Want to discover more about French culture? Perfect! Here is a selection of books about France and the French that will help you understand better the French culture and what it is all about!
As a French person, I obviously know my classics. Very often because I was forced to read them at school 😉 But also because they are not called classics for no reason.
Some of them are true masterpieces. They are world-famous and definitely something you should read before going to France. But that’s not all!
I also love reading books written by foreign authors about France. I find it particularly interesting to see what other nationalities think of my country.
It’s kind of funny to see how they can spot something that has always been normal to me. I find these books absolutely hilarious while being very smart as well.
Finally, I’ve added some more modern french books. Books that are not as famous as the others but are written by up and coming french authors.
Some of these books are set in Paris but others will give you deeper insight into the French culture as a whole.
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Top books about France and the French written by foreign authors
If you are looking for some travel stories and books about French culture, these books written by British and American authors will be perfect for you!
A Year in the Merde – Stephen Clarke
A year in the merde is a comical novel written by Stephen Clarke. It’s one of my favourite books in the world!
It’s about this English lad, Paul West, who moves to Paris and starts working for a French company.
He stays in Paris for a year and discovers everything about France, the French and French culture. It’s absolutely hilarious.
Although this is not an autobiography, Stephen Clarke managed to put together an amazing storyline with funny twists and punchy taglines.
It’s the first book I read in English and is ideal for non-native English speakers and anyone that wants to learn more about France. I also loved the story behind this book.
The beginning was tough for Stephen Clarke. Nobody wanted to publish his book and he had to self-publish.
But yet, the public was able to see what professionals weren’t and it became a bestseller!
Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris – Sarah Turnbull
This is an excellent choice if you are looking for a humourous travel memoir.
The author, Sarah Turnbull, was a journalist from Sydney who met a Frenchman while she was backpacking around Europe. He invited her to spend a week in Paris with him.
Fastforward a few years later and here she is, married and living a French life.
Merde Actually – Stephen Clarke
The adventures of Paul West didn’t stop with the first book! After the success of A year in the Merde, Stephen Clarke wrote another series of books with the same character.
In this sequel, Paul goes to the South of France with his girlfriend. It’s as funny as the first one although very different.
I highly recommend it, especially if you are planning on visiting Southern France.
My Life in France – Julia Child and Alex Prudhomme
My life in France is a beautiful autobiography written by the American author Julia Child.
She describes in this book the things she loved the most in life: her husband, France and “the many pleasures of cooking and eating”.
This best-seller book is a must-read if you want to discover more about France with the eyes of an American!
Sixty Million Frenchmen can’t be wrong – Jean Benoit Nadeau & Julie Barlow
If you look at the back of the book, here is the summary you will see:
-Smoke, drink and eat more fat than anyone in the world, yet live longer and have fewer heart problems than Americans
-Work 35-hour weeks, and take seven weeks of paid holidays per year, but are still the world’s fourth-biggest economic power
So what makes the French so different?
That alone should make you want to read it! I loved that book and when I bought it, this paragraph only convinced me to do so.
For me, being French, working 35-hour weeks and having 30 days holidays are normal things.
But when I moved abroad, I realised that they were not normal for everyone.
I loved the way this book spots all these french habits and can explain them in an unusually entertaining academic way.
Very good and pleasant read!
A year in Provence – Peter Mayle
A year in Provence is one of the most famous biography about France. It was written by British author, Peter Mayle, who tells us the story of his life in Provence with his wife and two dogs.
He lives in a 200-year old farmhouse and experiences the joy of living in the south of France.
Of course, as for each story, he has ups and downs.
Overall, that’s an excellent book to read for people who are planning a trip to Provence or even thinking about moving to France.
A lot of British people acquire properties in the south and do exactly what he did so that’s a very interesting read.
When in French: Love in a second Language – Lauren Collins
Loving someone in another language is challenging and it’s something that nobody can understand unless they’ve been in this situation.
Communicating with your partner, telling him love words and how you feel is not easy.
So imagine what it can be like when on top of that you don’t know how to say these things in a foreign language. It can be hard at times.
But it can also be one of the most amazing things ever. I know these feelings better than anyone and that’s why I absolutely loved this book by Lauren Collins.
She beautifully explains how she moved to London and fell in love with a french man. Everything about the most beautiful parts of being abroad and in love with someone that doesn’t speak your language.
Although it’s set in Switzerland, I find it to be a very interesting book to read if you are interested in the french culture.
