A summer’s worth of French reading


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In a handful of weeks, an important July holiday will finally be here. Not the 4th of July. Think more globally -- July 14, Bastille Day. And just in time for summer reading, especially about the French, come 12 fine titles on France, French living, French houses, French charm, French cinema, French theatre, walks in Paris, train rides in France, and of course, the language.

How can a reader finish them all in time?

Maybe we aren’t supposed to: Maybe the joke is all on us. The French will scatter again this summer (especially in August) to the unknown corners of their beloved country and these books will send out smoke signals -- wafting foie gras, burgundy, warm figs, smokey cheeses -- making us want to visit at precisely the time when they won’t be there!


Because the following titles cover just about everything French, serious readers can one-up them. Fake them out and go in the low season when everything is cheaper. For now, occupy the summer months with these books instead.

‘La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life’ by Elaine Sciolino (Times Books): Sciolino attempts to demystify the art.

‘French Cinema’ by Charles Dazin (Faber and Faber): Key personalities and episodes in the history of French cinema.

‘Paris to the Past: Traveling Through French History by Train’ by Ina Caro (W.W. Norton): Twenty-five one-day train trips from central Paris.

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris’ by John Baxter (Harper Perennial): The Paris of Hemingway, Stein and Fitzgerald.

‘When the World Spoke French’ by Marc Fumaroli, translated by Richard Howard (New York Review Books): Portraits of foreigners (from Catherine the Great to Benjamin Franklin) who conversed and corresponded in French.

‘French Leave’ by Anna Gavalda, translated by Alison Anderson (Europa Editions): Four siblings struggle to return to their magical French childhood.

‘A Thousand Pearls (For a Thousand Pennies)’ by Herve Le Tellier, translated by Ian Monk (Dalkey Archive): A thousand answers to the question, “What are you thinking?”

‘Hector and the Secrets of Love’ by Francois Lelord (Penguin): A psychiatrist continues his exploration of love, life and the mysteries of the human soul.

‘To Burgundy and Back Again: A Tale of Wine, France, and Brotherhood’ by Roy Cloud (Lyons Press): Two brothers get a true taste of terroir.

‘Paris Metro Tales: Stories’ translated by Helen Constantine (Oxford): The many moods of the Metro.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris’ by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster): The lives and experiences of Americans drawn to Paris a century before Hemingway & Co. called it their home.

‘Paris Portraits: Stories of Picasso, Matisse, Gertrude Stein, and Their Circle’ by Harriet Lane Levy (Heyday): Anecdotes, photographs and paintings. More grist for the mill, fire for the flame, pearls for the Francophiles out there.

-- Susan Salter Reynolds