Home > About reading, Personal Posts > Back to Literature, la rentrée littéraire 2016

Back to Literature, la rentrée littéraire 2016

September 10, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

560-romans-pour-la-rentree-litteraire-2016In French, Back to School is Rentrée Scolaire. In France, and a bit in Québec too, it is accompanied by Back to Literature, the Rentrée littéraire. It’s as if we readers had to go back to serious reading after gallivanting around the futile paths of Beach & Public Transport books during the summer. Now publishers and literary critic whistle the end of summer break and herd back their reading flock to more serious reading. 560 novels are released for the 2016 Rentrée littéraire. All published now to be on time for the literary prizes granted later in Autumn.

I tend to stay away from all this literary fuss. Which one to choose? How do you wrap your head around this avalanche of new books? There are too many and it becomes a cacophony of literary reviews. As a reader, it makes me dizzy. Some books are everywhere. Strangely, the more I hear about a book, the less I want to read it. More often, original reviews will catch my attention or I’ll hear writers’ interviews and I get frustrated because I want to read their new book and I know I don’t have time to read everything I’d want to. It’s like putting a great meal in front of a gourmet who’s on a diet. Torture. So I usually let time sort things out and see which books survive the hype. And by then, they’re available in paperback which is better for my wallet.

This year, I tried something different, I went to an independent bookstore, L’Esprit Livre, and asked the libraire a single question: “Among all the books of the Rentrée littéraire, which one would you recommend?” This is how I came to Le garçon by Marcus Malte. A book I’d never heard of by a new-to-me writer. It’s the perfect blind date set up by a true literature lover. You’ll hear about this unusual novel later when I finish it.

I wonder how writers feel about this whole Rentrée littéraire shebang. Sure it’s a time to talk about literature and the literary scene. It brings a lot of attention to books and one can never complain about too much attention to literature. But isn’t it harder for a book or a new novelist to be noticed? Or do they benefit from the signings and all events organized at this time of year? Doesn’t it increase the pressure? I wish I could ask this question –among others—to Marcus Malte. He will be at L’Esprit Livre on October 8th and unfortunately, I’m out of town this day. I would have loved to meet him. He also wrote polars and won the Quais du Polar award in 2008, so I’m also intrigued by his other books.

PS: For newcomers at Book Around The Corner, a Beach & Public Transport book is a book that can be read in a noisy environment. Good Beach & Public Transport books are precious. Entertaining, light and well-written requires a gifted writer.

Last but not least, let’s go through a bit of French book-related vocabulary since I use French words for notions that don’t have an exact equivalent in English.

A polar is a crime fiction book, usually on the dark side. Agatha Christie didn’t write polars, Chandler did.

The English translation of libraire is bookseller. But in French, a libraire is more than a bookseller, he/she’s a book whisperer. It’s someone who’ll share their coup de coeur with you, will recommend you books according to your tastes and will help you discover new writers.

Coup de Coeur: You’ll see them in French bookstores, books have tags coup de coeur du libraire. In English it would become the book whisperer’s crush. It’s usually accompanied by a little word of the libraire who read the book. In a few words, it will tell you why they loved it.

  1. September 10, 2016 at 11:39 pm

    Haha love this post – what an interesting idea. Sounds like your bookseller has put you onto something good too. I look forward to hearing about it.

    IN the meantime, I’m a bit inclined to agree with you re over-hyped books – but it does depend a little on from whom and where the hype is coming. Still there is great pleasure in giving air to the under-the-radar books isn’t there.


    • September 11, 2016 at 9:02 am

      I like the idea to read a book I didn’t choose as long as I trust the person who picked it.

      Over-hyped books. Yes it depends on the writer. Sometimes when the writer is also a journalist, I wonder how much lip service there is among all the praise. The Parisian microcosm seems so small that a small part of me always wonder if they’re doing each other favours.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. September 11, 2016 at 12:12 am

    I heard that JK Rowling’s crime book written under another name didn’t do well until someone ‘leaked’ who the real writer was and then BAM you’ve got a bestseller.


