French Cultural Training 101

I started a project back in September which fits in so nicely with this year’s theme of traveling by staying at home, I would think it was intentional if I didn’t know better. There is an idea in France that all citizens should have a basic understanding of French culture. To better adapt to my adopted home, I was looking to fill in the rather large gap in my cultural knowledge. One possible bridge across the chasm came to me when I found Le Monde’s list of the 100 most influential books of the last century. While they’re not all by French authors, francophone writers account for almost half. (Sure, that’s chauvinistic, but what would you expect? One always has to consider the source.) But for my project, the list works nicely. Not only have I already read a decent number of works on the list, giving me a morale-boosting head start, but it includes comic books and even a hard-boiled detective or two for when I need a break. The list is that of influential books, not necessarily just great literature. So far it’s been a success as projects go. I’m reading books that have been on my should-read list, books it would have never occurred to me to read, and certainly plenty of books outside of my usual interests. There have been very few slogs, and so far just one memorable stinker, whose title translates to Contempt, which is also my one-word book report. I kept at it and read it to the bitter end, taking perverse delight in the cop-out climax where the inconvenient woman dies in a convenient car accident, and then racing it back to the library the second I finished it so as not to let it stink up the house any longer.

I’m not going to be dogmatic about this project, however. I refuse to read Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, a book so dense it initially became a best-seller during the war because it weighed exactly a kilo, and as metals were being collected for the war effort, anyone selling vegetables had one as a standard measure. I substituted his first novel instead. And I am unlikely to read any of the plays on the list. Likewise with the poetry, sigh. I’ve always wanted to be the kind of girl who reads poetry, but alas. I’ve always wanted to look good in hats too, but some things aren’t meant to be.

A project like this makes me think of other possible reading projects. I’ve had it in mind for a while to read outside of my race. This list is largely white males as I’m sure you could have guessed. A friend, who it way cooler and more literate than I, has been supplying me with names of contemporary women francophone writers who are from outside of the Hexagon, that is from countries that are culturally or politically French that are not part of the vaguely five-sided spot on the map that is European France. I will start tackling those when I make it to this century. My neighbor Julie has a strong preference for Eastern European writers, born of her project to read locally when she was living in Slovakia and later in Hungary. And then I found about one woman’s far more ambitious project she called A Year of Reading the World, yep, an impressive 196 books in a year, one from each official country in the world. I love to read, but I think that would make me lose my mind, if not my sight.

So, read any good books lately?


In my natural habitat.jpg

Me, in my natural habitat.


For anyone curious about the list:’s_100_Books_of_the_Century