Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Fourteen Seminars, Eight Mini Seminars, Four Signed Books and Four Days: The Göteborg Book Fair, Pt 1

... and a bad cold, one could add, as an explanation as to why this post have been delayed until now.

Anyway, Thursday 24 September through Sunday 27 September were the days of the annual Book Fair here in Göteborg, an event of both national and international significance. Unlike many other Book Fairs and Conventions around the world (e.g. Bologna, London or Frankfurt) this one is not aimed exclusively at the publishing world and its connected parties in education, libraries and the like, but actually open to the general public as well (naturally giving it a slightly more commercial tang to be sure).

With the possible exception of missing a year or two in the late 90s / early 00s, I've been a faithful visitor to the Book Fair since at least 1990, in various forms I might add. From trying to peddle off a script to publishers (unsuccessfully) to being there reading poetry on stage in connection with the publisher of an anthology I was in many a year ago. For the last four or five years, however, I've been going the full four days, visiting various seminars.

From experience I've learned that moderators are more important than one might at first imagine, and after the first year or two of seminars, I've sometimes opted not to go on seminars that might otherwise have gone to simply because of a known bad moderator. But in equal measure, there are moderators that can make me go to their seminars even if the subject is only remotely interesting on its own. Simply because these moderators deliver. The gold standard, in my humble opinion, being Peter Whitebrook, whom I was sad to note didn't moderate any seminar this year.

Still, it was certainly four days filled with a lot of fun. Too much really, to go through in full (especially, as my "report" is already late as it is), but allow me to mention a few highlights.

On Thursday two seminars stand out as extra interesting (though a few more comes rather close).

The first one was on the writing of a history of literature, particularly in the national sense. The seminar was exquisitely moderated by Lena Ulrika Rudeke and featured a discussion between Professor of Literature Göran Hägg (himself a writer of various literary histories of sorts) and Annika Olsson (Stockholm University) and Åsa Arping (Göteborg University), both of whom have participated in putting together the fifth, updated edition of Litteraturens historia i Sverige (trans. The History of Literature in Sweden), originally written by Bernt Olsson and Ingemar Algulin. Circling around the issue as to whether it is possible to write a literary history, or perhaps rather, if it is possible to write one literary history, the discussion seemed to point strongly towards the need for literary histories in the plural rather than the singular; for the need to contemplate the formation and development of literature from various different angles, and to constantly reconsider old knowledge from the vantage point of new knowledge and new perspectives.

The second seminar was entitled "Det förgångna definierar nutiden" (trans. The Past Defines the Present) and was moderated by John Crispinsson. It featured a discussion between historians Dick Harrison and Maja Hagerman, and publisher Stefan Hilding (Norstedts) apropos of the just started publication of a new Swedish history (first two volumes of eight out now), which incidentally is the first one of its kind in fifty years. Here too the need for a plurality of points of view and a constant need to reconsider old knowledge from the vantage point of new knowledge came to the surface.

Friday presented me with two seminars clearly above the rest.

My day started with "Bolaño på svenska – går det?" (trans. Bolaño in Swedish – Is That Possible?), which was a discussion about the late author Robert Bolaño and the inherent problems of translation, particularly in the specific case of translating Bolaño from Spanish to Swedish. While moderator Gabriella Håkansson at times left a bit to be wished for, Louise Epstein from radio channel P1's cultural department and Bolaño's Swedish translator Lena Heyman more than made up for those snags. All in all, a very good discussion on both Bolaño and on translation, the latter of which is a necessary phenomenon which I find it hard to believe isn't more widely discussed among the general public (a topic which I'm sure I will return to more in depth at some point in the future).

The second highlight of the Friday, and in all honesty possibly the highlight of the entire Book Fair, was my introduction to Israeli writer Etgar Keret. In a discussion with cultural TV personality Kristofer Lundström, Keret spoke of the necessity for humour, the problems of political parties appropriating important historical events and censorship. Keret also treated the audience to a reading of one of his short stories (in English translation) and on that basis, I will definitely be picking up at the very least one of his short story collections.

Well, I'll stop here for now, and will tell you about the highlights of Saturday and Sunday in my next post. I will make sure to have part 2 up by the end of the week, to make up for lost time.

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