10 Books to Read to Transport Yourself to Paris
10 Books to Read to Transport Yourself to Paris
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Beautifully written by our American French Guide & Team Leader, Lola, and the wine connaisseur himself, Pascal.
Parisians hold their city close to their hearts, and for good reason! We revel in the quality of the food, in the city’s ability to look beautiful in any weather, and the energy that seems to emanate from every corner: Paris is very much a living city. It feels alive in such a way that only an old city can. It is timeless, has been the witness to so much, and seems to exist on the page as much as it does in reality.
And whether it is a global pandemic that holds the world on pause, whether you are away or have yet to visit, we’ve devised a way to bring Paris to you by way of words from its greatest admirers and authors who have graced this city with their craft.
Forget about finally finishing that brick of a book
…that has been sitting on your shelf for what seems like a million years: just like there are about 1,700 steps on the Eiffel Tower, there are about 1,700 pages in Victor Hugo’s gargantuan Les Misérables — and neither of those do we intend to take on!
Instead, we wanted to present you with a view of Paris that perhaps isn’t even available to see today; a Paris through the ages, with as many voices as there are wild stories to be told.
Settle into your favourite armchair, with a glass of wine or a croissant, and come see Paris in the pages!
1. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
A tale of political intrigue that has fascinated the world for centuries
As a young man tries to find his place amongst a legacy of dwindling musketeers, forbidden love, and royal scandal.
Set in the time of Louis XIII, the father of the famous Louis XIV—or the ballet-dancing Sun King as we more fondly call him on the team!—it comes as no surprise that this novel ends up being top of our list.
An epic story of kinship and swashbuckling, full of humor and wit.
2. Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell
An insider’s view of 1930’s Paris and London
These memorable, sweat-filled descriptions of subterranean kitchens, inhabited by fire and fiery cooks and servers, will leave you in awe of these labyrinthian hotel restaurants in a Paris that used to exist, but does no more.
One can see Orwell’s influence on Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential as a fellow insider to the kitchen.
3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo
Probably the most famous book set in Paris on this list
But Victor Hugo’s novel had even farther reaching influence in his time, as its success saved Notre Dame from dwindling visits and possible destruction. Hugo paints such a detailed portrait of the famed monument, that it feels as though you are wandering in its still-pristine secrets along with his iconic characters.
4. A Movable Feast - Ernest Hemingway
Discover Paris from the eyes of Hemingway
Published posthumously, this book draws most of its passages from notebooks that Hemingway wrote in the 1920’s as a young man and father.
It’s not filled with tales of bullfighting or bravado, rather tales of a different Paris; one where broke writers and journalists wrote in cafes because they hoped that their friends would treat them to coffee and cognac; where getting milk meant catching the herder and his goats on the street; where spending the evening with Ezra Pound or Fitzgerald meant seeing a friend, and not the famed artist who changed it all.
5. The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery
In a single Parisian building, two entirely different lives come to intersect for a time:
Paloma, the young daughter of a dysfunctional upper class family living in the building, and Renée, the concierge who lives on the ground floor.
Paloma is fascinated by Renée, as are we, whose quiet grace is concealed behind a harsh exterior. This modern book is filled with a secret kind of elegance, that takes us further and further into Renée’s hidden life, Paloma’s despair, and blossoming old love.
A contemporary tale that is bound to make you shed a tear or two, and revel in the beauty of everyday life.
6. Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller
Though originally censored and barred from publication in the U.S
…this salacious novel was smuggled from its adoptive home in Paris in underwear and scarves during its first runs of print.
Written by an American expat, this novel takes his creative rage to grimey streets, wallpapered bedrooms, and smoke filled cafes, in a quest for life and love in 1930’s Paris.
Witness what sparked the counterculture, what birthed cool, and what ultimately inflamed American and English sensibilities; but don’t say that we didn’t warn you.
7. Au Bonheur des Dames or The Ladies Paradise - Émile Zola
No selection of books about Paris can be complete without at least mentioning Émile Zola.
The friend of famed painter Paul Cezanne, Zola’s wish was to represent French society under Napoleon III in its entirety, and create the story of an era.
This classic tale of a young saleswoman trying to navigate life and love within burgeoning French society, is further bedazzled by the extravagance of the early days of Le Bon Marché. Complete with lace, perfume, and peacock feathers, this first view of the now historic department store takes you right into the belly of the bejewelled beast—which remains just as extravagant to see today!
8. Giovanni’s Room - James Baldwin
Interestingly, Baldwin’s publisher originally refused it and counselled him to burn the manuscript.
But Baldwin was someone who found intellectual and social freedom in Paris; someone who experienced parts of his characters lives.
Follow those who find themselves far away from home in a postwar France. Be drawn into rooms where the sheets are twisted with cigarette smoke, down Parisian streets and into bistros where complicated people speak candidly, and attempt to sort through the difficult events of life.
Its scope is large, heavy and yet elegant. Written by a true master of the craft who knew the value of it, and not only brought it into this world, but insisted that it see the light of day.
9. Journey to the End of Night - Louis-Ferdinand Celine
This book was revolutionary
A point of no return for many international authors who have cited it as a huge influence for making their now classic works of fiction. So it’s strange then, that it is largely unknown to the English speaking world.
Follow Bardamu, as he makes his way from the muddy trenches of WWI to the luxurious, and by contrast absurd lights of Paris. Travel the world even: to Africa; to America; to the wet and soggy worn down slums of Paris.
It’s artistic. It’s heavy. It’s light. Whatever it may be, this book lets you hang around Parisian cafes in turtlenecks.
10. Gigi - Colette
Written by the famed French writer Colette
…this short novella has an uplifting quality which strays from her usual work, and takes us to the posh salons of Paris’ Belle Epoque or Beautiful Epoch.
Full of the vitality typical of Colette’s female characters, the young Gigi stands as a heroine amongst the amusing crowd of courtesans that have raised her.
If Gigi alone did not satisfy your literary needs, most publications of the novella are followed by a series of short stories, where Colette shows once again the full breath of her talent in bringing her characters to life.
For the Young Readers
Madeline - Ludwig Bemelmans
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines the smallest one was Madeline.”
Ludwig Bemelmans’ dreams of Paris are delightfully rendered in this series of stories about the young mischievous Madeline, and the orphanage in which she lives.
A timeless collection of adventures that are sure to uplift every spirit. The iconic cover of the book will leave you looking for little yellow raincoats on your next visit to the Eiffel Tower.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking - Julia Child
Embrace France as a foreigner, through the delight of French cuisine.
Though more recipes than prose, simply the act of cracking this book open makes you dream of scenes that include copper plated pans, butcher’s twine, and fresh vegetables ready to be made better with butter.
At its heart, it is a declaration of love to food. The imagination that it conjures is infectious, and, better yet, seemingly attainable within its pages. Follow its instructions, imagine large, and happiness seems as simple as good food and company.
This is France at its heart.