My Paris Book Shelf: Recommended Summer Reading
My daughter, who is visiting “maman” at the moment, joked that I should write a book about all the books written by expats in English about Paris or set in Paris. No joke! Maybe I should? That’s because my bookshelves are overflowing with books that fit that description, most of which are signed by the authors, who I have come to know personally over the years.
The overflow can also be blamed by the authors who request I do a review of their books and graciously send me copies of their latest works, of which I am always accepting and grateful. This is yet another invitation to meet these fascinating people and as a result, many have become friends and acquaintances.
It also poses a new problem: either clean out the old, unwanted books from the shelf to make room for the precious signed copies or build new bookshelves. The former solution is preferable, but if you’re like me, it’s tough to part with books, even those that just take up space and attract dust…like dictionaries (do we really need them anymore?) and travel guides (especially the ones for Paris — I don’t need those anymore either).
Writers love to write about Paris (and France, for that matter) and publishers love to publish books about Paris and France. It seems that every day there is a new one out by someone I know or don’t know and am amazed at how many ways Paris can be written about without boring the readers. I’m soon to be one of those writers, as I’m currently in the process of completing a book proposal, which will (eventually) get sent out to potential publishers by my agent…and while it will be a memoir with a focus on real estate, it will be just another book set in Paris. Yikes, the competition is fierce!
If you go online to Amazon.com and search only in the category of books in English using the keyword “Paris,” what you get is 232,294 results. That ought to keep the average reader quite busy. The key word “New York” results in three times as many with 720,716 books and “London” claims even more with 809,261. But remember, these two cities are both English-speaking and these are English-language books, so Paris with well over 200,000 isn’t a shabby result.
At Amazon.fr, books in French about Paris total 471,455; New York can claim 121,708 and…hold your hat…London has a whopping 2,655,826 books about it written in French! Whoa! Even if you discount that figure by the 1,957 books written by Jack London (yes, the key word “London” naturally results in his books), it’s very impressive.
Still, we must consider there is a vast difference between books in English about a city where English is spoken, verses books in English about a city where French is spoken. Only a fraction of the English language books are sold in France, for example…as there are only a handful of English language bookstores left in Paris (a sad case of affairs) and therefore all these books about Paris are mostly sold in the U.S., Canada and other English-speaking countries…or by online merchants from anywhere to anywhere, of course.
To find English language books in Paris, do visit and patronize those who have weathered the storm of online book purchasing. The following is a description borrowed from Time Out (I cannot take credit!):
The Abbey Bookshop
Celebrating 20 years in business, the tiny Abbey Bookshop is the domain of Canadian renaissance man Brian Spence, who organizes weekend hikes as well as dressing up in doublet and hose for a spot of 17th-century dancing.The tiny, narrow shop stocks old and new works, a specialized Canadian section, and highbrow subjects down the rickety staircase. Several thousand more books are in storage, and he can normally order titles for collection within two days.
An offshoot of San Francisco Books in the next street over, Berkeley opened in 2006 and as well as the shop runs a well-organized website with an online catalogue and calls to buy, sell and exchange. In store, the range of literature, criticism, history, philosophy, religion, poetry, literary journals (including a shelf devoted to back issues of the Paris Review), cookbooks and children’s books is arranged by genre and studded with treasures, though the space lacks some of the haphazard charm.
A long, gleaming space lined with dark wood and crowned with a mezzanine overlooking an intimate reading area, Galignani on the Rue de Rivoli is as chic as its location. It claims to be the first English language bookshop on the continent, but that’s not really important – though pricey, Galignani probably has the best overall selection of fiction, non-fiction, fine arts books, guides and gift titles in English in the city.
San Francisco Books
A delightful little rabbit warren of a second hand bookshop, San Francisco Books was founded by a group of ex-pats in 1997 and seems to have grown organically out of the conversations of book lovers. Tweedy gents hang around the front desk discussing politics and poetry, while browsers squeeze politely past each other in the narrow spaces between the stacks, ferreting out fiction, guides, DVDs, biographies, pamphlets and much more.
Shakespeare & Company
The original Shakespeare & Co, run by Sylvia Beach and beloved of Hemingway and his ilk, closed in the 1940s during the occupation of Paris (the site at 12 Rue de l’Odéon bears a plaque). In 1951, wandering spirit George Whitman opened Le Mistral at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, re-naming it in 1964 in homage to Beach’s legacy (he also named his daughter after her).
It’s not the most beautiful space inside, despite its vaulted Rue de Rivoli windows. Still, while at home the UK newsagent WHSmith mostly sells romances and thrillers in airports and train stations, its outlet in Paris remains one of the best-stocked English language bookshops in the city. A healthy amount of literary fiction, serious nonfiction and contemporary novels supplement the staples, and the range of magazines (at the back, next to the vending machines) is mind-boggling.
