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Five Necessary French Books You Should Read

20 March 2016

From Literary Hub:

It’s not easy to choose only five books, so I made up my mind and decided to mention the five I can’t help reading again, once in a while, because they are still here for me today. Every time I read them I find something I hadn’t discovered before—or maybe I had forgotten—so that the book is always the same, and yet always different, as well. Only literature can do that for me.

Death on the Installment Plan by Louis-Ferdinand Céline was a major discovery. It was the first time I could relate to the characters in a story. It depicts the life of a lower middle class family in the suburbs of Paris, all very exaggerated. The narrator has become a physician as an adult; as a child he had to endure his parents’ madness, things do not get any better when he becomes older. It’s funny—the sad kind of funny, when you know there is no stopping this madness in our lives and history. It has a style that is very personal, often imitated, close to the spoken language (but nobody would speak like that); it takes a lot of craft to achieve. As a person Céline was a mean bastard and an anti-Semite. As a doctor he was very dedicated and didn’t charge poor patients. He’s a puzzling kind of a man. He’s also one of the most important French writers of the last century.

. . . .

Obviously it isn’t fair if I don’t include a living writer on my list. We all know writers can be jealous. And I only have one book left. What a predicament. I choose A Man’s Place, by Annie Ernaux. Her 2008 novel Les années is my favorite, but apparently it has not been translated yet—or perhaps I’m not Googling correctly. Anyway, A Man’s Place is more or less the story of her father. Annie has just passed the exam to become a teacher when her father dies, a few weeks later. He ran a small grocery store in Normandy. Her parents were from the working class and tried to hide it. This is a story of pride and guilt. Because her life is going to be so different from that of her parents, A Man’s Place is also an account of social shame and humiliation. Annie Ernaux unravels with great courage her origins, and who her father was: a silent and secretive man who admired what she did, probably without quite understanding her. I love the exploratory aspect of Annie’s books, her account of what it’s like to be a woman, and her very clinical, pared-down writing that has inspired many younger French writers.

Link to the rest at LitHub


8 Comments to “Five Necessary French Books You Should Read”

  1. Reality Observer

    OK, it is “FRENCH” books.

    Thought the literati had come up with yet another new “cutesy” word.

    Ah, well, either way…

  2. I loved “Falcons of France” when I was a teenager. Does that count?


  3. Okay. I’ll get to them right after I finish the 22 book “Insane Zombies vs. Amazon Warrior Kingdom” series. Oh, and after “Space Cadets and the Curse of the Black Monster” Part 1, 2 & 3. And “Samurai Tank Squad.” And…

    Oh, I guess I won’t be able to find the time after all.

  4. Telling me that a book is necessary and I should read it is actually a pretty good way to make sure I don’t read it.

  5. I was curious to see a populist version of this list, so I looked up the top five French books with at least 100k ratings on Goodreads:

    1. The Little Prince (4.25)
    2. The Count of Monte Cristo (4.19)
    3. Les Miserables (4.12)
    4. The Three Musketeers (4.05)
    5. The Phantom of the Opera (3.97)

    Though I haven’t read any of these, my sister, who bears a vicious grudge for “literary” fiction, swears by The Count of Monte Cristo.

    It’s interesting that three out of the five are “genre” fiction, and all five are quite old (mostly 19th Century).

  6. Al the Great and Powerful

    On the one hand, it was posted on a place called Literary Hub, so the emphasis on Litfic seemed an obvious one.

    On the other hand, there are NO LitFic works I ever need to read, in any language.

    So I raise a digital salute to the article and the author, for wasting my time with literary tripe.

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