Last week, I exchanged the London chill for the snow of Berlin, Leipzig and Chemnitz. As I expected from my previous visit with the Goethe Institute translation tour in 2010, the Leipzig Book Fair was an exhilarating whirlwind of inspiring readings, panel discussions and friendly faces. On Thursday, I dived straight in with a meeting about a book I’ve recently fallen for, then headed off to a panel discussion on ‘Die Zukunft der Bücher’ chaired by the FAZ’s Felicitas von Lovenberg and including author Judith Schalansky, kookbooks’ Daniela Seel, author and publisher Jo Lendle and Dave Eggers of McSweeney fame (whose interpreter was able to sit back for the occasional breather when, unsurprisingly, the predominantly German audience declined the need for his English-language comments to be translated). The discussion definitely raised some interesting points, although occasionally seemed stilted by the wearying wrangle between physical book ‘fetishists’ and e-reader enthusiasts, ignoring at times the possibility that the two can co-exist and cross-pollinate. For me, one of the key points came from Jo Lendle, who reminded us that, although a beautiful physical text can help the transmission process, stories predominantly start life as digital text on a computer screen. Therefore, imagination is what matters; stories are ultimately travelling from the mind of the author to the mind of the reader. I agree: there are some physical books I want to keep for the rest of my life, but I also see the need for transportable, more environmentally sustainable literature. Although I would love to have an expansive home library, much like this one here, my lifestyle is still too nomadic for that, and I’m sure that’s the case for many other people as well. The panel was followed by the ceremony for the Leipzig Book Prize, awarded in Translation to Eva Hesse for her translation of Ezra Pound’s Cantos, in Non-Fiction to Helmut Böttiger for ‘Die Gruppe 47‘, and in Fiction to David Wagner for Leben, which Katy Derbyshire reviewed here. Katy and I nabbed a spot at the back of the VIP zone and treated ourselves to ice-cream, using the balmy atmosphere of the Messe’s greenhouse-like Glashalle to forget the snow and -5 C windchill outside.
That night, I went on to the Lange Leipziger Lesenacht in the Moritzbastei, an event put on each year during the Fair to showcase young talent in the German-language literary world. After hearing Pyotr Magnus Nedov reading from his excellent debut Zuckerleben, I enjoyed the atmosphere down in the cellar for a while before heading upstairs to hear Tilmann Rammstedt. His reading from his recent novel Die Abenteur meines ehemaligen Bankberaters had the audience captivated by the very first lines. It’s on my to-read list, as I’ve been a big fan of Rammstedt’s work since reviewing Der Kaiser von China for New Books in German (Katy Derbyshire is translating it for Seagull Books) and meeting him at the LCB Sommerakademie in 2011. I then spent Friday wandering around the stalls, discovering new titles and listening to readings — and also had the pleasure of meeting Ursula Poznanski, whose crime novel Fünf I’m currently translating for Harvill Secker.
One of the things I like most about the Leipziger Buchmesse is its celebration of reading, of the very heart of literature. And it’s not only a great opportunity to seek out new German-language voices, but indeed those from all over the world. After all, given that our intake of translated fiction in the UK is still limited, other markets such as the German-language one can be an excellent source for finding out about literary gems we might otherwise miss.
After the Fair, I headed south-east to Chemnitz for the weekend, where I spent a couple of days with a good friend before heading back to London, my notebook bursting at the seams with new titles to read.