Coming back to the Frankfurt Book Fair this year felt both surreal and overwhelming. The last time I attended was in 2019 when the world felt different and today would have felt like something out of a book. Lives have changed and also stayed the same. For me, it’s been probably since 2019 that I have been in such an immense crowd as someone who was isolating for much of my time and still really cautious due to family. To be immersed again was one of those experiences where it felt almost like no time had passed and so much had all at once.
To sink back into these spaces I used to walk and to sit amongst book professionals and fans. But while I was in sensory overload – the likes of which I haven’t felt since my very first experience at the Book Fair – I was also swept away by the momentum and energy. To the hum in the air and the electric feeling of conversations and enthusiasm. And how nothing can quite compare to being surrounded by people who all love and care about the same things as you. So while at some times it felt overwhelming, it also felt re-invigorating all at once.
But enough about that. This year, I began to think more about translation. While this is a major topic of discussion in these large global spaces, in the past I’ve been focused on attending panels about publishing and processes and less so about the actual work of translation. Of the ideas and meanings it can bring to a piece of work. And all the ways it helps infuse meanings and begins conversations. Something I’ve been thinking more about which was discussed which was the gendered language in other languages versus English for example. Or the ways in which words and phrases take on more meaning in another culture. Not to mention all the ways in which idioms are translated!
Translation and Kid’s Lit
When I attended a panel about uncomfortable topics in children’s literature, I enjoyed the ways these authors discussed the purposes of children’s literature and how some may be for teaching or teaching lessons or even just for pleasure. And how these books are also to give them the words needed to express what has happened to them – especially in relation to topics some might consider ‘uncomfortable’. Because there’s certainly a level of dissonance between children and their experiences.
It only further solidifies the importance of language to shape our world and how this interacts with censorship. As someone who reads a lot of books for teens, I found this panel especially illuminating as someone who witnesses the derision towards children’s authors and this idea that we need to protect kids from these topics (by banning them for example) while not acknowledging kid’s experiences of this – and needing to know it’s okay to speak out and to have the language – while also not providing other frameworks to help them.
Sensitivity Reading Panel
And my other favorite panel I attended was about Sensitivity Reading and Translation. As someone who has been trying to learn a new language, I appreciated the ways in which these panelists spoke about the need for sensitivity reading and also addressing sexism or racism within translation. The ways in which in a language that isn’t gendered but is then translated with a sexist slant. That’s a topic which seems to hit the sweet spot for me between my previous background as an academic with someone who’s also struggling with languages (and gendered words right now).
This year at the Book Fair, I began thinking more critically about myself. While each year provokes thought, this year I felt like I returned refreshed and ready to think. To critically dive into topics and ideas after being away for so long. As always, I left with a list of books to check out and publishers to research. I don’t have many opportunities to partake in the book community at the moment and so in many ways, this year’s Book Fair felt like a balm to my soul I forgot I needed.