Readable French books?

Posted on 21/09/2011

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Are you learning French? Ready for the challenge of reading a whole book?

Stop! Don’t pick just any book. You may be feeling it now, but three pages into the latest translated Sophie Kinsella, your dictionary will be soaked with tears of frustration. (You do have a dictionary, don’t you?)
And let’s take chick lit as an example. It feels easy to read in our language. But it’s full of slang, in-fashion vocabulary, and the kind of words you probably aren’t learning at your intensive EU course. It’s hard. So you will feel stupid, and you feel doubly stupid because you will (wrongly) think that the thing you are finding difficult is in fact really easy.
Here are a few you can start with instead.

I grew up reading Le Petit Nicolas, and he is ace. His adventures in a classic old-fashioned French primary school will raise a smile.
Not only that, but it’s written in the passé composé – ie, not in that odd tense we inexplicably call the passé simple, which makes it much easier to understand – and will painlessly reinforce all those past participles your French teacher has been trying to get you to learn.
Also, it’s not a novel, but rather a series of stand-alone adventures: much more manageable to tell yourself you will read one story this week than, say, one novel in three months.
Another childhood classic is the adventure of this little boy who finds headlice in his hair, and befriends them. It’s short, and funny, and full of word play (nothing too complicated, though), and the illustrations alone make it a worthwhile purchase.
Another oldie but goodie (okay, so I grew up in the 80s, and I’m not going to apologise for that) is Astérix. There is, of course, plenty of word play in this too, which makes it not the easiest of reads – though it also makes it fun once you work out what all the names are supposed to mean. My all-time, hands-down favourite is Astérix chez les Bretons, in which very British expressions are translated verbatim into French – so don’t base your colloquial language on it, it’s roughly as reliable as Google Translate – but it will make you smile. Plus, you’ll discover some things about British history that I’ll bet you never knew…
If you’re more advanced, you might – might – want to try Bonjour Tristesse, by Francoise Sagan. It is as French as French gets – deeply philosophical musings on the inner life of a French teenager during her stifling hot summer in the South of France. It’s also beautifully written and – again – short. Honestly, you cannot underestimate the feeling of achievement that comes with finishing a novel – and those feelings fuel further learning.
Have you discovered any good French reads?
These, and other, French books are available here for UK/Europe readers, and here for the US.
 
— for more hints and tips on language learning, buy Conquering Babel: A Practical Guide to Learning a Language here in the US and here in the UK.
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