Before the possibility of moving to France was ever a blip on our radar, I fell in love with France.
I had long loved the French language, but it wasn’t until I dove into reading stories about foreigners experiencing life abroad that I fell in love with all aspects of French culture.
If you want to read all the tidbits of what it’s like to live in France, here are my favorite books and the ones next on my list, plus a few that weren’t the best but still let you escape into life in France. (*The asterisk indicates books I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading.)
Note, I have only included non-fiction because I prefer to get the real version of what life is like there. There are tons of fiction books out there based in France, but I’ve already included way too much in this post, so we’ll have to save those for another day.
My Life in France
One of my favorite books I’ve ever read. I related to Julia in the way she thinks about and processes ideas and the way she furiously researches the things that interest her. Not only her dedication, but her outlook on life and her lifestyle inspire me greatly. (Spoiler: Not all of the book is based in Paris.)
The beginning part of her story is more intriguing, as the author moved to Paris alone, studying culinary skills and spending summers with a French family. After she meets her husband and they move to an old house in Normandy, she becomes more dull and less relatable (sorry!). If you are fascinated by home renovations, though, you might enjoy this pick more.
Husband and wife move to Paris, husband gets called away on duty for a year, wife eats her way around France. I liked the way the chapters were each based on a particular food from a particular region of France. I especially enjoyed learning how andouillette sausage is made (and why, because it sounds – and smells – so disgusting) and how minute the regulations are for the type of cows and type of hills the cows graze on for a fondue cheese to be worthy of the Haute Savoie appellation. The background story she weaves in of her own life isn’t fully developed, but you’ll learn a ton about how French food is made.
French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure
This book really does hold all the secrets to how French women stay so thin! I’m sure it can be partly attributed to genetics, but for the most part French women tend to choose healthier options and have more self-control with portion sizes. Though I’m not sure if reading this book will encourage you to eat less in general, or just whet your appetite for some pains au chocolat. Alternatively titled: French Women Have More Self-Control Than You.
Over and over I’ve read that the French consider the countryside and villages to be more French than Paris. This book by a male author makes the country life – hunting, foraging, and cooking – sound delightful. Haven’t yet read but sounds rich and full of detail!
I can’t wait to read more about Julia Child, her friends, and their life in Provence in the seventies.
*Extremely Pale Rosé: A Very French Adventure, Jamie Ivey
*Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes, Kristen Beddard
You could say that my love affair for all things French started with this book. If you love other cultures, enjoy reading about parenting methods, and want to dream of what it’s like to attend a French dinner party in the countryside, read this book now! It also does have extremely helpful tips for eating better (that apply to adults, too!).
After becoming obsessed with the idea of French parenting, I immediately picked up and devoured this book on how the French raise their children. Fascinating and insightful, though in my opinion the author’s life is slightly less dreamy than that of Karen Le Billon (can’t hold it against her, but that is to say I enjoy the story of FKEE better!). If you’re looking for more, the author has several articles on the New York Times about life in France.
French Twist: An American Mom’s Experiment in Parisian Parenting
Not groundbreaking, but a light, enjoyable read.
This is one of those stories that I read thinking, “Really??!” Everything fell into place so quickly and easily for this family, it was hard to not get annoyed with them! I was hoping to find a relatable story about moving abroad, but it turned out that the author’s family didn’t have too many major issues, which made me insensitive to the minor struggles she faced. That said, there were some extremely detailed, practical tips you could pick up on for your next trip to Paris (e.g. you have to open some metro doors with the push of a button).
On La Vie Quotidienne
A Moveable Feast
If I had to choose one book from this list that would make me yearn for Paris, it’s this one. From one expat to another, Hemingway spoke to my grieving heart that was badly missing my city right after we moved back to the US. He speaks so plainly of life, yet colors it with deep emotion. I was close to tears many times, reflecting on my time there. As I said in my Goodreads review, “Hemingway’s Paris was full of different people, streets, cafes, and events than mine, but Paris is Paris and reading this book was like sharing its magics with the author.”
Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris
Though a lot of Sarah’s hang-ups with France are due to her personality (If people didn’t talk to me at a cocktail party, I would be fine. Sarah can’t handle it), she does a great job of showing the adjustment to French living. Fun memoir.
Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes
Mostly a story about living in Paris with a few recipes thrown in, this book fell flat for me compared to a lot of the others, but perhaps that was just because I read it after already having learned a lot about the culture from other books. Some reviewers complain that the author is too whiny, and I have to say I agree.
I ordered this book before leaving for Paris and was disappointed that it is just a collection of diary notes and pictures, not a true memoir. I haven’t read much of it because it reads like a coffee table book (you could just pick it up and random and read a single page), but it is beautiful, so not a bad one to add to your collection.
*The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs
I admit, snobbery towards my own neighborhood in the 2nd arrondissement (which now that I think about it, is only a few streets away from Elaine’s), kept me from picking up this book. But after discovering the treasure cove of Rue des Martyrs a few weeks before we moved, I’m now dying to get her take on this gem of a street.
*Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes
I don’t even have to open the book to imagine the sunshine pouring down as the author carries a basket of goodies back from the market through fields of lavender. I hope it’s as dreamy as it sounds!
*In Paris: 20 Women on Life in the City of Light
Jeanne Damas and Lauren Bastide
Interviews with twenty REAL Parisiennes by ultra-cool French girl Jeanne Damas. I’m interested.
*A Year in Provence
This is considered to be the OG French memoir. I’ll let you know what I think, if I eventually get there. I get the feeling the writing isn’t as light and breezy as a lot of these other, more recent, female-authored reads. We’ll see.
*French Milk, Lucy Knisley
*L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, David Lebovitz
*Paris Letters, Janice Macleod
*We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir, Jennifer Coburn
A light and fast-paced read, I love that it includes musings on France as well as lots of history and background on language itself and language learning. I wished that less of the book had been about his heart problems and more had taken place in France, but overall it wasn’t a bad balance. Great for any Francophile, French student, or lover of language.
*When In French: Love in a Second Language
I should add a disclaimer that this story is not based in France (Lauren lives in Geneva), but I’m slipping it in because it includes a Frenchman and is about the French language. This is a memoir about relationships and communicating with someone in a language that isn’t your own.
*Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France, Kristin Espinasse
*The Bonjour Effect, Julie Barlow
*Love Style Life
I’ve flipped through this coffee table-style book several times, always drooling over the effortless style Garance exudes. This is the French girl to learn from.
*How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits
Anne Berest and Audrey Diwan and Caroline de Maigret and Sophie Mas
Quick snippets from four Parisiennes in blog-style. Looks like a fun read, but they do come across as pretty worldly, from the pages I’ve glanced at.
*Paris Street Style
Isabelle Thomas and Frédérique Veysset
This short book looks like a no-nonsense guide to dressing your way into Paris. Tbh I’ve always wanted to buy it just to have its cute cover sitting around my house.
*Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl
Just from reading the description, this one seems like a cute look into the French lifestyle from someone who is dying to be Parisienne.
This foray into French style comes across more as a memoir, and gives an outsider’s perspective.
*Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris, Jennifer L. Scott
*Parisian Chic: A Style Guide, Inès de La Fressange and Sophie Gachet
La Belle France
I’m currently in the middle of this, and have been for awhile. I’m not a huge history buff; in fact, I think this is the only history book I’ve read since the US government textbook in 11th grade. However, I’m really enjoying this story of how France came to be. Alistair is a wizard at sweeping you up into stories that encompass decades across just a few paragraphs. This is not just a book of dates and people and places. You get to learn all the interesting ins and outs of the Henris and Louis-es and everyone in between. Whit is reading it too!
If a fat history book isn’t calling your name, maybe this touristy guide is more your style. The author explains wild stories of significant people throughout Paris’s history, and then invites you on a walk around the city to visit some of the historical places you just read about. You can use it as a guide, a history lesson, or both.
Given that I’m obsessed with all things Hemingway and Fitzgerald, this book on the roaring 20’s (aka les Années folles) in Paris sounds fascinating.
*A Bite-Sized History of France: Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War, and Enlightenment
Stéphane Henaut and Jeni Mitchell
This one sounds like the perfect blend between French food and tales of French history.
*The Seine: The River that Made Paris, Elaine Sciolino
*How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City, Joan DeJean
*Seven Ages of Paris, Alistair Horne
*A Traveller’s History of Paris, Robert Cole
What’s your favorite from this list?? And let me know – did I leave anything out?