    • September 11, 2016 at 9:04 am

      At least she tried to make it on the book’s merit before using her name and her fame.


  3. September 11, 2016 at 12:35 am

    This is an interesting contrast to Australia where new books are launched steadily throughout the year, with a bit of a surge in November/December with releases for the Christmas market. (That is when I avoid bookshops, I have never found a decent new release at that time of the year).
    So although we don’t have an avalanche of hype, we have steady drip feed of it during the year, and we are lucky because one of our independent booksellers, Readings, (based in Melbourne but mailing out all over the country) puts out a magazine called Readings Monthly. There are mini reviews by their staff, a little like ‘coup de coeur du libraire’ but there is enough info for a reader like me to judge whether it’s a book I must have, or not.
    And of course there are LitBlogs reviewing the new releases as well. Publishers send proof copies to reviewers but readers of those reviews have to be astute. Not everyone can be counted on to review books honestly, especially not if they are worried that the publisher won’t like a negative review. I am not really part of that publicity machine because although I accept some books for review I won’t read proof copies or eBooks, I like to read the same book that the buyer will get. So my reviews are always too late for the hype machine.


    • September 11, 2016 at 9:23 am

      I think it’d be better to have releases spread throughout the year, even if this Rentrée littéraire is quite an event. It must be like a marathon for writers. The bookstore I mention in my post has newsletters as well. I subscribed to Gallmeister’s newsletter because I love this publisher.

      I choose my books from two main sources: wandering in bookstores and blogging. I rarely rush to buy a book after reading a review by a critic or hearing the book praised on the radio. Lots of French readers watch La Grande Librairie, a weekly literary show on TV. It’s an excellent show.

      I don’t have enough readers to be chased down by publishers for a review but you must be. Honestly, I’m glad I don’t get that attention. It’s a system that can swallow you and you end up reading only review copies. And there’s always the tricky question of your freedom to say whatever you want about the book. I understand why you steer clear of it. You’ve met more writers than me. How do they feel about it? I think blogs are a good way to shout out about books AFTER their marketing plan is finished. It draws attention to books after the official media.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. September 11, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Well , as you know I couldn’t resist Le Monde Est Mon Langage by Alain Mabanckou ….I love the way he writes most particularly the way he uses French so it was a must . I also watched La Grande Librairie ( unfortunately there isn’t an equiv programme in UK) and was intrigued by Chanson Douce by Leila Slimani which has been long listed for the Goncourt . I might get that too !! So many books ….so little time . Bonne Lecture !!!


    • September 11, 2016 at 9:11 am

      Le monde est mon langage is one of those books you want to buy right away after hearing Mabanckou on the radio. And it’s also one of those with the hype and I’m afraid to be disappointed. So, you’re the guinea pig on this one: if you like it, I’ll probably cave in.

      La Grande Librairie is a wonderful TV show…one I don’t watch for my TBR’s sake. There’s always been a literary show somewhere on the PAF (Paysage Audiovisuel Français, ie, all the TV channels).

      PS : In French, we don’t put capital letters to words in book titles. That’s a thing I learnt not to forget when I started blogging in English. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • September 11, 2016 at 9:53 am

        Lol! Thanks for the tip …..I will let you know about the Mabankcou….I’ve only just started it …and then got distracted by ReadingRhys week . Hope to make some progress today but loving it so far ….he’s a magician with language !


        • September 11, 2016 at 9:57 am

          I’m so glad he made it to the Académie Française.
          I have Black Bazaar on the shelf. I still have to read a book by him.


  5. September 11, 2016 at 8:14 am

    I really enjoyed this piece and look forward to reading more – will you be joining in the Jean Rhys reading week? Tell me – is the term ‘beach and public transport books’ one you made up? I think it’s a wonderful expression. I read Valley of the Dolls on holiday this year – l’d never read it before – and it was indeed a perfect beach and public transport book (although I have to say I can’t read anything on a bus).


    • September 11, 2016 at 9:28 am

      Thanks for your message and welcome aboard!
      I would have loved to participate to Jean Rhys reading week but I won’t have time. Too bad because I want to read her books. This week is just too busy.

