If you’re like me, scrolling through your Instagram on a Saturday morning, chances are you’re going to come across at least half a dozen French-inspired snapshots. There’s usually some variant of the millenial “blush pink” color featured in the girl’s clothes or accessories, and a background of a boulangerie, cafe or even, for the less subtle ‘grams, the Eiffel Tower.
Sometimes there’s a bit of backlash over these wannabe Parisian’s, scoffing at our bougie fascination with Chanel and macarons. Other American tourists bemoan the French snobbery and unfriendliness. My response: get over yourself. Paris is perfect, has been for centuries, and you’re just jealous. Also, stop being so loud and obnoxious with your deafening whines about having to walk everywhere and how America is the greatest country on Earth (manners much?), your insistence on wearing neon shorts and flip flops, and your staunch insistence on ordering super-sized hamburgers when you’re in the culinary capital OF THE WORLD, and maybe the Parisians will be nicer to you. Just a thought.
My love for le Francaise began early, when my parents came home from their own trip to France and brought back both a French and English copy of the original Madeline. At the time I was so young I couldn’t read either copy, but the illustrations of the twelve little girls strolling by the Eiffel Tower and the tiger in the zoo are still seared into my memory. The pages of the books became worn over the dozens and dozens of times I poured through the books at the kitchen table.
My love affair with the City of Lights continued into middle and high school, where I flew through classics like A Tale of Two Cities and trashy chick lit novels, probably named something incredibly cliché, like J’adore le France or similar. When I finally got to see France for myself on a school trip as a high school senior, I about died from happiness. I tried my first sip of champagne in Montmartre, nibbled on croissants at Les Deux Magots, and explored the Tuileries Gardens. We visited the beaches of Normandy and Mont St. Michel as well on this WWII-themed field trip, but I had definitely left a piece of my heart in Paris.
As I entered into college and adulthood, the trips to Paris continued. My semester abroad in London gave me easy access to taking weekend jaunts to France. And on my travel adventures with Dad, we try our best to always plan an overnight in Paris so we can grab a meal in our favorite city in the world.
Throughout the years, I’ve continued to buy a disproportionate number of books about or set in France. I could spend years making a list of my favorite reads, but I’m going to try to limit myself for the sake of your sanity. Here are a few of my favorite Francophile books I’ve come across lately:
Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
An opera star with a mysterious past, Second Empire France, and an anonymous letter threatening blackmail? Sign me up. This book centers itself around the opera soprana Lillet Berne, a rising celebrity who continues to reinvent herself in order to survive. The novel is full of dark adventures, intrigue, and twists. Plus the detailing of the characters’ dresses and outfits are absolutely divine.
Read if: you love historical fiction, mysteries, or books like The Count of Monte Cristo
Paris Reborn by Stephane Kirkland
Between 1848 and 1870, Paris was transformed from a congested, dirty, unappealing city into a work of art. Parisian icons like the Opera Garnier were constructed in this time period under the guidance of Baron Haussmann and vision of Napoleon III. This book goes into fascinating detail about the transformative campaign Paris completed to create the city it is today.
Read if: you are a history nerd like me, love reading about the history of architecture and the politics behind any major event
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Somehow I missed this Fitzgerald classic in high school and college, but this summer I finally tore through this story set in Southern France. Like many other Fitzgerald novels, this story centers around a tragic romance. It also touches on mental health issues and substance abuse, while wearing glittery flapper dresses and lounging in stylish hotel lobbies. I personally much preferred Tender is the Night over The Great Gatsby (criminla, I know).
Read if: You are a classics snob, enjoy books from the 1920’s, you’re a wannabe Flapper Girl
I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This by Nadja Spiegelman
Nadja’s mother is Francoise Mouly, the art director for The New Yorker and a glamorous Frenchwoman who was photographed in Vogue and interviewed in French Women Don’t Get Fat. This memoir takes us both to NYC, where Francoise moved to after a tumultuous childhood, and France, where Nadja travels to so that she can discover her family’s secretive history. The books also plays with the idea of memory as a construct rather than a truth.
Read if: you love family histories, artsy-fartsy name dropping, nonfiction mysteries
My Life in France by Julia Child, with Alex Prud’homme
This is probably my favorite pick of all the books I’ve listed, as I would love to be able to write about food like Mrs. Child can. Be careful while reading this book, as you will likely gain weight (and spend all your fun money on strange grocery lists and expensive wine). The way Child describes the various meals she eats during her time in France is absolutely scrumptious, beginning with her first meal in France, the sole meuniere. A good portion of this book, which describes Julia and her husband’s time in France for work, was referenced in the movie Julie and Julia (an excellent little movie for those who haven’t seen it). However, even if you’ve seen the flick, I still recommend reading this book for all the rich narratives of Paris life.
Read if: you love food writing, travel writing, delightful narratives about marriage and adventure.
What Francophile Books have you read or enjoyed? Please comment below! I’m always looking to add to my collection 🙂