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French literature is so much more than Les Misèrables and Madame Bovary. Sure, they're classics, but I wouldn't suggest reading them on your vacation. Pick up one of these French reads (available in English, except where noted) instead.

Asterix & Obelisk comic books, Rene Goscinny

Astérix & Obelix

René Goscinny
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant | Sense of Culture

In France, Astérix is more popular than Mickey Mouse. The massively popular comics, which first appeared in 1959, have been made into numerous films, board games, and video games. You can even visit Parc Astérix, outside of Paris.

At Night All Blood Is Black

CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

In this winner of numerous awards, including the prestigious International Booker Prize, a Senegalese tirailleur (a member of the French army’s colonial infantry) loses his close friend while fighting in World War I. Originally published in French as Frère d’âme (Soul Brother), the book was translated by poet Anna Moschovakis. Barack Obama chose the novel as one of his 2021 summer reads.


Book cover: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Alison Anderson, Muriel Barbery
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

A bestseller around the world and translated into more than 40 languages, the novel brims with wit and intelligence — and not just in the voice of main character Renée Michel. There are so many allusions in here (French and otherwise) that you should be prepared to jot down notes at every page turn.

France: An Adventure History

Graham Robb
CATEGORIES: Person/Place/Event

Whether you’re a bike-touring enthusiast or a history buff, Robb’s variegated tales from the l’Hexagone are a tempting feast in what could be considered the third of a Gallic trilogy. “Even readers who think they know France will discover the lives and voices of forgotten characters,” says the review from The Washington Post. “Who ever heard of Ogmios, the Gauls’ name for the founder of the land that became France?” After reading this book, you’ll be your travel companions’ best friend — or worst nightmare.

Le Grand Secret, René Barjavel

Le Grand Secret

René Barjavel
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

Science-fiction writer Barjavel isn’t well-known in the U.S., but his works have had a profound mark on the genre. In Le grand secret (often translated as The Immortals), scientists looking for a cure for cancer accidentally create a virus that stops aging — which turns out to have far more devastating consequences than you might think. (French edition)

Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Jules Verne
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

Often called the Grandfather of Science Fiction, Jules Verne is beloved the world over. No matter which of his books you choose to start with, you can’t go wrong, but his 1864(!) endeavor has stood the test of time and remains perhaps the most influential of his oeuvre.

Project Gutenberg

The Little Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

Is it a hat, or a snake that has eaten an elephant? So asks one of the best-selling and most translated books ever published, an enduring children’s classic that was also voted the best book of the 20th century in its homeland of France. The author himself lived a fascinating life, having achieved as much fame as an aviator as for his writing.

My Life in France

Alex Prud'homme, Julia Child
CATEGORIES: Sense of Culture

California-born Child is often credited with introducing French cuisine to the American public, both through her groundbreaking cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television programs, including The French Chef. In her memoir, co-written with her grandnephew, Child tells about her favorite things in life: “her husband, France [her ‘spiritual homeland’], and the ‘many pleasures of cooking and eating.'” The book, published two years after her death, became the basis for the film Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.

Windward Heights

Maryse Condé
CATEGORIES: Sense of Culture

In the hands of Guadaloupe’s award-winning Condé, Wuthering Heights receives a Caribbean retelling, with her home country and Cuba as backgrounds. Growing up in the French region of Guadaloupe, Condé came to prominence with her third novel, 1984’s Ségou.

A Year in Provence

Peter Mayle
CATEGORIES: Sense of Culture

The South of France, as seen through the eyes of a British expat, is equal parts delight and frustration. Mayle’s wit and candid humor helped catapult the popularity of his memoir, which spawned several sequels, television series, and radio shows.

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