      Yes, I made up the “beach and public transport” term. It’s one of the categories I use on the blog because we’ve all been looking for a good light read now and then. So this category points them out to readers.

      PS: I can’t read on a bus either but there are still planes, trains, metros and tramways! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. September 11, 2016 at 8:55 am

    Very interesting. I’ve been steering away from new books over the past few years, partly because, as you say, there are too many of them – how to sort the wheat from the chaff? It’s quite difficult to do this effectively. Also, and possibly more importantly, I’ve been disappointed by much of the newly-published fiction I have read, books like Jenny Offill’s Dept of Speculation, Rachel Cusk’s Outline and Sarah Perry’s After the Flood (all three have received excellent reviews elsewhere). I haven’t written about any of these books as they just weren’t for me – in other words, I’m not the ‘right’ reader for them.

    Recommendations from a trusted source is a good way to go, I think – as long as they have a good feel for your personal tastes. Looking forward to hearing more about the Malte – sounds like you hit upon a good one there!


    • September 11, 2016 at 9:35 am

      I’ve had the same experience as you with new books and often by Goncourt prizes. Plus new releases cost a fortune. I’m not ready to pay 22€ for each book I read. I could go to the library but then they’re on waiting list. I wonder why publishers still bother with hardcovers.

      You and Guy seem a safe bet, as far as recommendations go. I think I could almost make a special “Best of Guy’s recommendations” at the end of the year.
      The Malte is good but writing a billet about it will be a challenge.


  7. September 11, 2016 at 10:12 am

    I agree with Jacqui, reading a review from a trusted source is definitely the best way, and it’s so easy now with litblogs where you can soon find out if you share the same tastes in books. Nearly all my new books come from JacquiWine, Stu at Winston’s Dad,, Kim at Reading Matters, Sue at Whispering Gums, The two Tonys, John Boland and of course BookAround. Guy not so much because while I love reading his reviews of crime novels, I don’t want to read the books!
    I try to be a trusted source for readers: yes, I do get a bit of pressure from publishers, but I have so many books of my own to read, I don’t say yes to anything unless it really appeals to me for some reason, and I mix up the review copies with books from my own personal library and my local library as well. It’s because I choose what I want to review that my reviews are mostly positive, but every now and again I am not impressed and I say so. I’m sorry if it hurts an author’s feelings, and I try to find a more positive review by someone else, but at the end of the day, honesty is part of being a trusted source. If I review a book (and I review everything I read unless I abandon it after only 50 pages) then you get my honest opinion because my loyalty is to the reader, not to the author or the publisher.
    But I don’t think I could cope if my inbox were flooded with promotional hype all at once as in France. Every now and again I get too many emails from publishers, and I just think, oh, I haven’t got time to look at all these and delete all the ones from big publishers (because they’ve got big advertising budgets and they don’t need me) and I just choose from the ones from indie publishers because it’s so hard for them to get reviewed in the press and I like to support Australian authors if I can.
    OTOH it looks like the French government is very supportive of books and publishing, which alas is not the case in Australia.


    • September 11, 2016 at 10:12 pm

      I agree with you: trusted sources are the best and like-minded bloggers are precious.

      Honesty is key in literary blogging. I like what you write about your bloggin ethics, not that it comes as a surprise.

      I’m not sure French book bloggers are flooded with review copies. Anglo-Saxon publishers seem to be more into using bloggers as a media than the French ones.
      If I got emails from publishers, I’d probably refuse review copies because I don’t have time to read on demand and it wouldn’t feel right to read something in exchange to a free book, unless it’s one I would have liked to read anyway.

      You’re right, the French system is very supportive of books, independant bookstores and publishers.
      – Fixed prices for books help independant bookstores. (It’s efficient and books aren’t more expensive than in the US or the UK)
      – Reduced VAT rate on books, ebooks included, even if it’s against EU VAT rules. The French government is currently fighting in Brussels for a reduced VAT rate on ebooks.
      – lots of libraries, even in small villages
      – subventions to literary festivals
      – literary TV shows on public channels (La grande librairie is one of those)
      – CNL, Centre National du Livre to help writers (The Marcus Malte I’m reading is a book sponsored by the CNL)
      And certainly other things I forget now.

