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.