La rentrée; it’s over and done with, right? Well almost, but not quite. Children and university students have gone back to school and normalcy has returned. Restaurants and businesses are working regular hours and we’ve all made resolutions for fresh starts, but now it’s the turn of the publishing sector to “return”. La rentrée littéraire is a big event in the cultural calendar; it’s when all the main publishing houses put out their new titles for the year in the lead-up to the big literary prizes. While it’s nothing like as big a “rentrée” as the school term, it’s still very much part of the September rentrée thing and many of my French friends felt I should have mentioned it in my original post. So, sorry for not bringing it up earlier frenchies, but here it is in its own right.
The idea of the rentrée littéraire is mainly commercial; it’s a way for publishers to spread the word about new works before the big selling period at Christmas and to get their competition entrants into the public eye before the big prizes are announced. The main literary prizes in France including the Goncourt, the Renaudot, the Médicis and the Femina are all judged between October and early December, leaving time for the winning books to be snapped up as Christmas presents. This year there are 555 new titles on the shelves making it the first time in 12 years that less than 600 new books have been published. Traditionally, authors who have already won a literary prize are published after the competitions, in January, paving the way for first-time and lesser known writers.
You don’t have to be a rat de bibliothèque – literally a library rat, i.e a book worm – to be aware of this going on. Television and radio programmes discuss the new books and the literary prizes far more than I’ve ever been aware of in other countries. Even people I’d describe as “non-readers” (of books), such as my JF, are aware of who’s won which prize and who the new sensations are. Whether this is owing to France’s tradition as literary/intellectual culture or just a very successful commercial campaign I don’t know.
I wonder what you think? Are you aware of new authors, literary prizes and their recipients in your country? What are you currently reading? And would you rather be a rat or a worm?! I’d love to hear from you.