french books for beginners

33 Best French Books for Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Bookworms in 2023

Need to practice your French reading skills? Why not dive into some intriguing French books?

Reading books in French will help you recognize things you’ve already learned as well as introduce you to new topics—you might even learn a thing or two about French culture!

Start with easier French books and gradually work your way up to the more difficult ones to build your fluency.

This post covers 33 beginner, intermediate and advanced French books that can help you become (even) more familiar with the language.


Easy Books for Beginners

1. “Les aventures de Tintin” by HergéLes Aventures de Tintin - Les Sept Boules de Cristal - Tome 13 (French Edition)

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Genre: Action, mystery

This is a wildly popular 20th-century comic about a Belgian reporter and his pet dog, Snowy.

With writing that overlaps a variety of genres, it can be enjoyed by French readers of all ages.

I recommend starting with “Tintin en Amérique.” In this comic, Tintin and Snowy are covering a story on organized crime in Chicago involving Al Capone and other gangsters.

2. “Contes du jour et de la nuit” by Guy de MaupassantContes du jour et de la nuit

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Genre: Fiction

Guy de Maupassant is one of the world’s best writers of short stories, and this book includes Maupassant’s most famous short story: “La parure” (The Necklace).

Each story has its own plot and set of characters, and they’re particularly enjoyable if you like plot twists.

3. “Contes de ma mère l’Oye” by Charles Perrault Contes de ma mere l'oye

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Genre: Fairy tales

You probably know Charles Perrault’s work from the various Disney versions.

This collection of French fairy tales includes stories you’re sure to be familiar with, like “La belle au bois dormant” (The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood), “Le petit chaperon rouge” (Little Red Riding Hood), “Le Maistre Chat, ou le Chat Botté” (The Master Cat, or Puss in Boots) and other classics.

4. “Le scaphandre et le papillon” by Jean-Dominique BaubyLe Scaphandre et le Papillon (French original of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) (French Edition)

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Genre: Memoir

Jean-Dominique Bauby wrote “Le Scaphandre et le Papillon” (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) after suffering a major stroke and developing locked-in syndrome.

Nearly his entire body was paralyzed, but he was able to dictate his work to his transcriber by blinking his left eye.

Bauby’s memoirs describe his life prior to and after his stroke, when he served as editor-in-chief of the French Elle magazine.

5.  “Le Petit Nicolas by René GoscinnyLe Petit Nicolas (French Edition)

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Genre: Children’s literature

Le Petit Nicolas” is an idealized and nostalgic memorial of what it was like to be a kid growing up in France in the 1950s.

Although some aspects may be a bit outdated (it was published in 1959), the story of growing up is sure to be relatable for everyone.

Nicolas and his many friends have numerous adventures that build storylines constructed for children, making them easy to follow.

6. “Calligrammes” by ApollinaireCalligrammes: Poems of Peace and War (1913-1916)

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Genre: Poetry

For foreign learners of French, Apollinaire’s poems offer hints of meaning in their very structure.

His book is notable for its use of typeface and space on the page to evoke each poem’s meaning; the poem itself takes the shape of its subject.

These somewhat complex poems are among the earliest French surrealist works—in fact, Apollinaire is credited with coining the term—so they’re worth the effort it takes to understand them.

7. “Am I small? Je suis petite, moi ?” by Philipp WinterbergAm I small? Je suis petite, moi?: Children's Picture Book English-French

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Genre: Children’s literature

French learning resources developed for children can be engaging for adults, too! We love this imaginative picture book written for bilingual reading.

The story follows a young girl on a journey who asks various animals whether she’s small.

With 26 pages of colorful, vivid art, it’s also a helpful resource for learning size, shape and color adjectives as well as some fun animal vocabulary.

8. “Contes de la Bécasse” by Guy de MaupassantContes de la becasse (French Edition)

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Genre: Fiction, short stories

Maupassant became famous near the end of the 19th century as a realist novelist with a style bordering on naturalism.

