French books are rubbish?

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Re: French books are rubbish?

Postby jammon39 » Mon Oct 18, 2021 1:15 am

You have great taste sir!

Of the books I have read in English translated from French, I really enjoy Dumas and Hugo which have been mentioned before, but I also really enjoy Maurice Druon and THE ACCURSED KINGS. Fast paced historical novels full of political scheming, intrigue, backstabbing, etc. The final book in the series was poor, but the rest were quite fun.
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Re: French books are rubbish?

Postby Cavesa » Mon Oct 18, 2021 2:07 pm

rdearman wrote:Lord of the Rings (and the Hobbit) .... //(the long list of books)


This list actually shows a lot of compatibility with lots of French authors!

The French actually have a lot of top fantasy and scifi and thrillers, and it still has the "French flair" or whatever LeBaron wants to call it, it is simply dumb to see it in a black and white manner and basically claim that any non-stereotypical French author is not really French. (or whatever is the argument LeBaron is trying to make. The authors undeniably exist, so it is weird to just ignore them for the sake of a flawed point).

The tips I've already written have a lot in common with this long list of books, and there is much more.

Le Baron wrote:I would move that the thread title could better be: French books don't cater to my tastes. Which is a perfectly understandable and acceptable sentiment. We all have types of books we like.

I think I've made a fair argument about how general French literature has a discernible character and is likely not suitable for those strongly preferring genre fiction. This is going to be an obstacle if anyone learning French insists on reading general French literature and wants it to be something it isn't. It is what it is. Someone (or more than one person) above mentioned reading non-fiction, which is probably a place to find more direct writing anyway. I say 'probably' because some ostensibly 'non-fiction' books, especially the popular ones, now employ a very fiction-like narrative to tell 'stories'.

One non-fiction book I read a couple of years ago L’arme invisible de la Françafrique. Une histoire du franc CFA is of the type that just imparts factual information, but has a sort of driving narrative enough to make it engaging. I'm a great lover of fiction, but perhaps language learners rely a little too much on the idea of fiction as the main learning tool for reading. It is often filled with difficult/awkward constructions; highly poetic language with many idioms; confusing dreamlike narratives which require a level of sophistication beforehand. Where Iversen talks about reading Wikipedia articles, just articles on the internet...that makes sense to me. You need variety in short bursts and there is almost limitless material of that kind available in a language like French.

Grinding one's way through massive texts (or huge numbers of 'pages') with the idea this translates to the main route to 'language proficiency' seems to me highly misguided. The interplay between talk, listening and reading feed off each other. Listening/reading at the minimum and not necessarily some organised, integrated L-R idea, but wide and variegated reading and listening. This is how you got good at your native language.


We might agree that it is more about a trouble finding books to one's taste than generalisations, but it is simply not true that "the French books don't cater to my tastes", because a large part of the thread proved a huge variety among the French books. There are lots and lots of authors who "cater" exactly to tastes like redearman's, because those are their own tastes too, and I dare you to doubt their "Frenchness" :-D

You haven't made such a great argument because you spoilt it by snobbism and by basically judging any book defying your opinion to be rubbish. By ignoring a large part of the French literature. It's not about whether the "stereotypically French books" are good or bad, some people love then and some don't, that's what I might agree with you on. But those "stereotypically French books" are not the whole French literature, is it really such a strange and unpalatable idea?

"and is likely not suitable for those strongly preferring genre fiction. " Hey, have you chosen to not read a part of the thread? This is pure nonsense. French is an excellent language for readers preferring genre fiction, or literary fiction that is less distant from it. The fact that YOU are not personally interested in those genres or these types of literary fiction (nothing wrong about that per se!) , and know very little about them, doesn't change that.

Honestly, it's opinions like yours, what really damages the reputation and popularity of the French learners and discourages a lot of people from learning it. This is exactly the kind of snobbism, that drives people away.

"Wikipedia articles, just articles on the internet...that makes sense to me. You need variety in short bursts and there is almost limitless material of that kind available in a language like French. " There is almost limitless material of any kind, available to be read in a language like French. Including fiction, including non-fiction, and so on.

