Category Archives: Books

Donating Goods to Charity

Spring cleaning or planning for your next move?  Either way, it’s the time of year for cleaning out closets and getting a fresh start.  If you find that you have too much stuff, here are some ideas of how to shed yourself of unwanted clothes, books, and household items.  And you may help someone in need at the same time.

The city of Paris offers free curbside pick-up of bulky items in the different arrondissements and greater city area. The service is generally offered twice each week with varying times for each area. Before placing any items curbside, please call 01 55 74 44 60 for direct information and scheduling. Note that it is not lawful to place oversized items on the curb without pre-authorization. For pick-up details in your area or to make an appointment on line, visit the city’s Web site and fill out the online form.

Emmaus Communautes will come to your apartment and pick up bags of clothes, shoes, toys and/or furniture that are in reusable and resalable condition.  They are similar to what many Americans know as the Salvation Army.  They will not come for just one bag, so if you call, be sure you have enough to make their trip worthwhile.  Be prepared to tell them how much you have for pick up.

Les Orphelins d’Auteuil
40, rue La Fontaine, 75016 Paris,
Tel :  01 44 14 75 20

Les Orphelins d’Auteuil is a Catholic-run  orphanage in the lower 16th that has a second-hand shop to help fund the home.  According to the web site they sell the following :

  • clothes and shoes for all ages
  • costume jewelry, silverware, dishes, artwork
  • linens such as sheets, towels, tablecloths, curtains
  • books, records, toys

You can leave things in good condition, Monday through Saturday from  9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sales take place on Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m.to 12:30 p.m. and then again from 2:00 pm to 6:30 pm.  Saturday hours are 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.  There is parking available on-site so you can unload without fear of blocking traffic or being ticketed.

You can also find drop boxes for clothing at several locations in and around Paris:

8th arrondissement: St. Philippe de Roule, at the intersection of rue Faubourg St. Honoré and Franklin Roosevelt

12th: La Halte des Femmes (Coeur de Femmes day shelter) 16-18, passage Raguinot, M: Gare de Lyon

13th: La Maison Coeur de Femmes, 77, rue du Château des Rentiers, M: Porte d’Ivry or  Nationale

A list of 300 collection boxes managed by the organization, Le Relais, can be found on-line.  In addition,  these organizations may also accept secondhand clothes and shoes:

La Croix Rouge at 01.44.43.11.00
L’Armee du Salut at 01.43.62.25.00
Le Secours Catholique at 01.45.49.73.00
Le Secours Populaire at 01.44.78.21.00

Yahoo hosts a bilingual online recycling group called Freecycle Paris that not only enables you to donate your items (clothes, furniture, appliances, etc.) to other members who need or want them, but also allows you to browse for items that may be of interest to you.  The group is free to join.

Finally, both the American Library in Paris and SOS Helpline will accept used books, CDs, and DVDs in good condition

History Comes Alive

Even when you’ve got your day-to-day bearings in Paris and feeling finally like your head is staying above water, there’s still plenty to learn.   Whether it’s knowing the significance of the street names in your quartier, keeping all those King Louis straight, or understanding better why French society operates the way it does, reading a bit of history may be just the ticket.  Here are a few of our favorites.   Most of these titles can be found in the English language bookshops in Paris or at The American Library in Paris.

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. Want to know everything there is to know about the French Revolution? A good place to start is Harvard history professor Simon Schama’s tome published on its 200th anniversary.  The events leading up to the Revolution, the accidents of fate and circumstance that could have rendered a completely different outcome, and the players large and small who were at its center are all laid out for the reader to savor in a very accessible style.  Don’t be put off by the 875 pages of text (and an additional 75 for notes and index) — it holds up extraordinarily well.

The Discovery of France:  A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War is an inquiry by Graham Robb, author and historian of France, into the disparate regions, languages, and customs that comprise France.  He takes the reader on a journey through France, wondering aloud along the way how it managed to be a country at all, given how isolated and insulated many of its parts have been for much of the past 200 years.  At the time of the Revolution, Abbe Henri Gregoire set out to establish a common tongue for France, which although dominated by French and Occitan, was also a country where Basque, Breton, Flemish and Alsatian were the primary regional tongues.  If the peasants were “too ignorant to be patriotic,” how could the Revolution hope to hold?  Yet in 1880 the percentage of inhabitants of France who felt comfortable speaking French was estimated to be only about 20 percent.  A great read for the curious Francophile with access to a good regional atlas.  

