A Beginner’s Guide to French Literature {day thirteen}

{day thirteen} A beginner's guide to French Literature

I love books and I will read most things but I suffered through a French education that pretty much destroyed my enjoyment of classic French literature by making me read and critique Really Depressing Books (in capitals because omg the hopelessness).

 

There are so many French authors though, both classic and modern, covering pretty much every subject matter and style, that you can be sure to find something you like. Where to start is another matter, so I have put together a short(ish) list of books by well-known authors in a wide range of subjects, which I hope will inspire people to give French authors a go.

 

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My French bookshelf

 

Medieval Literature: Chrétien de Troyes is one of the great writers of the 12th century. He was a poet who wrote Arthurian Romances about Percival and Lancelot.

 

A small selection of Classic Novels:

 

 

Philosophy: the influence of French philosophers in shaping Western culture cannot be denied and I will be writing further about French culture and the importance of ‘reason’ later this month. Philosophers address all manners of things from religion to science and some of it can be pretty academic. A good starting point would be Candide, by Voltaire (who lived during the Age of the Enlightenment), as it is storied philosophy rather than a treatise. You could, of course, throw yourself off the cliff by going straight for Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy.

Plays: Jean Racine is one of France’s most well-known playwrights of the 17th century. One of his most famous work, Phaedra, is a Greek tragedy (Wikipedia says that the effects of his poetry are thought to be nearly untranslatable, which is a bit of a bummer). If that doesn’t appeal, you may want to try The Misanthrope. It was written by Molière, one of France’s most popular and influential dramatists, who lived during the reign of Louis XIV.

 

Poetry: I don’t know much about poetry as it is not my reading of choice but France has produced a huge number of poets. Most novelists were also poets, like Victor Hugo who was as prolific as he was gifted. Arthur Rimbaud is well-known for his wild life and huge success when he was still a teenager when he wrote his most famous works (see Selected Poems). Also popular is Charles Baudelaire, with The Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du Mal). Poetry is incredibly hard to translate faithfully without losing some of the intent or beauty of the piece so it’s difficult for me to recommend anything when I have not read the translations.

But maybe you want something a bit more modern, in which case, you should take a look at these:

 

A popular book in France in the last few years: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
(L’Elégance du Hérisson) by Muriel Barbery. You will see from my Goodreads review that I didn’t like it, but it is So French and a must-read for that reason alone. Irène Némirovski’s Suite Française is an excellent novel about WWII, written as the events enfolded, and sadly unfinished when the author was arrested and later succumbed in Auschwitz.

 

A historical fiction/romance: we can’t all be into high-brow literature, and I have always enjoyed Juliette Benzoni’s books, in particular her Marianne series set during the reign of Napoleon 1st. I also quite like the fun historical romp that is Angélique, by Anne & Serge Golon, which is set during the reign of Louis XIV and is really quite atmospheric. The first few books were made into films in the 1960s and they are so cheesy and romantic, they are basically the embodiment of ‘guilty pleasure’.

 

Classic Sci-Fi:The Ice People, by René Barjavel (La Nuit des Temps) is about a scientific discovery deep under the ices of Antartica, an extinct civilisation and a love that transcends space and time. Cannot recommend highly enough.

Classic comics: Comics are a big deal in France, for adults as for children. If you want to learn French, comics are actually a great way to get into a language as they are easier to understand and entertaining. I’m slowly growing a collection of what I would deem to be timeless classics, such as AsterixTintinBoule & Bill (this last one has not been translated that I can tell) and The Smurfs (Les Schtroumpfs). There are other great and maybe lesser-known comics: Iznogoud (set in Baghdad of all places), Johan et Pirlouit (set in medieval times – only available in French), Gaston LagaffeLucky Luke (in the Wild West), The Bluecoats (Les Tuniques Bleues), Titeuf (about the troubles of being a kid – in French), and Marsupilami (about some sort of jungle animal – in French), amongst many others.

 

Happy reading!

