As is evident from the title—“The Last Book Party”—Gideon’s piece is more about the people, the social aspects, the scene of the Frankfurt Book Fair than anything else. (For anyone who doesn’t know, in October, thousands of publishing people descend on Frankfurt, Germany to spend five days buying and selling—or at least talking about buying and selling—rights to books. We usually come back with four-plus linear feet of catalogs, samples, promotional books, etc., that we slowly read through over the ensuing twelve months before the practice starts all over again . . .) And this plays to Gideon’s strengths as a writer—he’s great at depicting these sorts of events, making them make sense to a newcomer, and making the overly familiar step back and see these ritualized occurrences in a slightly odder light.
And he’s great at describing people and getting excellent quotes. Especially from the always on and always entertaining Ira Silverberg:
Ira, in a bracingly Windsor-knotted pink tie and smart blue sports jacket, just stepped off the red-eye from New York but looks as though he just stepped out of an extravagant shower. His gray curls, shot through with some black still, are swept back from his forehead in a way that seems both distinguished and boyish. Credited with looking like a Jewish Richard Gere, he is finer-hewn than that, his features sharper, more clever. [. . .]
“Our roots are in literary books,” Ira says. (When Ira was a teenager he went on a pilgrimage to see Burroughs.) “They’re not our day-to-day business; our day-to-day business is disgusting. You’ll be hearing a lot about vampire year. But here is where we can at least remember what we think differentiates us from widget salesmen.”
Thankfully the piece doesn’t devolve into a look at how publishing people spend all their time drinking, screwing around, and pretending they live glamorous lives once they get out from behind their desks. Instead he poignantly pokes fun at this:
It’s getting later and drunker, and one young foreign-rights agent pointedly asks me how the late-night scene at the Frankfurter Hof could possibly be relevant to my purposes. Motoko [Rich of the New York Times, I say, told me I should hang out here. The agent says it makes her and everyone else uncomfortable that I’m hanging around when everybody’s drunk, that maybe what I’m jotting down is that someone is flirting and then leaving with a married person. I’m pretty sure I know the flirtatious pair she’s referring to, from the previous evening, though I certainly didn’t know until now that they’d left together; I couldn’t care less. Her pointing this out seems less defensive than insistent, as if she wants to make sure I register that despite the crisis in the industry, married people in Frankfurt are still sleeping with people to whom they happen not to be married. I take out my notebook and write, “Motoko useful again.”
What Gideon starts to develop in the piece is an interesting model of the ultimate publisher/editor/agent: someone who has both aesthetic and commercial chops. A person who loves real literature, and knows how to pick a commercial success. It’s an interesting idea that shuffles aside a lot of the reasons why a particular book becomes a worldwide hit, but is useful way of looking at the big names in the publishing world.
One of the people Gideon centers on is Andrew “The Jackal” Wylie, who represents writers like Italo Calvino and (now) Robert Bolano, and is also known for his vicious nature and for creating nasty bidding wars. (The bit about Gideon hedging on translating the title of the German article for Wylie—the title refers to the super-agent as the “greediest” man at Frankfurt—is hysterical.)
The whole article is pretty entertaining, and worth checking out to get a sense of what the Frankfurt Book Fair is like.
The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .
Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .
The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband.. . .
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. . .