His “Contes de la Bécasse,” or “Tales of the Woodcock,” is a collection of stories whose realism and short length make for an easy read.

In the first, the baron of Ravots organizes a dinner and asks each guest to tell the group a story.

9. “French Short Stories for Beginners” by Olly Richards and Richard Simcott Short stories in French

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Genre: Fiction, short stories

This helpful resource offers a five-step plan that teaches readers the best way to effectively practice reading in French.

The short stories are full of natural dialogue and realistic vocabulary to help you improve your conversational French.

They cover a variety of genres, including science fiction, history and crime, so you can see how the language is actually spoken in all sorts of situations.

Books for Intermediate Learners

10. “Le Père Goriot” by Honoré de BalzacLe Pere Goriot (French Edition)

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Genre: Fiction

Honoré de Balzac wrote 93 novels, plays and short stories with a cast of recurring characters, compiled and known as “La Comédie humaine.”

Le Père Goriot” is among the most famous of these works and describes the lives of three men living in a boarding house in 19th century Paris.

Balzac’s attention to detail and keen desire to allow the story to unfold step by step make the novel easy to understand.

11. “L’Étranger” by Albert CamusL'Étranger (French Edition)

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Genre: Fiction

Camus, a Frenchman born in Algeria during the French colonization period, wrote this novel using the voice of Meursault.

He’s a strange, unfamiliar narrator who shares the author’s lineage and recounts his mother’s funeral and subsequent run-in with the law.

Meursault’s thought processes and world view may be difficult to understand, but his words are not—the difficulty here is only in interpretation.

12. “Bonjour tristesse” by Françoise SaganBonjour Tristesse (French Edition)

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Genre: Fiction, drama

My French mother gave me her copy of “Bonjour Tristesse” while shrugging it off as a guilty pleasure, but it’s much better than just some trashy romance novel.

The plot centers on a teenage girl’s relationship with her womanizing father, and how his love life influences and becomes entangled with her own.

It’s fast-paced like a romance novel, but reads more like a soap opera in novel form and draws you in with charisma and personality.

13. “Coule la Seine” by Fred VargasCoule la seine

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Genre: Mystery

This collection of three mystery stories will help you get acquainted with the French detective Commissaire Adamsberg.

Vargas is a historian who incorporates her knowledge of history into her books, creating rich, eccentric, highly educated characters.

Their tendency to apply unexpected facts to real-life situations showcases Adamsberg’s personality and the typical charm of Vargas’s writing style.

14. “Hygiène de l’assassin” by Amélie NothombHygiene De L'Assassin (French Edition) (Littérature)

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Genre: Fiction

This is a strange little book written almost entirely in dialogue.

Prétextat Tach is an obese, misogynistic, dying man. He avoids all questions about his personal life and drives away his interviewers, who develop a contest to see who can dig up any information on the novelist.

Tach’s interactions with the journalists make for fast and engaging reading, and the mystery surrounding his past will keep you glued to the page.

15. “Le jeune homme de sable” by Williams SassineLE JEUNE HOMME DE SABLE (French Edition)

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Genre: Fiction, African literature

If you’re looking for some gateway advanced reading, this novel resembles an advanced French book while only requiring an intermediate vocabulary.

The first 25 pages are about a dream sequence which blends strange and haunting imagery with the introduction of several characters.

It’s a great way to dip your toes into the world of advanced French reading and introduce yourself to African Francophone literature!

16. “French Short Stories for Intermediate Level” by Frederic Bibard French Short Stories for Intermediate Level + AUDIO: Improve your reading and listening skills in French (French Edition)

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Genre: Fiction, short stories (educational) 

We’re big proponents of learning with French short stories because they’re quick and fun to read, and this resource has extra material to help you glean more from the text.

Each story includes a glossary covering its key terms and audio to give you some added listening practice.

