What's your favorite book about Paris?

In the middle of a mad dash to catch my bus at the Place de la Concorde the other day, I came to a screeching halt when I noticed a couple who were completely captivated by their guidebook. He listened attentively while she read page after page. Since I couldn't make out the title without seeming overly intrusive, I inched my way towards them like an experienced member of Seal Team 6. Crouching behind the motorcycles, I discerned that the pink and white cover with large hearts was unrecognizable and it suddenly occurred to me that there is a book about Paris that I don't own: Le Routard des amoureux à Paris, or literally The Backpacker Lovers in Paris.

Standing next to the couple and swiveling my head from left to right, I couldn't see anything amorous about the spot and wondered what kind of juicy information had them so enthralled. My more traditional guidebook only mentions the 1,119 people, including Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Danton and Robespierre, who were executed at the Place de la Concorde and that it's "the culminating point of triumphal parades down the Champs Elysées each July 14". Thinking that there was nothing remotely romantic about those descriptions, only some rather mundane information about the guillotine and displays of military might, I went home and told Stephane that we needed to buy another guidebook, one with hearts and a pink Eiffel Tower on it.

The only problem is that my Paris bookshelf is full. Over the past six months, I've purchased more than 30 books about the city and have an ever growing list of other ones that I would like to read. I'm not quite sure where I'll find the space to put them or the time to read all of these books, but I will. Paris is proving to be a fascinating subject.

What's your favorite book about Paris?

And don't think that reading has to be an indoor activity. Whether you're sitting next to the fountain in the Jardin du Palais Royale or at the Luxembourg Gardens, books make perfect companions. They're even better than iPhones!


  1. Mary

    My favourite has to be (for all the wrong reasons) A Moveable Feast.

    Yes, I know that it is pure fantasy and lies;

    Yes, I know that it was written towards the end of the great man's life and after he had passed his "sell by" date but...

    It still has a bit of magic about it and I return to it every year.

    Michael Reynolds's Hemingway: The Paris Years is another book that I return to every now and again.

    There was also a Geoff Dyer book - Paris Trance, which made an impression on me about 20 years ago, when I was still in the dreaming about moving to France stage.

    All the best


  2. Keith,

    It's funny that you should mention A Moveable Feast because I spent a couple of minutes trying to decide if I should move my copy from the Hemingway shelf to the Paris shelf for the photo! Since the Paris shelf was full, I left it where it was. I'm going to have to go back and re-read it. I wasn't overly impressed when I read it about 8 years ago, but it's time for me to give it another chance.

    I just looked at your website and saw that your dream about moving to France became a reality and that you're a real expert on books. Now I'll know where to go to find more books for my bookshelves.

    Books About France

    Thanks for mentioning Michael Reynold's book on Hemingway. If you're a Hemingway fan, you may want to look at this post that I wrote about bullfighting:

    Can I blame Hemingway?

  3. It's still Paris to the Moon. Hands down.

  4. Anne,

    I have yet to read Paris to the Moon. Another one for my list.

    While writing this post, I remembered writing a comment on your blog shortly after we moved to Paris asking which guidebooks you would recommend. As you can see, I took your advice. I'm also pleased to report that after searching in vain for a new copy of the Paris Ethnic Cookbook that I was able to order a used copy. I'm going to pick it up when I'm in Boston next week.

  5. Well, my favorite guide book is Richard Wurman's Access Guide to Paris. I still use an old one but I love the way it's set up: by streets and neighborhoods, and as you walk down the street, it identifies everything around you, in the order of your walk. The mustard shop is next to the umbrella shop is next to where Heloise lived, for example.

    For history and cultural histoy, Paris by John Russell is indispensable, I have two copies, just in case. I do not however travel with it.

    As I've mentioned to you before MK, Paris by Julian Green is also a remarkable study on life in Paris. And his chapter on the 16th is refined and illuminating.

    Although the book is dated now, Paris Dreambook by Lawrence Osborne was one of my earliest guides to the city. Well, it's not a guide per se, it's a lesson on the 'squalor of the city' from the prostitutes at St Denis to the marks of graffiti.

    For dreamy recollections in the park. A Place in the World Called Paris edited by Steven Barclay fills the bill. Great images, wonderful words, pure dream.

    And finally, another guide, The Hedonist's Guide to Paris. A new guidebook series for when I want to feel up to date.

    What is the book, The Seven Ages of Paris? I've never seen it before, not that I recall.

  6. My Life in France by Julia Child. Great description of the city. I don't cook but she made me want to learn. Great blog by the way!

  7. Now that we live in Paris and I have a good idea of its lay-out, I have to re-read Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris. I remember struggling through the 40 page description of the city's sections and how it became what it was in the 19th century. A great book about passionate love, maybe one that contributed to the association between this feeling and Paris.


  8. Ah, is "Stephane" the Anonymous the same as "Stephane" the co-conspirator of our blog's author? Nice that he could join us. Oh, I guess he's been here before, there is photographic evidence, and I think he's played bodyguard a time or two also.

  9. Analily, What a coincidence! I'm having a wonderful time reading My Life in France right now. I agree that Julia's descriptions of the city are great. I'm planning to do a future blog post about one of the stores that she wrote about because it hasn't changed at all since she lived here!

    Stephane, I didn't know that The Hunchback of Notre Dame made such an impression on you. You should read it again and take me on a tour of any of the places that still exist.

    Joseph, Yes, the two Stephanes are one and the same. Since I'm never sure when he's going to make an appearance, I requested that he leave his name rather than commenting anonymously like he did on one post. I felt very silly when I wrote a long explanatory response because I didn't know that it was him.

    Thanks for sharing your favorite books and for reminding me about the Julian Green one. I had looked for it on Amazon.fr and it slipped my mind after they didn't have it. I'm going to order it from Amazon.com and bring it back with me from the States. I'll be curious to know what he has to say about the 16th! My suitcase is going to be fairly heavy because I'm also bringing back 3 other books about Paris!

  10. A Moveable Feast, bien sur!

    First read it in New Orleans, a very French-y city, 15 years ago, sitting at a cafe with my chicory coffee and beignets. I've read it twice since, and it always seems "new" -- something discovered each time.

    Hemingway will never, ever, have a "sell-by" date.


  11. Maddie, Yum - I can almost taste the chicory coffee and the beignets at the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. I really will have to read A Moveable Feast again. Maybe I'll have a completely different impression of it the second time around.

  12. I have spent the last two hours reading your blog and LOVING it. I wish I'd discovered it months ago. Two of my girlfriends and I are taking our first trip to Paris in 2 weeks, and we are SO excited. So much to see & do and only a week to do it in! Thank you so much for your great tips (my travel notebook is getting more full by the minute), photos, and hilarious anecdotes that have literally had me smiling all evening! -Rachel

  13. Rachel, Thanks for your very kind comment! As a photographer (I just took a quick look at your blog) you're going to love Paris. It seems as if there's something to take a picture of around every corner. I liked your post about Renior's painting, Dance at the Bougival, at the MFA. I saw if for the first time when I was in Boston this summer but it has long been a favorite. Let me know if you have any questions about Paris and I'll try to answer them.


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