What could possibly be more lovely than reading French books near Valentine’s Day? You don’t have to know French, of course, to appreciate the City of Love! There are many French authors whose works have been translated for you to enjoy. And France overall has inspired plenty of writers for setting, characters, and culture. Having just spent a month studying abroad and exploring various French cities, I definitely fell in love with how the French appreciate books! In this blog, I’ll try to show you bits and pieces of French magic, especially for bookworms like yourselves.
My first recommendation comes from an older French woman selling her artwork in the streets of Avignon. I told her that I was from the United States studying English Literature in college, and her eyes widened. She asked: “Have you ever read L’Homme Qui Plantait Des Arbres?” I shook my head, worried I’ve disappointed her. The woman said that it was adapted to a movie in English, and she read the short story all the time when she was a little girl.
Seeing her reminisce over this piece of literature made me smile, and I really appreciated her sharing this piece of her culture with me. The story, called The Man who Planted Trees in English, follows a man who attempts to reforest the Provence region in France. Author Jean Giono incorporates elements of his fictional narrator serving in World War I and the impact on the environment. It’s a great story, especially for those interested in living more sustainably, to learn from!
What I Read
While I was in France, however, I spent the majority of my trip reading Lucy Foley’s The Paris Apartment. Set in Paris, this book incorporated a lot of what I was seeing around me — green crosses on every block which represent pharmacies, people constantly smoking cigarettes, busy times on the metro, and impeccable fashion. Being a huge fan of mysteries and thrillers, I enjoyed the plot of Foley’s novel a lot.
It helped that I could envision the size and architecture of apartment buildings to fully understand her setting. I think, in this book particularly, the author must have spent time in Paris to master her writing of the Parisian culture. For those who have never been, imagine New York City except with many buildings from the 17th century! Reading books that can transport you to Paris or other French cities really does feel like you escape to a different world.
If you are more of a history fan, you’re in luck! The majority of novels set in France revolve around historical events. For example, Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale takes place in a French village during World War II. Hannah’s novel follows the story of two sisters who have to figure out how to survive in the chaos of war. It’s very interesting to read about such significant moments in France considering how large of a role France had in history! All over France there are monuments and museums dedicated to those who fought in the World Wars. I visited Normandy, home of the beaches that soldiers fought on during D-Day. Being able to read about these events and places, even in fictional novels, transports you to what many lived through.
Many non-French people only know a couple of French writers — usually Victor Hugo’s name rings a bell. One of his most famous novels, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, is written about the Notre Dame in Paris! On one of my tours throughout France, we learned that there are many Notre Dames. Because “Notre Dame” translates to “Our Lady,” many cathedrals throughout the country use that name followed by their city’s name.
Hugo writes specifically about Notre Dame de Paris, the one that a few years ago caught on fire. Luckily, the famous Gothic cathedral is under construction and is being repaired as you read this! The French are hoping to have the architectural feat completed in time for the Paris 2024 Olympics. The Gothic architecture that Hugo emphasizes in his novel is a major piece of what makes Paris such a beautiful place!
My last recommendation, fitting with the theme of love for the upcoming Valentine’s Day, is a romance. If you have read and enjoyed Love & Gelato, you will most likely enjoy Kisses and Croissants! Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau’s novel tells a story about a girl traveling to Paris in hopes of becoming a ballerina. Of course, a very attractive French boy named Louis is her tour guide… you can assume the rest!
I recommend this book for several reasons… First, it shows how much the French do value all forms of art. Ballet, opera, theater, singing, dancing — these are all very important to French culture. Even if romantic love may be the main point of this book, you can get a glimpse of artistic passion too! Second, the author takes you to places with such vivid and accurate descriptions. It will help you escape to Paris even if you’ve never been! Lastly, it has a beautiful cover, which I think also adds to the French idea of beauty.
At Discover Books, we hope you fall in love with any books you can! After reading this blog, we hope you feel inspired to read about France or books by French writers to learn about another culture — or even another language if you’re up for a challenge!
Even though Paris may be known as the City of Love, there is plenty of magic wherever home is for you. A big part of French culture I learned is to enjoy the little parts of your day. Let’s say your routine is getting up early and driving to work… The French would say to savor the silence in the mornings, enjoy the taste of your breakfast, and admire the scenery on your commute.
The more you read about the French lifestyle, hopefully the more you can incorporate in your daily lives. Looking for moregreat February reads? Try our Reading Challenge List for February here. With a wide selection of books to choose from, we want you to discover as much as you can! As always, happy reading!