I am sitting in the Hessicher Hof in downtown Frankfurt. I am dressed in tight black pants (Target), black leather shoes (Payless), and hooped metal earrings (the midrechov) – an attempt to look savvy, sexy, and sophisticated. I flew out of Jerusalem last night on motzei Yom Kippur – I still have the piyutim of Neilah ringing in my ears as I talk up elegant blonde publicists in cocktail dresses and heavyset red-faced publishers in pinstriped suits and neckties. I have not yet acclimated to the Frankfurt scene. I hold my glass of wine uneasily; I choose “fish” over “flesh” at the fancy Suhrkamp luncheon, and then leave the shrimp lying idly on my plate; I hope no one notices that I will be wearing the same clothes tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, until I fly back to Israel on erev Sukkot.
During the day, I have meetings scheduled every half hour with foreign rights agents from around the world. I drag my bad foot from the American hall to the German hall to the French hall and then back to the American hall again, making my way from one publisher’s booth to another. I am supposed to be reviewing rights guides and listening to agents pitch their upcoming titles; but having just finished the first perek of Masechet Sukkah, I find myself unconsciously examining each booth to see if it would qualify as a kosher sukkah. And so instead of thinking about world rights, pre-emptive bids, and multiple submissions, I am estimating dimensions in amot and t’fachim, counting walls, and hollowing out imaginary holes in the ceiling above.
Contrary to what I might have expected, there are indeed several kosher sukkot at this Frankfurt festival of booths. If you hold by dofen akumah, the notion that a right angle may be considered as constituting part of a single wall, then the Harper Collins booth, with its small skylight, would be kosher. On the other hand, Hanser and Editions de Seuil, with their two walls completely open, are certainly pasul. The Random House booth takes up a full row in the American hall, and is decorated with framed full-color book jackets of all the Spring 2007 titles – definitely noi sukkah! Penguin Putnam has a giant black-and-white penguin painted on one of its walls. Since it is only a drawing and not a live animal, I conclude that it is a kosher wall – but just to be safe, I wouldn’t write a get on it. Farrar Straus is featuring several leading fiction titles, so I think it is only fair to apply the halakhic fiction of gud asik and fill in the missing space in the three waist-high walls. And so it goes, from booth to booth, as I wander through the wilderness of the Buchmesse….
At night I am obligated to attend the fancy Berlin Verlag reception in an elegant upstairs salon. All around me, women with beehive hairdos and men with curly moustaches lean in to kiss each other on both cheeks. I try to blend in with the beige curtains, hoping that I can hide in the corner by the Swiss chocolates and read my novel. (It is startling how few people actually read at a book fair, I am sad to report.) I am choking in a cloud of cigarette smoke and longing to return to Jerusalem, where the ananei kavod – the clouds of God’s glory – are supposed to envelope us on Sukkot just as they sheltered us when we wandered through the desert. I look forward to eating a home-cooked meal in my friend’s sukkah when I get back. Here in this city of the hot dog, kosher food is hard to come by – it’s basically sausages or starve. Fortunately, I brought four boxes of Chewy granola bars with me, which I nibble on in between meetings. I have not eaten a regular meal since I got to Germany – it’s all been “achilat awry,” as I’ve nicknamed my granola bar diet.
At my boss’s suggestion, I brought an empty suitcase with me on this trip. Sure enough, I will be returning with hundreds of book catalogues, rights guides, galleys, advance reader’s editions, and pre-publication copies. When I go back to the office on Sunday morning, I will no doubt find about three hundred unread e-mail messages from Israeli publishers requesting the titles that I have been hearing about for the past three days. Beware! The final lines of Kohelet echo in my ears as I head towards the airport. The making of books is without limit, and all is vanity and pursuit of wind.