"This is how you got good at your native language." Actually, most people good at their native languages have read a lot of books.Varied books, but definitely not shying away from long ones. Whether a learner should just pick short and varied, or large texts, that's just a matter of opinion (and most successful learners will combine both paths to some extent), not some general truth.

Now that I think of it, I have yet to meet someone really good at my native language, who would not be (or have been) a reader of "massive texts" :-D
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Re: French books are rubbish?

Postby rdearman » Mon Oct 18, 2021 2:56 pm

Cavesa wrote:
rdearman wrote:Lord of the Rings (and the Hobbit) .... //(the long list of books)


This list actually shows a lot of compatibility with lots of French authors!

The French actually have a lot of top fantasy and scifi and thrillers, and it still has the "French flair" or whatever LeBaron wants to call it, it is simply dumb to see it in a black and white manner and basically claim that any non-stereotypical French author is not really French. (or whatever is the argument LeBaron is trying to make. The authors undeniably exist, so it is weird to just ignore them for the sake of a flawed point).

The tips I've already written have a lot in common with this long list of books, and there is much more.

Le Baron wrote:I would move that the thread title could better be: French books don't cater to my tastes. Which is a perfectly understandable and acceptable sentiment. We all have types of books we like.

I think I've made a fair argument about how general French literature has a discernible character and is likely not suitable for those strongly preferring genre fiction. This is going to be an obstacle if anyone learning French insists on reading general French literature and wants it to be something it isn't. It is what it is. Someone (or more than one person) above mentioned reading non-fiction, which is probably a place to find more direct writing anyway. I say 'probably' because some ostensibly 'non-fiction' books, especially the popular ones, now employ a very fiction-like narrative to tell 'stories'.

One non-fiction book I read a couple of years ago L’arme invisible de la Françafrique. Une histoire du franc CFA is of the type that just imparts factual information, but has a sort of driving narrative enough to make it engaging. I'm a great lover of fiction, but perhaps language learners rely a little too much on the idea of fiction as the main learning tool for reading. It is often filled with difficult/awkward constructions; highly poetic language with many idioms; confusing dreamlike narratives which require a level of sophistication beforehand. Where Iversen talks about reading Wikipedia articles, just articles on the internet...that makes sense to me. You need variety in short bursts and there is almost limitless material of that kind available in a language like French.

Grinding one's way through massive texts (or huge numbers of 'pages') with the idea this translates to the main route to 'language proficiency' seems to me highly misguided. The interplay between talk, listening and reading feed off each other. Listening/reading at the minimum and not necessarily some organised, integrated L-R idea, but wide and variegated reading and listening. This is how you got good at your native language.


We might agree that it is more about a trouble finding books to one's taste than generalisations, but it is simply not true that "the French books don't cater to my tastes", because a large part of the thread proved a huge variety among the French books. There are lots and lots of authors who "cater" exactly to tastes like redearman's, because those are their own tastes too, and I dare you to doubt their "Frenchness" :-D

You haven't made such a great argument because you spoilt it by snobbism and by basically judging any book defying your opinion to be rubbish. By ignoring a large part of the French literature. It's not about whether the "stereotypically French books" are good or bad, some people love then and some don't, that's what I might agree with you on. But those "stereotypically French books" are not the whole French literature, is it really such a strange and unpalatable idea?

"and is likely not suitable for those strongly preferring genre fiction. " Hey, have you chosen to not read a part of the thread? This is pure nonsense. French is an excellent language for readers preferring genre fiction, or literary fiction that is less distant from it. The fact that YOU are not personally interested in those genres or these types of literary fiction (nothing wrong about that per se!) , and know very little about them, doesn't change that.

Honestly, it's opinions like yours, what really damages the reputation and popularity of the French learners and discourages a lot of people from learning it. This is exactly the kind of snobbism, that drives people away.

"Wikipedia articles, just articles on the internet...that makes sense to me. You need variety in short bursts and there is almost limitless material of that kind available in a language like French. " There is almost limitless material of any kind, available to be read in a language like French. Including fiction, including non-fiction, and so on.