The Four Queens:  The Provençal Sisters who Ruled Europe.  Once upon a time, when the country of France as we know it today did not yet exist, there lived four beautiful princesses in a magical kingdom known as Provence. Not one of them pricked her finger on a spindle, kissed a frog, or was locked up in a forgotten tower. Actually the true story of their lives, chronicled by Nancy Goldstone in this book turns out to be more fascinating than pretty much any fairy tale. Marguerite, Eleanor, Beatrice, and Sanchia found themselves at the center of all the political and religious intrigue of the 13th century, eventually becoming queens of France, England, Sicily, and Germany. I wouldn’t say they all lived happily ever after but there’s plenty of juicy stuff here: trips to exotic lands, ransoms, wars, contracts made and broken, scheming mothers and uncles, family feuds, and heaps of treasure. If you thought the Middle Ages were dull, think again. Goldstone paints a vivid picture that has pretty much any fairy tale beat.

Is Paris Burning?   If you think that the credit for the liberation of Paris goes to the Americans, who after invading Normandy, motored their way up to Paris, down the Champs Elysees, kissed a few girls, and called it a day, you have some reading to do.   And for that, I highly recommend Is Paris Burning? by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. The book was a best seller and then a hit movie in the 1960s, not surprising because it reads more like a novel than a history. There’s the tension within the French resistance (the Communists versus de Gaulle’s Free French), the battle of wills between the commanders of the Allied Forces and the French fighters, the heroism of ordinary citizens and soldiers, and the sad character of Dietrich von Choltitz, commander of German forces in France, who after laying waste to Rotterdam and Sebastopol, in the end, decided to surrender Paris rather than destroy it according to Hitler’s orders. There are some dark stories here about the bravery and suffering of those who risked all for France and the shameful treatment of those considered collaborators after the Germans were gone. But there are also light hearted moments, tales of family reunions and marriages made from chance encounters.

Sixty six years is not such a very long time, particularly for a place like Paris. But imagine what it would have been like had the war gone the other way or even if the Nazis had lit the fuses on their way out of town. Happily, that didn’t happen. Read this book and you’ll discover a cast of thousands who deserve some of the thanks.

Marie Antoinette, the biography by British historian and novelist Antonia Fraser, was the inspiration for Sofia Coppola’s film of the same name.  And that should tell you that this is no dusty, musty text.  Fraser doesn’t hide her affection for Marie Antoinette , sketching a portrait of a young girl ill-prepared for her role and ill-served by those surrounding her.  Also worth noting is another one of Fraser’s books, Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King, which dishes up all the details on his relationship with his mother, wife, and multiple mistresses.

Napoleon and Egypt by Paul Strathern offers up a great story as well as some insight on the man who later would become emperor.  Napoleon’s sojourn in Egypt was pretty much a debacle — his entire fleet was sunk in Aboukir Bay by the British, both cutting off his supply lines and stranding him in the Middle East; he lost soldiers by the thousands to massacres, the plague, and other privations; and he was unable to hold onto any of the military victories he had there. He even lost the Rosetta Stone, deciphered by a Frenchman, to the British Museum. But the man was a genius when it came to public relations. He came back to a France hungry for a military hero and its people, worn out by revolution, corruption, and war, pretty much ended up handing him the empire. His adventures there became legend and the fascination with all things “oriental” defined styles in furniture and fashion. And his decision to bring along a team of savants, experts in science, mathematics, and the arts, meant that there was a lasting legacy of new knowledge about a world long mysterious to Europeans.