Frederic Bibard (who also wrote “Fluent in French”) even has two more editions you can use to keep building on your language learning momentum.

17. “La Gloire de mon père” by Marcel PagnolLa Gloire de Mon Père (Fortunio) (French Edition)

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Genre: Autobiographical novel  

A global favorite, Pagnol is renowned for his accurate descriptions of rural French life and heartbreaking tales of family. 

This is the first book in a series of novels that follow the same characters. It focuses on the Pagnol family’s summer holidays in a small rural village and their growing tensions due to differing belief systems.

It’s easily accessible and quick to read, with great vocabulary and turns of phrase, unique descriptions and frequent dialogue.

Books for Advanced Learners

18. “Un soir au club” by Christian GaillyUn soir au club (Double t. 29) (French Edition)

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Genre: Piano drama

French culture is full of stories based on a character’s ability or inability to play the piano.

The protagonist of this drama, Simon Nardis, is a former jazz pianist and alcoholic who had to give up both. One night, he breaks with years of abstinence and returns to his two loves.

Written in sharp, snappy prose, “Un soir au club” draws you in with its seductive pace while directing your attention to its grammar and phrasing.

19. “L’Amant” by Marguerite DurasL'Amant (French Edition)

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Genre: Fiction, drama

This is a classic that’s part of any basic education in French literature.

Set in French colonial Vietnam, it tells the story of a young girl from a French family who becomes romantically involved with an older Chinese man.

The writing is hypnotic and simple to read. Duras often repeats words and events, which is good for poetic effect and great for learning.

20. “Adolphe” by Benjamin ConstantAdolphe (French Edition)

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Genre: Drama

This classic is a sparse moral and psychological drama that follows a young man who develops a relationship with an older woman.

Narrated in the first person, “Adolphe” explores all of the inner misgivings and woes of the self-analytical main character.

The prose is mostly limited to Adolphe’s state of mind and interactions with others, so the book is efficient and easy to follow despite first being published in 1816.

21. “Moi qui n’ai pas connu les hommes” by Jacqueline HarpmanMoi Qui N'Ai Pas Connu les Hommes (Le Livre de Poche) (French Edition)

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Genre: Science fiction

If I described this work as an existential, quasi-horror sci-fi novel, I’d be speaking accurately but failing to assess its haunting beauty.

Narrated by a female character raised by a group of imprisoned older women, her journey to discover who captured them—and why—introduces the reader to a strange, yet strikingly familiar world.

Creepy, imaginative and rife with examples of the first person plural passé simple, Harpman’s novel is great for any French learner.

22. “Les yeux jaunes des crocodiles” by Katherine PancolLes Yeux Jaunes Des Crocodiles (Littérature) (French Edition)

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Genre: Fiction

This is the longest and most difficult book on the list, but also one of the most useful for learning French!

Pancol writes with a light, sympathetic touch about members of a French family who follow separate ambitions while still striving to love and support one another.

The story has the appeal of an addictive television series that will keep you thinking about the characters even when you’re not reading.

23. “Paroles” by Jacques PrévertParoles (Folio) (French Edition)

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Genre: Poetry 

If you’ve been studying French for a while, chances are you’ve already come across Prévert’s poetry.

He’s a playful but serious poet who uses simple language and repetition to great effect, setting aside isolated blocks of French for you to read and memorize.

Poetry is also a great way to try your hand at translation, which will help improve your French even if you aren’t particularly interested in translation.

24. “Entre les murs” by François BégaudeauEntre les Murs (Collection Folio (Gallimard)) (French Edition)

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Genre: Fiction, drama

Based on Bégaudeau’s own experience working in an inner-city Parisian school, this novel’s frequent dialogue uses the same slang and phonetic modifications as actual French kids.

You’ll often notice an absence of punctuation or consonants mashed closely together, such as v’nir in place of venir or P’t’êt rather than Peut-être.

The narrative style is casual but smart, and Bégaudeau moves quickly between events and characters, never pausing too long for explanation.

