Recommend some French-language books (or sites) for a intermediate French-learner.
October 6, 2009 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Recommend some French-language books (or sites) for a intermediate French-learner, to (hopefully enjoy) reading with the aid of a dictionary and bescherelle.

I'm looking for some French-language books to read but am at an odd spot in my comprehension. I don't want to read a textbook or books for kids, but my comprehension isn't high enough to read any truly complicated texts. I recently tested at a Government of Canada B/C Level (i.e. I'm comfortable with multiple tenses/forms but they do not come automatically), and was told by my tester that while my grammar was fairly solid, my weak vocabularly was primarily to blame for being in the B rather than C range. I think reading would be a somewhat entertaining way to get going on improving my vocabularly while I'm waiting for a class/ The sort of literature I'm looking for:

- novels (could include young adult or contemporary as long as it's a. good - do not want to be reading some schlockly teen romance, thanks - and b. not hugely complicated - I'm willing to use my dictionary, but hopefully wouldn't be constantly swithcing back and forth between dictionary and book)

- non-fiction (politics/history/art/entertainment etc, again as long as it's not hugely complicated)

- short stories

- magazines with somewhat 'meaty' and/or interesting content (like a Walrus or Geist sort of publication)

Essentially, I'm looking for the right balance between meaty enough to be interesting, but dumb enough for me to read in my second language. Know of anything that fits the bill? I've seen this question but I'm looking for specifically for something that would suit my language level.
posted by Kurichina to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Simenon's Maigret novels are written at a fairly readable level, and are passably decent if you like detective stuff.
posted by Jakey at 3:18 PM on October 6, 2009

Fred Vargas's detective novels might also work for you; like many mainstream detective novels, they're written with quite spare prose.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:33 PM on October 6, 2009

There is a famous (short) book by French author and pilot Antoine de Saint Exupery called Le Petit Prince. Don't be fooled by its title. Although it is read to children, many adults read it for its metaphors and philosophical viewpoints. I think that it is perfect for an intermediate French speaker. I have read it several times in my adult life and am fortunate enough to posess a copy from the 40's!
posted by delicate_dahlias at 3:37 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Simenon. Also, Voltaire's contes are relatively simple and straightforward in their language, though not in their interpretation.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:00 PM on October 6, 2009

From Ms. Vegetable:

You may have already read it, but I found Candide very amusing. Also, Madame Bovary.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:41 PM on October 6, 2009

Seconding Candide.

The novels of Marguerite Duras are good choices as well.
posted by SisterHavana at 4:48 PM on October 6, 2009

Jules Romains wrote "KNOCK OR THE TRIUMPH OF MEDICINE" using only 1800 words.
I've found (with 2 years of college French) Francoise Sagan and Andre Gide fairly easy reading.
posted by RichardS at 5:51 PM on October 6, 2009

Is it your reading, writing or spoken level that you're trying to improve? And what kind of French do you need to learn?

I'm C/C/B, but in Ottawa. I'll be subscribing to L'Actualité (a French Time-type of magazine) so I can read it with a dry highlighter and grab vocabulary and verbs to practice on at random. You could also check out some of the francophone dailies: La Presse, Le Droit... there are a few. I might look up some gossip/celeb magazines for some "slangier" French.

In my case, I can understand but I can't produce evenly. I'm afraid to inflict my written French on people, and I need to warm up before I can get rolling in spoken French.

Also: Radio Canada.

Some of my favourite useful things:, the French dictionary - Definitions, conjugations, complications, etc. - French-English Dictionnary

Bonne chance!
posted by Decimask at 7:38 PM on October 6, 2009

Le Monde Diplomatique is very well written, uses intermediate to advanced French language skills. It helped me improve my vocabulary when I was in college (I grew up in the French language in Montreal)

This publication's articles are in-depth, worth printing out, and going over with the yellow highlighter and bescherelle. It's an independent publication about world events and world business. Intelligent commentary and a dutiful vocabulary-builder too.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:28 PM on October 6, 2009

Camus (fiction, like l'√Čtranger) and Sartre (plays) are surprisingly easy to read, and use simple vocabulary. As others have said, Le Petit Prince and Candide are also good (though I remember Candide being a bit more difficult).
posted by k. at 9:36 PM on October 6, 2009

Oh and Maupassant's short stories. Some French literature is available in special student-oriented editions, with footnotes defining the more unusual words (in French, but it still helps).
posted by k. at 9:38 PM on October 6, 2009

It's not literature, nor a textbook, but I picked up some travel handbooks in French from my local library and they were quite interesting to use to boost my vocabulary. They use more or less current language of the streets, and are far from bland. Convenient to idly read while eating lunch at home, and pack some new vocab in with little effort, as many things can be figured out from context. YMMV
posted by Listener at 10:12 PM on October 6, 2009

I know you asked for written materials, but one of the easiest ways I learned French vocabulary was through songs. This also of course helps with pronunciation and listening comprehension. If you buy used CDs through eBay or Amazon, sing along with the lyrics in the book, or find the lyrics online.

Here are some of my favorites with (level of comprehension):

Indochine (difficult)
Yelle (medium)
Mylene Farmer (medium/difficult)
Dahlia (medium)
Corneille (medium/difficult)
Leslie (medium)
posted by msk1985 at 10:42 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Le Petite Nicholas books: easy to understand and quite funny.
posted by edmz at 11:41 PM on October 6, 2009

I asked a similar question recently.

As well as the answers on that page (Nicholas! Le petit prince!) I've been really getting into some of the autobiographical graphic novels - Cliches, a tale of 2 lads who go to Beirut; Kaboul disco books 1 and 2, a story about a comic illustrator in Kabul; and Persepolis (of course).
posted by handee at 4:15 AM on October 7, 2009

Thanks, everyone! I marked several as best answers that seemed to be aimed at the genre and difficulty level I was looking for. Some random responses:

@ Decimask: I'd want to improve all three, actually, though I will probably also have to ensure to learn terms relevant to my job later on as well. L'Actualité is produced by the same company that does Maclean's correct? I'll look into that one. Radio Canada is already the default station in my car (though it's format in Alberta is more Radio 2 (mostly music) than Radio 1 (mostly news and talk).

@ msk1985: Thanks for the music recs. I'd only heard of Mylene Farmer and Corneille (oh, swoon!) before.

@ handee: Yes, I'd read your question as well, but wasn't really looking for kids' books as I didn't think they'd hold my interest long enough to get much out of them.
posted by Kurichina at 7:53 AM on October 7, 2009

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