Today, to the London Book Fair, which is a disorientating experience. I mean this literally: the further I went in, the more I lost any sense of direction, of knowing which way to turn to get to Hall 2, the exit, the toilets, the place (H150: such eloquence; I also have an interest in U640) where I’m supposed to be meeting someone. (I’m told that gambling casinos are specifically designed to have this effect, to entice punters to lay out more money as they search in vain for the exit.) It resembles a vast airport departures lounge, except for this: though there are tens of thousands of books, no one is buying them, in the sense that you buy a book in a bookshop, let alone reading them; they are there only for display. Nor is anyone actually departing for anywhere. Everyone (except for the stray authors, translators, the people who actually write the stuff, who look very out of place) is dressed for the office. Random events take place. Jeffrey Archer offers me a slice of his birthday cake. He wants to get rid of it, he doesn’t want to take it home, he says as much. I pass. A few yards away, Gabriel Josipovici and Boyd Tonkin are talking about the shortlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize: Gabriel is talking straightforwardly but I shy away when he makes general statements, however true, because in this context they come across as mission statements, the prevailing genre. Next along, Mark Lawson is asking Lionel Shriver about the autobiographical background to her new novel: the thing she dislikes about these publicity things, she says, is that the focus is on her and it should be on the book (which isn’t published till next month; and she’s not exactly shy about appearing on TV and me-me journalism: ‘popcorn at 10.30pm on the dot’, she wrote last year in a Guardian series in which writers ‘reveal the minutiae of their daily routines’, dental flossing too).
Outside, the steps are crowded with smokers: a little disaffection here, publicity and rights assistants in very tight skirts discussing office politics and the stress of their jobs. Overheard: ‘But that’s no way to run a publishing company.’ Taxis are waved in and out by a man dressed for an Arctic blizzard. The sun is shining.