Summer Reading: Books Set in France
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Summer is here and that means it’s time for reading light, fun books, right?
Well, for lots of people that’s what it means. I have never been one to think of summer as a time to change my criteria for choosing reading material. In the summer, I still want to read books that are interesting, well-written, and that will leave me a little bit smarter after I’ve finished them than before I began. (But of course, they can be fun too.)
In any case, I decided to organize this piece as a literary tour around the Hexagon, highlighting some of my favorite books about France. Are you ready? Okay, then, on y va…
Starting in Brittany (at Finisterre, “end of the earth”), I strongly recommend I’ll Never Be French (no matter what I do) and (not quite) Mastering the Art of French Living, Mark Greenside’s rollicking, super-fun books about how he first came to buy a home in a little town in Brittany, and his amusing, often laugh-out-loud, funny adventures and misadventures there in the 30 years since then.
Moving on to the capital city, if you haven’t yet read Oliver Gee’s Paris On Air, surely it is time you do so. Paris on Air is a delightful memoir about how this charming young Australian went about building his now-world-famous Paris-based podcast, The Earful Tower. (Get it?) And if you’re looking for books to please the children in your life, you should also know about Kylie, A Crocodile in Paris, and Roger the Liger in Paris, also by Oliver, and charmingly illustrated by his wife Lina Nordin Gee.
For another refreshing and also very charming view of Paris from a parisienne, Edith de Belleville’s Parisian Life: Adventures in the City of Light is a great summer (or winter, or spring, or fall) read, in which this Parisian tour guide par excellence takes you on a tour of her very Parisian life.
Jeffrey Greene’s books are a wonderful way to get a close-up view of the people, as well as the flora and fauna of Burgundy (as well as some other far-flung places in the world his research has taken him to). His memoir, French Spirits: A House, a Village, and a Love Affair is one of my all-time favorite books about France. And in recent years Greene has written what I think as a kind of trilogy of scientific nature studies: The Golden-Bristled Boar: Last Ferocious Beast of the Forest; In Pursuit of Wild Edibles: A Forager’s Tour; and his most recent book, Masters of Tonewood: The Hidden Art of Fine Stringed-Instrument Making. Greene is an award-winning poet, so all of his writing is exquisitely well crafted, and it is extraordinarily interesting as well.
Then there is M L Longworth’s wonderful Verlaque/Bonnet mystery series, set in Aix en Provence. And there is Martin Walker’s wonderful Bruno series, set in southwestern France, in the Dordogne. I love these books for the masterful writing, the mouthwatering descriptions of French cuisine, the evocative descriptions of French landscapes, and the humor.
For those who read French, I think it’s hard to go wrong with the policiers of Simenon and Exbrayat (the latter whose books have been described as “humorous thrillers”) and indeed Les Amours Auvergnates is the funniest mystery I’ve ever read.
And now for the part of this assignment where you will either roll your eyes in disbelief, or be inspired to pick up a big heavy book to read during these leisurely months of summer. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I am currently reading (and thoroughly enjoying) Tolstoy’s War and Peace for the first time ever. (I’m reading the Anthony Briggs translation, which is available in the Penguin Classic series.) And I would like to encourage anyone who hasn’t yet read this world classic to do so. I stayed away from it based on a (mistaken) notion that it would be dry, or tedious, or who knows what. It is none of these things and I was very surprised to find myself often laughing as well as sighing, at Tolstoy’s insightful comments on and insights into humanity. And I am completely immersed and engaged in the story.
David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris is another book I put off reading for far too long. It is absolutely fascinating, and written by a masterful storyteller. It is intelligent and extremely informative, but it is also easy, fun reading!
And Isabelle Hammad’s The Parisian is yet another big, fat book that I think merits reading at least once. I myself would like to read it again.
Well hopefully there will be something in these titles to pique your interest, whet your appetite, and give you some excellent books to dig into this summer.
So let me keep you from it no longer. Remember to support your favorite indie bookstore, and happy reading!
Purchase these books for yourself at your favorite independent bookstore, like the newly expanded Red Wheelbarrow or Shakespeare & Company in Paris. These books are also available through online shops like Indiebound and Bookshop.org.
Lead photo credit : Reading books (C) Matias North, Unsplash
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