The 6 Best Books to Read Before Going to France

A building and statue in Paris, France during sunset
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Nothing gets you in the mood for traveling like a great book. Whether you’re planning a trip soon or just dreaming about France in books while stuck at home, these books set in France and classic novels will take you on a journey to one of the most beautiful and fascinating countries – one I love very much. 

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A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

This is one of the best books on France – Hemingway describes being a young, struggling writer in Paris with his wife and baby boy. He makes writing in an unheated room and going to museums hungry sound glamorous and interesting, and it’s motivated plenty of other young writers to follow in his footsetps. 

This is one of the best books to read before going to Paris, whether you’re going for the first time or the fiftieth. Buy it on Amazon.


My Life in France by Julia Child 

This is another of those books about moving to France that’s hard to put down. Julia Child was an American who moved to France and learned how to cook, getting the inspiration for her world-famous cookbooks diving into the details of classic French cuisine. 

She’s not just a great cook – she’s also witty and a great storyteller, making this book set in France a true classic. And this must-read French book will make you hungry for all the incredible food you’re going to eat, whether in a Parisian bistro or making her boeuf bourgignon in your own kitchen. Buy it on Amazon.


Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

A heartbreakingly beautiful book about the French countryside during World War II, after the Germans had invaded and occupied France. (It’s also a great movie starring Michelle Williams.) The book accurately depicts both the horror and ennui of war and the tangled alliances that result.

Sadly, Némirovky was sent to a concentration camp and killed because of her Jewish heritage, and so her planned 5-book epic was only two books long, combined into one when her notebooks were discovered. Buy it on Amazon.


In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust 

One of the most classic French books of all time, Proust’s seven-volume French novel is an epic task to complete. But it’s well worth it. The writing is beautiful, the insights into how we love and lose and love again is unparalled, and his sharp observances of the interesting social figures of his day as entertaining and educational. 

One of the happiest weeks of my life was spent in my little Paris apartment, soaking in the bathtub and reading Proust every night. If you need some convincing to tackle this epic story, you can check out the short but equally insightful and beautiful How Proust Can Change Your Life by the philosopher Alain de Botton will convince you. Buy it on Amazon.


A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter 

If you’re just looking for a very, very sexy escape from your real life, you can’t do better than this book set in the south of France. It details the love story and awakening of a young couple – he’s American, she’s French – in the 1960s. 

It’s short and the writing is absolutely stunning. And did I mention it has a lot of sex? It does. It really does. It’s a beautiful escapist read that’s also an accomplished literary feat. One of my favorite novels about France of all time – you won’t forget it. Buy it on Amazon.


The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

Another of my favorite books to read before visiting Paris, I re-read it every year because I adore it so much. A fantastic, fabulist tale of an American frontier girl who becomes a famous opera singer and courtesan, this book set in Paris also got me interested in opera

It’s an epic tale but it reads quickly. And if you’re in the mood to learn a bit about the Second Empire and other bits of French history, this is a great choice. The novel also features the real-life figure the Countess de Castiglione, who is too wild to describe here but was, among other things, basically the inventor of the selfie (as well as a diplomat, courtesan, and savior of Paris from the Germans after the Franco-Prussian war). Buy it on Amazon.


The Best Books About France

I hope some of these famous French books (and a few lesser-known ones) take you on a journey to France from the comfort of your own home!

Further reading about France:


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