I’m happy to be in Frankfurt this week for the world’s biggest book fair. And it is indeed the world’s biggest. It takes place in the Messe, the Frankfurt expo center (it’s a city of expos, the car show, book fair and textile fair the three main ones). And it is overwhelmingly huge: eleven halls, hundreds of publishers, thousands of books. It’s not really a place for writers, but a place of doing business, the business of books. Agents and publishers flock to Frankfurt to buy titles, negotiate foreign rights, and iron out contracts. There are panels and talks and readings all throughout the week, though, and the event is open to the public on the weekend too.
The venue looks like a giant airport, with long moving walkways that take you to the various halls, like terminals. There’s also a shuttle bus and in the open middle of the center, food stalls galore and live stages galore. Inside, the giant halls are divided into long rows A-J and stalls have numbers, like Hall 3.0, Stall A31. It’s very logical and easy to figure out once you get there, but you’d better have shoes that don’t hurt you with all the walking you have to do.
I spent most of my time walking around, enjoying the atmosphere. It’s business-like, so everyone’s well-dressed. No sloppy writers in torn jeans and sneakers. At tables everywhere agents and publishers were talking intently over contracts and manuscripts. As a writer, you often wonder who the mysterious gods are that decide whether or not to publish you. Here they were in front of me, and it emphasized the fact that while writing is an art, publishing is a business.
I was invited by the Goethe Institut to take part in two panels, and here’s a video of the first one, Youth Rising Against Despotism. My co-panelist Kristian Baker, my moderator Amira El Ahl, and my traslator Sheraz Saleem were professional, well-prepared and authoritative. Although the panel was meant to look at graffiti and street art as a means of youth protest in the Arab Spring, Kristian talked about Turkey and I talked about Pakistan. I realized how much Turkey and Pakistan have in common: struggling and yo-yoing between dictatorship and democracy, between openness and authoritarianism.