Napoleon’s Women by Christopher Hibbert picks up after the flight from Egypt.  This biography focuses of course on Napoleon’s two wives, Josephine and Marie Louise, and his many mistresses but also chronicles Bonaparte’s own rise to power and eventual fall. At first, Hibbert can scarcely contain his contempt for Josephine, pretty much calling her a slut and a spendthrift, but later softens. It’s a good way to learn about the Napoleonic era without having to spend too much time on the battlefield.

Seven Ages of Paris by British historian Alistair Horne begins in the time of Julius Caesar and from there, it’s full steam ahead straight through to the student revolutions of May 1968.   Horne is a great storyteller and brings to life many of the great personalities of French history —  Henri IV,  Louis XIV, Napoleon, de Gaulle.  And yet this book is much more than a catalogue of famous men; he also vividly captures sweeping social and political movements.    The New York Times Book Review called it “consistently bewitching”, not words normally used for a history book.

Any titles you’d add to this list?

Special thanks to David Stonner for his contributions to this post.

Required Reading

There’s a kazillion books about France out there — cookbooks, travel guides, memoirs, histories, you name it.  But if you’re going to buy one book before you move to Paris, make it Polly Platt’s French or Foe.    Were it not for this book, I would not have learned that it is absolutely necessary to say “Bonjour Madame” (or “Bonjour Monsieur”) upon entering a shop, nor the importance of asking for help by starting with the key phrase, “Excusez-moi de vous déranger.”   Platt calls the latter the “five magic words” and she’s right.  They automatically establish the relationship in which you the client recognize the expertise of the shopkeeper.  As Platt notes, “this is the charm that warms the hearts of impatient Parisians on the street, of inquistorial telephone operators, and even of those most preposterously maddening of creatures, bureaucrats in post offices and police headquarters.”

Platt decodes French culture and codes of behavior in the home, workplace, and marketplace, reaching back into history to help newcomers understand why things work the way they do.  Some of her advice is a bit dated (for example, sending calling cards to follow up a dinner invitation) but even that offers insight into French customs and ways of doing things.  She covers the territory from the minute (don’t bring chrysanthemums as a hostess gift as they are associated with funerals) to broader cultural themes (like the French hesitancy to admit blame or take risk).  

As you transition to life in France, you will at times find it frustrating and difficult.  Platt’s advice won’t solve all your problems but it will sure get you off on the right foot.

French or Foe is available from Amazon; any independent bookseller worth his salt will also order it for you.   Although Platt passed away in 2008, her Web site is still active and includes a number of articles and interviews.

A Haven for Readers

I grew up in a family of readers and now I’ve generated another generation of book lovers.  Given the price of English language books in Paris, the American Library, a subscription library tucked into a side street in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, has been a godsend.

A subscription library?  Yes, the American Library is private and to cover its expenses, one must pay a yearly fee —  155 euros for families, 100 euros for individuals,  and 75 euros for students and seniors.  (There are also short-term — four or six month — memberships if your time in Paris is limited.) But trust me, it’s been worth every centime.  The collection is extensive (120,000 books and subscriptions to over 400 periodicals) so good luck running out of things to read.  An unadvertised gem is the incredible travel section; our family has taken several dozen trips within Europe during our sojourn here and we have yet to buy a single guide book thanks to the library.  Whatever our destination, there’s always a guide from Eyewitness, Lonely Planet, Michelin, or other sources that I can check out.

The library, which currently serves 2,300 members from 60 countries, also offers movies  and other audiovisual materials, reference and research resources in paper and in electronic form including JSTOR & EBSCO databases.  In addition, there are regular literary and public-affairs programs and book groups for adults, as well as children’s and teen events and activities.

The library is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Sundays, from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. September through June. Reduced summer hours apply during the months of July and August.

The American Library in Paris
10, rue du Général Camou
75007 Paris
Phone: 01 53 59 12 60

The Essential Bookshelf for Fellow Francophiles

by Amy Thomas

I spent my first year here really boning up on French culture… albeit in a frivolous, beach-reading kind of way. I read tons of great Franco-centric books and recently realized I’ve been missing them. So I picked up Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon (for the third time) and, dammit, try as I might, I’m just not loving it (three times, not the charm in this case). I’ll skim it to the end, picking out the bits on fashion and food, but would love to sink my teeth into something like one of these goodies from last year (plus a few from avant):


 • True Pleasures by Lucinda Holdforth:  Part ode to Parisian women, part history lesson on the city, part memoir, you can’t help but fall in love with Holdforth, a vivacious speechwriter from Australia, along with all the women and pleasures she writes about.


