Please sort this French language reading list into a sensible order!
January 6, 2014 9:45 PM   Subscribe

I have a small stack of French language more-or-less classic books to read. My French reading is okay but I need a dictionary frequently. My aims in reading them are to improve my reading knowledge of French and to reduce the number of books I have bought but not yet read. (And also to enjoy them in the usual way.) What is a sensible order to tackle these in so that the exotic-ness of the vocabulary, and any other sorts of language comprehension demands, rise progressively?

George Sand -- Teverino
George Sand -- Les maîtres sonneurs
Montesquieu -- Lettres persanes
Guy de Maupassant -- Boule de Suif
Saint-Exupéry -- Vol de nuit
Balzac -- La Duchesse de Langeais
Rousseau -- Du contrat social
André Gide -- Les faux-monnayeurs
Stendhal -- La chartreuse de parme
Alain-Fournier -- La grand meaulness

(For a reference point, the previous two French books I completed were Camus' La peste and Mémoire du mal, Tentation du bien by Tvetan Todorov)
posted by bertran to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would start with Saint-Exupéry and Maupassant, then André Gide. The others I don't know much about reading in French so can't really comment with much authority.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:13 PM on January 6, 2014

I would agree with Athanassiel for the first few and add Alain-fournier. I think next should be Balzac and Stendhal, who will present similar difficulty levels for you. I would then move to George Sand. Note that as you go back in time, the vocabulary doesn't necessarily get harder, but its usage changes so you might have to readjust how you look in the dictionary. The two hardest texts for that very reason will be Montesquieu (but Lettres persanes is fantastic!) and Rousseau. Du contrat social is a bit of a dry read... and you better beef up on your 18th century political philosophy! If you have your heart set on Rousseau, I would go for Confessions or Rêveries.
posted by microcarpetus at 11:11 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would put these authors on a similar level:

Guy de Maupassant
André Gide

I find Gide a more exciting author than the others ... he's a bit more dangerous, with a lot of erotic undercurrent running through his works. Even if his language is slightly harder, I find him easier to read thanks to the strength of his narrative.

La grand meaulness is an interesting, mysterious coming of age story. I think it would be another good choice to start with.

If you have a kindle, the pop-up dictionary has done wonders for my French. You can download the complete works of de Maupassant for a few dollars. It's well worth it.

I hated Balzac when I first tried to read him. When my French was better I found that I actually enjoyed his writing a lot, and look forward to reading more. I'd hold off on him for now.

I couldn't finish La chartreuse de parme. The beginning is exciting, and then it just starts to meander all over the place. I'd say put this on your back shelf.

And - how was Camus? I loved The Plague in college (I read it in English), but haven't tackled it yet in French.
posted by kanewai at 2:53 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the best strategy is to start with whichever you like the look of best and so on. That way your motivation is les likely to be killed by a stinker before you get to the good stuff.

Not that there are any stinkers in the list, of course. Not wild about Le Grand Meaulnes myself, but many swear by it.

Or start with the shortest - Boule de Suif, presumably.
posted by Segundus at 4:59 AM on January 7, 2014

I'd start with books from the 20th century, and proceed towards the past with the older ones. You're going to find a lot more of not so usual words and obsolete ways as you get closer to the 18th century. And La Chartreuse... is a hard one.
posted by nicolin at 11:10 AM on January 7, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks all! Inverse-historical order is the most recommended then.

@kanewal I found La peste actually deeply moving. For me it was a kind of praise of the ordinary, showing everyday decency and sense of duty functioning in a situation of collective desperation. (I don't know how psycho-socially realistic that depiction is, though.)
posted by bertran at 4:39 PM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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