Recently, a French Morning reporter, Alexis Chenu, scoured the shelves of Los Angeles bookstores in search of books in French. In his quest, he found the great classics, from Honoré de Balzac to Flaubert, and even a little Johnny Hallyday.
Here is his selection for reading French in Tinseltown.
In the trendy Los Feliz neighborhood, this independent bookstore (close in geography to the Lycée International de Los Angeles) has a large selection of novels, essays, travel guides and children’s books. Tucked away are two shelves exclusively dedicated to French literature. There one can find many of the classics, from Flaubert to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Jean-Paul Sartre to Marguerite Duras, and also a new generation of writers. Some of the most intriguing: Chanson Douce by Leila Slimani, Prix Goncourt 2016; Baise-moi by Virginie Despentes; Petit Pays by Gael Faye and L’élégance du Hérisson by Muriel Barbery.
Skylights Books, 1818 North Vermont Ave., Los Feliz. Open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 10pm, Sunday from 12pm to 10pm.
This Franklin Village address is close to Hollywood and has been upcycling books on philosophy, literature, architecture and cinema since 1979. It also boasts close to 50 bins of vinyl and a CD and cassette tape department. Hidden away, the “Foreign Languages” section has a good handful of books, most of them in French and Spanish. Mostly they sell the great classics of French literature with Balzac, Flaubert and Colette taking center stage. Also some Aragon, Apollinaire, Feydeau, several copies of Bescherelles and dog-eared French translations of Jane Austen populating the shelves.
Counterpoint Records & Books, 5911 Franklin Avenue. Open from 12pm to 7pm, Friday and Saturday until 8pm. Closed on Monday.
The Alliance Française de Los Angeles has its own bookstore. More than 70 books are available on site (you can order over email). There are the great standards of French literature (Colette, Daudet, Proust, Maupassant, Pagnol…) but also some more contemporary bestsellers such as those of Edouard Louis (En Finir Avec Eddy Belle Gueule), Christine Angot (L’inceste) or Amélie Nothomb (Ni d’Eve ni d’Adam) and, for children (or the perennial adolescent), The Adventures of Asterix and Obelix. The library also offers 3,000 books to borrow, including 1,000 books reserved for children; all are free for members.
Alliance Française de Los Angeles, 10390 Santa Monica Boulevard. Open Monday through Thursday from 9am to 8pm, Friday and Saturday from 9am to 5pm, Sunday from 9am to 1pm.
True to Culver City’s vibe, this bookstore opened in a former mattress factory and has both an industrial and a functional spirit where you can find books on art, photography, design or fashion in an airy space. The selection in French is tiny but includes some rare titles mainly from museum catalogs and books. Choices of the moment: Symbolism from the Petit Palais or American Artists at the 1900 World’s Fair.
Arcana: Books of the Arts, 8675 Washington Boulevard, Culver City. Open from 11am to 7pm.
Downtown, this iconic Los Angeles address lends more to the air of organized bazaar than bibilotheque. But, nonetheles, dozens of customers come to browse and read, some hiding in a “Foreign Language” section deep in the labyrinth on the first floor (just after the designer boutiques and exhibition spaces). These four shelves are very difficult to find but it is where novels and essays of all genres, languages and periods are mixed together. But if the ersatz and esoteric is your thing, you can find a selection “the best” diets according to Karl Lagerfeld; Nadja by André Breton, The History of Theater from the Que sais-je? series; or the tribute to Johnny Hallyday, Rebel Lover, by the biographer of French stars, Bernard Violet.
The Last Bookstore, 453 South Spring street, Downtown. Open from 11am to 8pm.
This flagship bookstore of hipster West Hollywood has a spare French section “to be enriched in the coming months,” whatever that means. We’ll keep an eye on this address. But, in the meantime, you can always leave with some French magazines such as Point de Vue, Elle, Monsieur or Marie-Claire Maison.
Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood. Open from 10am to 7pm, Sunday from 11am to 7pm.
Translated from the original French Morning article for Frenchly.