"This is how you got good at your native language." Actually, most people good at their native languages have read a lot of books.Varied books, but definitely not shying away from long ones. Whether a learner should just pick short and varied, or large texts, that's just a matter of opinion (and most successful learners will combine both paths to some extent), not some general truth.

Now that I think of it, I have yet to meet someone really good at my native language, who would not be (or have been) a reader of "massive texts" :-D

I'm sorry, is this addressed at me? I've never said there wasn't a good French book. I just said I haven't seen one yet. I'm not trying to make any point. Other than perhaps, I don't like French literature and Carmody does. I would also like to point out that I'm reading books I have been given, not books I have selected based on my personal preference. Of the books I was given, only 2 of the 22 books were something I would probably have picked out for myself. Having said that there were a number of books in the pile of gifts that I did like, it just so happened that they were translations from Spanish. So one little bit of advice I could give is that people should read broadly. Have 10 or 15 random people give you a book to read. You might find that you like other genres or other types of books.

Many people have recommended books here, which after I've completed my little personal challenge of 22 French books, I'll probably go out and get a copy. Although it will be an electronic copy because my wife has forbidden me to get any more paperbacks and bookcases. Although having said that, I've still got 17 physical Italian books I need to read and remove after the French ones, I have some in Mandarin, but they don't take up much room, so I'll probably get away with those. The real work begins when I start the 150-200 English books. :(
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Re: French books are rubbish?

Postby Le Baron » Mon Oct 18, 2021 2:59 pm

Cavesa wrote:You haven't made such a great argument because you spoilt it by snobbism and by basically judging any book defying your opinion to be rubbish. By ignoring a large part of the French literature. It's not about whether the "stereotypically French books" are good or bad, some people love then and some don't, that's what I might agree with you on. But those "stereotypically French books" are not the whole French literature, is it really such a strange and unpalatable idea?

But I stated no solid preference, just that I read both so-called 'literature' and some genre fiction. Only pointing out what typical French literature (which accounts for the majority of output) is actually like. Not wanting to read The Hobbit in French is not snobbery, it's just reading ad gustum meum.
Cavesa wrote:"and is likely not suitable for those strongly preferring genre fiction. " Hey, have you chosen to not read a part of the thread? This is pure nonsense. French is an excellent language for readers preferring genre fiction, or literary fiction that is less distant from it. The fact that YOU are not personally interested in those genres or these types of literary fiction (nothing wrong about that per se!) , and know very little about them, doesn't change that.

Yeah, I didn't say that though (see above). It's peculiar that you think I did.
Cavesa wrote:This is how you got good at your native language." Actually, most people good at their native languages have read a lot of books.Varied books, but definitely not shying away from long ones.

Quite, that's practically what I said/implied. Different things, some articles, some books. Not just long books, but not excluding some long books, though obviously not starting with them which would be a bit odd and difficult.
Cavesa wrote:Honestly, it's opinions like yours, what really damages the reputation and popularity of the French learners and discourages a lot of people from learning it. This is exactly the kind of snobbism, that drives people away.

Whilst opinions like yours seem to specialise in wildly misrepresenting other people's posts. I can't imagine why you do it. Could it be a breakdown in comprehension?
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Re: French books are rubbish?

Postby Le Baron » Mon Oct 18, 2021 3:06 pm

rdearman wrote:Of the books I was given, only 2 of the 22 books were something I would probably have picked out for myself. Having said that there were a number of books in the pile of gifts that I did like, it just so happened that they were translations from Spanish. So one little bit of advice I could give is that people should read broadly. Have 10 or 15 random people give you a book to read. You might find that you like other genres or other types of books.

Considering they were gifted it's good going. I don't think I could make it through a lot of books I hadn't looked for/chosen. So my hat off to that. Plus you've been given the thread to a lot of other types of book as you said. Looks like you did read widely after all!
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Re: French books are rubbish?

Postby cito » Mon Oct 18, 2021 3:15 pm

Man, I guess French literature gets a lot of people heated huh...
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Re: French books are rubbish?

