Summer reading is often thought of as having to be “light”: romance novels are marketed as being ideal for the beach, as are quick thrillers and easy historical fictions. Of course there is a place for such literature, and I myself am a huge fan of quick reads, but I would also like to carve out a place for a different kind of summer literary vibe. Here are three suggestions of French books to bring to the beach this August! 

  La force de l’âge, by Simone de Beauvoir (autobiography)
This is the second volume of Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiography. It covers most of her twenties and early thirties: the beginning of her connection with Jean-Paul Sartre, her studies and teaching years, the beginning of her writing process, and most of all her years of non-stop traveling. Essentially, when they weren’t working, Simone and Jean-Paul were on the road. This is why I recommend this second volume for a summer read: you can travel with her in sun drenched French campagnes, lie on the dunes of the Algerian desert or go biking through grape fields with her. It is a time in her life when what is most important to her is to seize and embody happiness, and it’s an extremely pleasant read!

Le Hussard sur le toit, by Jean Giono (novel)
This adventure novel was written by Jean Giono in 1951. It tells the story of Angelo Pardi, a young Italian colonel, who had been forced to leave his homeland because of a duel, and who gets caught up in the 1832 cholera epidemic in the south of France. The scene is set in a dry and hostile Provence, where corpses amass under a burning and unflinching sun. Jean Giono’s style is as delightful as always, rich and yet simple. A joy to read!  “L'aube surprit Angélo béat et muet mais réveillé. La hauteur de la colline l'avait préservé du peu de rosée qui tombe dans ces pays en été. Il bouchonna son cheval avec une poignée de bruyère et roula son porte-manteau. Les oiseaux s'éveillaient dans le vallon où il descendit. Il ne faisait pas frais même dans les profondeurs encore couvertes des ténèbres de la nuit. Le ciel était entièrement éclairé d'élancements de lumière grise. Enfin, le soleil rouge, tout écrasé dans de longues herbes de nuages sombres émergea des forêts. Malgré la chaleur déjà étouffante, Angélo avait très soif de quelque chose de chaud. Comme il débouchait dans la vallée intermédiaire qui séparait les collines où il avait passé la nuit d'un massif plus haut et plus sauvage, étendu à deux ou trois lieues devant lui et sur lequel les premiers rayons du soleil faisaient luire le bronze de hautes chênaies, il vit une petite métairie au bord de la route et, dans le pré, une femme en jupon rouge qui ramassait le linge qu'elle avait étendu au serein.”

  Beauté fatale, by Mona Chollet (essay)  
As a woman, summer always tends to make me feel slightly insecure. Maybe because of years of being steeped in a culture where magazines promote losing any extra weight before June, or finding the top 5 ways to shave before going to the beach, or asking how to keep the sea salt curl look after swimming… Summer is a time when women have to scrutinize their bodies even more than usual. My remedy to this is Mona Chollet's essays, and in particular Beauté Fatale, published in 2012: “Padded bras for girls, obsession with thinness, trivialization of cosmetic surgery, insistent prescription of the skirt as a symbol of liberation: the “tyranny of the look” asserts today its hold to impose the most stereotyped femininity. In this book, Mona Chollet shows how the industries of the “fashion-beauty complex” work to maintain, in an insidious and seductive way, the sexist logic at the heart of the cultural sphere. Under the alleged cult of beauty prospers a hatred of oneself and one’s body, maintained by the hype of unattainable standards. A process of self-devaluation which feeds a constant anxiety about the physicality at the same time as it condemns the women to not know how to exist otherwise than by the seduction, locking them in a state of permanent subordination. In this sense, the question of the body could well constitute the key of an advance of the rights of the women on all the other plans, from the fight against the violence to that against the inequalities at work.”

Bonus : Along the same line, I suggest you check out Delphine Saltel's excellent podcast, “Vivons heureux avant la fin du monde” on Arte Radio. The June 2022 episode was precisely about the tyranny of weight loss for women, very helpful and instructive! 

  How about you? What do you like to read during the summer months?

A dual citizen of France and the USA, Sonia grew up between the Midwest and Brittany. After obtaining her BA in Philosophy and Modern Languages at Oxford University in 2015, she spent several years in Paris, working in classical music and studying voice & opera at the Conservatoire. She moved to Boston in the fall of 2020, where she now performs as a singer. Sonia is thrilled to also be a part of the French Cultural Center’s team, where she can put her deep love of French literature to use while working as Librarian.

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