To prepare for my upcoming move to France, I’ve been (re-)reading several books about Paris. Some of them are true guidebooks and some of them are more like travel inspiration. I think we travel to see (and eat, in my case) certain things, but sometimes also because we hope to feel a certain way while we’re there. I’ve assembled a short shelf that covers both of these traveling desires, whether you are planning a trip to Paris or you just want to escape through the page.
Fiction & Memoir
Probably the most famous English-language novel about Paris, no City of Lights reading list would be complete without Papa’s A Moveable Feast. As I’ve mentioned before, Paris’ great history of expatriated writers makes me feel a little wide-eyed and naive about my desire to go to Paris to write a novel, and I would be lying if I denied that this book planted a little writerly seed in my brain the first time I read it years ago. I’ve re-read it several times since then and find it just as evocative every time. Hemingway mentions many of the places that he and F. Scott and Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, et. al. used to hang out, and though their Paris is long gone, you will be sure to find me tottering about their old haunts, camera and notebook in hand, hoping to glimpse a tiny bit of their past.
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
From the same era but a different perspective, I also read Gertrude Stein’s memoir/biography The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Alice was Gertrude’s partner, and though she is now less famous, she was just as central to the famous salon as Ms. Stein was (it irks me that Gertrude’s picture is bigger than Alice’s on the cover). This book is another unbelievable stream of characters, with the greatest artistic and literary minds frequently eating, drinking, carousing, and being generally daft together. I always wonder if the members of this social circle were aware of the fact that all their friends and enemies were becoming legends in their respective fields.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Enrique Vila-Matas’ Never Any End to Paris is kind of the next generation of A Moveable Feast. It takes its title from Hemingway’s book, and the narrator is convinced that he looks more and more like Ernest every day, despite the fact that he was once kicked out of Key West’s annual Hemingway look-alike contest for looking absolutely nothing like Hemingway. Not all of Vila-Matas’ stories take place in Paris, and there is less of a group atmosphere about this fictionalized memoir, but I still very much enjoyed it and definitely appreciated an account of the city from a fellow, sheepish, would-be Hemingway.
Finally, David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris is a scrumptious read that makes me want to eat everything in Paris (more than usual). David has a fantastic Paris cooking blog (serious, go read it), so naturally a lot of his anecdotes center around food. However, some of his funniest stories are more about the differences in culture (he’s from the United States). I seem to recall a particularly hilarious story about renovating his bathroom and trying to deal with French plumbers. It’s on my Kindle and is a very entertaining quick read.
As evidenced by these pictures, my family is composed of Micheline Green Guide loyalists. I’ve been studying the pages of the Paris guide in the hopes that by the time I actually arrive in Paris, I won’t need to carry it around with me and I therefore won’t immediately out myself as a completely incompetent tourist (just a slightly less incompetent expat). The Michelin Green Guides primarily cover the history and sights (for dining and lodging needs, see the Red Guide), and in my opinion are the best guides for Europe.
This was a bit of an impulse buy one day back in the spring when everything seemed bleak to me and I needed a bit of light on which to focus. Parisian Chic is a blog in book form, without the blog (please start one, Ines!). It’s a beautifully bound book with little quips about French style, food, and attitude, with tips about where the model author like to eat and shop in Paris. I have half the pages flagged already.
A gift from my mom, Oliver Magny’s Stuff Parisians Like had me laughing the whole way. Born and raised in Paris, Oliver writes short meditations on a number of topics about which Parisians have strong opinions, including but not limited to: wine, happiness, the English language, and South America. Oliver also owns a wine bar in Paris that I’m sure I will visit in January.
I’m only just familiarizing myself with all the English-language Paris blogs, but I already have some favorites.
Lindsey is a Philadelphian who has lived in Paris for the past three years and has a lovely blog: Lost in Cheeseland. She writes about and photographs food a lot, which of course caught my fancy, but she really won me over with her fantastic post about the Paris coffee scene. I’ve already assembled a fifteen cafe-long list of spots I want to check out, and I was really excited to read about her third-wave coffee insights.
Carin originally moved to Paris for just four months, but moved back permanently in January, 2013. I originally discovered her blog Paris in Four Months when I was doing Paris research — her “Moving to Paris” series of posts is comprehensive and very helpful. Like me, she left her job and friends behind and moved to Paris without a lick of French, so I naturally feel drawn to her stories. She takes beautiful photographs that truly capture a feeling and/or atmosphere; for example, check out her photos of the Champs-Élysées Christmas Market.
De Quelle Planète Es-Tu? is a gorgeous lifestyle blog from Denver native Meg. I love her photographs and videos, and can’t wait to check out some of the Paris spots she’s written about. I’ve spent many hours digging through her blog archives (the title comes from The Little Prince!) and recommend that you do the same. Her blog will make you wish you were a guest at one of her dinner parties.
On the food-focused front, I already mentioned David Lebovitz’s food blog, and along very similar lines, I religiously read Dorie Greenspan’s blog. Dorie splits her time between the Upper West Side, Connecticut, and Paris. She, like me, loves baking and Champagne, and I love all her recipes and stories about Paris. Not to mention that she’s one of the cutest people I’ve ever met.
So there you have it! Do you have any Paris book or blog suggestions?