Paris: 6 books to read before your visit

Posted in: Paris Planning


What are you reading to understand Paris? Photo: Studio-D
What are you reading to understand Paris? Photo: Studio-D

Now is the time to plan your next trip to Paris while the Parisians are suffering through cold wet days under dreary gray skies.  It’s a mess here.  Come now if you must, but otherwise take a bit of time to prepare your next trip by reading up on those who have already explored the City of Light in years past and see what inspiration you can find.

Here are a few suggestions from Bryan’s Suggested Reading List:

Laugh at cultural differences: For those looking for a light-hearted cheeky story of an English-speaker in Paris, Stephen Clarke’s “A Year in the Merde” will do just the trick.  A somewhat fictional story of an Englishman opening a tea house, the book offers an irreverent and some (more prudish) readers may say “offensive” look at Parisian life, including love, language, and the title’s namesake merde.  Love it or hate it, it’ll prepare you for some of the more shocking cultural differences.

Nostalgic essays: If sincerity and nostalgia are more your thing, the authors of “Paris Was Ours” will take you to every corner of Paris, from bourgeois chic to refugee bohemia.  Each author offers their personal take on the city during their stays, giving multiple viewpoints from essay to essay.  While some authors may not resonate with you, you’re bound to take away some bit of information, some landmark, or some piece of history that could enlighten your trip.

Delicious tales: Those who read his blog will love David Lebovitz’s “The Sweet Life in Paris,” a chapter by chapter exploration of the cultural differences that marked his expatriation to France.  From learning not to wear PJs even to take out the trash to working as a fish monger, David points out some of the city’s quirks that will help you understand why there are towels sitting in the street gutters…

Love story, with recipes: Elizabeth Bard’s “Lunch in Paris” is another food-centric tell-all about a young American’s instant love affair that leads her to wedding bells in the tenth arrondissement.  Her wit and humor make the book a fun and easy read while discovering the quirks of shopping in a Parisian market or having a crush on your butcher.  These things do happen.

American in Paris: Adam Gopnik’s “Paris to the Moon” is perhaps a favorite about being in Paris, a heartfelt and sincere look at life in this city for an American.  His experiences with his child who grew up as a young boy playing in the Jardin du Luxembourg will strike a chord with parents, and his adaptations to French culture will be good preparation for anyone about to embark on a trip to Paris.

French 101: For history buffs or those afraid of not speaking French, “The Story of French” by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow is an incredibly accessible introduction to those who don’t know a bonjour from an au revoir.  Far from a French language lesson, the book follows the history of the French language and helps, or attempts, to explain why the French might get so offended when foreigners don’t speak their language, or even try.  There is apparently some method to the madness, so read in tandem with some Rosetta Stone!

Your favorite Paris books?

Have a favorite title to add to our Paris-themed book list? Share with us in our comments section.

About the author

Bryan Pirolli

About the author: With his college diploma fresh off the press, Bryan Pirolli headed for Paris and four years later he’s still there. A journalist and a tour guide, his main M.O. is pursuing a doctorate degree in communications at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. Bryan regularly travels on a budget, experiencing the best of European culture while still trying to make rent.  So far, so good. You can follow his adventures on his blog:

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