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Mon Oct 18, 2021 4:28 pm

rdearman wrote:So while I am still plowing through all the dross I have on my bookshelf in French, do you have any recommendations for French books that don't suck?


While I've only read these thriller / detective novel authors in Swedish, they write in French:
Joël Dicker
Michel Bussi

A co-worker of mine likes the works of Guillaume Musso.
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Re: French books are rubbish?

Postby s_allard » Wed Oct 20, 2021 1:04 pm

Le Baron wrote:I would move that the thread title could better be: French books don't cater to my tastes. Which is a perfectly understandable and acceptable sentiment. We all have types of books we like.


I think this is an important point here. If I understand correctly, the OP was given some random books in French, mostly fiction I gather, and didn’t like them. Therefore he asks, « Are French books rubbish ? ». I initially thought that this question was just a bit of provocation to start a discussion with lots of suggestions of interesting titles. But in my opinion there is an elephant in the room that nobody has discussed : Does the OP have the level of proficiency in French required to appreciate any French literature at all ?

Part of the answer can be found in the following quote by the OP :

rdearman wrote:
[*]I spent the first 40 years of my life as a monolingual American[/list]

I have yet to find any good French books, probably because of circumstances I have already explained, and having spent most of my life as a monolingual English speaker it was only possible for me to read English books, or books translated into English…


I assume that the OP started learning French after the age of 40. I haven’t read his language log about his skills in French so I have no idea of his reading proficiency. The point here is that a reader has to have the technical skills necessary to really enjoy or appreciate the written language, especially works of fiction. Does the OP have them ? I’m not so sure.

What I enjoy in any language is great writing whether in fiction or non-fiction. If the subject matter or the theme really interests me, then I’ll sit back and enjoy the journey. When I find an author that I like, I often try to read every thing they have written. Three French authors come to mind, Blaise Cendrars, Romain Gary and Marcel Aymé. In the case of Aymé, I enjoyed his collection of short stories called Le passe-muraille so much that I read it three times consecutively. The same for another collection Derrière chez Martin. Even now I pick them up and enjoy them all over again. It’s like listening to a favourite piece of music.

Without going into specifics, it’s pretty evident that to enjoy reading French literature, your knowledge of the language has to be at a very high level. Getting there is the problem, and this can be a long slog. I found for example that I just could not make it through García Marquez’s Cien años de soledad because my Spanish wasn’t up to the task. But I did really enjoy some of his shorter works such as Relato de un náufrago.

Anyone attempting to read Guy de Maupassant's 19th century short stories today had better come prepared for a lot of work in the beginning. After a while though, once you get used to the vocabulary and the old-fashioned grammar, you can begin to appreciate the stories themselves and the descriptions of French society at the time.

So in my mind the real question is not, « French books are rubbish ? » but rather « Do I have what it takes to appreciate French books ? »
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Re: French books are rubbish?

Postby BeaP » Wed Oct 20, 2021 1:46 pm

So in my mind the real question is not, « French books are rubbish ? » but rather « Do I have what it takes to appreciate French books ?

You might have a point there, but a huge crowd of people have read Harry Potter in English, just because they couldn't wait for the translation to be published. A lot of them obviously didn't have the required level. I myself read Proust with a B2 level in French, just because it caters to my taste. What's more, it caters to my taste because of the language, which I find extremely sensual (you can touch, taste or smell things that appear in the text). Were I a C2 speaker of French, I'd probably enjoy it even more. On the other hand, it's impossible for me to read some B1 novels like La Vérité sur l'affaire Harry Quebert. And yes, I've really meant what I've just written. Some books written for a native audience (not graded readers) are B1 (maybe B2) level. Any they are a great success. Guillaume Musso comes to my mind as a second example.
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Re: French books are rubbish?

Postby Cavesa » Wed Oct 20, 2021 2:36 pm

rdearman wrote:I'm sorry, is this addressed at me? I've never said there wasn't a good French book. I just said I haven't seen one yet. I'm not trying to make any point. Other than perhaps, I don't like French literature and Carmody does. I would also like to point out that I'm reading books I have been given, not books I have selected based on my personal preference.


