The Ultimate Gift List: 10 best books for Francophiles – recommended by MyFrenchLife members
Do you love books: buying books? Books for others or even books for yourself? Books for birthdays? Books for Christmas? Books for the sake of enjoying books?
I love to buy books for family, and friends, and definitely always there must be books for me!
Do you have a diverse taste in books? It seems our members do!
I love books which explore life in France, Life in Paris! often referred to as Francophile memoirs. I love these in particular as I’m insatiably incurably curious and these books inform me about people… I also enjoy novels, thrillers, and historical fiction – do you?
I’m also rather partial to cookbooks, books bursting with recipes: classic french recipes and creative modern interpretations.
Then I particularly love to read beyond the cliché: away from ‘Francophile’ books – to read ‘French books’ in either French or English. I love both the French classics and recently translated award-winning French books such as offered in the MyFrenchLife #bookclub.
Here’s our list of the 10 best books to give a Francophile this holiday season, or at the next opportunity or of course just buy it for yourself. I find myself salivating from the descriptions alone!
Thank you to all members who contributed to this article – merci !
1. L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home
[Recommended by Sarah Redman in MyFrenchLife #Bookchat a subgroup of the MyFrenchLife – MaVieFrancaise Private Community Group on Facebook.]
By David Lebovitz – September 2017
Bestselling author and world-renowned chef David Lebovitz continues to mine the rich subject of his evolving expat life in Paris, using his perplexing experiences in apartment renovation as a launching point for stories about French culture, food, and what it means to revamp one’s life. Includes dozens of new recipes.
When David Lebovitz began the project of updating his apartment in his adopted home city, he never imagined he would encounter so much inexplicable red tape while contending with the famously inconsistent European work ethic and hours.
Lebovitz maintains his distinctive sense of humor with the help of his partner Romain, peppering this renovation story with recipes from his Paris kitchen. In the midst of it all, he reveals the adventure that accompanies carving out a place for yourself in a foreign country–under baffling conditions–while never losing sight of the magic that inspired him to move to the City of Light many years ago and to truly make his home there. Buy here.
2. Under Occupation: A Novel
[Recommended by Leslie Reid in MyFrenchLife #Bookchat a subgroup of the MyFrenchLife – MaVieFrancaise Private Community Group on Facebook.]
By Alan Furst – 14 November 2019
From the master of espionage and intrigue, this novel about heroic resistance fighters in 1942 occupied Paris is based on true events of Polish prisoners in Nazi Germany, who smuggled valuable intelligence to Paris and the resistance.
Occupied Paris in 1942, a dark, treacherous city now ruled by the German security services, where French resistance networks are working secretly to defeat Hitler. Just before he dies, a man being chased by the Gestapo hands off to Paul Ricard a strange-looking drawing. It looks like a part of a military weapon; Ricard realizes it must be an important document smuggled out of Germany to aid the resistance.
As Ricard is drawn deeper and deeper into the French resistance network, his increasingly dangerous assignments lead him to travel to Germany, and along with the underground safe houses of the resistance–and to meet the mysterious and beautiful Leila, a professional spy.
Alan Furst has been called “one of the best contemporary writers” by David McCullough, and “the most talented espionage novelist of our generation” by Vince Flynn. Buy here.
3a. La carte et le territoire – [French edition]
[French version recommended by Keith Van Sickle in MyFrenchLife #Bookchat a subgroup of the MyFrenchLife – MaVieFrancaise Private Community Group on Facebook.]
By Michel Houellebecq – 3 September 2010
Prix Goncourt (2010), BTBA Best Translated Book Award Nominee for Fiction Longlist (2013), Europese Literatuurprijs Nominee (2012)
Si Jed Martin, le personnage principal de ce roman, devait vous en raconter l’histoire, il commencerait peut-être par vous parler d’une panne de chauffe-eau, un certain 15 décembre. Ou de son père, architecte connu et engagé, avec qui il passa seul de nombreux réveillons de Noël.
Il évoquerait certainement Olga, une très jolie Russe rencontrée au début de sa carrière, lors d’une première exposition de son travail photographique à partir de cartes routières Michelin. C’était avant que le succès mondial n’arrive avec la série des « métiers », ces portraits de personnalités de tous milieux (dont l’écrivain Michel Houellebecq), saisis dans l’exercice de leur profession.
