In France, literature is a serious thing. Not only can you find the largest collection in the world of literary prices, but also this curious event beginning at mid-august and ending two months later : la rentrée littéraire.
You could translate by something like : « the start of the new literary season », but it’s difficult to explain the whole extent of the manifestation. It’s really typical to France, the term « rentrée » is connected to the return of the pupils to school. It may be the most important cultural event each autumn in France, it’s like a cultural rite, with its winners, its beautiful losers, its new stars under the lights of critics, its disappointments and its scandals.
This year’s scandal is of course the book of Valérie Trierweiler talking about her relationship with french president François Hollande. It was the buzz of september, with its pack of revelations and little digs but it’s not literature, some booksellers didn’t even want to sell it because it’s crap.
To display a few figures, there were 555 new novels at the « rentrée littéraire » of 2013, 607 this year. Each time the literary journalists complain about the huge amount of books, as well as they delight about the event.
This is an important moment at the library, an important moment for every library in France. Relaying the mass media, the patrons are eager to discover new voices.
Indeed, there are a certain amount of first novels by new authors, each year brings its surprises and new talent. In the languages & literature section, this is how we deal with the documents we receive : every tuesday all along the year (except between mid-july and mid-august), the bookseller we are working with delivers us a selection of new printed documents : novels, crime novels, science-fiction novels, non-fiction in the 400 and 800 dewey fields.
We have ten days to review the books. so ten days later on friday morning we spend between half an hour and a large hour to discuss about which books to choose. We are five people in the section, every opinion is taken into account and we have the same criteria as other libraries in the world : the quality of the author, of the publisher, of the writing if it’s a new author, we also consider if it’s a series (especially for science-fiction !).
It’s different for the youth documents and the comics, the cycles occurs every fortnight. Here is what our shelves look like during the « rentrée littéraire » :
So, what’s the point with such an abundance of books ? Well, the publishers always expect « the jackpot », the best-seller coming from nowhere. It’s like a graal for the publisher, and he will try everything to grab a star in the sky. Sometimes a little publisher will surface from the masses of its colleagues, like « Le Dilettante » with Anna Gavalda’s success. The more you publish books, the more chances you have to hit the jackpot. There is a great deal of waste, a lot of books are pulped, but it’s no problem for the publisher, as long as they keep alive their expectations.
It’s not enough ? Well, don’t worry, here comes the little sister : on january, there is « another » rentrée littéraire, less important but also very present in the mass media. It’s kind of a rebound, in case the average reader did not have enough…