10 books like I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do)

By Mark Greenside,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do). Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Paris, Paris

By David Downie, Alison Harris (photographer),

Book cover of Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light

People often ask me what is the best book to take with them to Paris if they can only take one, and this is the book I always recommend. This collection of essays, which can easily fit into a purse or a backpack, is brimming over with fascinating stories about “the people, places, and phenomena” of Paris. Downie’s encyclopedic knowledge of history, and the idiosyncratic curiosity that draws him (and his readers along with him) into a variety of offbeat situations make for fun as well as highly informative reading. It’s a great book to take with you to read in Paris, or sitting at home dreaming of or remembering Paris—and the selection of topics is varied enough that I believe there’s something in it to interest almost anyone

Paris, Paris

By David Downie, Alison Harris (photographer),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Paris, Paris as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Beautifully written and refreshingly original . . . makes us see [Paris] in a different light.”—San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
 
Swapping his native San Francisco for the City of Light, travel writer David Downie arrived in Paris in 1986 on a one-way ticket, his head full of romantic notions. Curiosity and the legs of a cross-country runner propelled him daily from an unheated, seventh-floor walk-up garret near the Champs-Elysées to the old Montmartre haunts of the doomed painter Modigliani, the tombs of Père-Lachaise cemetery, the luxuriant alleys of the Luxembourg Gardens and the aristocratic Île Saint-Louis midstream in the Seine.…


French Spirits

By Jeffrey Greene,

Book cover of French Spirits: A House, a Village, and a Love Affair in Burgundy

The main reason I love this book is that Jeffrey Greene is a wonderful writer. The story of how he and his wife (and eventually his mother as well) made their home in an ancient, rundown presbytery in a village in Burgundy provides a vivid, real-life picture of life in a French village for a couple of Americans. Greene’s approach allows us to not only see the French as he sees them, but also how they must see him and his wife. His deep respect and affection for his wife, his mother, his neighbors, life in France, and the beauty of nature shine throughout, all rendered in beautiful prose. And the many funny little stories he tells make me laugh out loud every time I reread this book. 

French Spirits

By Jeffrey Greene,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked French Spirits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Jeffrey Greene, a prizewinning American poet, and Mary, his wife-to-be, a molecular biologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, discover a moss-covered stone presbytery in a lovely village in the Puisaye region of Burgundy, they know they have to live there. With an unabashed joie de vivre, they begin the arduous process of procuring their slice of paradise amid the wild beauty of the French countryside -- a place of gentle farmlands and dense forests, of rivers and lakes, of stunning fields bursting with the color and heady scent of wildflowers.

French Spirits is the magical tale of their…


Joie de Vivre

By Harriet Welty Rochefort,

Book cover of Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the French

Harriet Welty Rochefort was born and raised in small-town Iowa but she made her way to Paris right after graduating from college. Married to a Frenchman for more than 50 years, she is deeply integrated into French family life. This book offers, therefore, the dual perspective of an outsider who is now also an insider. Her interviews with experts ranging from patissiers and sommeliers to coiffeurs and sellers of lingerie and perfume provide a rich in-depth exploration of the details of daily French life. I love the sidebar conversations she has with her husband, who provides his invaluable perspective on how the French think; the many handy bits of practical advice she has gathered from her mother-in-law over the years; and her unabashed and enduring appreciation of her American roots. 

