I have just returned from the Gothenburg Book Fair, which is held once a year in Gothenburg, Sweden, and where Scandinavian authors meet and greet their agents, publishers, readers and other authors. The theme for this year's book extravaganza was "Freedom of Expression" and included Nobel Peace Prize winning author Shirin Ebadi as well as many other authors who have been persecuted due to their writing.
The Gothenburg Book Fair, for someone who has not been there, is a mass of impressions, people, sounds, poetry, art, and above all, the business side of writing and publishing. I was there meeting with Camilla Läckberg, a mystery author, and her agents, discussing my translation of one of her mystery novels.
But a funny thing happened on the way from the book fair....
I'm in the Amsterdam airport, waiting for my connecting flight home to Seattle. While in the airport, I picked up Shirin Ebadi's autobiography, and was reading it to pass the hours between flights. When I was in the second security line to get on the plane, I expected the same-old tired "did you pack your own bags" questions, and was not surprised as they came, but then, the line of questioning took an interesting turn:
Q: Why were you in Sweden?
ME: To go to the Gothenburg Book Fair.
Q: Did you buy this book there?
ME (thinking hunh?): No.
Q: Where did you buy this book?
ME: Here at the airport.
Q: Why are you reading this book?
ME: For fun. She won the Nobel Peace Prize. (I point to the Nobel Peace Prize winning author blurb).
Q: (Looks sceptical.)
ME: And to educate myself a bit.
ME (thinking): How ironic coming from the Freedom of Expression theme to be interrogated about my reading habits! And I'm dark, too (from a European perspective)! Coincidence? I think not!
The Questioner takes my passport and tickets and disappears and I am left to wonder if I will be allowed to fly home or whether I will be strip-searched or what. Eventually, I am reunited with my passport and ticket and allowed to board, but not without wondering about when reading a Nobel Peace Prize winning author made a person into a suspect. And whether I am now on some kind of secret list of Peace Prize -winning author- book- reading dangerous fliers. It does make a person think. And I thought last month's bug spray situation was troublesome! I find this kind of questioning much more dangerous somehow, and definitely intimidating.