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Mandela and Google at the Frankfurt Book Fair

October 15, 2009 | 10:37 am


The Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany is the world's largest, where much publishing business typically gets done. Now in its second day, the fair seems to be smaller than in recent years. With attendance of agents rumored to be down, there seems to be a bit less business being done; that is, unless you listen to dynamic British publisher Jamie Byng, who blogs about the excitement of telling stories all conference long.

There has been news: Today Google announced an online digital bookstore, Google Editions, set to launch mid-2010. The move to sell its own e-books is seen as a step into the territory dominated by Amazon's Kindle reader.

And before the fair had even begun, a hot property was, as they say in publishing, up for auction. Nelson Mandela's personal papers -- a private collection of journals, diaries, speeches, notebooks and letters, some written during the 27 years he was imprisoned at Robben Island -- are to be shaped into a book, tentatively titled "Conversations With Myself." Pan Macmillan secured British rights to publish the book before the fair, and on Wednesday Farrar, Straus and Giroux won American publication rights.

The book's agent, Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown, said, "What is so amazing is that he wrote virtually every day of his life and kept all his notes. He has notebooks from Robben Island which are absolutely packed with his handwriting. ... There's scraps of paper with his notes on leadership." While it's an agent's job to spin, it's hard to imagine a set of personal papers that would be more intriguing. Mandela not only suffered decades in prison, but he also emerged to shepherd a peaceful transition of power in South Africa, one of the most unjustly governed nations in the world.

Mandela's autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom," has sold 6 million copies worldwide. "Conversations With Myself" is planned to reach bookstores in 2010, when Mandela will turn 92.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Nelson Mandela at his 90th birthday celebration in March 2008. Credit: Kim Ludbrook / EPA