Need a vacation? These five books will teleport you to Paris
“How is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city?” Owen Wilson’s character wonders in the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris. And you can see his point: Paris is a colossus of history and culture, a haven for dreamers and lovers. For decades it has beckoned artists and idealists, feeding them with inspiration and salvation.
I’m an eternal Francophile, obsessed with the culture, food, and history of that fine country. I was lucky enough to spend a portion of my honeymoon in Paris, nestled between the neighborhoods Montparnasse and St Germain. I wish I could go back there tomorrow. But until I can again stroll down the boulevards and along the Seine, I have a shortcut: My library. Here are some books about Paris that make me feel like I’m still there.
This guide to style, beauty and culture is co-written by four Parisian women: model Caroline de Maigret, film producer Sophie Mas, screenwriter Audrey Diwan, and writer Anne Berest. The Parisian mavens deliver commands with sass and unapologetic frankness. “Enjoy the face you have today. It’s the one you’ll wish you have 10 years from now.” Great read before a big shopping trip, but remember Parisian women surprisingly don’t advocate logos. “You are not a billboard.”
This memoir by Australian journalist Sarah Turnball is a spectacular story of love and cultural clashes. After unexpectedly falling in love with a Frenchman, Turnball navigates through her new life in France, candidly recalling the highs and lows. Almost French is a self-deprecating and witty story of an easy-going Australian stumbling through strange new customs of couture fashion and being fashionably late by ninety minutes. “France is like a maddening, moody lover who inspires emotional highs and lows. One minute it fills you with a rush of passion, the next you’re full of fury, itching to smack the mouth of some sneering shopkeeper or smug civil servant.”
Ernest Hemingway spent his 20s in Paris with other expat artists and writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce. A Movable Feast is a memoir of Paris in the post-war 1920s. Published posthumously, the memoir consists of Hemingway’s personal accounts and stories, as a young and struggling writer. He provides specific addresses of cafes, bars, hotels, and apartments, some of which can still be found in Paris today, like The Ritz Hotel and Les Deux Magots. “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 movable feast.”
You can’t think of Paris without thinking of the decadent cuisine. Paris’ premiere expat pastry chef David Lebovitz has written about his immersion in French culture and, more importantly, French desserts. The Sweet Life is part memoir and part recipe book. It is a mouth-watering read; You might want to have chocolate or macarons close by. “Finally, after a nearly two-decade career as a pastry chef and cookbook author, I moved to Paris to start a new life. Having crammed all my worldly belongings into three suitcases, I arrived, hopes high, at my new apartment in Paris.”
This epic novel by Edward Rutherfurd is not to be taken lightly. The 805 page historical juggernaut moves across the ages, from the early days of the Sorbonne University, the French Revolution, the building of the Statue of Liberty and the present. The saga follows several families; there are brothers from Montmarte slums, revolutionaries, disgraced nobles and labourers. As the novel speeds through decades and centuries, it reveals family secrets and introduces readers to ancestors and descendants of key characters. The star of the novel is of course, Paris. “Paris. City of love. City of dreams. City of splendor. City of saints and scholars. City of gaiety. Sink of iniquity.”