Il devrait dire aussi comment il aida le commissaire Jasselin à élucider une atroce affaire criminelle, dont la terrifiante mise en scène marqua durablement les équipes de police.
Sur la fin de sa vie il accédera à une certaine sérénité, et n’émettra plus que des murmures.
L’art, l’argent, l’amour, le rapport au père, la mort, le travail, la France devenue un paradis touristique sont quelques-uns des thèmes de ce roman, résolument classique et ouvertement moderne. Buy here.
3b. The Map and The Territory – [English edition]
[This is the translated English version. The French version recommended by Keith Van Sickle in MyFrenchLife #Bookchat a subgroup of the MyFrenchLife – MaVieFrancaise Private Community Group on Facebook.]
By Michel Houellebecq, Gavin Bowd (Translator) – 2012
Prix Goncourt (2010), BTBA Best Translated Book Award Nominee for Fiction Longlist (2013), Europese Literatuurprijs Nominee (2012)}
Having made his name with an exhibition of photographs of Michelin roadmaps – beautiful works that won praise from every corner of the art world – Jed Martin is now emerging from a ten-year hiatus. And he has had some good news. It has nothing to do with his broken boiler, the approach of another lamentably awkward annual Christmas dinner with his father or the memory of his doomed love affair with the beautiful Olga. It is that, for his new exhibition, he has secured the involvement of none other than the French novelist Michel Houellebecq. The great writer has agreed to write the text for the exhibition guide, for which he will be paid handsomely and also have his portrait painted by Jed.
The exhibition – ‘Professions’, a series of portraits of ordinary and extraordinary people at work – brings Jed new levels of global fame. Yet his boiler is still broken, his ailing father flirts with oblivion and, worse still, he is contacted by one Inspector Jasselin, who requests his assistance in solving an unspeakable, atrocious and gruesome crime.
Art, money, fathers, sons, death, love and the transformation of France into a tourist paradise come together to create a daringly playful and original twist on the contemporary novel from a modern master of the form. Buy here.
4a. The Lover – [English edition]
[See below – The French version recommended by Keith Van Sickle in MyFrenchLife #Bookchat a subgroup of the MyFrenchLife – MaVieFrancaise Private Community Group on Facebook.]
By Marguerite Duras, Barbara Bray (Translator) – 1 September 1984
Prix Goncourt (1984), PEN Translation Prize for Prose for Barbara Bray (1986), Prix Ritz-Paris-Hemingway (1986), Scott Moncrieff Prize for Barbara Bray (1986)
“Set against the backdrop of French colonial Vietnam, The Lover reveals the intimacies and intricacies of a clandestine romance between a pubescent girl from a financially strapped French family and an older, wealthy Chinese-Vietnamese man. (from Wikipedia).” Goodreads
“The story of an affair between a fifteen-year-old French girl and her Chinese lover, set in prewar Indochina.” Goodreads.
4b. L’Amant – [French edition]
[The French version recommended by Keith Van Sickle in MyFrenchLife #Bookchat a subgroup of the MyFrenchLife – MaVieFrancaise Private Community Group on Facebook.]
By Marguerite Duras – 1 September 1984
« Dans L’Amant, Marguerite Duras reprend sur le ton de la confidence les images et les thèmes qui hantent toute son œuvre. Ses lecteurs vont pouvoir ensuite descendre ce grand fleuve aux lenteurs asiatiques et suivre la romancière dans tous les méandres du delta, dans la moiteur des rizières, dans les secrets ombreux où elle a développé l’incantation répétitive et obsédante de ses livres, de ses films, de son théâtre. Au sens propre, Duras est ici remontée à ses sources, à sa “ scène fondamentale ” : ce moment où, vers 1930, sur un bac traversant un bras du Mékong, un Chinois richissime s’approche d’une petite Blanche de quinze ans qu’il va aimer. Il faut lire les plus beaux morceaux de L’Amant à haute voix. On percevra mieux ainsi le rythme, la scansion, la respiration intime de la prose, qui sont les subtils secrets de l’écrivain. Dès les premières lignes du récit éclatent l’art et le savoir-faire de Duras, ses libertés, ses défis, les conquêtes de trente années pour parvenir à écrire cette langue allégée, neutre, rapide et lancinante à la fois capable de saisir toutes les nuances, d’aller à la vitesse exacte de la pensée et des images. Un extrême réalisme (on voit le fleuve, on entend les cris de Cholon derrière les persiennes dans la garçonnière du Chinois), et en même temps une sorte de rêve éveillé, de vie rêvée, un cauchemar de vie : cette prose à nulle autre pareille est d’une formidable efficacité. À la fois la modernité, la vraie, et des singularités qui sont hors du temps, des styles, de la mode. » Buy here.
