Not on My Nightstand, But in My Backpack

How rare and delightful it is for me to read something for school that I really, genuinely enjoy. This has become especially apparent to me as my coursework for linguistics has become more intense; long articles about syntax in Chinese or more obscure languages like Warlpiri often make reading a chore or even a nightmare for me. So when my French professors assign texts by authors like Marjane Satrapi or Annie Ernaux, I’m thrilled. Even reading Jean-Paul Sartre seems like a treat to me sometimes, which is probably not a very good reflection on my definition of fun…

At any rate, I would highly recommend the following books to anyone who needs some high-quality French reading (or French reading translated into English, of course!):

Embroideries (Broderies) by Marjane Satrapi
Satrapi is most famous for her graphic novel/film Persepolis, but even if you aren’t familiar with her work this book is fantastic. It is also presented as a graphic novel with really beautiful and often comical black and white illustrations, and it documents a group of Iranian women having tea together and sharing stories about love, sex, and men. This book is a really quick read and provides insight into the private lives of the women featured in the novel, such as Marjane’s grandmother, mother, aunt, and their friends and neighbors.

Shame (La honte) by Annie Ernaux
I first read Annie Ernaux for a French class a couple years ago, and I immediately fell in love with her writing. Her style is lacking in embellishment, but her attention to detail (especially in describing very ordinary, mundane situations) is astonishing. Most of Ernaux’s work is autobiographical, and this book is no exception. It tells the story of how her family’s social and economic status impacted her life as a young girl growing up in northern France, and how her origins became a source of shame for her. I also recommend her book Exteriors (Journal du dehors), which is a collection of journal entries about everyday contemporary life on the outskirts of Paris.

Some other great French authors/poets/playwrights I think are worth checking out are:

  • Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • François Bégaudeau
  • Marguerite Duras
  • Anna Gavalda
  • Jean Genet
  • Hervé Guibert
  • Bernard-Marie Koltès
  • Jacques Prévert

Bonne lecture!

~Cecilia (Senior, French/Linguistics major, Xylem’s Submissions Co-Chair)

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