40 Books That Will Make You Want To Visit France

Oui, please.

1. The Life Before Us, Romain Gary (Emile Ajar)

This is the story of love, companionship, and compassion between Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor and former prostitute, and Momo, a young Muslim boy who lives with her. Momo, who is also the narrator, describes the colorful and lively working-class Parisian neighborhood with humor and tenderness.

The Life Before Us is one of those books that never leave you. It is deeply moving, truly heartbreaking but still utterly delightful and funny.

You’ll love it if: You have a beating heart.

Buy it here.

2. The Ladies’ Paradise, Emile Zola

In addition to being an enchanting love story, The Ladies’ Paradise is a testimony of the rise of bourgeoisie and of the birth of department stores and the death of small businesses in 19th century Paris.

The descriptions are wonderful and you can’t help but sympathize with Denise, a young woman from the French countryside, as she discovers Paris and makes it in an often cruel environment. (It is also the only book by Zola that won’t make you want to cry yourself to sleep thinking about how much humans suck.)

You’ll love it if you like: Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, shopping.

Buy it here.

3. The Flowers of Evil, Charles Baudelaire

Perhaps the most famous French poetry anthology, Les Fleurs du Mal is all about finding the beauty in the ugly and the ordinary. It is also a striking portrait of the 19th century artistic Parisian scene. With each page, you can taste the absinth and opium, smell the heavy summer air, and see the prostitutes and broke artists cohabiting in this beautiful Parisian mess.

You’ll love it if you like: Edgar Allan Poe. The French poet and the American author had very similar sensibilities, and Baudelaire even translated Poe’s work into French.

Buy it here.

4. Les Misérables, Victor Hugo

You probably know the musical and the movie. I’ve never seen the former, but the latter is an insult to this beautiful book full of colorful yet subtle characters, and heartbreaking stories. It is also a thrilling and compelling tale of France’s tumultuous history of revolutions and uprising in the 19th century.

You’ll love it if you liked: the musical, Charles Dickens, history, and sad stories.

Buy it here.

5. The Fall, Albert Camus

Both The Stranger and The Plague (arguably Camus’ two most famous novels) take place in Algeria. But The Fall’s fist half is set in Paris during the 1950s. It is not the most uplifting story, but it’s a great way to have a taste of the French existential angst before you visit this country.

You’ll love it if you like: Thinking about how meaningless life is, your philosophy classes, and existentialism.

Buy it here.

6. Bel-Ami, Guy de Maupassant

A young ambitious journalist sleeps his way to the top in 19th century Paris. Bel Ami is a tale of ambition and betrayal, a classic theme in the French literature of that era. Maupassant was one of the finest writers and observers of French society in his time and his depiction of the rise of bourgeoisie in Paris is captivating and remarkable.

You’ll love it if you like: Vanity Fair (the novel), journalism, and stories of manipulation.

Buy it here.

7. Hunting and Gathering, Anna Gavalda

Hunting and Gathering isn’t a literary masterpiece, but it’s a very charming and uplifting page-turner that tells the story of four lost souls as they find their way in life with the support of one another. You’ll discover that Paris can be a beautiful, heartwarming place despite all the grumpy people.

You’ll love it if you liked: Amelie.

Buy it here.

8. The Mandarins, Simone de Beauvoir

This novel is a portrait of the Parisian intellectual society from the end of World War II to the mid-1950s. Beauvoir focuses on a small group of intellectuals, based mostly on herself, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus. She explores their relationships and conflicts. It’s a great novel and also a fascinating read for anyone interested in that group of thinkers.

You’ll love it if you like: Philosophy, long debates of ideas, Paris in the 1950s, and the French Nouvelle Vague.

Buy it here.

9. Zazie in the Metro, Raymond Queneau

Zazie, a precocious and cheeky teenager, explores Paris in this poetic and playful novel. When it came out in 1959, it shattered the world of traditional literature and influenced a generation of writers and filmmakers with its surrealist tone. Reading this novel is a very charming way to discover Paris.

You’ll love it if you like: Harriet the Spy, Alice in Wonderland, surrealism, and the French Nouvelle Vague.

Buy it here.

10. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Victor Hugo

Much like Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame isn’t a happy story. This gothic novel is heartbreakingly beautiful and if you don’t cry over the fate of Esmeralda and Quasimodo, you probably have a heart of stone.

You’ll love it if you like: The Pillars of the Earth, the Disney animated film, sad love stories, and stories about underdogs with a big heart.

Buy it here.

11. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery

There is a reason why The Elegance of the Hedgehog is one of the most popular French books of the past decade. It is a smart, insightful and charming novel about the unlikely friendship between an unattractive widowed concierge, a precocious little girl and a Japanese businessman. They all live in the same Parisian building and bound over their love for literature and philosophy.

You’ll love it if you like: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and having weird friends.

Buy it here.

12. Holiday in a Coma / Love Lasts Three Years, Frédéric Beigbeder

Beigbeder is THE Parisian snob whom you’ll love to hate. He is cynical, insolent, and pretentious. In France, he’s almost more famous as a talk-show guest and nightclub regular than as a writer. His books are still worth your time, especially if you enjoy sarcasm and dark humor.

You’ll love it if you like: Bukowski and Bret Easton Ellis.

Buy it here.

13. In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust

In Search of Lost Time isn’t for the casual reader. It is long (very, very long), and it requires a significant investment of time and intellectual energy. But if you stick with it, all your efforts will be rewarded by this masterpiece and beautiful exploration of memory, nostalgia, and homosexuality. You will also feel like a badass for reading it all — not many people have.

You’ll love it if you like: Infinite Jest, Ulysses, and other long-ass books that are very intellectually rewarding in the end.

Buy it here.

14. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

The book is mostly remembered for its bullfighting scenes during the festival of the running of the bulls in Pamplona (Spain). But many chapters take place in Paris, among the American community of expats. Most of the places where the group of friends party till dawn still exist, though they’ve lost some of their charm with the years and the influx of tourists.

The Sun Also Rises is still a great way to explore the Paris of the 1920s. The novel is also one of the best examples of Hemingway’s minimalist yet expressive and poignant style.

You’ll love it if you like: Hemingway and Midnight in Paris.

Buy it here.

15. Mythologies, Roland Barthes

In this series of essays written in the mid-1950s, Roland Barthes exposes the new myths of modern France and analyzes the influence of mass media in the French society of his time. The essays are truly fascinating and often entertaining. They also offer an amazing portrait of the country during the economic boom of the 1950s.

You’ll love it if you like: Media studies, sociology, journalism, Mad Men, and the 1950s.

Buy it here.

16. Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik

When it was published in 2000, Paris to the Moon was compared to Mythologies. Adam Gopnik was The New Yorker’s correspondent in Paris from 1995 to 2000 and in this book he talks about his relationship with France and shares his reflections on many aspects of the French every day life. A must-read if you want to explore France through the eyes of a very insightful American.

You’ll love it if you like: The New Yorker, essays, and exploring cultural differences.

Buy it here.

17. My Father’s Glory and My Mother’s Castle, Marcel Pagnol

In both My Father’s Glory and My Mother’s Castle, Marcel Pagnol (Provence’s most celebrated storyteller) remembers his childhood in Marseille and his summers on the hills of the hinterland.

These books are so full of life that you can smell the olive trees, feel the summer heat, and hear the cicadas chirping. You’re in Provence with Marcel and his family. You will share the thrill of his first kiss, you will cry at his first heartbreak, you will be devastated by his pain and delighted by his victories.

You’ll love it if you like: Childhood memories and old pictures.

Buy it here.

18. The Horseman on the Roof, Jean Giono

This gorgeous novel manages to find the perfect balance between the epic and the intimate love story. It is set in the 19th century, in the beautiful landscapes of Provence, during an epidemic of cholera. Angelo, an Italian colonel on the run from Austrian spies and the most amazing gentleman who ever walked this earth, helps Pauline, a French aristocrat, flee the cholera-infested region.

You’ll love it if you like: Love in the Time of Cholera, Lost in Translation, In the Mood for Love, and books of adventures in general.

Find it here.

19. Letters from My Windmill, Alphonse Daudet

Alphonse Daudet, a proud 19th century Provençal, honored the land of his childhood in this great series of short stories. This book is the best companion to a trip in the most beautiful French region. It is full of humor, life, color, and poignant and delightful tales of shepherds, millers, and vicars.

