Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New Zealand authors and publishers in Germany this week for the Leipzig Book Fair

Inside the Glass Hall - from While You Were Sleeping
Inside the Glass Hall
Alan Duff summed it up well. "I think we've all been astonished by how many people have come to this book fair," he said at an authors' reading yesterday. "There are more people here than at two rugby tests in New Zealand."
Alan was one of a group of New Zealand authors and publishers in Germany this week for the Leipzig Book Fair. Last year, the four-day fair attracted 163,000 visitors, including 45,000 trade visitors and 2,800 journalists.
Most of the stands and speakers were behind a language barrier for non-German speakers but there was still plenty to see, not least the fair's central glass hall - suspended glass, arched trusses and a few dozen trees on the ground floor.
Inside the exhibition halls, the displays included everything from audio books to limited-run art school projects. There were educational and technical texts, a comic book section and "cosplay" (costume play) competition, children's books, make-your-own-book workshops, and a stand from the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, one of the oldest museums of printing in the world.
The procession from the train centre to the Book Fair
One of the standouts for me was the "Book Lab", a project from the design department of the Fachhochschule Dortmund. As well as showcasing the possibilities of print, the project display took a fresh approach to sales. Each book corresponded to a tear-away bookmark with information on the author, the book's production and a QR code for ordering online.
Amid all this was the New Zealand stand, appearing in close association with the Frankfurt Book Fair stand as part of this year's guest of honour programme. It was a busy four days for organisers, publishers and authors (New Zealanders and Germans alike) and will stay busy until the Frankfurt Book Fair in October. Part of the work going on behind the scenes involves the translation of New Zealand texts into German, with close to 50 projects currently underway.
For me, the goodwill behind the Frankfurt Book Fair guest of honour programme is obvious. It's a chance to host and be hosted, and to share words and ideas that might otherwise not be heard. Germany's Litprom, also based in Frankfurt, has a somewhat similar aim: support and promote the works of other countries (with a focus on Africa, Asia and Latin America) to readers in the German-speaking region. Even (or especially) if the books concerned don't have "national" subjects or themes, exposure to authors from other countries can only be a good thing.
A closing note from Leipzig: if nothing else, the tens of thousands at the book fair this week all shared a love for the written word. For this book-lover, it was an education and an inspiration. Here's looking to Frankfurt.

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