Time Was Soft There – Jeremy Mercer
Time was soft there is a memoir written by Jeremy Mercer about his life in Paris.
Jeremy Mercer wonderfully writes about his great journey through his sojourn at Shakespeare and Co. and his time with George Whitman.
If you love books, bookshops and Paris, you will fall completely in love with Jeremy’s story!
This book is the perfect read if you are planning on going to Paris and walk through the Latin Quarter!
French or Foe – Polly Platt
This book is perfect for anyone wanting to move to France or particularly interested in French culture.Polly Platt tells you everything you need to know about Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living and Working in France.
If you want to be able to understand the French and their culture, this is probably the best book you can get.
The author’s style is remarkable.
She is brilliant at observing aspects of the French culture and putting it together in a humorist way that will be both educating and entertaining.She takes a bit the same way that Sixty Million French people can’t be wrong, but in a funnier way.
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Joanne Harris is an English author who is particularly famous for her best-selling book about France, Chocolat.
Chocolat tells the story of Vianne Rocher, a young single mother, who arrives in the French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes to open a little chocolaterie (chocolate shop).
Although it is not a true story exactly, a lot of elements are based on her own life and her daughter’s.
The book was such a success that it was later on adapted as a movie.
Best modern books about France written by french authors
Out of sorts – Aurelie Valognes
Out of sorts is a short novel about this old grumpy french man, Ferdinand, that starts warming up to the others when this family and cheeky little girl move into the building.
The story itself is not much about the french themselves but this book became a bestseller in France. It was written by Aurelie Valognes, a french author born in Paris that spent a lot of time working with American companies and people.
This book was beautifully written in french, using loads of idioms. It’s a very pleasant and easy book to read which is why I added it here. It will also give you an idea of what modern french literature is like!
The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
Muriel Barbery is one of the most famous modern authors in France.
She published The Elegance of the Hedgehog in 2006 and it has since become one of the best selling books in France.
It tells the story of a concierge in a fancy Parisian apartment and how two people in the building, a French teenager and a Japanese man, change her life.
It is a very good read and is even recommended to French pupils at school.
It’s easy to read, entertaining and is perfect for people who love travelling.
Bonjour Tristesse – Françoise Sagan
Françoise Sagan was one of the most famous modern French novelist and screenwriter. Born in the small town of Cajarc, in the Lot, she is mainly known for her romantic books involving Bourgeois characters.
Bonjour Tristesse was the very first book she published. At the time, she was only 19 and it became a best-seller straight away.
The book is set in France and tells the story of a 17-girl teenage girl meddling in her father’s love life.
It’s a great novel to read before going to France, especially if you are visiting in summer.
Will you ever change? – Aurelie Valognes
It tells the story of a French family. The husband is rather special and set in his ways to say the least. Through the book, you’ll see the changes they make to become a better couple and family.
Best classic French books
Dangerous Liaisons – Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
“Les Liaisons dangereuses” are the most famous French book in the world.
Written just a few years before the French Revolution, it will give you a good idea of what the French Aricrostacy was like before the revolution.
It’s an absolute masterpiece that all history lovers should read. That said, if you are looking for an easy read, this won’t be a good choice. It’s very interesting but you do need to get into it.
These books were adapted as a movie as well.
Les Misérables – Victor Hugo
Written by the world-famous french poet, Victor Hugo, Les Miserables are a masterpiece of French literature. First published in 1862, it is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century.
It’s been adapted as a musical. If you go to London one day, you can watch it in London West End.
As a matter of fact, Les Miserables are the longest-running musical in London. If you are heading to Paris, you might also want to check out another famous Victor Hugo novel: the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
As previously mentioned for Dangerous Liaisons, Les Miserables are not an easy book to read. Be aware of that before you start it. But I couldn’t speak about books about France without mentioning it!
I hope these books about France and the French will help you understand better the French Culture. Why we act the way we do, what’s important to us and how to make the best of your travels to France!
Best books about France during WWII
Between the German occupation, the French Resistance and everything else that has happened during WII in France, there is a lot to learn about it. If you are interested in knowing more about this part of the french history, here some of the best books about France during the second world war.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
All the light we cannot see is a beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy during WWII.
The story starts in Paris as the little girl and her father live near the Museum of Natural History but the plot then evolves in the town of Saint-Malo. When Germany invades France, they are forced to flee the city and take refuge by the sea, in Brittany.