Joie de Vivre

By Harriet Welty Rochefort,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Joie de Vivre as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The French truly are singular in the way they live, act, and think - from the lightness of their pastries to the decadence of their Hermes scarves. They simply exude a certain je ne sais quoi that is a veritable art form. In "Joie de Vivre", Harriet Welty Rochefort, an American who married a Frenchman and has lived in Paris for more than thirty years, explores the secrets of the French - from romance and style to acting and flirting like a Parisienne to wining and dining a la francaise. With tips and tricks like how to diet like a…


Culture Shock! France

By Sally Adamson Taylor,

Book cover of Culture Shock! France: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette

This is one of the best books I know for covering a huge amount of material in a compact, reader-friendly, yet very thorough form. The author provides insightful perspective on French history, psychology, culture, cuisine, language, and habits, and offers particularly helpful advice about how to recover from the inevitable moments of cultural awkwardness. Although some of the practical information is outdated, the general insights into and analysis of French people and their culture will never go out of date. I think it’s well worth reading for anyone who has an interest in France and the French that goes beyond the surface; anyone who has a genuine interest in understanding this fascinating people and culture. 

Culture Shock! France

By Sally Adamson Taylor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Culture Shock! France as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

CultureShock! France peels away the layers of the French and their country to reveal the heart of the Gallic temperament. The book navigates through essential topics such as learning the French language, how best to work with the French, observing their body language and even how to choose wine in a restaurant. Glean practical advice on finding a home, getting the utilities running and putting the children into school. Find out more about the French, a complex people who maintain a cool composure on the outside yet are inwardly passionate about art, romance, cuisine and wine. Discover how easily the…


The Horse of Pride

By Pierre-Jakez Helias,

Book cover of The Horse of Pride: Life in a Breton Village

Pierre-Jakez picks up where Jean-Marie Déguignet left off. This book is essentially a continuation of the story, a 20th century account of peasant family life in an area not far from where Déguignet lived a century earlier—except this book celebrates and revels and respects Breton culture, life, people, music, food, history, etc. It was published in 1975 and is part of the world-wide movement of identity politics, when ethnic groups, genders, religions, and nationalities are discovering their roots, history, beauty, and genius.

This book is a paean to Breton life and culture, and Pierre-Jakez becomes a cultural icon and hero for writing it. By the end of his life (1914-95), he is honored throughout Brittany. I saw and heard (but couldn’t understand) him at the huge, (thousands of people) annual Festival de Cornouaille in Quimper, where he was the guest of honor. 

This book is a mirror image of…

The Horse of Pride

By Pierre-Jakez Helias,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Horse of Pride as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A marvelous chronicle of Breton lives and life, seen largely through the eyes of a child grown old, remembering how it used to be, in the years between the two world wars. The memoirs are magnificent. . . . The affectionate and touching portraits are not just of one family. . . . but of a whole people. . . . Like that faintly sweet, strong apple liqueur, this book should be savored slowly-set aside and picked up again, chapters read and re-read."-Neil Pickett, The New Republic
"A rich and moving memoir. . . . We can see why this…


The Ripening Seed

By Colette,

Book cover of The Ripening Seed

Anyone who wants to read a love story – all of us, surely – has to start with this story of young love set on the coast of the South of France in the early 20th century. Colette’s prose has been well matched by her translators and she’s simply a jewel of a writer and the first woman who really told the truth about love and sexuality.

The Ripening Seed

By Colette,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ripening Seed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The author captures that precious, painful moment when childhood retreats at the onslaught of dawning knowledge and desire. Philippe and Venca are childhood friends. In the days and nights of late summer on the Brittany coast, their deep-rooted love for each other loses its childhood simplicity.


Anne and Charles

By Rozsa Gaston,

Book cover of Anne and Charles: Passion And Politics In Late Medieval France

This book pulled me in from page one and I could not stop reading. I have rarely found Historical fiction written in a way that makes you feel as if you are truly there. The era did not seem abstract and far away, but instead, I felt like I was in the room with the characters in every single scene. It was vivid, colorful, realistic, entertaining, and I could have never predicted all the things that would happen. Rarely can I find authors who write about Anne of Brittany or that time period, let alone do it well, but this one was a winner! 

