1. How Paris Became Paris – by Joan deJean
An intriguing and very readable account of Paris’ transformation from a medieval collection of buildings and monuments into the first modern city of public urban spaces and planned boulevards.
2. The Greater Journey – by David McCullough
This fascinating collection of stories features a wide variety of 19th century Americans who spent time in Paris. Some of them are famous — think James Fenimore Cooper or Oliver Wendell Holmes — and others less so. But all of them came away from their time in the Old World changed in some way. David McCullough weaves a compelling narrative, and one that helped me to understand some of the history and roots of the lasting fascination with France in America. Read more
3. Three Tales – by Gustave Flaubert
This slim collection of three stories by Gustave Flaubert provides a very accessible introduction to classic French literature. Flaubert’s writing has a beautiful simplicity and elegance, and his portrayal of the human soul is quite poignant.
4. My Wish List – by Grégoire Delacourt
If you’re looking to read a contemporary French novel, this book is a wonderful place to start. The main character, Jocelyne, wins the lottery but then hesitates to cash the check, wondering how it will change her life and if it would really be for the better. The cast of characters are delightfully real and quirky, and it’s psychologically rich novel.
5. Flirting with French – by William Alexander
I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir about a man who decides to learn the French language when he’s in his 50s. It addresses a lot of the issues and theories in foreign language acquisition, but in a very accessible and often very humorous way. If you’ve ever found yourself frustrated by trying to learn a language, you’ll relate to this book.