NZ shines at German book fair

Arrowtown book buyer Miranda Spary continues her regular column about her recommendations for a good read and life as she sees it ...

A book fair in Frankfurt, Germany's financial heart, sounds as if it could be a bit of a dour and earnest affair.

If you've been to Germany, you'll already know there's a mad and marvellous side to the natives and the book fair brings out the best of that. It's been going for 500 years now and this year New Zealand was invited to be the guest of honour: what an honour! Our own brilliant Andrew Patterson, who designed the bungy bridge building and The Hills golf clubhouse plus much, much more, designed the New Zealand pavilion.

He flooded the whole forum and created bridges and islands with giant screens on which were projected images which all helped tell the 300,000 visitors to the book fair what sort of place this faraway land really is.

Huge queues formed all day every day as the crowds came to stand in the darkened, starry ceilinged spaces watching and listening to New Zealand explain itself.

Although some critics here called the kapa haka performance ethnokitsch, most people loved it and their only gripe was that there was almost no attempt to explain anything in German.

There were lovely former exchange students to New Zealand warning people in German that the water inside was real, after a dear old girl with a walking stick took an unexpected dip in it.

One other snooty reviewer said it wasn't so much a book fair as a content fair nowadays, but I'm not so sure that's all bad.

Given that some of the books being launched were written by people like Arnold Schwarzenegger (very small and quite orange with fake tan), I'm not sure that books are necessarily a more creative outlet for expression than cosplay (look it up online - I'd never heard of it either) which brought thousands of young people along in home-made (but often exquisitely crafted) costumes from their favourite comics or The Hobbit.

I didn't even know we had such famous comic authors as Dylan Horrocks and Roger Langridge - it's never been a genre that's appealed to me, but now I'm changing my mind.

Ditto fantasy novels, after listening to the outrageously successful Kiwi girl Nalini Singh talk to an enormous crowd of fans of her many, many books.

And our foodie gurus, Annabel Langbein, Al Brown and Peter Gordon had all the crowd drooling and probably wondering how quickly they could get on an aeroplane to sample our great New Zealand food. They made a very funny panel and the (mainly German) audience loved hearing how scallops in a French restaurant would be "three scallops with a lot of architecture and foam and that stuff that looks like green pubic hair, while in New Zealand it would be a plateful fried in butter with just salt and pepper and half a lemon".

Germans definitely understand the importance of quantity with regard to their food.

I've become dangerously addicted to currywurst - the perfect hangover breakfast food from a fast-food caravan - grilled sausage served with spicy curry sauce and chips. Delicious, if not dainty.

Kim Hill was broadcasting live from Frankfurt and we were in the bar with her and many Maori plus all the cast from the New Zealand stage play Carnival of Souls, a bizarre but brilliant mix of film and theatre, as well as a lot of mystified locals.

I don't know how anyone listening to national radio that day heard a thing.

After so long away, it felt like being back in New Zealand, hearing familiar accents and words. More than 60 New Zealand authors were present at the fair and drew great crowds.

I tried to get a photograph of tiny Sarah Quigley after her interview about The Conductor but the throng around the table where she was signing books hid her completely.

Alan Duff's Once Were Warriors is used as a textbook for very advanced English students here.

His many fans from here and home found him as provocative as ever and full of great stories, delighting and infuriating us by turns.

There's no book review this week because I've been so busy hearing, talking, touching and breathing books there's been no time for that other thing you do with them.

Everyone in Frankfurt goes book-crazy during the book fair.

I was not a little surprised to receive an invitation to a literary evening of cocktails and readings at a lesbian sex shop and a bit sorry not to be able to go - it sounded intriguing.

There's nothing boring about a book fair!


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