 • Memoirs of Montparnasse by John Glassco:   A memoir by a relatively unknown Canadian writer, this story of being in your twenties, in Paris in the 20s, is colorful, evocative and exhilarating.  A must for anyone obsessed with the Lost Generation (and burnt out on Hemingway).


A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke:   With keen British wit, Clarke has made quite a little franchise for himself. After coming out with A Year in the Merde in 2006, he went on to publish four similar books (Dial M for Merde, Merde Happens, and others) about starting from scratch as an expat and dealing with French people, French customs, French bureaucracy and other laughable absurdities. Some people can’t stand his books, but they’re fun, fast reads.


The Authentic Bistros of Paris by Francois Thomazeau and Sylvain Ageorges:   A pocket-sized, arrondisement-organized compilation of the city’s historic, soulful bistros. Color photos and thorough descriptions make it as practical as it is transporting.


 • The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman by Karen Karbo:  You think you know what Coco Chanel was all about? You might want to pense encore after reading Karbo’s adoring but no holds barred take on the French icon, organized in chapters on “Success,” “Fearlessness,” and “Cultivating Arch Rivals.”

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy:  Dundy’s tale gets compared a lot with Sex and the City, but that’s pretty misleading. Sally Jo, the book’s protagonist, may be independent, lovable and always thirsty for a cocktail, but she’s also more neurotic and naïve— and in Paris in the ’50s.

Paris Was Yesterday by Janet Flanner:  As a correspondent for The New Yorker in the ’20s, Janet Flanner was here for one of the most remarkable eras in the city and became a fixture at such landmarks as Café Flore and Shakespeare & Company, covering everyone from Sarah Bernhardt to Madame Curie and everything from art to war. This book compiles her posts—more insightful essays than easy reading.

Betty & Rita Go To Paris by Judith Hughes :  Betty and Rita? Who are they? Two adorable labs that take in all of Paris’ top sights and are captured in darling black and white photos. One of the cutest books ever. 


A Pig in Provence by Georgeanne Brennan:   A California cookbook writer recounts the adventures of moving to Provence, starting a fromagerie, learning how to make a proper bouillabaisse, going truffle hunting and other delicious culinary and cultural wonders. Though not set in Paris, it’s a must for anyone who worships at the altar of French cuisine.


 • Return to Paris by Colette Rossant:  Set in the ’50s, this is a rare book that paints Paris as a cold, gray place rather than a city filled with light and wonder. That’s primarily because Rossant lived in Egypt with her vivacious grandmother, before getting sent off as a teenager to the stiff, class-conscious 17th arrondisement, to live with her disinterested mother. 


Pardon My French: Unleash Your Inner Gaul by Charles Timoney:  A fun and quick guidebook to contemporary vocab and idioms and, by default, customs and trends. The chapters on “Food and Drink” and “Young People (and Their Slang)” are particular gems.


Paris Out of Hand by Nick Bantock and Karen Elizabeth:  This “wayward guide” is anything but a guide but, rather, a collection of hotels, sights and shops you might find if Paris was at the bottom of Alice’s rabbit hole. Un peu bizarre, but full of charm and great quotes, too.

The Louis Vuitton City Guide, Taschen’s Paris and StyleCity Paris:   These sophisticated, informative guidebooks (the furthest thing from Let’s Go-style) will ensure you have a cheat sheet to all the best bakeries, most haute hotels, and cool neighborhood finds.



What’s on your Paris bookshelf?

Amy Thomas  was powerless to say no when the opportunity arose to come to Paris and work on Louis Vuitton’s digital advertising. Her days are now a delicious balance of sampling viennoiseries, admiring high fashion, easing into the expat lifestyle and blogging about it all at God, I Love Paris.