 

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5 French Expat Blogs you should read {day eight}

{day eight} 5 French expat blogs you should read
There are a lot of French people scattered around the world, and a lot of us blog in English. Us expats/immigrants/whatever-the-hell-we-are have transitioned from the traditional French person to a multi-cultural hybrid, and you just can’t box us in anymore. We ain’t quite the real deal any longer, and yet, you may take the French person out of France, you can’t take France out of them. Not all of it anyway. As much as the French government would like to physically carry us back to the motherland to invest our well-earned dollars and pounds into home-grown businesses, we don’t see what’s in it for us, especially considering the hoops you have to jump through to set up your own business and the paperwork involved. But that’s another post for another time.
We may love the country we have moved to, we may love the life we have made for ourselves but there is still a part of us that is drawn to the country that shaped our early years, as faint a trace as might remain after so many years. We all get homesick from time to time, even if, like me, it happens once every six months and lasts all of two hours whilst I munch on a croissant and listen to soppy French love songs. We all have different ways of coping with that sense of dislocation, and as for me, I’m always excited when I stumble upon new interesting blogs. I particularly like French bloggers who share their experience of living abroad, in the same way that I much prefer to read books about France written by expats; their insights are refreshing. Here are a few English-speaking blogs from expats who bring their unique French eye to their new culture. This is the best way to see first-hand what cultural differences exist between France and your own country.
  1. French Yummy Mummy: Muriel might be the most ‘famous’ of the French bloggers I follow. She lives in London and has featured in The Times magazine and regularly gets to do fun things in the wider public sphere as the token French person. She has a distinctly French ‘voice’ and a lot of her posts serve to shatter all the stereotypes you may have about French people.
  2. Nearly Irish, as her blog title says, is French but also not quite anymore. She has lived in Ireland for 13 years and most likely sees a lot more rain than even I do. And she’s also doing the 31 Day challenge this year, talking about her holidays in Mauritius.
  3. Franglaise Mummy is actually British, but she’s (in my mind) an honorary French person, having married a French man and lived in Nice in the South of France for a long time. She moved her family to London a few years ago and is now getting ready for a new adventure on the French-speaking island of Mauritius!
  4. Le Blog de Mathilde: I only just discovered this blog last week, but I’ve been enjoying it, from a French expat living in Boston.
  5. Comme Une Française: I recommended this blog yesterday for the language courses that they run but you should really check out all the vlogs. Geraldine lived in the UK for a bit and has moved back to France and turned her expat experience into one of the most helpful blogs I have seen in a long time.
If you know other French bloggers scattered around the world, please link to them in the comments!
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What I’m Into – June 2015

What I'm Into June 2015 header

Summer’s here! I’m very excited, what’s not to like about sun and heat? Quite a lot, if you’re to believe 75% of the British population. Roads melting, trains not working because the heat is making the tracks buckle (but why? They have trains in hot countries, do they use different metals?), dogs dying in cars because people are stupid, take your pick. Anyway I love summer, even (especially) at 30 degrees when you can spend the evenings with open doors and eat lots of barbecued meat.

I’ve been wondering what I’ve actually done since March and the answer is: lots and lots of study. But I still carve time for non-work activities, otherwise I wouldn’t have much to talk about.

What I’m watching

Once Upon A Time, Arrow and Outlander have finished for summer so I’m watching a bit of Grimm (for reasons unknown, it’s OK but not mind-blowing). I’m also re-watching Fringe from the comfort of my own bed now that we’ve put a TV in our bedroom. I love it, both the show and the tv in bed. It feels slightly decadent.

What I’m reading

With all the reading I’m doing for my studies, I’ve not made much headway into my to-read pile. I’ve been reading a bit of Outlander (well, I’m re-reading book 3, Voyager), also Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist, and Greg Boyd’s Benefit of the Doubt. All highly recommended by me.

What I’m listening to

The new Matt Redman album, it’s a good worship album, and also I was at the Abbey Road Studios recording and I even have my signature on the album artwork (how cool is that), so I was always going to get it; and random stuff on the radio. I’m trying to think of anything I’ve particularly liked this month and nothing is standing out.

The Chemical Brothers’ Glastonbury set I watched on tv was epic but that Kanye West is a douche. I don’t care if he’s a misunderstood genius or wildly overrated. Seriously.

Favourite photos

girls in Bing & Flop masks

What I’ve been doing

At Work: work is actually the easy bit of my life right now. Three days a week, I travel through country lanes to my remote work location deep in the Sussex countryside and spend a few hours completing admin tasks in good company. What’s not to like? it’s only short-term until Christmas and perfect for now.

