Our Favorite French Reads

March 26, 2024   Literature


Ready to dive into the captivating world of French literature but not sure where to begin? You’re in luck! Six members of the Coucou Team are excited to share their top picks for French books with you, perfect for both seasoned francophiles and newcomers. Let us be your guides as we highlight our favorite reads and tell you where to find them (in English and en français!). Explore and deepen your understanding of the French language and culture through these literary discoveries!

If you want to learn more about French literature, make sure to join our online book club on May 4th to get to know emblematic author Victor Hugo and his most famous works. You can also attend our in-person book club at Coucou LA on May 11th where we’ll be discussing Maupassant’s Le Horla. These events are your chance to engage in literary discussions and share insights about some of France’s most celebrated authors!

By THE COUCOU TEAM

 

KEVEEN’S PICK: LE MONT ANALOGUE BY RENÉ DAUMAL

Illustration of the book Le mont analogue

Personally, my favorite book (or I should say the one that changed me the most, maybe in recent years) is Le Mont Analogue (Mount Analog in English). I discovered this book during the pandemic through the recommendation of a philosopher that I follow online. I was actually surprised that I had not heard of it sooner, but there’s a time and place for everything I guess.

The book is a mix of adventure, mythology, surrealism, allegory and a bit of modern physics. It was written by René Daumal during WWII and was never finalized as Daumal died of tuberculosis in 1944. The story follows a journalist/scientist who believes that, somewhere on Earth, there is a mountain balancing the world on its axis. But with such an enormous mass and height the mountain is invisible to the human eye, unless you find its entrance. He then gathers a group of people to go find the mountain and explore it.

It’s regarded as the first book to take Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity seriously and bring it to a novel form.

You can get this book in English HERE and en français HERE

 

MAHAUT’S PICK: SORCIÈRES BY MONA CHOLLET

Illustration of the book Sorcières

From the first pages of her book, Mona Chollet revisits the era of great witch hunts in 16th-century Europe and the United States. She continues by delving into the social, political, and feminist issues that have constrained women throughout history.

She draws inspiration from feminist thinkers like Starhawk, Gloria Steinem, Adrienne Rich and Cynthia Rich, as well as popular culture, to break down the norms that women have been pressured to conform to. Chollet emphasizes that women who don’t comply are often unfairly labeled as suspicious, called old, or deemed ugly.

From the 16th-century witch hunts to the present day, the strength of women has been consistently underestimated and overlooked. Reading this book makes it clear that these women were marginalized because they refused to adhere to patriarchal norms, and simply because they were women. Ultimately, what I took away from this book is that the witch-hunting mentality persists in the modern era, albeit with symbols that may seem ancient to us.

Mona Chollet’s essay explores possibilities for women to break free from these societal constraints. Ultimately, for many women, overcoming these dogmas allows them to exist wholly.

You can get this book in English HERE and en français HERE

 

MELISSA’S PICK: CIVILIzATIONS BY LAURENT BINET

Illustration of the book Civilizations

After the success of his bestseller HHhH, Laurent Binet writes Civilizations which plunges you into an alternate history that’s both gripping and mind-bending. What if vikings had reached the American continent? What if Christopher Columbus and his men had died soon after “discovering” the New World? And ultimately: What if Atahualpa, the last Incan emperor, had been the one to conquer Europe in the XVIth century? There’s something about rediscovering history through a fresh lens and pondering the endless “What ifs” that truly captivates me.

In the central chapter of the book, you’ll delve into a continent torn apart by religious and dynastic conflicts, the Spanish Inquisition, Luther’s Reformation, the rise of capitalism, the revolutionary impact of the printing press, ceaseless wars among ruling monarchies, persistent threats from the Turks, and populations on the brink of revolt.

Imagine a world where events unfold differently, igniting discussions on colonization, empire expansion, and the relentless pursuit of dominance. This book is a must-read for history lovers!

You can get this book in English HERE and en français HERE

 

Cynthia’s Pick: LES ANNÉES by Annie Ernaux

Illustration of the book The Years

If Annie Ernaux’ name rings a bell, it might be because she received the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory.” For almost fifty years, the author has been dissecting French society, politics and the historical events intertwined with her personal story. 

The Years acts like a surgical macro lens through which we follow Annie Ernaux evolving through France’s 20th century, from being a young woman raised in Normandy in the 50s (the death of Stalin and the arrival of television), becoming a working woman (globalization in the 80s and the rise of the Internet) to her climbing the social ladder and accessing the intellectual circle she was longing to belong to when she was a child. 

While some would sum up her style as cold, distant and surgical, I feel like they are missing her point. Ernaux’s writing moves me because she is able to look at all those events through several lenses: the working-class lens (her childhood, her father and the city of Yvetot), the middle-class lens (when she was a teacher in Paris’ suburbs) and finally a more bourgeois and intellectual lens (through her marriage and literary career). In the end, she gives a humanistic, poetic and terrestrial report on what a human life on this planet was and still is. 

You can get this book in English HERE and en français HERE

 

GUILLAUME’S PICK: Les Forçats de la Route BY ALBERT LONDRES

Illustration of the book Les forçats de la route

What happens when a seasoned war reporter is sent to cover… a sporting event? You get Albert Londres’ Les Forçats de la Route.

Exactly 100 years ago, Londres—already a pioneer of investigative journalism after covering World War I, the early days of bolshevik USSR, or the horrors of French penal colonies in Guyana—is asked to cover the 1924 edition of the Tour de France for the French newspaper Le Petit Parisien. The series of articles he wrote is compiled in the fascinating opus Les Forçats de la Route – Tour de France, Tour de Souffrance.

Le Tour may have already become the most popular sporting event of the time, Londres does not care much about cycling and only reluctantly accepts the mission. Despite all his humorous efforts, Londres can’t hide his disinterest in his first articles. However, as the 157 original competitors devour the daily average 225 miles (some stages even reach 310 miles!) under an inhumane rule book, and drop out one after the other, the reporter’s respect for this “bicycle chain gang” grows.

The Summer 2024 will be a quintessentially athletic one in France. A perfect time to dive into this book that will thrill cycling enthusiasts, history buffs and journalism lovers alike. It is no surprise after all that the francophone version of the Pulitzer prize is named after none other than… Albert Londres.

You can get this book en français HERE

 

STEPHANIE’S PICK: S’adapter by Clara Dupont-Monod

Illustration of the book s'adapter

Are you looking for a powerful and gripping story? S’adapter approaches a subject that is both sensitive and moving: a disabled child is born into a family living in the heart of the Cévennes mountains. 

Inspired by her own family experience, the story is both fictional and partly autobiographical. We follow varied and complex characters very closely, while being swept away by descriptive passages that are at once simple and poetic. I loved the structure of the book and the choice of narrator. Even though they may come as a surprise, I found that these two elements were precisely what brought so much originality and nuance to the story.

A truthful and sincere book exploring a wide range of human emotions without ever falling into pathos. A moving story that I will remember for a very long time!

You can get this book en français HERE

 

Category: Literature,Culture
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