      Books are not considered as commodities and it’s a generally accepted idea.


      • September 12, 2016 at 1:12 am

        at the same time though, you have to pay for a library card in France, and your check out is rather limited for most libraries. in the US, the library card is free for all residents of the city (because a part of your taxes goes to libraries). In my library (my city has 40 000 inhabitants), I can check out as many books as I want at a time, as well as unlimited anything else, and there are tons of things I can check out, including kitchen devices (waffle makers, ice cream maker, etc). Plus huge number of audiobooks, ebooks, e-movies, e-magazines I can just download from home on the site of the library. Most libraries are part of a group – mine has 6 even bigger libraries, so if my library doesn’t have the book I want, I can request it online, for free, and it arrives at my library in 2 or 3 days. AND if the book is still not in that library group (for instance, I often read religious or scholarly books), I can request it through an email to my library, through Inter Library Loan, which means they will have the book come from any library in the whole state (including university libraries), and still all for free. I only pay, $6, if the book is coming from out of state.
        So if independent bookshops are not as numerous as in France – though they are coming back to life these last couple of years, libraries do an amazing job.


        • September 12, 2016 at 8:57 pm

          In lots of cities, library cards are free too. Yes, the number of books you can check out it limited but I think it’s fair. In my town, you can borrow 10 books for four weeks. I think it’s enough. Who reads more than 10 books in four weeks?

          That said, your library sounds really great and the system to get books from other libraries is tremendous. Similar systems exist around big cities but only there. And yes, libraries do a fantastic job to bring books to people. Thankfully nobody thinks about closing down libraries and we’re lucky for that too.


          • September 13, 2016 at 2:03 am

            Ah good, I thought library cards were now free in France, but someone told me it wasn’t. Glad they are in many places.
            10 books in 4 weeks is indeed decent.
            Yes, poor England, where they close so many libraries


            • September 14, 2016 at 5:28 am

              The price of the library card depends on the city. When it’s not free, the amount to pay is never high. It’s more a way to remind people that this service has a cost than to make money out of it.


              • September 14, 2016 at 6:39 pm

                thanks for explaining. I like the American idea that a part of your taxes goes to public libraries


              • September 15, 2016 at 8:36 am

                I like that idea too.

                Liked by 1 person

  8. September 11, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    It is such hard work finding the gems, isn’t it, when you are flooded with all the books at once? At the same time, it does make for a nice buzz and for plenty of discussion about books, books, books in all the media (which is a novelty, I can assure you, you don’t get it that much in the UK).

    I have met Marcus Malte at the Quais du Polar – and have 2 of his books. He is slightly conceited as a person, but I thought his writing style was very interesting indeed. Mabanckou is terribly charismatic, but I’ve yet to read the books I bought after meeting him at Salon du Livre in Geneva!

    Still, now that I’ve unpacked most of my books, at least I should be able to find them on the shelves, right?


    • September 11, 2016 at 9:50 pm

      I really have mixed feelings about it because the buzz around the Rentrée littéraire puts literature in everybody’s mind. Lots of discussions around books, lots of writers in the media. But still. More than 500 books is a lot. True, this number includes translated books.

      Which Marcus Malte did you read? I have a hard time reconciling the literary writer I’m discovering with the writer of crime fiction and children literature. His writing skills stretch to very different skills.

      I’m looking forward to reading the Mabanckou I have. Helen says that Le monde est mon language is great.

      I’m glad to hear you, your family and your books (or are books a family member as well?) are nicely settled back in England.


  9. September 11, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    Great post Emma.

    I also am overwhelmed to the number of new titles. Many sound good. I would like to read many of them. Unfortunately any attempt to read even a small fraction of new titles that seem interesting, along with everything else that I would like to read is hopeless.

    I also do not change my reading patterns for summer. I tend to read what I feel like.


    • September 11, 2016 at 9:43 pm

      It is an overwhelming amount of books. Every year it’s the same.

