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Pillars of the Earth


Road From the Past: Traveling Through History in France


Appetite For Life: The Biography of Julia Child

Paris to the Moon

Eyewitness Travel Guides

She Came to Stay

Cousin Bette

Les Miserables (Charles E. Wilbour transl.)


Harper's Moon

Hardcover French/English Dictionaries + Verb Books

Paperback French/English Dictionaries

BOOKS: Historical Fiction, Biographies, Travel, Dictionaries, Verb Books

Et si on aime lire?

Metro students love to read. Lucky for them, my colleagues and I do, as well, and we usually have suggestions from all over the world of books.

As for me, I love language, cuisine, travel, and history, especially Medieval French and English history (it's all tied together, you know!). My love of history has led me to the love of reading historical fiction and biographies (especially, but not only, historical biographies). It has also led me to the love of traveling to historic places, which has led me to the love of reading travel books. Of course, my background in languages helps me appreciate quality language reference books, and my love of good cuisine possibly started by watching Julia Child's The French Chef with my mom, when I was just a little jeune fille (thank heavens for PBS!). In the links to the left, you'll find a selection of books from all of these categories.

History and Historic Novels:

  • The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett: This novel is Follett's masterpiece. It's a rich tapestry of interesting characters, set in the backdrop of 12th-century England and France, during the time of cathedral building and the Plantagenet kings (two topics we explore in French II and French III!)
  • Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon: This is the first in a series of 4 magnificent books which all involve many of the same characters, and is largely set in 18th-century Scotland. I love novels which include several intermingled sets of characters and plots, and this series skillfully accomplishess that. Everyone I know who has read this series--even translated into French!-- has loved it!
  • Road From the Past: Traveling Through History in France, by Ina Caro: Caro's very interesting premise is that, with enough layman's knowledge of history, art, and architecture under your belt (which she provides us!), you can get much more out of traveling through France to see historic sites, especially if you plan your traveling to visit places in chronological order of their development in French history. My sister first gave me this book, and I now use it as a culture reader in French IV, because it offers a charming adventure, lots of little historic tidbits, and clear, easy explanations for what makes each place historically and artistically significant.


  • Eleanor of Aquitaine: I've offered links to several biographical books about this fascinating 12th-century French woman who became first a French, then an English queen. Unusual for her time period, she was well educated, powerful, persuasive, and cultured. She was the mother of Richard the Lionhearted, as well as John Lackland, but her own feats mark her as an intriguing historical subject.
  • Appetite For Life: the Biography of Julia Child: I am not alone in finding Julia Child charming, and her biography is a wonderful testimony to the value of quality in one's life, be it in relationships, food, friends, or places to live (like Paris, for example, or the South of France!).
  • No Drums, No Trumpet: The Story of Mary Lindell, by Barry Wynne: This book is out of print, and I have yet to read it myself, but my French II students see the movie based on a period of Mary Lindell's life: One Against the Wind. We study the occupation of France during World War II, along with the Resistance workers who fought "underground" to retrieve France from the hands of the nazis, and Mary Lindell and her son were both pivotal workers in the Resistance movement.


  • Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik: Gopnik writes for The New Yorker, and his book reads that way: thoughtful, humorous, insightful, precise-- every paragraph is a little essay unto itself, not a sentence should be missed. This book was wonderful. I don't know how someone who has not also lived in Paris would feel reading this book, but I was simply transported (this is a memoir of the 5 years he and his wife spent living in Paris...Americans, raising their first child in Paris). Check out the link for a better description than I can give.
  • Eyewitness Travel Guides: These are the most beautiful travel guidebooks! At once photo albums and sources of historic and culural information, these guidebooks offer much more than the basics of where to go and how to get there. I use the Provence volume in French II for great background on people, food, and places in Marcel Pagnol's birthplace.


  • She Came to Stay, by Simone de Beauvoir: This was her first novel (its French title is L'Invitée), but not her first acclaimed piece of writing. We study de Beauvoir, as well as Sartre, in French II, and discuss how her aim with her novels was to develop characters who either embody, or defy, the Existential characteristics of living which she espoused. Picking that up as you read this novel makes it, and its story, that much more interesting.
  • Cousin Bette, by Honoré de Balzac: This mid 19th-century work by Balzac is part of his series of novels which portray the varieties of human nature found in that era's French society. This (excellent) translation into English doesn't lose any of the cleverness and wit of the French version,in which Balzac skillfully presents the cunning Bette, and the bizarre rules of society which led her to make some very odd choices in life.
  • Les Miserables,: I find Victor Hugo's theme perhaps even more interesting than the characters of this novel: that injustice and mistreatment warp even a good man, and, conversely, that trust, respect, and a feeling of value buoy the human spirit. I wouldn't recommend just any translation of this work, however, but Wilbour's is very good. We study and discuss Hugo in all four years of French.
  • Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks: I expected a passionate love story when I began this excellent novel, but, instead, found a strikingly moving depiction of the era of World War I, with no light treatment of the horrors of war. I am not usually a fan of war stories, but this novel kept me spellbound, and unable to turn away from its poignant descriptions of men in the trenches and tunnels of the battlefields of France, and back again in their forever-altered personal lives in both England and France.
  • Harper's Moon, by Suzanne Judson: This new novel received high acclaim from Publishers Weekly, and deservedly so. I thoroughly enjoyed its uplifting story of a woman who chooses to forge a strong, creative, self-guided life, instead of staying in a dangerous and abusive relationship. (I can even get you a copy autographed by the author, because she is my sister's dearest friend and ex-college roommate!)


  • Hardcover French/English Dictionaries // Verb Books: It's surprisingly important to have a well-presented, thorough dictionary when learning a new language! Please check the link for my well-researched list of suggested titles, as well as my suggestions for two very helpful verb books.
  • Paperback French/English Dictionaries: If you simply don't want to make the investment for a larger, more thorough dictionary, you can be helped by a smaller paperback-- provided that it is a quality one, with enough context offered in its translations. Please check the link for the few paperbacks which I do suggest.

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