25. “Voyage au bout de la nuit” by Louis-Ferdinand CélineVoyage Au Bout De LA Nuit (Folio) (French Edition) (Folio S.)

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Genre: Historical fiction

This is not the sunniest of books, but it is a literary experience and a quintessential French book. 

Céline’s style has been highly influential in literature both in France and all over the world, inspiring authors to play with literary formalities. 

Based on a young man’s travels through Africa and the United States during WWI, the complex novel provides enough context to help you develop your French comprehension.

26. “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo” by Alexandre DumasLe Comte de Monte Cristo, Tome I (French Edition)

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Genre: Historical fiction, adventure

This classic adventure novel is one of the most popular French books of all time.

The book plots the initial rise of the highly-envied character Edmond Dantès and his subsequent fall from grace. 

It provides an illuminating look into French philosophy and reveals what 19th-century writers thought about the self.

Written in older, more formal French, it will expose you to more complex written nuances and features great examples of the past historic tense.

27. “Madame Bovary” by Gustave FlaubertMadame Bovary (French Edition)

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Genre: Literary realism 

This classic example of French literature looks at the effects of the rise of a bourgeois culture on the middle class, and its focus on social image. 

The book is flamboyant in its dialogues and descriptions, and is a great way to pick up a list of flowery French words. 

Flaubert’s written conversations are also realistic, and are a fascinating insight into the way French was spoken at the time.

28. “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo

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Les misérablesGenre: Historical fiction, tragedy

Well-known for the musical, the story of “Les Misérables”  is built around French historical events of the early 19th century.

As the characters go about their lives, you get a good understanding of French culture at the time, as well as the reasoning behind and details within the Paris Uprising of 1832.

While one of the longer French novels around, “Les Misérables” is worth reading for its educated look into some major events of France’s history.

29. “Thérèse Raquin” by Émile ZolaThérèse Raquin (French Edition)

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Genre: Naturalism, psychological fiction 

This book tells a love story with disastrous consequences for everyone involved. The story follows Thérèse’s marriage to her sickly cousin, her affair with his friend and the ensuing drama. 

The novel gives a really thorough insight into the intricacies of written French, flitting between different tenses and uses of pronouns.

The book’s use of past historic tense will help you understand how this tense works and build your ability to read the language with ease.

30. “Les Fleurs du mal” by Charles BaudelaireLes Fleurs du Mal (French Edition)

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Genre: Poetry 

Perhaps the most famous of all non-narrative French writing, “Les Fleurs du mal” pinpoints an important time in the country’s culture.

Split into six themed sections, the poems delve into modernism and symbolism, mirroring popular cultural thought in 19th-century France.

Made up almost entirely of descriptive passages, it’s a great way to get acquainted with creative French writing and pick up an unusual turn of phrase or two. 

31. “Bel-Ami” by Guy de MaupassantBel-Ami (French Edition)

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Genre: Fiction, literary realism

This novel reveals how a fictional journalist’s manipulation of powerful and wealthy mistresses ensures his place on France’s social stage. 

With thorough descriptions of conversation and interactions, you can pick up new phrases for speaking as you read. 

The novel shows interesting insight into the world of formal French language and is a perfect example of the kind of book that French students read in school.

If the original version is too challenging, it’s also been adapted for Intermediate French learners.

32. “Tartuffe” by MolièreTartuffe and the Bourgeois Gentleman (Dual-Language) (English and French Edition)

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Genre: Society comedy, satire

“Tartuffe” is an extremely popular example of classic French theater. The play tells a morality tale about a fraudulent figure who claims to be pious.

Presented almost entirely in dialogue format, it’s full of conversational French and offers tons of vocabulary for learners.

The play uses a number of literary forms, such as the soliloquy, and is a great text for improving your reading and writing skills.

33. “La Cousine Bette” by Honoré de Balzac  

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Genre: Fiction

Set in the mid-1800s, this popular classic follows a middle-aged woman who’s unsatisfied in her life and her marriage. 

She curses the influence her extended family has on her life, and in a moment of madness, she decides to plot their downfall. 

This is another great study of formal, conversational French. Due to its “racy” nature, the novel also features much more familiar terms of address and showcases the complexity of the French language.

Reading Tips for Beginners

  • You don’t need to know every single word. Read a section and try to understand what’s happening based on the context. Afterward, you can look up the meaning of any words you think are important to know. It’s better not to miss the big picture by focusing on the small details!
  • Read the French translation of your favorite English book. You already know what happens, so reading it in French will allow you to focus more on the language use.
  • Note key words or phrases you don’t know and look up their meaning. This will help you learn lots of new vocabulary. You can also turn these phrases into study points or flashcards to review later.
  • Say the words out loud as you read. This will help with speaking and pronunciation practice as well as comprehension—how’s that for efficiency?
  • Start a book club with other French learners. It can be both fun and educational getting together with other French learners to talk about books you’re reading. You can discuss the plot, grammar points, vocabulary, and things you’re enjoying (or struggling with).

Remember, there’s more than one way to learn! Watch this quick breakdown of some helpful self-teaching methods to further improve your understanding of French with everything you read, and take a deeper look at a few highlights from this list. 

Already read every French book that’s caught your eye? Don’t worry—there’s still the whole world of subtitled videos to explore.

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Benefits of Reading French Literature

  • Discover the origins of many popular phrases. Understanding native idioms can be a challenge. While many classic French books contain language on the more formal side, they may also be packed with useful daily phrases and expressions.
  • Unearth information about French culture. French books have taken influence from all walks of life and regions of the country, so they can really illuminate what it’s meant to be French over the years. You can live alongside royalty, or hang out with servicemen—the French world is your oyster!
  • Get to grips with formal, traditional French. Some French books, especially classic books, contain examples of how to write in French and how to utilize more formal language. While there are some kinds of address that are rarely used in conversational French these days, many are still employed in written documents or bureaucracy, and it pays to understand how and when they are used.
  • Pick up a great conversation starter. Many French people love indulging in a novel. Talking about books that you’ve read is a great way to begin a conversation in French and to get to know native speakers.
  • Expand your vocabulary. Reading is one of the best ways to increase your vocabulary and make you sound much more eloquent when you write and talk. Plus, since you’re seeing these new words in context, it’ll be easier for you to use them in actual French conversation.

FAQ About French Books

What Is an Easy Book to Read in French?

​​Try one of the books from the beginning of this post, such as French Short Stories for Beginners by Olly Richards and Richard Simcott. Or pick up a comic like “Tintin en Amérique” and use the imagery to put the story together if you get stuck on the text. 

What Are the Best Books to Read in French?

French literature boasts some world-famous classics such as “Les Misérablesby Victor Hugo,L’Étrangerby Albert Camus and Madame Bovaryby Gustave Flaubert. “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas is one of the most popular French books of all time.

While it’s technically a children’s book,“Le Petit Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is one of the best-selling books in history and is adored by both children and adults.

Which Book Should I Read to Learn French?

This depends on your personal preferences!

It’ll be helpful to get a good French textbook, and then to supplement your studying, try a children’s book like one from the series “Le Petit Nicolas.” Or dive into some short stories like you’ll find in “Arsène Lupin, Gentleman cambrioleur” by Maurice Leblanc.

Where Can I Find More Books in French?

Here are nine more excellent and modern French books to add to your reading list. You can find these books and more on Amazon or on the website French Books Online. Or listen to French books from (just select “French” under “Language”). 


As you familiarize yourself with French books and authors, you’ll add to your cultural knowledge, which will enhance your relationship with the language. You’ll also have fun and give yourself immediate motivation to continue learning French.

With so many exciting French books waiting for you, the only difficult decision will be choosing which one to read first!

And one more thing...

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FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:


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