No, sorry about the confusion. I was rather using your list as an illustration of a reader totally compatible with lots of French authors and books. And I'd say it is the main value of this thread, discussing that the French litterature is actually very varied, even though the most common presentation of it may not be to everyone's tastes.

Le Baron wrote:But I stated no solid preference, just that I read both so-called 'literature' and some genre fiction. Only pointing out what typical French literature (which accounts for the majority of output) is actually like. Not wanting to read The Hobbit in French is not snobbery, it's just reading ad gustum meum.

Not sure whether "majority" is really like that, it would be hard to find any exact numbers. The problem is reducing the French literatures on just the most typical parts of it.

The issue is not at all your lack of interest for books like The Hobbit, not at all. The problem is your attitude about both refusing to admit that a lover of the Hobbit may find tons of original books in French both to their tastes and also still "very French", and also your dismissal of any value of whole genres.


Cavesa wrote:Honestly, it's opinions like yours, what really damages the reputation and popularity of the French learners and discourages a lot of people from learning it. This is exactly the kind of snobbism, that drives people away.

Whilst opinions like yours seem to specialise in wildly misrepresenting other people's posts. I can't imagine why you do it. Could it be a breakdown in comprehension?


No breakdown in comprehension (and you perhaps shouldn't be so haughty and arrogant towards someone, who has most probably achieved much more than you have in this area. ;-) If you were less pretentious, you could actually learn something from me instead). Just mentioning that the typical snobs like you (and I've met a lot of them) are definitely a factor in the lower popularity of French among general learners these days. Your attitude is not just snobbish, but it is also not original at all. You're acting like a very stereotypical French enthusiast, that is the base for many jokes and for people choosing a language with a more varied "marketing" instead.

s_allard wrote:
Le Baron wrote:I would move that the thread title could better be: French books don't cater to my tastes. Which is a perfectly understandable and acceptable sentiment. We all have types of books we like.


I think this is an important point here. If I understand correctly, the OP was given some random books in French, mostly fiction I gather, and didn’t like them. Therefore he asks, « Are French books rubbish ? ». I initially thought that this question was just a bit of provocation to start a discussion with lots of suggestions of interesting titles. But in my opinion there is an elephant in the room that nobody has discussed : Does the OP have the level of proficiency in French required to appreciate any French literature at all ?

Part of the answer can be found in the following quote by the OP :

rdearman wrote:
[*]I spent the first 40 years of my life as a monolingual American[/list]

I have yet to find any good French books, probably because of circumstances I have already explained, and having spent most of my life as a monolingual English speaker it was only possible for me to read English books, or books translated into English…


I assume that the OP started learning French after the age of 40. I haven’t read his language log about his skills in French so I have no idea of his reading proficiency. The point here is that a reader has to have the technical skills necessary to really enjoy or appreciate the written language, especially works of fiction. Does the OP have them ? I’m not so sure.


The mismatch between rdearman's tastes and the books he's tried is clearly the reason here.

There is no reason to blame his level without further information, he's an informed and experienced learner. I highly doubt he is just one of the beginners with unrealistic expectations. While I would not want to comment on his level in his place, I am a bit disappointed with the overgeneralization "you don't like it=you are clearly not good enough to like it". Even B1 is enough to appreciate many books, including some canonical works of fiction, and most learners are perfectly capable of distinguishing limits of their skills from difference in tastes.

Anyone attempting to read Guy de Maupassant's 19th century short stories today had better come prepared for a lot of work in the beginning. After a while though, once you get used to the vocabulary and the old-fashioned grammar, you can begin to appreciate the stories themselves and the descriptions of French society at the time.

So in my mind the real question is not, « French books are rubbish ? » but rather « Do I have what it takes to appreciate French books ? »


This would be a good point in a very different situation. If this thread was made by someone, who loves 19th century literature, has started to learn French to read Maupassant only to be disappointed. It's not. This is a thread by someone interested in some kinds of literature not finding books fitting their tastes.

If OP was at C2 and with lots of reading experience, he would most probably still not like the books he's tried so far. The issue is not the level.
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