Your Essential France-Themed Reading List

Your Essential France-Themed Reading List

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.”

— Daisy de Plume is the founder of THATMuse, which stands for Treasure Hunt at the Museum. 

Fleeing Racism for France

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“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.”

— Keith Van Sickle is the author of the bestselling books “One Sip at a Time” and “Are We French Yet?, which we highly recommend

A Coffee Table Favorite

Photo: Pexels

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

Photo: Pexels

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  • Patrick Crawford
    2020-06-06 14:25:42
    Patrick Crawford
    Following the recommendation of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, an undoubted classic [“One sees clearly only with the heart; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” – only one of the many unforgettable quotations from the book]. I would also add Night Flight [Vol de Nuit] and Wind, Sand and Stars [Terre des hommes] to the list. Night Flight is loosely based on people that Saint-Exupéry knew while flying from Patagonia to Buenos Aires delivering mail from 1929 – 1931. The narrative is not only about the challenges of flight but also confronting the dangers of the night. However, despite night threatening to engulf the individual, it also manifests a terrible beauty, as in this extract: “The earth was spread with lights sending out their appeals, each house lighting up its own star, in the face of the immensity of the night, like the lighthouse turning towards the sea. Everything which sheltered a human life was now sparkling. And Fabien adored the way his entry into the night on this occasion was like a slow and beautiful entry into a harbour.” Wind, Sand and Stars is a memoir in the form of a novel. However, the brilliant imagery, and the unity of meaning that fuses together the episodes, transform the work beyond pure autobiography or memoir. As the pilot surveys the elements around him, he concludes that the earth teaches man more about himself than books, because it resists man. "Man discovers himself when he measures himself against the obstacle." The heroes exalted in the book have become heroes because they have overcome obstacles, and the whole story of progress and creation in the world is based on such a struggle. One of the most moving passages is his account of his near fatal crash in the Libyan desert in 1935 while trying to break the flying record from Paris to Saigon. It was also the inspiration for The Little Prince. If you are short of time with so many books to read, the Audible version [Land of Men] (see illustration) is available for those who enjoy audio books. Happy reading and listening!


  • Kerry Scott
    2020-04-26 04:58:38
    Kerry Scott
    Laura Bradbury's GRAPE series are a wonderful collection of real-life stories of living and loving in Burgundy. Great fun, tempting food and wine amidst the vineyards and small villages around Beaune and Dijon.


  • Janine Cortell
    2020-04-23 18:39:45
    Janine Cortell
    You could add my Mother's castle-Le château de ma mère by Marcel Pagnol in conjunction with My Father's Glory(La gloire de mon père) by Pagnol. The Secret Life of the Seine by Mort Rosenblum French Dirt by Richard Goodman(one of my favorites!)


    • Robert Jones
      2020-06-08 17:34:46
      Robert Jones
      French Dirt! I loved that one too!