Summer breaks lend themselves to a variety of activities: enjoying the beach, visiting museums, discovering tourist attractions, checking out the nightlife, taking photos... For some of us, though, what we like most about being on holiday is the chance to just laze around. Our favourite ways to spend this time include listening to music, doing crosswords, browsing online, sipping a drink by the side of the pool and, most of all, reading a good book. Detective stories, adventure or science-fiction novels, autobiographies, comics... the range of possibilities available to us is endless.
Very often, holidays are among the rare occasions when we have enough time to read. But what’s the best thing to get stuck into during the summer? At this time of year, we look for books that are both well written and entertaining, but we should resist the temptation to opt for airport novels (known in French as romans de gare, or “train station novels”). This genre includes what the French describe, somewhat unflatteringly, as romans à l’eau de rose, sentimental stories written in unimaginative language and employing a limited vocabulary. In other words, such books offer little of interest to those seeking to improve their French.
As Marguerite Duras once wrote, “it is important to leave the reader some work to do.”
So it is best to avoid books that don’t require any effort and opt instead for those that fire your imagination. If a book bores you or you feel that it’s too difficult, don’t push it, just pick something else. You can always come back to it later. It’s best not to go for a pavé (a huge tome), and don’t aim to understand every word. Some interesting contemporary French novelists to check out, although they do require a good level of French, are Daniel Pennac, Eric Orsenna, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, Anna Gavalda and Bernard Werber. If you prefer slightly less modern options, Boris Vian, Françoise Sagan (Bonjour tristesse, meaning “Hello Sadness”) and Romain Gary (La vie devant soi, published in English as The Life Before Us) are all worth considering. A large portion of Marcel Pagnol’s work, including Jean de Florette and La Gloire de mon père (My Father’s Glory) is accessible to those who are studying French in France. Finally, most of Maupassant’s short stories would made a good choice. So, think about choosing a good french book when you are taking French lessons in Antibes!