Country Dreams: France

By Briana Seftel

Perhaps no other country in the world is as prized for its culture than France. With a long and storied history in literature, music, and film, France has something for everyone. Here are our picks.

A selection of French-inspired reading

A Brief History of France

Less dense history book and more narrative story, Jenkins explores the idea of 'Frenchness' emerging from 2,000 years of French history.

The Little Paris Kitchen

While living in Paris, the British-born Rachel Khoo operated the smallest restaurant out of her studio apartment. This cookbook contains classic French recipes like beef bourginon reimagined her modern way.

Les Miserables

Long before the hit Broadway musical, Victor Hugo’s novel took readers on an epic journey through Paris’ underbelly in a battle of good and evil. It also introduced one of the most recognizable characters in modern literature, Jean Valjean.

The Stranger

Albert Camus, born in French Algeria, became one of the most important novelists with his existentialist and absurdist works. His first novel, L’Etranger (The Stranger) is often considered a classic of 20th-century literature.

My Life in France

In this biography, famed American chef Julia Child describes her life, marriage, cooking, and France, which she called her “spiritual homeland.”

Chanson to electronic

France has a long history with music, from the Impressionist era of Debussy and Berlioz to the Yeye movement of the swinging 1960s. One of the most famous pieces of French classical music is “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy, inspired by the Paul Verlaine poem of the same name.

An iconic singer of chanson, Edith Piaf became one of the most recognized voices of the 20th century in France and the entire world. Her rendition of “Non, je ne regrette rien” (“No, I regret nothing”) became one of her most beloved songs.

Regarded as one of the most important figures in French popular music, Serge Gainsbourg was renowned for his often provocative and varied musical style. One of his most well-known songs “Je t’aime…moi non plus” (“I love you…me neither”) features his future wife, the English model Jane Birkin.

No modern French music list would be complete without Daft Punk, one of the seminal groups to emerge from France’s electronic house music boom in the 1990s.

French Cinema, past and present

France is the birthplace of cinema and was responsible for many of its significant contributions to the art form and the film-making process itself. In 1895, the Lumiere brothers screened the first commercial movie at the Grand Café in Paris.

Several important cinematic movements of the 20th century, including the Nouvelle Vague, were born in France. Directors like Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut became emblematic of the Nouvelle Vague of the 1960s with films like “À bout de soufflé” (Breathless) and “Les Quatre Cents Coups” (The 400 Blows).

Amelie, starring French actress Audrey Tautou as the titular character, became an instant classic when it was released in 2001. The film was shot heavily in Paris' Montmartre district and the café featured in the film has become a tourist destination in its own right.

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