Meanwhile, I could probably open my own book store, but I wouldn’t want to sell them, so let’s call it a “lending library” instead, although I’m loathe to lend them out, too, for fear of never seeing them again (that happens too often). The latest additions to the Leeds library include (alphabetical order):
* A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World by Janice MacLeod
This one arrived in the mail most recently and to my total delight. It’s hot off the press and like nothing that’s ever been on my shelf before, filled with beautiful writings, illustrations and photos, in hard cover —
“Part memoir and part visual journey through the streets of modern-day Paris, France, A Paris Year chronicles, day by day, one woman’s French sojourn in the world’s most beautiful city. Beginning on her first day in Paris, Janice MacLeod, the author of the best-selling book, Paris Letters, began a journal recording in illustrations and words, nearly every sight, smell, taste, and thought she experienced in the City of Light. The end result is more than a diary: it’s a detailed and colorful love letter to one of the most romantic and historically rich cities on earth. Combining personal observations and anecdotes with stories and facts about famous figures in Parisian history, this visual tale of discovery, through the eyes of an artist, is sure to delight, inspire, and charm.”
The only problem is that it might not get schlepped around because of its weight, but it’s the kind of book should always be on the table for your guests to pick up and peruse to their delight, too!
* My (Part-time) Paris Life: How Running Away Brought me Home by Lisa Anselmo
Lisa Anselmo spoke last December at Après Midi and of course, we’ve grown to be close friends. I’ve got a mention in the book thanks to a few heart-rendering moments in her quest to create her new life in Paris. Her memoir will move you to tears, so be prepared to fall in love with her story…
“Poignant, touching, and lively, this memoir of a woman who loses her mother and creates a new life for herself in Paris will speak to anyone who has lost a parent or reinvented themselves. Lisa Anselmo wrapped her entire life around her mother, a strong woman who was a defining force in her daughter’s life–maybe too defining. When her mother dies from breast cancer, Lisa realizes she hadn’t built a life of her own, and struggles to find her purpose. Who is she without her mother, and her mother’s expectations? Desperate for answers, she reaches for a lifeline in the form of an apartment in Paris, refusing to play it safe for the first time. What starts out as a lurching act of survival sets Lisa on a course that reshapes her life in ways she never could have imagined. But how can you imagine a life bigger than anything you’ve ever known?
In the vein of Eat, Pray, Love and Wild, My (Part-Time) Paris Life a story is for anyone who’s ever felt lost or hopeless, but still holds out hope of something more. This candid memoir explores one woman’s search for peace and meaning, and how the ups and downs of expat life in Paris taught her to let go of fear, find self-worth, and create real, lasting happiness.”
* Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France by Craig Carlson
Craig Carlson will be speaking at Après Midi on July 11th, so don’t miss it. The memoir is hilarious and so is Craig, plus his pancakes are delicious! This is truly the story of survival and success in the City of Light!
“Craig Carlson was the last person anyone would expect to open an American diner in Paris. He came from humble beginnings in a working-class town in Connecticut, had never worked in a restaurant, and didn’t know anything about starting a brand-new business. But from his first visit to Paris, Craig knew he had found the city of his dreams, although one thing was still missing-the good ol’ American breakfast he loved so much. Pancakes in Paris is the story of Craig tackling the impossible-from raising the money to fund his dream to tracking down international suppliers for “exotic” American ingredients… and even finding love along the way. His diner, Breakfast In America, is now a renowned tourist destination, and the story of how it came to be is just as delicious and satisfying as the classic breakfast that tops its menu.”
