Top authors make star turns at Frankfurt book fair

Book shelves at the pavilion of the Guest of Honour country, France, during the preparations ahead of the Frankfurt Book Fair in Frankfurt am Main, on Oct 9, 2017. French President Emmanuel Macron will formally open the fair with German Chancellor An
Book shelves at the pavilion of the Guest of Honour country, France, during the preparations ahead of the Frankfurt Book Fair in Frankfurt am Main, on Oct 9, 2017. French President Emmanuel Macron will formally open the fair with German Chancellor Angela Merkel today.PHOTO: AFP

FRANKFURT • The price is US$29 (S$40) and 1,800 people have made bookings.

The ticket - to hear well-known author Dan Brown talk - illustrates how Frankfurt is turning the page to ensure the world's oldest book fair stays relevant to the Instagram generation.

Margaret Atwood and Nicholas Sparks are also among the big names descending on Frankfurt, which is hoping to wow the crowds with live events by star authors.

And with France as this year's guest country, it is not just writers who are getting top billing. French President Emmanuel Macron will formally open the fair with German Chancellor Angela Merkel today.

After last year's edition focused on ways for publishers to tap new technologies such as virtual reality and 3D printing, organisers are going back to basics this year, putting the spotlight back on writers and their readers.

"There's a desire to see authors, to experience them in real life," the fair's spokesman Katja Boehne said of the five-day event, expected to attract more than 270,000 visitors.

"The book is more alive than ever," she added, describing a growing trend of fans queuing to see their favourite author in a "pop concert-like" atmosphere.

Legendary Canadian novelist Atwood, whose 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale is now a successful American television show, will be among the top draws in Frankfurt, where she will be presented with the German book trade's "peace prize" for her prescient body of work.

Fairgoers are also expected to jostle for a glimpse of American romance novelist Sparks, whose hits include The Notebook (1996) and Message In A Bottle (1998).

Welsh thriller writer Ken Follett, Irish novelist Cecelia Ahern and British author Paula Hawkins (The Girl On The Train, 2015) will likewise draw readers hoping for an autograph or a selfie.

But the undisputed highlight comes on Saturday when Brown presents his new thriller, Origin, the latest instalment in the bestselling The Da Vinci Code series. In what has been billed as a live event, he will lift the veil on Professor Robert Langdon's latest quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe.

"An event like this that attracts nearly 2,000 people, we couldn't have done that in the past," said the fair's director Juergen Boos.

He plans to "massively expand" on the concept in coming years. "Our industry has to think about image as well. We have to make our business more glamorous," he said.

France will send more than 180 writers to Germany, including some of the world's best-known French-language authors. The line-up includes serial provocateur Michel Houellebecq, new-enfant-terrible-on-the-block Edouard Louis, acclaimed Congolese novelist Alain Mabanckou and Moroccan-born Leila Slimani, who scared parents everywhere with her award-winning tale of a killer nanny.

The fair will also be politically charged in other ways, with organisers planning to highlight concerns about freedom of expression in Turkey, where several German nationals have been detained in what Germany described as politically motivated cases that have strained bilateral ties.

The former editor-in-chief of Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, Mr Can Dundar, who faces imprisonment in Turkey, will speak about writing in exile, while supporters of Germany's jailed Die Welt correspondent Deniz Yucel will stage events calling for his release under the banner #Freedeniz.

The Frankfurt book fair is the world's largest publishing event, bringing together more than 7,000 exhibitors from more than 100 countries.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2017, with the headline 'Top authors make star turns at Frankfurt book fair'. Print Edition | Subscribe