— François Nourissier (Le Figaro Magazine, 20 octobre 1984)
5. The Seine: The River that Made Paris
[Recommended by Dee Hubert in MyFrenchLife #Bookchat a subgroup of the MyFrenchLife – MaVieFrancaise Private Community Group on Facebook.]
By Elaine Sciolino – 29 October 2019
A vibrant, enchanting tour of the Seine from longtime New York Times foreign correspondent and best-selling author Elaine Sciolino.
In the spring of 1978, as a young journalist in Paris, Elaine Sciolino was seduced by a river. In The Seine, she tells the story of that river through its rich history and lively characters—a bargewoman, a riverbank bookseller, a houseboat-dweller, a famous cinematographer known for capturing the river’s light. She patrols with river police, rows with a restorer of antique boats, discovers a champagne vineyard, and even dares to swim in the Seine.
Sciolino’s keen eye and vivid prose bring the river to life as she discovers its origins on a remote plateau in Burgundy, where a pagan goddess healed pilgrims at an ancient temple. She follows the Seine to Le Havre, where it meets the sea. Braiding memoir, travelogue, and history through the Seine’s winding route, Sciolino offers a love letter to Paris and the river at its heart and invites readers to explore its magic. Buy here.
6. The Lost Vintage
[Recommended by Vickie Cunningham in MyFrenchLife #Bookchat a subgroup of the MyFrenchLife – MaVieFrancaise Private Community Group on Facebook.]
by Ann Mah – 19 June 2018 – Ann Mah is a member of MyFrenchlife.
Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II
To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine Examination. She’s failed twice before; her third attempt will be her last. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy, to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. There she can bolster her shaky knowledge of Burgundian vintages and reconnect with her cousin Nico and his wife Heather, who now oversee the grapes’ day-to-day management. The one person Kate hopes to avoid is Jean-Luc, a neighbor vintner, and her first love.
At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousins clean out the enormous basement that is filled with generations of discarded and forgotten belongings. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of the Second World War and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great half-aunt who was a teenager during the Nazi occupation.
As she learns more about her family, the line between Resistance and Collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? And what happened to six valuable bottles of wine that seem to be missing from the cellar’s collection? Buy here.
7. Everyday Monet: A Giverny-Inspired Gardening and Lifestyle Guide to Living Your Best Impressionist Life
[Recommended by Judy MacMahon]
By Aileen Bordman – June 5, 2018 – Aileen Bordman is a member of MyFrenchLife
Bring Monet’s paintings and gardens to life using this gorgeously illustrated book that will teach you how to create a Monet lifestyle from your living room to your kitchen to your garden—from the documentarian and author of Monet’s Palate Cookbook, with the support of the American steward and all the head gardeners at Giverny.
Aileen Bordman has long been influenced by the work of Claude Monet, one of the founders of French Impressionist painting whose esteemed works capturing the simple beauties of fin de siècle French life—from waterlilies to haystacks—have fetched astonishing sums at private auction houses and can be found in the greatest art museums around the globe. With direct access to Giverny through a pair of insiders—her mother, a steward of the Giverny estate, and it’s head-gardener—she transports you to Monet’s garden at Giverny, the third most visited site in France, in Everyday Monet.
Combining the history, palette colors, and designs of Monet’s gardens and paintings in this one-of-a-kind volume, Aileen shows how to encapsulate a home and lifestyle inspired by the artist. Filled with insights, step-by-step instructions, musings, recipes, gorgeous photography, and how-to graphics, Everyday Monet teaches how to grow a garden like Monet, preserve a waterlily inside the home, decorate a dining room table or a bathroom inspired by Monet’s aesthetic, and prepare foods that inspire your inner-Impressionist. Buy here.
