Are Our Favorite Paris Books On Your List?
Paris has been the muse for writers for hundreds of years. We caught the Paris books bug years ago, and now have well over 100 favorite Paris books.
Here’s a sampling, including memoirs, histories, flâneries, food and cooking, and the lives of artists and painters. We didn’t include guide books, but generally we’ll go with Lonely Planet or the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides.
If you have any favorite Paris books that you think should be on the list, let us know. There’s always room for one more on the shelf.
by Ernest Hemingway
This is the ur-memoir of Paris books, the granddaddy of them all. A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s recollection of Paris in the 1920’s, before he was famous. Hemingway’s friends are the ex-pat gods of the Lost Generation including F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, bookseller Sylvia Beach and many others. Are the stories all true? Hemingway said you might want to read it as fiction. Ironically, this was only published in 1964, after his death.
by Elaine Sciolino
Here’s a modern “American living in Paris” story. Sciolino was Paris Bureau Chief for the New York Times, and moved there permanently in 2002. The Only Street in Paris focuses on Sciolino’s street, Rue des Martyrs set in a working-class neighborhood, now quickly gentrifying. She introduces us to the people, shops and cafés and gives us a fascinating history of the buildings. Deftly told, if you love Paris, you’ll read it and say, “Hey that could be me”.
by Adam Gopnik
A Canadian / American in Paris, Gopnik is a well-known writer for the New Yorker magazine. In 1995, he, his wife and infant son packed up their New York life for five years in a chic Left Bank apartment. This is day-to-day Gopnik: taking his son to the park, a treat in a café, a stroll through the Musée d’Orsay, some writing, dinner and drinks with Paris’ intelligentsia, all the while dealing with the peculiarities of French customs and manners. This is near the very top of our favorite Paris books.
by Penelope Rowlands
In contrast to the Sciolino and Gopnik books, this collection of essays presents the perspectives of ordinary people who happen to be writers, living in a big city that happens to be Paris. In other words, this is warts and all, the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears of life, as opposed to the more typical romantic gloss. There are stories of setbacks, loneliness and disillusion. But equally, affection, gratitude and the joy of living in such a beautiful city.
by Jeremy Mercer
Here’s the set-up: Mercer, a Canadian journalist writes a Mafioso crime story and then fears for his life. The next day he hightails it to Paris. Unfortunately, he’s broke. Wandering into the fabled English bookshop, Shakespeare & Company, he becomes a “tumbleweed”, one of the young people who work in the store in exchange for being able to sleep there. It’s a charming story, but don’t look for it when you visit the shop. They don’t stock it. Something he said?
by John Baxter
Who better to tell the story of the literary and artistic Paris than expat and professional flâneur, John Baxter? Baxter is a literary tour guide, film critic, author of four books about Paris, and to top it off, lives in the building where the legendary Sylvia Beach once lived. If you’re interested in the lives of Paris-based artists and writers of the past, this is your guidebook. See where they lived, where they brawled in cafés and saloons and where they stashed their mistresses.
by David Downie
While Baxter’s book focuses on the expat literary and artistic scene (Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, etc.), Downie looks at the leading lights of Paris’ celebrated romantic age. Victor Hugo, Nadar, George Sand and Flaubert all take their turns on stage. Similar to Baxter, Downie runs a tour business and has also written numerous books on Paris. So, pick your era and your people. Either of these books make great companions for the trip.
by David Lebovitz
Here we have Paris, cooking, eating and shopping all wrapped up with a wicked sense of humor. It’s a delightful read that you wish would last forever. Luckily Lebovitz has written a few books so you can just carry on. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to leave the comforts of your home and job and start all over again in Paris, not knowing a word of French and having no idea of how you’re going to support yourself, well, here’s your guidebook. Dream on…
by David Lebovitz
Yes, we know, two by Lebovitz. Can’t help it. This is a magic combination of 100 recipes (that you could actually cook at home) and stories of Paris life. When this was written, Lebovitz had lived in Paris for 10 years which means a decade’s worth of stories dealing with Parisians. It’s a large format book filled with beautiful photography to accompany the stories and recipes. It’s one of few books we have both hardcover and Kindle. Worth it!
by Patricia Wells
For decades Wells was the restaurant critic for The International Herald Tribune. She is the grande dame of culinary guidance – another expat of course – and has also run a very well-regarded cooking school in Paris. This book has had multiple printings and ongoing updates which makes it a great guide to the Paris food scene. It’s also available as a handy smart phone app – perfect for when you get to the City of Light.
by Museyon Guides
A handy guidebook, it features artists’ biographies, reproductions of beloved works including the stories behind the paintings, walking tours with photos and maps of the artists’ studios and galleries. Follow in the footsteps of Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas and Van Gogh. You might consider the Kindle edition because if you’re interested in the subject matter, you’ll want to have this with you. This is our favorite Paris book for this subject matter.
by C. S. Richardson
This book is a jewel. You will read it slowly, to allow yourself to squeeze every bit of pleasure from each sentence. A book designer by trade, Richardson has written two novels (The End of the Alphabet is the other – also heart-wrenchingly beautiful). What is The Emperor of Paris about? An early 20th century love story involving a baker and a girl who works in the basement of the Louvre, a war story, food, culture and coincidences… all set in Paris. I’ll leave the rest to you.
by Paula Mclain
We’re back to Hemingway in Paris again. This time it’s Hadley, his first wife telling the story. The Hemingways are poor, living mostly on Hadley’s inheritances while he works on becoming a novelist. It’s the same cast of characters, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. In the end, that bum Ernest marries wife number two just months after divorcing Hadley, abandoning her with their young son. But despite that, it’s a beautiful book.
For book lovers, this is irresistable. Not only a history of Paris’ most famous English language bookstore, but a portrait of the founder, George Whitman, a true romantic, bohemian, eccentric, socialist rabble-rouser. Full of copies of original documents (George was a pack rat), sudden left turns and near-death experiences. It’s also a father / daughter love story which in the end, is what saved the store. Read the book, then go visit. You can sit in their new café. How perfect!
Planning Your Paris Trip? Book Your Hotel Now
Of course Paris has many hotels, but it’s also the world’s favorite destination, so hotels do book up. We’ve stayed at a number of them. Among our favorites are the Albe Hotel, steps from the Seine, in the middle of the action in the 5th, and the Grand Hotel Francais, over in the trendy 11th.
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