Monday, June 8, 2015

En Français, a Little Light Reading

The combination of a Paris visit (a week with my sister at the beginning of May) and my just-beginning Retirement has me ramping up my efforts with the French language. Listening to French radio and watching French TV series and films on Netflix (especially good when they're available with French, rather than English, subtitling -- as is the very good TV series, Témoins) helps my oral comprehension, but for increasing vocabulary and cementing grammar, I try to read a few French novels a year. I was lucky enough to find Fred Vargas' latest in a bookstore on Blvd. St. Germain (the Polish bookstore, apparently, but with a broader range than that suggests, and the Vargas in the window display drew me in). I'm holding off on that treat, but I just finished a light read that I picked up at Charles de Gaulle airport: Agnès Martin-Lugand's Entre mes Mains le Bonheur se Faufile. 

I'm obviously not qualified to comment credibly on the writing, but the characters were as well drawn as I've found in the English examples of the genre (chick lit) -- which might be expected given the author's training as a psychologist. The plot can be stripped down to predictable enough lines: young woman, boring marriage in which she tries to be happy but gets little attention from her husband, a physician, meets exciting, sophisticated, but dangerous seducer when she boldly embarks on a new career as a couturière, beginning by enrolling in an intensive training program. Interesting embellishments: the powerful and fascinating woman who runs the school and takes our protagonist under her wing -- and who poses a different set of dangers; Paris! the setting is a pleasure, of course, not just the places I recognize but descriptions of places I now want to track down; and some of the details about the fashion design world, although really not enough to satisfy anyway who might come to the novel looking for this.  Overall, though, the novel is  an enjoyable example of its genre, and I'm planning to order Martin-Lugrand's first novel, the intriguingly titled Les gens heureux lisent et boivent du café.

My next book is an English one, and it's a title I've been waiting years for. I'll tell you about that soon, but meanwhile, I'm curious to hear from those of you who read in another language. Why and how and what differences do you notice, if any, about reading in one language as opposed to another?


  1. My student and I are hoping to discuss a book together Thursday but I find that the strategies needed to read a book in a second language are new to her. Did you read French literature at University? I remember being presented with L'étranger in French 120.
    It was impossible to look up every new word and French authors tend to write very long sentences with a lot of subordinate clauses. We have just started Daudet's Lettres de mon moulin (her choice) but when I spoke with her yesterday, she had not started to pre-read. Students of 70+ are just the same as younger students!!! My boxes of books from university are still in storage untouched. You might be the only person who can appreciate that I read the French novels of the 19th century (very long) at Summer session the year that my daughter was 2. If you are a reader, you will find the time to read. I have an elderly neighbour who might enjoy reading a French book together. It might kick-start me. I did, however, read the history of Mexico in Spanish during my stay in Oaxaca. I will try to find some French chick-lit as my tomes are definitely classics.

  2. I read in English ( a lot) and a litlle bit in German ( I didn't find many interesting books in german lately,well I didn't try too much :-) My native language is Croatian and I prefere to read foreign books in original.
    I also prefere paper,not Kindle books,but lately it is much easier to get a book this way and there are English/English explanation which are very welcome.
    I learned Italian and French, too,but now it's relikviae relikviarum. Perhaps I have to try children books :-) ,for very litlle children :-)
    For me, it is very important to find something very interesting than I'm motivated to try more
    I also like to watch films with same language titles,than it is much easier for me

  3. Madame: Interesting about your student. I'd never thought about strategies, but it's true that I took French 120 at UBC -- I remember that same book, still on my shelves. I've never tried reading 19th-century French novels, but I've always wanted to tackle Balzac and maybe now's the time. Or not. . . Chicklist and mystery novels are a fun way to increase vocab. . . (I have read a few more literary French novels in the last few years and enjoy those as well. And I loved reading Marcel Pagnol, quite a few years ago working my way through his titles).
    Dottoressa: So impressed by your repertoire of languages. I'm hoping to revive my Spanish (I had two years of University Spanish, oh so very long ago!) and try to learn some Italian, now that I have a bit more time. I'm a bit worried about them bleeding into one another as used to happen when I was studying French and Spanish at the same time, and the occasional Latin would also creep in from my high school studies. . . But I suspect it's all a good way to keep our ageing brains alert, right? Fun to have some companions in this enterprise, thanks to you and Madame!