8. The Race for Paris: A Novel
[Recommended by Jacqueline Dubois Pasquier]
By Meg Waite Clayton – August 2016 – Meg Waite Clayton is a member of MyFrenchLife
David J. Langum, Sr. Prize for American Historical Fiction, Honorary Mention for 2015
The New York Times bestselling author of The Wednesday Sisters returns with a moving and powerfully dynamic World War II novel about two American journalists and an Englishman, who together race the Allies to Occupied Paris for the scoop of their lives.
Normandy, 1944. To cover the fighting in France, Jane, a reporter for the Nashville Banner, and Liv, an Associated Press photographer, have endured enormous danger and frustrating obstacles—including strict military regulations limiting what women correspondents can. Even so, Liv wants more.
Encouraged by her husband, the editor of a New York newspaper, she’s determined to be the first photographer to reach Paris with the Allies, and capture its freedom from the Nazis.
However, her Commanding Officer has other ideas about the role of women in the press corps. To fulfill her ambitions, Liv must go AWOL. She persuades Jane to join her, and the two women find a guardian angel in Fletcher, a British military photographer who reluctantly agrees to escort them. As they race for Paris across the perilous French countryside, Liv, Jane, and Fletcher forge an indelible emotional bond that will transform them and reverberate long after the war is over.
Based on daring, real-life female reporters on the front lines of history like Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller, and Martha Gellhorn—and with cameos by other famous faces of the time—The Race for Paris is an absorbing, atmospheric saga full of drama, adventure, and passion. Combining riveting storytelling with expert literary craftsmanship and thorough research, Meg Waite Clayton crafts a compelling, resonant read. Buy here.
9. The Little(r) Museums of Paris
[Recommended by Judy MacMahon]
By Emma Jacobs – June 2019
Each entry opens up a new world of adventure, with a description of the museum’s collection, as well as a short history, watercolor illustrations, and a miniature map. For residents and visitors alike, the captivating illustrations and deeply-researched yet approachable writing will encourage a greater appreciation of the cultural diversity, history, and colorful characters that give Paris that je ne sais quoi.
10. The Godmother: A Crime Novel
[Recommended by Judy MacMahon]
By Hannelore Cayre – September 2019
Inspiration for the major motion picture Mama Weed
Translated from the international bestseller La Daronne (Littérature d’autres horizons) (French Edition)
Winner of the European Crime Fiction Prize and the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France’s most prestigious prize for crime fiction
“Exuberant… Maybe crime doesn’t pay, but the guile and guts and humour with which Patience approaches this extreme solution to her desperate situation, right under the noses of law enforcement, is admirable, as are her survival instincts. Readers will be anxious about the fate of the forthright, sympathetic Patience up to the final page. It’s no surprise that this novel won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France’s most prestigious award for crime fiction.” Publishers Weekly, starred review.
Meet Patience Portefeux, a fifty-three-year-old, underpaid Franco-Arab interpreter for the Ministry of Justice who specializes in phone tapping. Widowed after the sudden death of her husband, Patience is now wedged between university fees for her grown-up daughters and nursing home costs for her aging mother.
Happening upon an especially revealing set of police wiretaps ahead of all other authorities, Patience makes a life-altering decision that sees her intervening in and infiltrating the machinations of a massive drug deal. She thus embarks on an entirely new career path: Patience becomes The Godmother.
This is not the French idyll of postcards and stock photos. With a gallery of traffickers, dealers, police officers, and politicians, The Godmother casts its sharp and amusing gaze on everyday survival in contemporary France. With an unforgettable woman at its center, Hannelore Cayre’s bestselling novel reveals a European criminal underground that has rarely been seen. Buy here – English or French.
I hope that this list has helped you with your French & Francophile gift selection. Do you have other gift suggestions for curious savvy Francophiles?
Join the conversation below in comments or on twitter @MaVieFrancaise
1. Architectural Entrance – Bibliotheque Mejanes – Aix-en-Provence, France – © – marlenedd
2-11 All others via Amazon.com AND you may also be interested in these Francophile books:-
1. 5 books about Paris: read before you visit
2. Book review: ‘The Only Street in Paris’ celebrating the Rue des Martyrs
3. Five French novellas to devour in an afternoon
4. Bande dessinée: Try a graphic novel for easy French reading
5. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The life and art of ‘The Little Prince’