At Home:

  • We celebrated Luciole’s 2nd birthday, which was a rather subdued affair due to chickenpox! Little Girl had it first for a whole 7 days, and Luciole has just come out with it today, so I’m at home on unpaid leave for another week. Happy days! We did eat an enormous cake and Luciole loved her presents.

chocolate and strawberry cake

  • We’ve been slowly working on the house, we now have curtains and blinds everywhere apart from the kitchen and office. The next bit project is tackling the office properly. Remember when it looked like this?

state of the office on 030415

  • Well, now it looks like this, which is barely an improvement, but I’m trying to organise the office papers and eventually it will look fabulous. Maybe. You know what they say: the more space you need, the more you want.

state of the office as of 050715

  • We’ve had builders in to sort out a few issues with the house whilst it is still under warranty as new houses are. It was built last winter and as the timber is drying out in the heat, it is causing all sorts of weird things, all of which are only cosmetic so far, thank goodness.

At School:

Online studying is still school, right? I’m really pleased with the fact that I completed the first unit of the business course at the beginning of June and submitted my assignment on time. It was really intense for the last three weeks though. I was working every evening for 3 hours 7 days a week. I should know in the next couple of weeks whether my work is of the right standard, and if I have passed the unit. It has been fairly stressful and I honestly don’t know how I am going to sustain it. This brings me nicely to the next thing:

At Home on the Blog

What with everything that’s been going on, my presence online has been really sparse, and that’s really all I’ve been talking about.

  • Finding a suitable work/life balance is my priority right now and is very much a work-in-progress. If I’m honest, I doubt I will be able to blog more than once a fortnight, but hopefully when I do, it will be decent content.
  • My search for this elusive balance coincided with the release of the new 2015/2016 Erin Condren planner, which I discovered accidentally last year and put on my ‘one day’ list. I’m a big fan of planners and have used one for the last three years so I bit the bullet and bought one. I proceeded to write about why I like planners and this one in particular in my most gushing post yet. It’s a beautiful thing. Stationery lovers unite!

As always, I’m joining in with Leigh Kramer for this post. You can check out her link for better book and music recommendations from across a great range of well-read bloggers.

 

 

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What I’m Into – March 2015 Edition

Notebook

Man, it has been an AGE since I last participated in What I’m Into!

Since then (wow, it was October…), I have: moved house, found a job, started the job, become a student again, settled into a completely new routine with the kids, bought curtains, had a terrible cold, caught up with lots of wonderful tv shows, ate my weight in curry with lots of girls from church, celebrated my 35th birthday (yikes), got lots of new books, and generally felt a bit overwhelmed by it all.

We had planned to have a house-warming party towards the end of the Easter holidays. I am now sitting on the sofa, thinking about the state of the house, the number of unopened boxes in the spare room and the lack of curtains and blinds in most of the house and I laugh quietly to myself. My younger self by 2 months was so naive.

So anyway, let’s rewind a bit a take a look at the interesting things I’ve done over the last few months.

What I’m Watching

I finished Parks & Rec and I’m now bereft of comedy in my regular viewing habits, as all the other shows I watch are really quite different: Once Upon A Time, Arrow and Castle. I’m watching season 4 of all of these. I’ll be honest, OUAT isn’t what it used to be and is dragging a bit. Arrow, though, is coming up to a belter of a season finale if the trailer is anything to go by! And then of course, Outlander is coming back.

I’ve not watched any films recently but I’m planning to take Little Girl to see Cinderella at the cinema. It will be her first ever cinema outing and I’m not sure she will cope with sitting through a full-length feature but we will try, and she’s beside herself with excitement, which is worth it.

What I’m Reading

Once again, I received Lots Of Books for my birthday, and I’ve been ignoring them all and re-reading Anne Of Green Gables from start to finish; it’s been a nice treat after the whirlwind of the last month. I’ve just started Windy Poplars and keep having visions of the film and Anne and Katherine Brooke’s hideously gloriously puffy hair-dos.

All my other books are still in boxes and will remain there until we have resolved the problem of ‘the office’. I should think that the pictures below are self-explanatory.

state of the office on 030415

What I’m Listening To

I’ve not been listening to anything new of late. The news that Thrice were coming to the UK to do one date at Hevy Fest was enough to make me dig out Beggars, although I doubt I’ll be able to see them live. I hope this is a sign that they have got back together and may be working on a new album.