Anne and Charles

By Rozsa Gaston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Anne and Charles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A historically sharp and dramatically stirring love story."—Kirkus Reviews"

Gaston's blend of royalty, young love, and the French Renaissance is enchanting."—Publishers Weekly


When Anne of Brittany's father dies in 1488, she becomes Duchess of Brittany, her country's ruler at age eleven. For the next three years, the unmarried, orphaned duchess is pursued by suitors while Brittany is invaded by its larger, more powerful neighbor of France. With no other way out, at age fourteen she agrees to marry Charles VIII, King of France, to save her country. Better to be a queen than a prisoner...

Unexpectedly, a passionate relationship ensues.…


Fields of Glory

By Jean Rouaud,

Book cover of Fields of Glory: A Novel Fields of Glory

This is the first book of a fictionalized family history, starting with the omniscient narrator’s maternal grandparents and paternal aunt, who are all born in the late 1880s: the World War I generation. The story takes place near Nantes, which until 1956 was part of Brittany, but then was administratively moved to a new department, the Loire Atlantic—though most people in Nantes and Brittany continue to believe the Nantois are Breton. As with many things French, the issue is far from settled.

Rouaud creates character through vignettes—and they’re wonderful: grandpa smoking; grandpa driving; grandma complaining about grandpa smoking and driving; their car—the infamous, uncomfortable, 2CV, deux chevaux—in the rain, the wind, on hills, having to wipe the windshield by hand to see, clearing grandma’s side, not grandpa’s, whose vision is blocked by pouring rain, streaking mud, and cigarette smoke. The rain leaks through the windows, the vents, and canvas roof.…

Fields of Glory

By Jean Rouaud,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fields of Glory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Through a family chronicle - some three generations of a middle-class family living on the French Atlantic coast - Rouaud evokes the lingering heartache of a whole nation: the period is the interval between the two wars, but the slaughter of World War I dominates. Winner of the Prix Goncourt.


Secret Flotillas

By Brooks Richards,

Book cover of Secret Flotillas: Vol. I: Clandestine Sea Operations to Brittany, 1940-1944

A detailed and authoritative account of the vitally important secret naval operations mounted to rescue Allied service personnel and also ferry secret agents to and from occupied France. Recognised as the official historian of the ‘secret flotillas’, as a Royal Navy officer Brooks Richards took part in many of these operations and thus vividly describes the hazardous voyages, often in small fishing vessels under cover of darkness and well before the days of GPS and other modern navigation tools. In addition to his own wartime experiences, Brooks Richards’ account is informed by extensive personal research, including access to what were then (and some still are) closed government archives.

Secret Flotillas

By Brooks Richards,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Secret Flotillas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With the fall of France, almost the entire coastline of Western Europe was in German hands. Clandestine sea transport operations provided lines of vital intelligence for wartime Britain. These 'secret flotillas' landed and picked up agents in and from France, and ferried Allied evaders and escapees. This activity was crucial to the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) and the SOE (Special Operations Executive).

This authoritative publication by the official historian, the late Sir Brooks Richards, vividly describes and analyses the clandestine naval operations that took place during World War Two.


Ninety-Three

By Victor Hugo,

Book cover of Ninety-Three

A total feeling for the pulse of the Revolution, and a focus on its core in that fatal year – the end of the Monarchy, the ushering-in of the Reign of terror. Its reverberations spread everywhere. It gave me such a strong sense of the decadence of the ancien régime, and the fury of the populace that aroused.  

Ninety-Three

By Victor Hugo,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Ninety-Three as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ninety-Three (1874) is the final novel of Victor Hugo. As a work of historical fiction, the story is set during the period of conflict between the newly formed French Republic and the Royalists who sought to reverse the gains of the revolution. Praised for its morality and honest depiction of the horrors of war, Ninety-Three influenced such wide-ranging political thinkers as Joseph Stalin and Ayn Rand. "The soldiers forced cautiously. Everything was in full bloom; they were surrounded by a quivering wall of branches, whose leaves diffused a delicious freshness. Here and there sunbeams pierced these green shades." Advancing through…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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