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Prepare for Paris at the library

Janene Hill: At the Library

By A Contributor

Paris is a city of legendary charm and for centuries has been an international center of political power and social change, culture and the arts, science and learning, Epicureanism, sensuality, and fashion.  The past few years have seen a publishing explosion of books about Paris - from novels to cookbooks to travel guides, memoirs, and histories.

If you’re lucky enough to be planning a trip to Paris, Manhattan Public Library has travel guides galore to hotels and cafes, historic landmarks, flea markets, museums, famous neighborhoods, and hidden destinations.  And if, for the moment, you can only dream about making the trip, come to the library for the next best thing, books that will transport you there in spirit to discover the fascinating people, beautiful architecture, storied locales, and passionate joie de vivre of the City of Light.  Put an Edith Piaf CD on the player, pour a glass of Chablis, and treat yourself to a vicarious adventure in Paris. 

To start your journey, check out “Paris: Biography of a City” by Colin Jones, a chronological history that is comprehensive in detail and scope. Or for a more creative approach try “Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris” by Graham Robb which explores the geography and history of the city using surprising biographical vignettes of the famous and the obscure.  In “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,” bestselling author and historian David McCullough tells of famous Americans, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Mary Cassatt to Samuel Morse, who lived in and learned from Paris. 

Andrew Hussey’s “Paris: The Secret History,” highlights the lives and hangouts of some of the city’s shadier and more subversive historical individuals and groups, and in “The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps,” author Eric Hazan takes us through the streets of radical Paris to reveal the riots and revolutions of the 19th and 20th century. 

For a unique tour of the city’s architecture, check out “Paris Then and Now” by Peter Caine, a past-and-present photographic history of the city’s most famous buildings, or “Paris: An Architectural History” by Anthony Sutcliffe.   

For a more personal vision of life in Paris, indulge in the memoirs of people who, for reasons of love, work, adventure, or desperation, have gone to Paris and learned for themselves what it’s like to live la vie en rose.  “Paris in Mind: Three Centuries of Americans writing about Paris” is an anthology of memoirs as well as essays and excerpts that is enjoyably eclectic and fun to read.  “La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life” by Elaine Sciolino, longtime Paris bureau chief of The New York Times, is a delightful memoir and treatise on how the French use the art of seductive charm not only in love and relationships, but in every other part of life as well, from politics to daily commerce. 

Fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” will enjoy “Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull” or “Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes” by Elizabeth Bard. In his offbeat and funny book, “The Sweet Life in Paris,” renowned chef David Lebovitz tells of his adventures in moving to Paris to start a new life, and includes recipes for over fifty delicious dishes and desserts.  More memoirs to savor:  Paris in Love by Eloisa James; “Paris to the Moon” by Adam Gopnik; “C’est la Vie: An American Conquers the City of Light” by Suzy Gershman; and “Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” by Rosecrans Baldwin.

Add texture and zest to your Paris experience by wandering off the beaten track with the following:  “Forever Paris: 25 Walks in the Footsteps of Chanel, Hemingway, Picasso, and More” by Christina Henry de Tessan; “The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris” by Edmund White; “Walks Through Lost Paris: A Journey into the Heart of Historic Paris” by Leonard Pitt; “Quiet Corners of Paris” by Jean-Christophe Napias; and “Paris Discovered: Explorations in the City of Light” by Mary McAuliffe. 

For travelers based in Paris and looking for day trips beyond, try “Paris to the Past: Traveling Through French History by Train” by Ina Caro.  From the outstanding Vintage Departures series, “Paris: The Collected Traveler” is a must-read, a meaty traveler’s companion that includes excursions outside the city, expert advice and extensive recommendations for unique experiences, and an enticing list for further reading including novels, histories, memoirs, cookbooks, and guidebooks.  Bon voyage.

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