I’m very embarrassed about this, but I like a lot of the songs from the 50 Shades movie. Not because I’ve seen the film (and I never will, because whatever people say, emotional abuse is not sexy), but the songs have turned up on Spotify and get played on the radio a lot, and I just really like the songs from Ellie Golding, the Weeknd and the Beyonce Crazy in Love remix. They’re all on YouTube so I don’t have to buy anything, thank goodness.

Favourite Photos

Badgerman finally transferred his iPad pictures over and these ones are my favourite. the one on the left is so good for so many reasons: not only is Little Girl looking at the camera, she is smiling AND posing? What’s happened to my child the fake smiler, where has she gone to and who is this imposter?

Fav photos march 2015

What I’ve Been Doing

  • I, ahem, made an Easter Bonnet for Little Girl.  I don’t understand the point of this, or why pre-schools have an ‘Easter Bonnet Parade’. Life in the UK doesn’t get quainter, or weirder, than this. The making of the hat was a last-minute, night before sort of job. The worst thing is I know it’s only the beginning, as British schools are in the habit of wanting kids to do all sorts of things at home that end up being a massive craft-oriented time-consuming task for the parents. I’m dreading all the World Book Days and nativities that require me to pretend I know how to sew.
  • These last couple of weeks, there have been fevers and colds and I got coughed on quite a bit so now I can’t breathe or taste anything.
  • My birthday was fairly uneventful because we moved house the week after and honestly, it was just all too much for me.
  • I got given a car, and I don’t know what to say about it that won’t sound completely trite and underwhelming compared to this complete whopper of a gift. Our friends are amazing, wonderful, super generous and I totally don’t deserve them.
  • I started an admin job three days a week, which has been fine apart from that one day I had to take off because Luciole was ill. Three weeks into a new job, way to make a good impression! My colleagues are good fun and it’s great to be out of the house and suddenly have something else to think about rather than just kids 24/7.
My 'I Got The Job' present. Basically all my favourite things.

My ‘I Got The Job’ present. Basically all my favourite things.

  • Because I’m a bit nuts, I have also started an online course in business management. It’s a proper degree (well, a BTech actually) but it’s meant to be worked around a full-time sort of life doing other stuff. We’ll see how that goes, won’t we?
  • You might have noticed I updated the look of the blog, again. As much as I loved the featured post slider and will miss it (until I find a design I like that has one), I hated that there was so much block black colour on the page and I didn’t need the menu on the left hand-side.

At Home On The Blog

I haven’t really done a round-up since last October, so here’s what happened:

November 2014

  • I wrote about bilingualism and language: we attended a really helpful session with a language therapist who put our mind at rest about Little Girl’s development. The best thing was the information sheet she provided on what normal speech development looks like.
  • I reminisced about my experience of culture shock, homesickness and general emotional upheaval when I first came to England. There are roughly 4 stages people tend to go through and it turns out I’m pretty normal. This is one of these times where the motto of ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ is actually meaningful.
  • I started participating in Five Minute Friday, in which you set your timer to 5 minutes and write on the day’s given prompt. It’s a nice little writing challenge. That week, the prompt word was Still.

December 2014

This is the month when the world exploded in activity. There was Christmas, I had a bad cold virus for much of the month and we were suddenly buying a house.

  • I revived an old post for a Christmas craft idea for people who can’t craft: a magnet advent calendar for the fridge, which sounds pretty cool if you ask me, and is even cooler in real life.
  • I shared our news that we were buying a house and what it’s like to be a first-time buyer in the south of England.
  • There was another Five Minute Friday post, with a timely prompt: Prepare.
  • As we drew nearer to Christmas, I shared some of my French Christmas Eve Traditions. Everyone who asks me about my French Christmasses ends up hearing about No Potatoes Christmas, which I will forever be bitter about.
  • Wow, I really was in the Christmas spirit this year, because I also put our Christmas Day Menu up for inspiration, shock and awe.
  • I mentioned in the Christmas Menu post that I would translate the recipe for my Raspberry and Lychee Chocolate Log, and so I did. It’s easy to make, promise.

January 2015

February 2015

  • Five Minute Friday on Keep, again incredibly timely.

March 2015

And that’s all folks, we are all caught up!

You can check out what everybody is into over on Leigh Kramer‘s blog.