English Language Books: Where to Buy Them in Paris

by A.  Letkemann

Updated September 2013

English language bookstores in Paris are more than just a place to pick-up your latest copy of that steamy new novel or copy of Vanity Fair.  They are also cultural centers where you can meet international authors as well as explore ideas and topics of interest to you. Below is a list of popular English language bookstores in Paris, though not exhaustive, it’s as comprehensive as we can find.

Abbey Bookshop – La Librairie Canadienne
29, rue de la Parcheminerie, 75005 Paris
Phone: 01 46 33 16 24
Métro: St-Michel or Cluny La Sorbonne

A Canadian bookshop around the corner from Shakespeare & Co., with lots of secondhand British and North American fiction, good social science sections, plus knowledgeable and helpful staff — and free coffee.

Attica
64, rue de la Folie Méricourt, 75011 Paris
Phone: 01 49 29 27 27
Métro: St-Ambroise, Oberkampf, Parmentier, Filles du Calvaire, or République

Berkeley Books of Paris
8 Rue Casimir-Delavigne, 75006 Paris
Phone: 01.46.34.85.73
Métro: Odéon

Second hand bookshop specializing in literature, criticism, history, philosophy, religion, poetry, literary journals, cookbooks and children’s books.

The Book Cellar
23, rue Jean de Beauvais, 75005 Paris
Phone: 01 46 34 62 03
Métro: Maubert-Mutualité

Brentano’s
37, avenue de l’Opera, 75002 Paris
Métro: Pyramides, Opera

Closed in summer 2009 to the chagrin of  readers, Brentano’s reopened in February 2010 under new ownership.  The selection of English language books here is rather limited.

Galignani
224, rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
Phone: 01 42 60 76 07
Métro: Tuileries or Concorde

Fine arts, Anglo-American literature, guidebooks, newspapers, and magazines.  The oldest English bookstore on the continent.

Gilbert Jeune
Multiple locations for different departments around Place St. Michel, 75005 Paris

15bis boulevard Saint Denis, 75002  Paris
Tel: 01 55 34 75 75

San Francisco Book Co.
17, rue Monsieur-le-Prince, 75006 Paris
Phone: 01 43 29 15 70
Métro: Odéon or Luxembourg (RER B).

Buy, sell and trade your English-language hardcover and paperback books at this Left Bank establishment, opened in 2005. It offers a variety of categories (including some first editions and rare collectibles), new and used books, as well as a read-only library upstairs. Get on their mailing list via their Web site to obtain updates of visiting authors and other literary events.

Shakespeare & Co.
37, rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris
Phone: 01 43 25 40 93
Métro: Maubert-Mutualité or St-Michel Notre-Dame

Open from noon to midnight daily, this legendary Parisian book store sells used, antique as well as some new books. Though not at the original location of Sylvia Beach’s famous store, it still attracts a crowd of would-be Hemingways. Get on their mailing list via their website to obtain updates of visiting authors and other literary events.

Tea and Tattered Pages
24, rue Mayet, 75006 Paris
Phone: 01 40 65 94 35
Métro: Duroc

Tea and Tattered Pages’ owner passed away some time ago and a new owner is being sought.  The shop is closer until further notice.  This tiny, independent bookshop is a bit off the beaten path, but they’ve got some of the best deals on new and used English-language books, and a tearoom serving up authentic brownies and apple pie.

W.H. Smith
248, rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
Phone: 01 44 77 88 99
Métro: Concorde

This is one of the largest English language book stores in Paris (an independent branch of the British bookstore chain), with an impressive magazine selection and English food products upstairs. They host regular author events and readings for free if you get on their mailing list (on the Web site). Open on Sunday afternoons.

Editor’s Note: You can find a limited selection of English language books in the major French bookstore chains such as FNAC and Virgin Atlantic and perhaps your neighborhood librairie. The French word for bookstore is “librairie”; a library is known as a “bibliotheque”.  Amazon.fr also offers English language books with lower shipping rates than if you order from Amazon.uk or Amazon.com.

Sadly, two beloved English language bookshops, The Red Wheelbarrow and Village Voice, closed in 2012.  Read about these developments here.