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Books to discover for the end of the year celebrations

15 December 2022 Business
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“Reading is traveling; traveling is reading!” wrote Victor Hugo, one of the greatest French writers almost two centuries ago, and since then the idea has come to be widely accepted. Here’s a path you might travel: take a journey with us to the land of contemporary French books and literature for a selection of books to offer as a gift or to treat yourself to, books to read and to discover. But everyone has their own way of traveling: seeking among the literary prizewinners, for pocket-sized editions, among French-language editions, or among picture books or in the world of fine books!

A dive into French young-adult fiction

To get the journey off to a good start, why not start by consulting the literary preferences of young readers themselves? Several prizes are awarded each year to authors who do not write specifically for young people but who tackle original themes and issues that speak more particularly to younger generations.

 

Le Prix du roman des Etudiants

The Prix du Roman des étudiants (Student Novel Prize), created in 2014 by Télérama and France Culture with the support of the Ministry of Higher Education, distinguishes novels written in French that are chosen by a student jury, based on a selection of five works selected by an editorial staff.

 

The 2023 edition of the prize crowned the novel Au vent mauvais (“In the bad wind”) by Kaouther Adimi, an Algerian writer who lives in Paris. It takes us on a story of love and friendship in Algeria, a fresco that unfolds the crossed destinies of three characters, from colonization, to independence, up to the summer of 1992 (Editions du Seuil).

 

Le Prix Goncourt des Lycéens

The Prix Goncourt des Lycéens is awarded each year by the high school students. This prize allows students from around fifty classes that chose to participate to discover the novels of the literary season appearing in the selection of the Académie Goncourt.

The Prix Goncourt des Lycéens 2022 was awarded to Sabyl Ghoussoub, born in Paris to a Lebanese family, for his novel Beyrouth-sur-Seine (Stock editions). In this novel, which is "a reflection on the family and on immigration", the narrator questions his parents about Lebanon, their country of origin, and the reasons that led them to immigrate to France.

 

 

Literary prizes awarded by prestigious universities (“grandes écoles”)

 

Some higher education institutions have also embarked on awarding literary prizes, among them:

 

  • the Sciences-Po literary student prize awards each year a French-language novel dealing with a "societal subject in a committed way". This year, the student jury chose Anne Berest’s book La carte postale. Starting from a simple postcard, it offers "a memory-infused thriller" that spans across Europe in a search for her family’s history (Grasset, also received the Grand Prize for readers of Elle magazine, and published also by Livre de Poche); 

 

  • the ENS-Paris Saclay literary prize, which for more than 20 years has distinguished a first French-language novel published in the previous year, this year selected Stéphanie Coste for her first novel Le passeur. The novel, which takes place in Libya, depicts a migrant smuggler who must “face fierce competition and come to terms with corrupt coastguard institutions” (Gallimard, also published in the Folio collection). 

A tour of the world of French-language novels

French authors are not the only ones to write in French; the French-speaking world, or Francophonie is made up of millions of speakers around the world and dozens of writers. Here’s a short selection of these French-speaking authors, published by French publishers:

 

  • Tenir sa langue (“Hold your tongue”) by Polina Panassenko, a lively account of a young girl born in Moscow who leaves the USSR to settle in France with her family. She recounts her difficulties in immersing herself in French culture and, in particular, in learning the language (Éditions de l'Olivier);

 

  • Les gens de Bilbao naissent où ils veulent (“The people of Bilbao are born where they want”) is by Maria Larrea, a native of Bilbao (Spain) who was raised in Paris and was a student of the Fémis, a prestigious film school. She recounts with “astonishing talent, energy and strength” her passionate quest for her origins (Grasset, the novel won the Prix du Premier roman for a first novel and the Prix des Inrockuptibles);

 

  • Sister Deborah by Scholastique Mukasonga, a Franco-Rwandan writer, who recounts the Christianity missionary movement in the 1930s in East Africa, a movement which gave birth to numerous evangelical missions, including one which proclaims that the next messiah will be a black woman! (Gallimard);

 

  • L’Enfant qui regarde (The Child who watches) by Dany Laferrière, a writer born in Haiti, now a French academician. In this short novel he imagines the itinerary of a child from Port-au-Prince fascinated by a former teacher (Grasset);

 

  • Le jour où mon meilleur ami fut arrêté pour le meurtre de sa femme (The day my best friend was arrested for the murder of his wife) by Louis-François Dallaire, Quebec author, which just won the Prix France-Québec 2022. The narrator of the novel tells the story of David, a childhood friend, who went to the police to confess to the murder of his wife (éditions Mortagne).

A climb to the top of the literary heights

The summit is the supreme distinction, the prize of prizes, the Nobel prize. The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded this year to a French author, Annie Ernaux. Awarded for the first time to a Frenchwoman (and to a Frenchwoman), this time the Nobel Prize recommends a literature that is easily accessible to all. Annie Ernaux, born in 1940, writes with simple words and style, and is the author of eighteen books, including La place, Passion simple, L’événement, Les années, Mémoire de fille… So many works, which stay close to the daily life of a young girl and then of a French woman, which punctuate the life of this provincial from a modest background that made her a writer. The award-winning author states that: “I live writing confusedly, as a mandate with which I am charged, that of reporting on what has happened to me, of dissolving the personal, the intimate - in the collective anonymity of readers.” All of Annie Ernaux's books are available from Gallimard editions and most have appeared in paperback (Folio).

A ride in economy class, hands on a paperback

Who said we wouldn’t suggest a paperback? Well let’s give you two! The particularity of ‘pocket’ paperbacks in France, apart from the great classics found there, is that they often publish literature qualified as “popular”, but in the good sense of the term. In ‘pocket’ editions, there are almost only great successes, written by authors who are acclaimed by the widest audience of readers.

