How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yalom
Author: Marilyn Yalom
Genre: Non-Fiction (Literary Criticism / Sociology / Romance / Sex / Love / France / French Cultural)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (10/23/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A breezy, accessible look at French attitudes toward love through 900 years of French literature.
Reading Challenges: Dewey Decimal Challenge
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it is quite French, and quite passionate. Appropriately enough, it has French flaps.
I'm reminded of...: Diane Ackerman, Molly Peacock
First line: How the French love love!
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- gift for the bookish Francophile in your life!
Why did I get this book?: I saw the word 'French' and said, 'oui!'.
Review: I'm a Francophile and I love reading; I love romance and I love -- for the most part -- the dramatic tensions that come with romantic stories. Writers on reading bring me joy and I get giddy delight when anyone geeks out about great books.
This book is a breezy, accessible look at French attitudes toward love through nine hundred years of French literature. The subtitle of this book -- Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance -- is a little more accurate than the title, I think, although the title is nice and catchy. Yalom argues that the French and French culture swims with a cultural understanding of love, sex, lust, desire, and everything that comes with those feelings due to centuries of literary appreciation of love.
Beginning with Abelard and Héloïse, Yalom combines biography, literary analysis, and her own opinions and observations on French life to argue that the vaunted concepts of love -- and the art of the love affair -- were created and perfected by the French. Chronologically, from the Medieval era on to the 21st century, she discusses the great authors and their works with passion and admiration, interspersing her commentary with personal stories and anecdotes.
While reading, I was reminded a bit of Pamela Druckerman's Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, which my wife has just finished and won't stopped talking about. Among the many cultural tidbits Druckerman shared was the revelation that French don't believe motherhood has to be a part of a woman's core identity. The concept of the MILF, for example, doesn't exist in France because all women are sexy, whether they're mothers or not.
Yalom echoes some of that sentiment in this book as she compares contemporary French cultural attitudes about sex and love with American attitudes. I can't say how nuanced her commentary is -- and I suspect she's referring to liberal urban centers more so than other parts of France -- but it was interesting to see more than one book echo this sentiment.
Alas, I am prudish enough that Yalom's admiration for her French friends and their affairs didn't convince me that infidelity is romantic. But I loved her delight in French literature and the authors and books she discussed. Many have said you should keep a notepad while reading as you'll want to begin a list (I have!). Those interested in women in academia might enjoy this as well as Yalom often talks about her professional experience with these writers and works as well as her emotional connection to them.
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