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.
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .
The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .
Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .
It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .
From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, Egypt was going through a period of transition. The country’s people were growing unhappy with the corruption of power in the government, which had been under British rule for decades. The Egyptians’. . .
Miruna is a novella written in the voice of an adult who remembers the summer he (then, seven) and his sister, Miruna (then, six) spent in the Evil Vale with their grandfather (sometimes referred to as “Grandfather,” other times as. . .
Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that. . .
While looking back at an episode in his life, twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro remembers what his friend Kumamoto Akira said about poetry.
Its perfection arises precisely from its imperfection . . . . I have an image in my head. I see. . .
The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the. . .
Spoiler alert: acclaimed writer Stefan Zweig and his wife Lotte kill themselves at the end of Lauren Seksik’s 2010 novel, The Last Days.
It’s hard to avoid spoiling this mystery. Zweig’s suicide actually happened, in Brazil in 1942, and since then. . .