You’ll love it if you like: Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and other brilliant folk storytellers.

Buy it here.

20. Bonjour Tristesse, Françoise Sagan

The three previous books are set in the traditional Provence countryside, but Bonjour Tristesse takes place on the Riviera, among the very privileged. Cécile is a rich young girl, spending her summer in a villa. She is bored, she likes scheming, and she has quite a few daddy issues. It is a funny and irreverent novel on the French golden youth.

Françoise Sagan wrote it when she was just a teenager. It became a best-seller and made her a literary star.

You’ll love it if you like: The Swimming Pool, Gossip Girl, Clueless, and Cruel Intentions.

Buy it here.

21. Tender Is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is not a French novel, but most of the action takes place between the French Riviera and Paris. Often overshadowed by The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night was perhaps Fitzgerald’s most personal work as he drew his inspiration for the story from his relationship with his wife Zelda.

The novel manages to be entertaining, insightful, and moving while dealing with an issue like mental illness. It also offers a delightful portrait of the life of the American expats who lived in France during the 1920s.

You’ll love it if you like: Fitzgerald, the Lost Generation, and Midnight in Paris.

Buy it here.

22. A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle

This best-seller is the heartwarming and witty tale of the life of a British man in Provence. Peter Mayle is both bemused and in love with the place and its people, and he will make you want to move there and experience some of this sweet life too.

You’ll love it if you like: Food, Bill Bryson, exploring cultural differences.

Buy it here.

23. The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas

In a way, The Three Musketeers may be the most quintessentially French book on this list. The musketeers have all the personality traits the French like to think they have. They are proud, brave, fiercely loyal, and always ready to defend their honor or that of a wronged lady. The novel, like most of Dumas’, is a highly entertaining read.

You’ll love it if you like: Adventures, gentlemen, sword fights, and history.

Buy it here.

24. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

A thrilling story of betrayal and revenge, The Count of Monte Cristo manages to be both a literary masterpiece and the ultimate page-turner.

You’ll love it if you like: Stories of revenge.

Buy it here.

25. Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand

It’s the story of a man with a huge nose and an even bigger heart. Cyrano is in love with Roxanne. The very handsome Christian is also in love with Roxanne, so Cyrano lends him his wit to seduce the woman he loves.

It is a masterpiece and one the most perfect examples of the French panache. You will laugh, you will cry, and you’ll remember how cruel yet beautiful life can be.

You’ll love it if: you have a soul.

Buy it here.

26. Asterix, The Gaul, Goscinny and Uderzo

Asterix is a classic and an indispensable feature in any French library. Asterix, The Gaul, the first volume of the series, is a hilarious take on the Roman occupation of Gaul (now France).

While the rest of the country is under the Roman authority, one village resists the invader with the help of a strengthening magic potion made by the local druid. It’s witty, clever, and cheeky, and it’ll please both children and adults.

You’ll love it if you like: Tintin, comics in general.

Buy it here.

27. Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow (U.S.) / Just Like Tomorrow (U.K.), Faïza Guène

 

If you want to read about places where tourists never set a foot, read Faïza Guène. In her first novel, Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow, she drew inspiration from her own life. It follows a 15-year-old Muslim girl who lives in a housing project in the suburbs of Paris. It is a caustic, colloquial, and powerful portrait of the life on the outskirts of Paris and of the coming-of-age of a teenage girl in this environment.

You’ll love it if you like: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Push, Precious.

Buy it here.

28. The Red and the Black, Stendhal

The Red and the Black is not the easiest read, but it is simply one of the major French literary masterpieces. It tells the story of Julien Sorel, a young ambitious man, as he tries to climb the social ladder from his small provincial town to Paris.

You’ll love it if you like: Tales of ambition.

Buy it here.

29. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

Emma Bovary is unhappy with her small-town, provincial life and seeks a more exciting one. There is a reason why Madame Bovary is on the list of every book club and class on world literature: It is a timeless masterpiece.

You’ll love it if you like: Anna Karenina, The Awakening.

Buy it here.