  4. I have an idea. In my boxes to reread, I have Eugénie Grandet and Le Père Goriot by Balzac. We could both read and compare notes. We could start an online French reading group. If you can't find a copy at the library, you could read online but it really is not the same experience. It might be too soon in your retirement but I am always in need of literary stimulation.

  5. Thank you very much Mater,but now it is only English and German,years of non-using have made a lot of damages to other two and all that remains is very litle

    I get inspired by you both so I looked yesterday on Amazon for something light to start(I agree that chick lit is best for this ),I found Agnes Lugand in German,could you believe? It is important for beginning to read Kindle books because of dictionary in situ

    I also browsed through your reading history and found a lot of similarities and some great tips. I'm reading now The light we cannot see,in translation,what a wonderful,wonderful book! And have Goldfinch waiting.I looked inside,what a overwhelming description of sadness
    Have a nice time with your grandchildren and daughter

  6. Madame, let's do that! It will take me a few weeks to get organized and it might be slow going, but what a great incentive. I've heard more about Le Père Goriot over the years, so I'd happily start with that. I'll let you know when I've got a copy.
    Dottoressa, I know what you mean about losing the language -- that's what happened to the Spanish I used to have at a functional level, at least. I'm hoping I can recover it, but we'll see. . . So glad to know you've been inspired by the blog -- it's fun to share with other readers, isn't it?!

  7. It has been decades since I have read a book in French. I don't think I could do it now, or at least it would be a struggle. Do read Le Père Goriot. It was one of my favorite books my Senior year in High School, and the subject of a rather extensive discussion in one of my college interviews, a fact that shocked my father. I loved it even more on my second reading in my early 30's. It is on my list for rereading in retirement as well, as well as a further exploration of Balzac.

  8. I like your chick-lit idea and am going to try to find something similar in Italian. I was reading Inferno with the translation along side but that was more for the beauty of the original did not offer much in the way of phrases for daily use!

    It doesn't take long for language to slip away does it? I am embarrassed as a Canadian to admit I have forgotten most of the little French I learned in school, although a certain amount sinks in through exposure. My Italian is basic but I now find I look at a French word, try to think of the Italian equivalent, then translate back to English. Time consuming to say the least!

  9. Mardel, that was an ambitious book to be reading in high school (why am I not surprised?! :-)
    I read Lost Illusions for a grad school course about 20 years ago (REally?! How did those decades pass so quickly?) but otherwise, I have a whole lot of Balzac to check out. . .
    Georgia: It really doesn't take long for language to abandon one, although I'm surprised how much Spanish I still have almost 45 years after studying it for a couple of years at uni. I think that at least having once invested the time in building a foundation, it's possible to reactivate a language with not as much attention as you might think.
    Why did you choose to learn Italian? I'm hoping to pick some up now because our daughter has moved to Rome for her husband's work. . . .I'm a bit worried about getting mixed up between the French, the leftover Spanish, my highschool Latin, and now, I hope, Italian . . .

  10. Ciao, Mater! :) When I was planning my first trip to Italy, I thought I would try to learn a few words (e.g. greetings, numbers, directions, washrooms) and I found a BBC language website and played around there for a while. (I already spoke 'food' Italian!) That site doesn't seem to be active any longer. In any case, I came home knowing I wanted to return and started taking lessons at the Italian Cultural Centre in our area. I attended maybe five or six 10-week sessions. That sounds like a lot but they were quite casual and the progress really depended on the number of people in the class and the level they were at. I'm sure you would find it easy to pick up and if a bit of French or Spanish snuck in, well, you would just sound like a citizen of the world! The pronunciation is very simple once you learn it. Buona fortuna! (You have inspired me to start brushing up before a trip this fall. I will get my books out...tomorrow...)

  11. I've heard that the pronunciation is straightforward for Italian, more like Spanish than French in that regard. . . I love that you call what you already spoke "food Italian"; I was surprised and pleased last summer to discover how many words I recognized (at least in print) from reading overall and from recipes and menus particularly.
    We're going to be there in the fall, so I should make some kind of start soon. Perhaps, like you, I'll begin by looking for something online just for the basics. Thanks for the encouragement.