Every year, at the beginning of September, comes "la rentrée". It can be translated as "the come-back". As a matter of fact, everybody is coming back from holidays, especially the kids and most of the grown-ups who flew in August to the French Riviera (for instance). I don't know if you ever came to Paris in August, but there are only tourists there - no Parisien or Parisienne, they all left (for instance, to Taiwan).
This "come-back" extended to all the possible domains. I mean, September being the moment when the economic activity is restarting in France, all the companies got the idea of grouping all the cultural, economical and academical events at that special moment of the year (in Japan, it's April, if I remember well). For instance, most of the interesting movies will come to the theaters at this time of the year, the (stupid) blockbusters coming to the screens mostly during summer for inoccupied children (school holidays start 1st of July until 1st of September, or so).
It's the same thing for the books: most of the best-sellers will come to the bookshop in September. Sorry, I made a mistake: not MOST of them but ALL of the best-sellers will be in the bookshops at that moment. This year, 683 novels are expected in September. Last year, only 663 went out.
Why? Well, to be sold, a book need to be read by the critics, colummns need to be published about it in the newspapers, communication/marketing plans need to be set-up. Summer is perfect for that: all the litterary journalists are getting all the books to read in these days to be ready to write something for September (that's why I know now the number of books to go out in September, hehe).
The second thing is: "la rentrée" is the moment of the year (with Christmas) when families are spending the most money to buy new stuff for their kids. Considering that in France, everything is sold in supermarkets (no Seven-Eleven here), and most of the supermarkets have a bookshop department, you can easily understand why it's appealing to present a new "product" at this special time of the year.
Last, everybody wants to become rich and famous in France by publishing a novel. In these fierce competition, publishers willing to earn money need to get the attention of all the possible consumers, so they publish novels about all the possible subjects by different writers. If a novel "can't find its public", as we say politely in France when a book didn't sell well, a publisher is hoping that another "product" would sell better and make the publishing company survive in spite of all the printing, marketing and logistics costs of all the unsold ones. So they mutliply the number of novels to cover all the segments of the market, and try to earn more. Just think that all the unsold books are destroyed in the end, and you'll get an idea of the waste.
I personnally hardly buy books in September. First, because the first edition is always much more expensive than the pocket one. Second, because you don't know what to choose when nobody has read all this stuff still and could give you advice (many books are never read by critics: they are just too numberous). Last, because this "rentrée littéraire" (or litterature come-back) is something which interests more the intellectuals in Saint-Germain-Des-Prés (the intellectual district of Paris) in "le café de flore" or "les deux magots" than the public, as the intellectuals will have to give prizes to all this mess. It's very funny: you hear them fighting on the radio to determine if this book is better than that one, etc... The most famous prize is the Goncourt Prize, but there are more than 70 prizes. I don't know most of them, some disappear and some appear every year...
I just finished a very funny novel called "Begdorf blondes", written by Plum Sykes, an American journalist, depicting the life of Paris-Hilton-like girls in NY high-society. Very refreshing, but somehow a little bit similar to all this thirty-something-girlie-targetted books like "Brigdet Jones' Diary". This book will never get the Goncourt, but it will assure me some good time in Summer. And that's what most of French people require from a novel: fun and fantasy. They don't need prizes to help them to choose that...
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