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.
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .
Like any good potboiler worth its salt, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun wastes no time setting up its premise: “Last night, I found a gun. Or you could say I stole it, I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen something so. . .