Finland and the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair


Finland and the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair

The very first book fair in Frankfurt took place in 1370. Over 600 years later, and the Frankfurt Book Fair has become the largest of its kind. Roaming its cavernous halls is like exploring a small city, each hall containing several unique neighborhoods devoted to specialty publishing branches. What were the highlights of the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair? Why are books important? What was Finland’s role as Guest of Honor? Read on to find out.
by Nicolette Stewart

The 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair began with good and bad news: Lutz Seiler’s novel Kruso was awarded The German Book Prize on the evening of October 6th, and on the morning of October 7th, as the book fair officially opened its doors to visitors, Siegfried Lenz was reported dead.

Lenz was an important and prolific German author whose 15 novels and dozens of novellas, plays, children’s works, and essays often explored Germany’s role in the rise of Nazism.  He was also a member of Gruppe 47, a literary group interested in democracy, free expression, and confrontation with the Nazi area and included big names like Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass.

Though this sad news could have set a somber tone for the start of what is generally a very exciting literary event—or I should say events, as the Frankfurt Book Fair boasted over 4,000 individual events this year—it instead served, for some, as a reminder of why literature is important.  Lenz was known for tackling political subjects in his work, and the connection between writing, authors, and politics was explored over three days by the 20 authors taking part in “Frankfurt Undercover.”  The results of their brainstorming sessions will be collected and published in a free book.  Their manifesto will go online next week.

“Exchanges between politics and literature can be fruitful. Perhaps the power of words and the power of politics should meet more often,” said Director of the Frankfurt Book Fair Jürgen Boos.

Though the publishing industry is changing in ways that many print publishers do not know how to confront as the tide of digitalization sweeps across the industry, with approximately 290,000 visitors and 9,000 members of the press in attendance, enthusiasm for the Frankfurt Book Fair made clear that interest from both publishers and from readers is alive and well.  The question is: what will the future of reading look like?  Sponsorship from Samsung and stands displaying e-readers and e-book services were just a few of what, perhaps, will be signposts to point to the future shape of reading.

“The publishing industry has a lot of charm and personality,” said Boos, “and–after an initial moment of panic, it is now demonstrating an astonishing level of mental agility, even in the face of digitization.”

Over the Frankfurt Book Fair’s five-day span, many prizes were awarded (read a wrap up of some of them here), readings and concerts took place, and big names like Ken Follet, Paulo Coelho, Herta Müller, Janne Teller, and Rafik Schami gave interviews and made appearances.  Visitors could participate in a dizzying variety of events: there were discussions about German literature in the English-speaking world in the English-language hall, lessons in Finnish and comic drawing organized by the Guest of Honor, cookbook authors demonstrating their techniques live while audiences sampled their creations in the Gourmet Gallery, and on Sunday the German Cosplay Championship filled the book fair’s halls with brightly costumed fans.  The Gutenberg Museum Mainz had a large stand in Hall 4.1 where they demonstrated historical printing techniques, and while the Deutsches Architekturmuseum and Porsche Museum displayed their wares and publications on the other side of the hall.  Without a doubt, the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair was an event with a little something for everyone.

Finland’s Role at the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair

Five hundred of this year’s 4,000 events were organized by the 2014 Guest of Honor: Finland.  Events ranged language lessons to author readings to making a rubbing of a poem from a table inscribed with texts or creating a poem via brain scan.

The Guest of Honor Pavilion in the Forum was designed by master students of interior and space design from Aalto University in Helsinki: Natalia Baczynska Kimberley, Nina Kosonen, and Matti  Mikkilä.  The result was an open and impressive division of a large exhibit space into various reading cafes, displays, and an exhibit of 900 books on the subject of Finland.  Moomins—a hippo-like fantasy creature creation of Finnish children’s author and illustrator Tove Jansson—were represented everywhere, as one of the country’s most internationally recognizable cultural exports.

Finland is a highly literate country, with many accomplished authors to share with the rest of the world at this year’s fair.  The average Finnish person reads 17 books a year—a lot compared to the 11 read by the average American or six read by the average Brit—and this helps support the country’S lively literary scene as well as a library system that is completely free.  In 2013, 5,000 new books were published in Finland, only 340 of which were translations from other languages.  In honor of the Frankfurt Book Fair and the international attention it inspires, 34 new titles were translated into English.  More than 180 Finnish books will be published in Germany this year.

For the first time in the history of the Frankfurt Book Fair, a program track specifically for translators was organized—another gem from the minds of the Finnish organizers.  Translators are bridges, ambassadors for the literary scenes of their respective countries, and the translation program this year set out to both promote their work in the international publishing scene, as well as make translators aware of their professional options.

“The objective of the Finnland. Cool. Guest of Honor project is to achieve a permanent boost in the sales of translation rights to books from Finland. This will not be possible without skilled translators,” explained a Finnland. Cool. press release.

Why does the Frankfurt Book Fair matter?

As a meeting point for publishers, authors, and book enthusiasts from around the world, the Frankfurt Book Fair helps to draw attention to literature from around the world.

As Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at the Frankfurt Book Fair opening, “Literature allows us to share the dreams, but also the traumas, of individuals and peoples. It allows us to understand what touches us. That is why we need literature.”

by Nicolette Stewart