While much of the world is in quarantine because of the coronavirus pandemic, you can still transport yourself to France with a great book. Beyond classics like Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, the options are endless. We tapped some of our expert contributors to share reading recommendations for this time of social distancing and lockdown at home. What are your favorite books set in France? Share in the comments section below. Pssst. You can also find a number of France Today book reviews here.
The Brains of Paris
“Alistair Horne’s Seven Ages of Paris is a history of the brains who’ve made Paris what it is. Included are hero kings such as Philippe Auguste (who laid the first stone of the Louvre and paid for the walls to protect France from the Normans) and Henri IV (who cleverly converted to Catholicism after fighting for 30 years as a Protestant trying to claim his throne — ‘Paris is worth a Mass’, he famously said), as well as Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Abelard and Heloise, etc.”
Fleeing Racism for France
“As for books, I am currently reading Christopher Tilghman’s Thomas and Beal in the Midi. It is the third book of a trilogy that starts on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the 1800s (Mason’s Retreat and The Right-Hand Shore) and brings an interracial couple to France, as they attempt to escape the racism of America. If it’s as good as the first two books, I will be well rewarded.”
—Meredith Mullins is an internationally exhibited fine art photographer and instructor based in Paris.
A Trip to Provence… and Beyond
“I highly recommend My Father’s Glory by Marcel Pagnol. It’s a charming and funny tale of young Marcel’s summers spent in the Provençal countryside. For French learners, La Gloire de mon père is a great choice when choosing a first book to read in French.
And then there’s The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This beloved classic is guaranteed to lift your spirits.”
A Coffee Table Favorite
“The Other Paris, by Luc Sante – “an illustrated journey through a city’s poor and bohemian past” – currently takes pride of place on my coffee table. It echoes the atmosphere of the troubled times in which we find ourselves, as a society blighted by pandemic, yet it is also a wakeup call, reminding us that no matter how tough it seems now, life was once far worse. Plus, crucially, there’s a positive message at the book’s heart. The celebratory atmosphere of post-war Montmartre and the revival of art, culture and cabaret invites parallels with how I hope Paris will rise again after the lockdown, when the crisis is over. In the meantime, this read is a great escape.”
— Chloe Govan is a frequent contributor to France Today
A Tour de France
“I have compiled a list of France books themed by region. Transport yourself to the City of Light with Paris: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd; Paris Postcards: Short Stories by Guy Thomas Hibbert; and L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home by David Lebovitz. Take a trip to the Champagne region with The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne House and the Woman Who Ruled It by Tilar J. Mazzeo (see my photo essay on that!). For Burgundy, try The Lost Vintage: A Novel by Ann Mah and The Grape Series books. Dreaming of Brittany? Dip into Mark Greenside’s I’ll Never be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany (book here).
Fiona Valpy’s books take readers to Bordeaux, while there’s a bevy of great Provence books: The Promise of Provence (Love in Provence Book 1) by Patricia Sands; Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France by Kristin Espinasse; Provence, 1970: M.F.K Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste by Luke Barr; and The Marseilles Caper by Peter Mayle.”
— Dawn Dailey, author and photographer, is passionate about travel and seeing the world through her camera lens.
From Paris to Perfume
“Here are a few of my favorites!
– Adam Gopnik, Paris to the Moon and The Table Comes First;
– Edmund White, The Flaneur;
– Joan DeJean, The Essence of Style;
– Caroline Weber, Queen of Fashion and Proust’s Duchess;
– Patrick Suskind, The Perfume.”
—Sarah Bartesaghi Truong is the founder of VeniVidiParis, which plans curated itineraries in the French capital for travellers wishing to discover the city’s vibrant art scene