* Paris in a Pot: Living a Dream in the City of Light by Sharon Morgan
First, I earmarked every page where Sharon mentioned our relationship and then I cried like a baby when I got to the end, where she describes her despair before leaving Paris and Bojangles. She republished the Nouvellettre® I wrote as an epitaph for which she was “both sad and glad”:
*** BYE BYE TO BOJANGLES
I met Sharon Morgan the first day she arrived in Paris in 1999. She came to Paris with a suitcase, a manuscript for an African American cookbook and an idea to open her own restaurant. I knew from the start she was a force to be reckoned with and someone who would be a part of my life for years to come. It didn’t take her long before she was hosting “Soul on Sunday” at a well-established soul food restaurant and catering holiday events for our Parler Parlor French/English Conversation Group (best known for her Thanksgiving Dinners, 4th of July Barbecues and Anniversary extravaganzas). Sharon searched high and low for the perfect restaurant spot and opened Bojangles on January 3, 2001 with a packed house of aficionados, live entertainment and down-home soul food cooking I’d match with the best of them. Bennie Luke, long standing barman from Chez Haynes, became host and bartender. Friday nights, Sharon whipped up spicy Louisiana Creole gumbo (the first one she tested was in my very own kitchen) that rivals any gumbo ever served in New Orleans (don’t tell my mother whose gumbo is also a winner). Bojangles became home for the African American community — its singers, musicians, artists and friends. You could go there at any time and find the “regulars” who would make you feel like part of the family, even if your ethnic background was more like mine (“honky”) than theirs. The keys on the piano got banged, the singers wailed gospel and blues, the guitars were strummed, people sang and danced and ate up pork chops and chicken wings. It was easy to be there often. Then, the neighbors complained about the music and a battle ensued. And the music stopped. And the people stopped coming. That’s when Sharon said, “I came, I tried, I had fun and now I’m tired.” So, Sunday night, March 30th, Bojangles gave its final farewell dinner to 100 or more aficionados. The friends came, the musicians and the singers came, the lawyers and the cooks and the waiters came…everyone who had a part in the creation and sustenance of Bojangles. Sharon sang “Summertime” best she ever sang it, I downed a bowl of Louisiana gumbo for the last time and I cried when I left with my Bojangles souvenir T-shirt (that I symbolically slept in last night). A sad moment wondering if I would now lose my connection with this community I never would have had without Sharon Morgan and Bojangles. They both will be sorely missed.
* Paris Undressed: The Secrets of French Lingerie by Kathryn Kemp-Griffin
Kathryn spoke this past February 14th (how apropos) at Après Midi about “It’s What’s Underneath that Counts” and her book is a delight, complete with a garter belt bookmark. Ladies, it’s time to pull your sexy lingerie out of the drawer and put it on your bodies!
“American women wear underwear. French women wear lingerie. French women seem inherently more confident in their bodies, able to embrace the sensuality of life and love. What’s their secret? Lingerie. Yet, despite an insatiable curiosity for all things French, most women still find lingerie an enigma, a tangled mélange of silk and lace, and are confused about how, when, and where to wear it. (Hint: it’s not just for special occasions.) Many aspire to having a drawer full of silky, lacy undergarments, but have no idea where to start: How should my bra fit? How exactly do I wear a garter belt? Do bras and panties always have to match? With illustrations by French lingerie designer Paloma Casile, Paris Undressed: The Secrets of French Lingerie will help women feel at ease with their figures and show them how to integrate a lingerie lifestyle à la française to enhance their own femininity, confidence, and joie de vivre. It will transform the way women perceive their undergarments ? and their bodies ? and reveal how to co-ordinate a lingerie wardrobe to reflect personality and to meet lifestyle needs with the right dose of reverie. The book also includes a hand-selected guide to the most confidential addresses and lingerie boutiques in Paris, and discloses where to find the perfect bra, couture camisole, or cheeky panty. Paris Undressed goes behind the seams, combining cultural references, expertise, and practical advice to inspire every woman to reconsider her underwear drawer.”
* The Bonjour Effect: The Secret Codes of French Conversation by Julie Barlow et Jean-Benoit Nadeau
I loved their book “Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong” so much that I actually ordered this one online, had it sent to my daughter in New York, who brought it to me in her luggage. I haven’t read it yet, but can’t wait. They got it so right with “Sixty Million…” that surely they’ve nailed it this time, too. Even after 23 years of living in France, I’m sure to learn something from them.
“Most of what we know about the French comes from what the French say about themselves. Yet how are we supposed to understand a people who say non when they mean yes, who never say “I don’t know”, even when they really don’t, and who argue at the drop of a hat? Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow spent a decade traveling back and forth to Paris and living there. In The Bonjour Effect they chronicle the lessons they learned after returning to France to live, for a year, with their twin daughters. In a book as fizzy as a bottle of French champagne, they reveal the most important lesson of all: the French don’t communicate, they converse. To understand and speak French well, one must understand that French conversation runs on a set of rules that go to the heart of French culture. Why do the French like talking about “the decline of France”? Why does broaching a subject like money end discussions? Why do the French become so aroused debating the merits and qualities of their own language? Through encounters with school principals, city hall civil servants, gas company employees, old friends and business acquaintances, Julie and Jean-Benoît explain why, culturally and historically, conversation with the French is not about communicating or being nice. It’s about being interesting. After reading The Bonjour Effect, even readers with a modicum of French language ability will be able to hold their own the next time they step into a crowded bus, a beloved boulangerie, or a bistro on the Left Bank.”
This is a good start, n’est-ce pas? I’m taking all these to the beach! Aren’t you?
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. “Le Matisse,” my Nice apartment in the Carré d’Or district, is now booking for summer 2017 for friends of Parler Paris, Parler Nice and the Adrian Leeds Group. Email [email protected] for more information and to book your stay!