      I tend to read lighter books when I’m on holiday, especially if I’m travelling or spending time on the beach.


  10. September 12, 2016 at 11:16 am

    That number of releases in a short period is a double edged sword isn’t it? Yes it means there is more chatter about books in general which is always a good thing but as you say there’s a risk that the lesser known authors get overlooked because all the attention goes to the big names. The UK has a more steady flow though there is one day which I think is in November when all the publishing houses push out the books they think people will buy for Xmas gifts. They’re often celebrity endorsed cookery books or ‘memoirs’ or tie-ins with TV programs so I avoid them!


    • September 12, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      Double edged sword is the right image, I think.

      We also have this rush about cookery books, celebrity memoirs… around Christmas. It’s obvious to me so I forgot to mention it, but the Back to Literature phenomenon is mostly about literary fiction and crime fiction.


  11. September 13, 2016 at 11:33 am

    Fascinating post, and I like Booker’s double edged sword image too for the situation you present.

    Hard enough I’d have thought to get a literary fiction title recognised, all the more so if you’re not a well-known writer and yours comes out in a torrent of fiction mixed in with bigger names who’ll get the newspaper reviews.

    This really struck a chord:

    “Strangely, the more I hear about a book, the less I want to read it.”

    I get the same resistance. Like you I let some time pass which helps filter out hype from what I actually want to read and brings prices down which as you say does no harm either.

    On the reputation front, Stephen King famously wrote a series of novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. He wanted to see if people would still read him without his name attached. They did, and Bachman was just starting to get attention when the fact it was really King was outed. Parallels to Guy’s example with Rowling.


    • September 14, 2016 at 5:37 am

      “Hard enough I’d have thought to get a literary fiction title recognised, all the more so if you’re not a well-known writer and yours comes out in a torrent of fiction mixed in with bigger names who’ll get the newspaper reviews.”
      My feeling exactly.

      Romain Gary did his literary mystification for the exact same reason as Stephen King. He wanted to publish a novel without anyone knowing it was him, to see how it was received by the public and the critics. It was Gros-câlin.


  12. N@ncy
    September 15, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    This post was just what I was looking for!
    Trying to catch up on french reading after a long break.
    On Helen’s suggestion I bought Mabanckou’s new book and will
    try Repose-toi sur moi (Serge Joncour) and Petit Pays (G. Faye). Now I’ll add Le Garcon (M. Malte). All blind dates! Thx for this wonderful post + love the comments.


    • September 18, 2016 at 9:22 am

      Hello Nancy,
      thanks for your message.
      I don’t know how good your French is but I suggest you download a sample of Malte’s book before ordering it. (that is, if you have an ebook). He writes very well but it’s not easy and he uses complicated or specific words and long sentences. I’m not sure I could read its English equivalent.

      Liked by 1 person

      • N@ncy
        September 18, 2016 at 10:19 am

        …thanks for the tip! I have tackled difficult books (i.e. Francios Furet (C. Prochasson) and Préparation du Roman (R. Barthes)….it is a question of going slowly and a good dictionary online! I will look at Malte’s book in advance, smart move. good advice!


        • September 18, 2016 at 10:38 am

          You should be OK then.

          Liked by 1 person

          • N@ncy
            September 18, 2016 at 10:52 am

            I just read the first few pages…very descriptive ( down hemming the boy’s lip). Starting with a silhouette 2 heads 8 members etc. Not only the vocabulary is different, Malte is very careful how arranges the paragraphs: C’est l’enfant….C’est la mère…layout is important feature. I’ll try the book!


            • September 18, 2016 at 6:59 pm

              Yes, it’s very descriptive and full of references. (literary, cultural and about politics)
              Let me know what you think of it.


              • N@ncy
                September 18, 2016 at 7:50 pm

                I’ll be on the lookout for those references, thx for the tip. Sometimes I ‘m so busy with the vocabulary…I sometimes miss these links in French. I’ll do my best and let you know.


  1. September 25, 2016 at 7:48 pm
  2. October 23, 2016 at 8:26 pm
  3. November 29, 2016 at 1:12 am
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