 

 

What I’m Into: October 2014 Edition

What I'm Into Oct14 header

October has been a month of new routines, desperately hoping nobody would get ill and longing for a holiday breather. The girls’ sleep got all messed up and I got tired and frustrated with things and I’ve been distracting as a coping mechanism without realising it. I don’t feel like I have the words for this weird malaise quite yet but I am trying. It didn’t help that the clock change a week ago means that the sun now goes down around 5 pm and it’s making me feel quite depressed. Ugh, I hate this time of year.

What I’m Watching

Regular shows: Once Upon a Time, Dr Who, Arrow. And Castle is back so we’ve started season 4.

Films: Sightseers – it’s a tale of murder in the Lake District. I guess it counts as a black comedy but I tell you, it totally freaked me out, as much for how gory it was as for how casually evil yet disturbingly banal the characters were even in their mental disturbance. I’m never going on a caravan holiday, ever.

What I’m Reading

I finished Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (Outlander) and A Dance With Dragons: Part 2 After the Feast and loved both so much! You can read my reviews on Goodreads.

What I’m NOT Reading

It’s not that I don’t want to, honest. I’m that overwhelmed with it.

unread pile 011114

What I’m Listening To

In the charts: I fell in love with Say Something by A Great Big World. It’s a bit of a predictable choice for me, what with all the nice piano, clear harmonisation, pretty tune and the heavy dose of melancholy. I had no idea Christina Aguilera was singing until I saw the video, and omg is she over-acting.

The bigger surprise has been how much I have liked All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor. I like the strong lyrics and it’s ever so catchy.

 

Badgerman has been playing a lot of Royal Blood lately and I generally think he has interesting and eclectic taste (when he’s not listening to Mastodon – that’s not really my thing). Rock seems to be enjoying a revival of sorts and I like it. Little Monster is wonderful.

Unfortunately, for all the hype, I couldn’t get past the first track from shameless ad-whore U2‘s new album. They either need to reinvent themselves musically or come to terms with not being big news anymore, either way, it sounded like U2 and yeah, meh.

I listened to the new Coldplay album and although I like a couple of tracks, I’m not bowled away either.

Favourite Photo

MOBY and wine

What I’ve Been Doing

– The nearly-new sale I attended was a complete wash-out. For some reason, the unused bottles of talcum powder went in a flash, and I sold maybe three other items and that’s it. Considering how much time and effort went into preparing for the event, it was not good value for money. I made back what I’d put out for the table and then maybe another £15, and promptly spent half of that on a Cinderella Barbie for Little Girl. I came home knackered but still determined to get rid of all my baby clothes somehow. Ebay here I come!

– I have never celebrated Hallowe’en; it didn’t exist in its current form in France when I was growing up and it’s only recently that the practice of trick or treating has become popular in the UK but for the last three years, we have tried to develop some basic pumpkin-carving skills. This year, to please Little Girl, I went for Hello Kitty, which came out great, although Badgerman later admitted to being surprised at my success because he initially thought I had shot well over my capabilities and was never going to manage anything decent. Thanks for the vote of confidence then…

hello kitty pumpkin 2014

– For a true Hallowe’en fright, I give you my attempt at a Roast Pumpkin Cheese Fondue as I threatened to do last month. I overbaked the pumpkin; it burnt, leaked and caved in a bit on the side and looked quite shocking, as the photo below can attest, but it tasted like heaven. It’s honestly the easiest thing to make. A 1.5 kg emptied pumpkin will take about 1 hr to cook in the oven first at 180C, then layer all your ingredients in the cavity (300 g grated cheese, 2 tbsp white wine, 2 tbsp creme fraiche and a chopped shallot) and roast for another 30 mins. You can’t go wrong. Unless you’re me.

I also made a Lancashire Hotpot, which looked and tasted amazing but yeah, again, I forgot to take a pic of the inside. I’ll share this recipe another time for sure because lamb stew is The Daddy.

Things we ate in Oct14

 

At Home On The Blog

– This month’s been very slight on posts. I battled with S.A.D. and general tiredness and couldn’t get the resolve to be productive and write anything. Somehow it ended up being a food month!

– I did share a typically French recipe for a tasty cheese-free alternative to pizza that ought to please big and small people of all ages. And you can always put cheese on top if you really must.

– The Indian food experiment finally took off. We were late getting it started so both the September Tandoori Night and the October Butter Chicken Night happened in October. No one complained.

So that’s what I’ve been doing this month. Be sure to check out all the other entries over on Leigh Kramer’s website.

 

 

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