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.
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. . .