30. Three Strong Women, Marie NDiaye

Maire NDiaye is perhaps France’s most talented and successful contemporary writer. She wrote this beautiful book, which follows the fate of three women between France and Senegal. It is a subtle, raw, and gut-wrenching portrait of women facing adversities and betrayal.

You’ll love it if you like: Stories about immigration and strong female characters.

Buy it here.

31. The Lost Estate, Henri Alain-Fournier

The Lost Estate is an enchanting coming-of-age story set at a boarding school in the French countryside. It is a stunningly written novel, hopelessly romantic, and nostalgic. It is also Alain-Fournier’s only novel — the young author was killed on the battlefields of World War I a year after its publication.

You’ll love it if you like: The Great Gatsby, novels about unrequited love, and coming-of-age stories.

Buy it here.

32. Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Choderlos de Laclos

This is the book that inspired Cruel Intentions. But the movie, which drove a generation of girls to practice French kissing with their BFFs, doesn’t do justice to this gem of a book — an epistolary novel about two cunning, manipulative, and amoral aristocrats under the French Ancien Régime. It is a timeless masterpiece that manages to be both cynical and heartbreaking.

You’ll love it if you like: Cruel Intentions and Dangerous Liaisons (the movie with Glenn Close and John Malkovich).

Buy it here.

33. Philosophy in the Bedroom, Marquis de Sade

Philosophy in the Bedroom is dedicated to all the “lewd women,” “amiable debauchees,” and “voluptuaries of all ages, of every sex.” It is a deliciously cynical, amoral, and dirty book that will reinforce all the clichés you have about the French.

You’ll love it if you: are an “amiable debauchee” or just someone curious.

Buy it here.

34. The Elementary Particles (U.S.) / Atomised (U.K.), Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq may be the most talented misanthrope out there. The Elementary Particles is a bit like him. It is depressing and often unpleasant. But it is compelling and in many ways fascinating.

You’ll love it if you like: Bukowski, Bret Easton Ellis, and thinking that life is a loosing struggle.

Buy it here.

35. The Art of Sleeping Alone, Sophie Fontanel

Despite the clichés, French people are not all having sex with multiple partners all of the time. French Elle’s journalist Sophie Fontanel spent 12 years without having any sex and she wrote about it in this memoir.

You’ll love it if you hate: People constantly obsessing about having sex.

Buy it here.

36. The Accursed Kings, Maurice Druon

 

These books are the original Game of Thrones — even George R. R. Martin said so. The series of books follow several generations of kings and queens who have been cursed by the Grand Master of the Templar Order. All the books are based on the history of the French monarchy. They are filled with sex, incest, manipulation, torture, and murders.

You’ll love it if you like: Game of Thrones and The Tudors.

Buy the first book here.

37. Marie Antoinette, Stefan Zweig

This is by far the best biography of Marie Antoinette. If you want to learn about the Austrian princess turned French queen and about the French revolution, this is the book to read.

You’ll love it if you like: Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola’s movie, even if it’s based on another biography), the French monarchy, and revolution.

Buy it here.

38. Fouché, Stefan Zweig

Another brilliant biography by Zweig. This time he wrote about Joseph Fouché, who was the Minister of Police under Napoleon I. The book is a journey through the French Revolution and the first French empire.

You’ll love it if you like: The Prince by Machiavelli, Napoleon, and the French revolution.

Buy it here.

39. Colonel Chabert, Honoré de Balzac

Colonel Chabert is a hero of the Napoleonic wars who is left for dead on the battlefield. He survives and tries to regain his status in the corrupted French Restoration (the few years during which the monarchy was back in place). It is a beautiful short story and a great study of France during that time.

You’ll love it if you like: Sad stories, French history.

Get it here for free.

40. Suite Française, Irène Némirovsky

The book takes place during the German invasion and later occupation of France, in 1940–1941. It is composed of two novellas. Némirovsky had planned to write five of them but she was arrested before she could finish her work. She died in Auschwitz in 1942 and the stories were preserved by her daughter, who assumed it was a diary; sixty years after her mother’s death, she realized it was an amazing work of fiction. That’s how Suite Française was finally published in France, in 2004.

This story already makes the book relevant and extraordinary. But Suite Française is also a masterpiece in its own right, both humane and beautiful.

You’ll love it if: You don’t have a rock instead of a heart.

Buy it here.

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