24.2.09

Harpers Magazine on the Frankfurt Book Fair
By noreply@blogger.com (Edward Nawotka)

For those who haven't yet seen it, the March issue of Harper's magazine in the US features a cover story about last year's Frankfurt Book Fair. Entitled, "The Last Book Party," and subtitled "Publishing Drinks to a Life After Death," it's a wry, well-observed and too cynical look at the Fair.
The author, Gideon Lewis-Kraus views the Fair through the eyes of a few key US and UK players, most notably, his uncle Bob Miller of Harper Studio, and Morgan Entriken of Grove/Atlantic, agents Ira Silverberg and Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie, the New York Times' publishing reporter Mokoto Rich.
These are for folks who follow the annals of publishing like a cast of "usual suspects." It's not news, as such, that Morgan likes to party, but has dialed it back with the arrival of his AARP card.
Things get a bit more interesting whenLewis-Kraus, has a few serendipitous encounters with the likes of Random House CEO Marcus Dohle, whom he rather unkindly refers to as "the printer" and HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray, whose pants are, deemed "too shiny." Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch comes across as "the kind of man you would be chuffed to have as your uncle" -- a characterization I find a bit one dimensional -- Pietsch is an extremely shrewd business man, particularly in the board room. (As it happens, Bob Miller is sort of the author's uncle -- Miller's mother was the author's second wife.)
Throughout, the not-so subtle subtext of the article suggests that an army of dull, technocratic Germans are running the traditional publishing community of Jewish creative/intellectual elites out of the publishing business. (The Frankfurter Hof, where many of the parties take place, is explicitly referred to as "Hitler's favorite hotel."). However clever that may appear to be -- it's a superficial one. Publishing has been largely diversified, ethnically and racially, for a century.
Then again, the author also seems to think that everyone in publishing is also sartorially challenged (what people are wearing consumes plenty of space) and ever-so-slightly uncool.
The Fair is summarized as "part industry convention and part endurance trial." Well, perhaps. Still, it's a bit of a shame that the author and many of the people quoted here and the author himself, who is attending his first Fair, seem so jaded. It's often the same when you ask anyone about BookExpo America.
It's a shame really. Call me crazy, but if you love books -- what could be more stimulating than a few thousand, or tens of thousands, or over the course of the week -- hundreds of thousands -- of people gathered together to talk, peruse and bathe in books? Cynicism is a nothing more than a fashionable pose -- one that ultimately gets uncomfortable. If you can't find something at Frankfurt to get excited about with regards to publishing, you're not looking.

Follow-up: The LA Times interviewed the author about the piece as well.