Bookish Ways to Celebrate France on Bastille Day (And Every Day)

Claire Handscombe

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Before the pandemic hit last year, I had big plans for 14th July. On March 9, when everything still felt normal, I met with my bosses at the bookshop where I work and I pitched them an idea for a Bastille Day party: there’d be wine and cheese, and we’d sell French books; I’d get to press under-rated novels I love into the hands of grateful and slightly tipsy customers.

It was going to be so exciting.

Alas.

Instead, here I am, a year later, these events still some way in the future, pressing French books into your hands online instead. Pour yourself some wine. Cut yourself some cheese.

I’ll wait.

A while back, I (painstakingly) made a list of 100 must-read novels translated from French — must-reads for different reasons. Maybe they were oft-studied classics, or written by popular contemporary authors, or beautifully written, or contained important themes. Maybe there were representative of a genre that is done well by Francophone writers. Here’s that list.

100 Must-Read Books Translated from French

More recently, I put together a list of French books easily available in the US at Bookshop.org, the website that is just as easy to use as that other big one, but shares profits with struggling indie bookshops rather than an infamous billionaire.

This list includes several of those must-reads, as well as newer books I found when I looked around the internet for notable and excellent French books of recent years.

Excellent French Books to Celebrate Bastille Day!

If I’d had my way, there would have been piles of these four at East City Bookshop on July 14, right next to the wine and cheese, ready to be picked up and taken home by the tipsy, curious readers.

You can also enjoy many of these books in audio form.

Recommended Audiobooks from France Playlist on Libro.fm

And, as both paperbacks and audiobooks, you can also read up on how to live, love, (laugh?) as the French do.

How to Live Like the French (physical books)

How to Live Like the French (audiobooks)

If you’ve been meaning to learn French, audiobooks are here for that, too. They're a great way to train your ear to become accustomed to the sounds and rhythms of a foreign language. Check out this blogpost about using audiobooks to learn a language.

But maybe, before you do any of that, pour yourself some more wine. Cut yourself some more cheese. And think fondly of next year, when we’ll hopefully be able to do that in bookshops, while enthusiastic booksellers press novels into our hands.

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC
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