 

Here’s a brief overview of these easily accessible novels that are pleasant to read, written by French authors accustomed to large print runs:

  • Trois (Three) by Valérie Perrin. Perrin is one of France’s favorite writers (according to France’s National Publisher’s Union). In this novel she follows the itinerary of three children who have made a vow to leave their province to live in Paris and never to separate, but… (Le Livre de Poche);
  • La Commode aux tiroirs (The Chest of Drawers) by Olivia Ruiz. Ruiz is a singer and writer who recounts the flight of thousands of Spaniards fleeing the civil war in the 1930s (Le Livre de Poche);
  • Il était deux fois (Twice Upon a Time) by Franck Thilliez, a very prolific French crime writer, with well-crafted and disconcerting plots. The novel navigates between the disappearance of a teenager, her father's amnesia, and incoherent reminiscences (Pocket);
  • Les Aérostats (The Aerostats) by Amélie Nothomb, a “cruel tale” on the essential role of literature in life to free oneself from family constraints (Le Livre de Poche);
  • La famille Martin (The Martin family) by David Foenkinos, where a writer lacking in inspiration decides that for his next novel, he will to take to the streets and tell the story of the first person he meets and who speaks to him... (Folio);
  • L’illusion (The Illusion) by Maxime Chattam, a fashionable young French author who delivers a harrowing claustrophobic tale, halfway between detective and fantasy (Pocket).

A graphic journey, in thumbnails

If the publishing figures in France are looking good, it is in part thanks to comic books and graphic novels. France, which has a festival entirely dedicated to the 9th art (every year in Angoulême), has become in the past few years a top destination for comic book artists.

 

Here are some cobblestones on the road to the prizewinners of 2022, in the form of vignettes:

  • La synagogue (The Synagogue) of Joan Sfar, a renowned author of French comics, continues the story of his life in a very personal graphic novel that looks back on his youth in Nice (Dargaud);
  • Huit heures à Berlin (Eight Hours in Berlin), a new album of the famous detectives Blake and Mortimer, stars of the world of French comics, who this time lead an investigation into the heart of the former Soviet empire (Blake and Mortimer editions);
  • Perpendiculaire au soleil (Perpendicular to the sun) by Valentine Cuny-Le Callet, a young graduate of the School of Decorative Arts in Paris, follows up on her previous book in which tells the strange story that that intertwined her life with that of an American death row inmate (Delcourt editions);
  • La septième fonction du langage : mais qui a tué Roland Barthes ? (The seventh function of language: but who killed Roland Barthes?), a graphic novel by Xavier Bétaucourt and Olivier Perret intended for intellectuals! This detective novel refers to the famous French philosopher, pope of semiology, Roland Barthes, who died in an accident in the early 1980s (Steinkis editions);
  • the adventures of Asterix the Gaul and his "village of indomitables" facing Roman invasion (whose next edition, L'Empire du Milieu (The Middle Empire), will be released next February, Albert-René editions) and the latest adventures of the most famous French cowboy, Lucky Luke, with L’Arche de Rantanplan (The Rantanplan Arch), was released last October (Lucky Comics editions).

A first-class trip into the world of exceptional books

A beautiful book doesn’t have to be overpriced. Intended most often as gifts, the category of “beautiful books” present elegant illustrations under attractive covers, in large luxurious formats.

Here’s a small selection of these exceptional objects, at prices that are high but remain affordable:

 

  • Marcel Proust, une vie de lettres et d’images (Marcel Proust, a life of letters and images), published on the centenary of the writer's death, is illustrated with 300 documents, the vast majority unpublished, which comprise one of the most important collections of letters and photos of Marcel Proust (Gallimard);
  • Un photographe au Quai d’Orsay (A photographer at the Quai d'Orsay) by Frédéric de la Mure, the official photographer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, presents here “40 years of French diplomacy”, with photographs that illustrate the major international moments but also behind-the-scenes of French diplomacy (éditions de La Martinière);
  • Le livre d’or du Rugby 2022 (The Golden book of Rugby), under the direction of L'Equipe, a leading sports newspaper, anticipates the Men's Rugby World Cup, which will take place next September in nine cities in France (Solar/ The Team);
  • Champollion, la voie des hiéroglyphes (Champollion, the path of the hieroglyphs), published by the Louvre Museum, includes 400 pages on the life of the famous and brilliant French archaeologist Jean-François Champollion on the bicentenary of his deciphering of hieroglyphs, which was celebrated this year (catalogue of the Louvre Museum exhibition in Lens, open until the end of January);
  • La Terre entre nos mains (The Earth in Our Hands) by Thomas Pesquet. The French astronaut recounts, with sublime photos, his 200 days in space aboard the European space shuttle (Flammarion);
  • Le livre des bons vivants (The book of good living), a richly sensual stroll through gourmet France has 350 pages of gastronomy, landscapes and anecdotes (Gueuleton editions).

Key statistics on publishing in France

According to the figures provided by France’s National Publishing Union: (Syndicat National de l'Édition):

  • in 2021-2022, nearly 110,000 titles were published across all publishers (+12% compared to the previous year);
  • of these 110,000 titles, more than 95,000 are French and/or French-language titles (not foreign books that were translated);
  • the number of copies sold increased from 421 million in 2020 to 486 million in 2021, an increase of 15%;
  • with a turnover of 509.6 million euros in 2021 and growth of 55.8% compared to 2020, the comic book and graphic novel market is the big winner of the year;
  • in France, as everywhere else, the price of a book varies according to the format: for a normal edition, expect to pay about twenty euros; for a pocket paperback, less than 10 euros; for a comic book or graphic novel, between 10 and 25 euros; while a tabletop book starts at 25 or 30 euros.

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