By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘Making Connections’ in a New Stand DesignAs Guest of Honor at the sprawling Taipei International Book Exhibition, the German book market unveiled a new collective stand, themed ‘German Stories.’
A multi-use space that reconfigured itself throughout the day for various activities, the stand was at times a raceway for dashing children, an audience space with rows of chairs for lectures and live interviews, and a comfortable lounge for perusing a book under the glow of the design’s pink canopies.
The presentation of this new, highly flexible space was conceived, planned and organized by Frankfurter Buchmesse, the Goethe-Institut Taipei, and the German Institute Taipei, working in close collaboration with the Taipei Book Fair Foundation.
Sabine Kieselbach, literary correspondent with Dutsche Welle, was there to present the network’s “100 German Must-Reads” novels and films, which stand visitors were able to access on iPads along with some 600 books on view as part of the German Collective Stand function of the pavilion. The display represented the 37 publishers involved in the collective program, including 14 based in children’s and YA content.
Events held at the German stand are reported by Frankfurter Buchmesse organizers to have been filled to capacity, drawing between 100 and 120 visitors each from the swirling crowds of fairgoers who moved between two buildings–Taipei’s children’s books displays are in a separate building from the main show floor.
Miriam Meckel, Axel Scheffler, and Ferdinand von Schirach’s appearances at “Theme Square”, the fair’s main stage, attracted several hundred guests who engaged in a lively discussion between audience and stage.
Sunny Books, the bookshop at the ‘German Stories’ stand, sold more than 500 German titles during the week of the public-facing fair, doubling the stand’s bookshop turnover by comparison to last year.
As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall from our coverage of the stand’s opening events, the theme “German Stories” is meant to encompass “making connections, adopting a new vantage point, changing perspectives.” The stand included a small area with Bauhaus-inspired costuming for youngsters to try on, though it was unclear how much understanding they were gaining about the Bauhaus movement, now in its centennial.
‘To Facilitate Dialogue and Exchange’
There were 13 German authors engaged in the programming at Taipei.
“I met Taiwanese readers for the first time here at the book fair,” said one of them, the writer Ferdinand von Schirach. He’s a bestselling author in Taiwan as well as Germany, and said that he found meeting Taiwanese readers of his work “a very moving experience.
“One example was an older lady who told me that my books would tell her the truth. I found that sentence remarkable.”
“It was important for us to include an element of playfulness: We wanted our visitors to be creative and get involved–and to have some fun, too.”
Six of von Shirach’s books have been translated for the Taiwanese market and have sold a total of 120,000 copies.
When German authors were interviewed on the stand–between two banks of Greek-theater-style stepped seating–heir partners onstage were popular Taiwan journalists and writers.
Stephan Thome appeared with Ming-yi Wu, whose novel The Stolen Bicycle was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize (2018). Both authors have explored historical topics in a literary form.
Ronen Steinke, lawyer and editor at Süddeutsche Zeitung, talked to author and correspondent Yu-li Lin about coming to terms with the past. Steinke’s biography of Fritz Bauer (who advocated prosecution of Nazi crimes).
In another session, Regina Bittner, deputy director of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, explored East Asian influences on the Bauhaus movement in discussion with architecture professor Weng-chi Wang. Regina Bittner said, “The Bauhaus movement has always had international reach, and there are numerous points of contact between Bauhaus, the avant-garde, and trends from the Far East.”
Bärbel Becker, who heads up international projects at Frankfurter Buchmesse, is quoted in a prepared statement about the experience of ‘German Stories” first outing at Taipei, saying, “When planning the German presentation, three overarching themes were key:
“First, we wanted to facilitate dialogue and exchange between German authors and Taiwanese authors and readers. Through discussions, we wanted to learn more about the subjects and phenomena that are topical in both societies.
“Second, our open, inviting stand design aimed to create a space that was both informative and able to arouse curiosity about Germany.
“And third, it was important for us to include an element of playfulness: We wanted our visitors to be creative and get involved—and to have some fun, too.”
‘Some Really Exciting Discussions’
The ‘German Stories’ Guest of Honor stand found its footing among the overriding them of the Taipei fair this year, too. As laid out by James CM Chao, the show’s director, “Time for Reading” was an appeal to publishers and the visiting public to avoid letting electronic entertainment usurp the time that in past eras would have been spent with books. Certainly the stand’s programming and friendly, instructive staffers were fully aligned with the concept.
But in a quiet moment between presentations, the challenge for the world’s book industry—even as East and West were meeting under pink fabric—became clear when several young readers were spotted taking advantage of the new stand’s stair-step seating.
Surrounded by books and colorful displays about reading, just one of the kids on the steps had picked up a book to look at. The others were head-down over their smartphones.
Even as rights directors praised the comfort and efficiency of the new Guest of Honor design, they could easily see the hurdle ahead as younger readers in particular are wooed by visual and auditory stimuli away from books and toward more cinematically based narrative formats.
Nevertheless, contemporary concerns at times dovetailed nicely amid the shifting seating and tables of the stand.
Miriam Meckel, journalist and founder of the digital educational initiative ADA, for example, is quoted as saying, “I was particularly fascinated by the enormous interest Taiwanese readers have in German books, whether fiction or non-fiction.
“In the course of the fair, I had some really exciting discussions about populism, fake news, and how artificial intelligence is changing our lives.”