Like no other place on earth, the world's largest book fair is home to a marketplace of ideas and worldviews. Nowhere else are ideas so discussed and debated, gaining relevance, writes DW's Jochen Kürten.
A few years ago it was easier to identify an overarching theme at the Frankfurt Book Fair. One recent big these was the advent of the e-book, the digital transformation that was shaking the book industry. It was a topic that returned over the course of several years. Then last year it was replaced at many trade fair booths and in discussions with the refugee crisis.
This year was different. Of course there was a plethora of subjects that were making the rounds. Had the confrontation between presenters and protesters of a right-wing publisher not happened at the end of the week, then the question of how to deal with right-wing publishers would have grown in relevance. Yet the truth is: at the book fair, one would have to get out a magnifying glass to find those who sympathize with the right-wing and when found, they would not be taken seriously as intellectuals. The political guidelines as put forth by parties like the AfD are likewise not something that would be supported by many in the book industry.
Donald Trump likewise not a major topic at the trade fair
That was also the case with the subject of Trump. The 2017 book fair was the first in Frankfurt that has taken place during the era of the 45th US President. Yet the views of Donald Trump and the American political style have shown themselves so outrageous in recent months that few people feel inclined to share their opinions. Thus it was not the book fair dominated by Donald Trump.
A speech by French President Emmanuel Macron Tuesday evening added some excitement to the festivities. His profound speech, largely free of the banality of most opening speeches by politicians, was convincing to many, especially in Germany, where you are not often spoiled with such intellectual-political brilliance.
Macron, Eribon and Houellebecq enriched the trade fair
There are two sides to Macron: the real-politik side that would like to turn his nation's economic situation around has created a strong opposition at home. Above all among those in intellectual circles. Authors Didier Eribon and Édouard Louis are two examples of that opposition who spoke out against their president using sharp words. In doing so, they enriched the splendid and literarily rich appearance of the Grande Nation with a sociopolitical debate. A mediocre performance by France's star author Michel Houellebecq was only the icing on the cake.
France as the guest of honor came to the book fair with more translations in its pocket than any previous guest of honor had done. In 2018, with Georgia as guest of honor, we can once again expect a smaller national presence, though with highly interesting subjects and a perspective on a quite different literary nation. The German book prize was awarded to Austrian Robert Menasse, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade went to Canadian author Margaret Atwood at the conclusion of the book show. All of these were signs of recognition that experts from numerous countries could be satisfied with. Nothing explosive here, either.
The future of literature: between pessimism and optimism
One debate that remains constant is that about the future of literature. Aside from the talked-to-death confrontation about the future of e-books (which in Germany play a very small part in the grand scheme), is the pessimistic prediction printed by a large German newspaper two weeks before the trade fair began. In it, the author stated that the space for intellectual resonance in the country was shrinking, that there were few books that were of interest in the country at all, that reading was an increasingly rare pastime and when it was done, it was in the form of being read to — like at fun events like reading festivals and debates. It's the authors opinion and she's welcome to it.
Yet the accusation that the publishing industry is in turmoil is as old as the industry itself. And when publishers and booksellers have to close as profit figures are looking south, the German book market is as a whole as rich and astonishingly diverse as ever. One sometimes has to rub one's eyes to believe it! That is thus a complaint made from a position of luxury. People who want to be pessimistic about their careers need only to look outside Germany's borders, and even to other continents. Those who do not have enough interesting books on their nightstand, be in touch! Maybe this German pessimism about the state of culture a story for another day — one at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2018!