An entire world of stories and beauty is waiting for you in French. Now that you can read and understand French, start appreciating the philosophy and expression you can only find in French literature. Here are three different types of French reading you can enjoy:


Five successful books from the past 10 years

1. L’élégance du hérisson by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog tells the life of a concierge in Paris who conceals her intelligence and refinement from the upper-class tenants of the building. She pretends to watch TV all day, eat unhealthy food and endlessly gossip. But secretly in her back room, she listens to opera, cooks refined food for herself and shows an inner talent for philosophy and literature. In the same building, a 12-year-old girl Paloma experiences the same intellectual seclusion in her hypocritic, petit-bourgeois family. Funny, witty and full of accurate details, this book is easy to read as well as intellectually stimulating. It has become famous by word of mouth, and has remained a French best-seller for two years consecutively, having sold more than a million copies.

2. Metronome by Lorànt Deutsch

The author tells the history of Paris by taking his reader from one metro station to another. This is the most successful book about Paris this year.


3. La Horde du Contre-vent by Alain Damasio

In a fantasy world whipped by constant and violent gusts that blow from east to west, a group of 23 people have been trained to walk against the wind and find its source. A brilliant masterpiece in terms of suspense, imagination and poetry. Among other excellent scenes, you will find an incredible rap competition scene that my friends and I have read again and again with bewilderment. Definitely my favorite!


4. Les Yeux Jaunes du Crocodile and La Valse Lente des Tortues, both by Katherine Pancol

I’ve seen the cover of these two books in everybody's hands in the Paris metro, but I can’t tell you the story since I haven’t read it ... yet!


5. Et Si C'était Vrai by Marc Lévy

This book is one of our most famous “airport” novels. A real French romance! This is one of the most read books in France, and Marc Lévy is our best-selling writers abroad.


The Greatest Classics

Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The poetic tale of a pilot marooned in the desert where he meets a young prince fallen to Earth from an asteroid, it is a tale of innocence that relates the strangeness of the adult world through the eyes of the Little Prince.

Famous quotes from the Le Petite Prince:

  • “S'il vous plaît.... dessine-moi un mouton!”  Please, Sir….draw me a sheep!
  • “On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”  One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
  • “Toutes les grandes personnes ont d'abord été des enfants, mais peu d'entre elles s'en souviennent.” Every grown-up has once been a kid, but few are the ones who remember.
  • “Tu es responsable de ce que tu as apprivoisé” You become responsible for what you have tamed.



Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

I once met a farmer in central France who had never journeyed out of his village. He was 81 at that time, and still working in the field. There was one single book in his house and that book was Les Misérables. When I asked him about it, he answered that Les Misérables was as huge as life, and that since he first read it at the age of 12, he had read nothing but this book. Again and again. And thus he would, until his last days.

Victor Hugo is a monument of French romanticism--one of those high rocks that French students dream to climb: Hugo’s poems (Le Crapaud Demain, Dès l'Aube), Essays (The last day of a Condemned Man), and novels (Les Misérables, Notre-Dame de Paris, L'Homme qui Rit).

So lace up your shoes, run and grab the book, and just go reading!

Famous quotes from Les Misérables:

  • “Personne ne garde un secret comme un enfant.” No one keeps a secret like a child.
  • “Parfois, insurrection, c'est résurrection.” Insurrection is sometimes resurrection.
  • “Les grands dangers sont au dedans de nous.” The greatest threat lies within oneself.


Le Deuxième Sexe by Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex is a philosophical and political essay on the condition of women as it has been established by society throughout history. It is a starting point of modern feminism.

Famous quotes from Le Deuxième Sexe:

  • “On ne naît pas femme ; on le devient.” One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.
  • “C'est le travail qui peut seul garantir à la femme une liberté concrête.” Work is the only thing that guarantees women's freedom.

A la Recherche du Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust

This novel, initially published in several volumes, follows the narrator through various stages of growing up. It is greatly respected for its influence on twentieth century literature.

Famous quotes from A la Recherche du Temps Perdu

  • “Laissons les jolies femmes aux hommes sans imagination!” Pretty women are for men without imagination!
  • “Une heure n'est pas une heure, c'est un vase rempli de parfums, de sons, de projets et de climats.” An hour is not an hour, it is a vase full of flavors and sounds, projects and atmospheres.
  • “L'amour, même en ses plus humbles commencements, est un exemple frappant du peu qu'est la réalité pour nous.” Love, even in its early stages, is a striking example of how insignificant reality is for us.
  • “Nous n'arrivons pas à changer les choses suivant notre désir, mais peu à peu notre désir change.” We cannot bend things to our will, but little by little, our own will bends.


Random titles to dig into

  • Les Mémoires d'Hadrien by Marguerite Yourcenar
  • La Société du spectacle by Guy Debord
  • Voyage au Bout de la Nuit by Céline
  • Don Juan by Molière
  • Chagrin d'École by Daniel Pennac
  • Candide by Voltaire
  • L'Amant by Marguerite Duras
  • L'Étranger by Albert Camus
  • L'Éducation Sentimentale by Flaubert


The passé simple is not a big deal

When people start reading in French, they often come to me and ask: “How should I deal with passé simple? Are there any books without the passé simple?”


The passé simple is the past tense in French fiction. It’s not the tense for informal writing. I would never use it in an e-mail to tell what I did for the day or to tell about my holidays in a postcard. Neither is it the tense of politeness and good manners nor the tense of well-read people. It is the tense for storytelling.


 The passé simple is easy to read because most of the verbs look like their infinitive, as you can see :

Présent Passé simple
Parler Elle parla
Aller Ils allèrent
Finir Je finis
Prendre Elle prit

The few irregular verbs are:

Je fus J'eus Je vins
Tu fus Tu eus Tu vins
Il / elle /on fut Il / elle / on eut Il / elle / on vint
Nous fûmes Nous eûmes Nous vînmes
Vous fûtes Vous eûtes Vous vîntes


So, L'Étranger by Camus is not the only book you can read. An entire world of stories and beauty is waiting for you, in French!



Edited by Ilene Springer

Hero Image by grant rambojun (CC BY 2.0)