excitement and the book was sold to many countries. This probably led to the emergence of The Overlook Press as a company which today is seen as one having quite a few commercial books alongside the literary books we are perhaps mostly known for.
Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .
There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .
In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .
I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .