My Christmas Present: Albert Camus’ Complete Works

There has been a lot of talk about Albert Camus having his remains moved to the Panthéon in Paris, where a number of famous French people are interred. This has caused a bit of a controversy in France, in part because it’s a president on the center-right who’s suggested it and Camus was staunchly on the left.

But the debate reminded me just how important Camus’ works are. When I was in my 20s, I read many of his books (in English), and L’Etranger (The Stranger) was the first book I read in French. (And it’s the best-selling paperback in French history, with over 6.7 million copies currently sold since it was published in paperback.) So I’ve decided that, for Christmas, I would get a set of his complete works.

Camus’ works are published by Gallimard, publisher of the famed Pléiade series of books. These books are small, about the size of a mass-market paperback, but are printed on bible paper and are leather-bound. With usually 1,500 – 2,000 pages each, they are collections of complete works by great authors, both French and foreign. They come in two sets: the first two volumes cover the period from 1931 to 1944, and the third and fourth volumes cover 1949 – 1959. Together, the four books come to about 6,000 pages.

These books are not cheap, which is why I only buy them on special occasions (I own about a dozen of them, including the complete A La Recherche du temps perdu, by Proust). Individual volumes in the series run about EUR 60 – 70, or around $100 (the two sets are EUR 260). But they are beautiful books, with excellent notes and introductions, and for great authors I like to have nice books. I’ll look forward to reading them in the coming months.

If you’ve not read Camus, do so. Whether you can read him in the original French, or in another language, his works are honest and penetrating. He was one of the 20th century’s great thinkers.