Photo © Shutterstock
It may not quite feel like spring yet, but that’s no reason not to start daydreaming about daffodils in parks and espresso at sidewalk cafes. Springtime in Paris is a classic for a reason, so even if you’re still huddled in your winter coat, plot your escape with one of these delicious odes to romance, joie de vivre, and fresh, buttery croissants.
Newly out in paperback, Eloisa James’s charming Paris in Love follows the author, a Shakespeare professor, as she embarks on a dream sabbatical in Paris—husband and adolescent children in tow. The book ably demonstrates the power of Paris to rejuvenate and reinvent a life, and James is a smart and observant guide as she gradually uncovers the real Paris beyond tourists’ prying eyes.
A real expatriate romance drives Elizabeth Bard’s Lunch in Paris, as our adventurous, ambitious American heroine falls in love with a Frenchman who loves tap dancing and can whip up a mean gateau. The story of Bard’s relocation from New York to Paris is a long shared lesson in how to shop, cook, and eat like a native, “a romance with recipes.” The idiosyncrasies of Bard’s adopted home and family offer a fresh, often bracing take on Franco-American relations and each culture’s different values, professional attitudes, and definitions of happiness.
The rich and diverse memoir collection Paris Was Ours puts the city, rather than any individual author, in the spotlight. Thirty-two writers, including David Sedaris, Edmund White, and Judith Thurman, reflect on how Paris entered and changed their lives. The writers come from everywhere -- from North America, Europe, and the Middle East -- and their experiences range from the comic misadventures to impassioned love affairs, making this collection a wonderful companion for dedicated Francophiles and skeptical armchair travelers alike.
Amy Thomas’s lively, mouthwatering Paris, My Sweet is the story of a girl let loose in a pastry- and confectionery-obsessed city with a sweet tooth that can’t be tamed. For two years in Paris working for Louis Vuitton, Thomas lives an expat’s dream amid endless patisseries and boulangeries (and provides detailed listings for readers inspired to follow her lead). As light and tempting as a rosewater macaron, the book also probes the differences between Thomas’s temporary home and her permanent city of New York, and finds that Paris doesn’t always win out.
In the rich tradition of guidebooks for Americans aspiring to Parisian elegance, LA native Jennifer L. Scott’s Lessons from Madame Chic is a quintessential tale: a schlubby American student is cured of her hoodie-and-Dorito habits by an exceptionally well-put-together host mother during her study abroad year. Scott acknowledges that the pseudonymous “Madame Chic” is something of a throwback -- a genuine French aristocrat -- but Scott’s lively memoir of stylish self-reinvention nevertheless shows the power of her values of discipline and self-respect.
Paris’s reputation as a liberating tonic for the neurotic American soul is almost impossible to shake: Even writers who try to challenge the myth tend to wind up seduced, or perhaps defeated, by a city governed by mystery and mythology rather than rules and logic. Rosecrans Baldwin’s Paris I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down is a riotous account of one Francophile’s rude awakening in a modern-day metropolis of McDonald’s, smoking bans, rampant construction, and soul-crushing work in an advertising agency. Nevertheless, the romance endures -- for Baldwin, and of course, for us.
Made up of his dispatches from Paris for the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik’s collection Paris to the Moon also dwells on the absurdities and frustrations that confront the starry-eyed expat who arrives in Paris with a suitcase full of literary fantasies. Some of Gopnik’s funniest moments of culture shock arise over styles of parenting, and especially his wife’s experience of pregnancy and delivery in a decidedly un-American cultural and medical environment. Even at the height of absurdity, this book is shot through with a deep admiration for the style and soul of Paris.
Kati Marton’s life, or lives, in Paris were far removed from the experiences of the average daydreaming tourist. Her turbulent first taste of the city came as an expat student during the 1968 riots, and years later Marton returned as a foreign correspondent, married first to news anchor Peter Jennings and then to diplomat Richard Holbrooke. She therefore lived as much among international diplomats and journalists as statues and museums, and throughout her adventure-filled Paris: A Love Story, she dwells on the city’s capacity to ease heartbreak and to offer multiple fresh starts.
In her inventive group biography Dreaming in French, Alice Kaplan uses the enduring backdrop of Paris to weave together a story of three remarkable American women: Susan Sontag, Angela Davis, and Jacqueline Bouvier. Kaplan demonstrates how their time in the city as young women was both formative and transformative for all three, showing them new ways to live and be happy once they returned to the rapidly changing America of the 1960s.
The classic memoir of life and love in Paris is of course Ernest Hemingway’s evocative and truth-twisting A Moveable Feast, published posthumously in 1964. Gossipy, irreverent, and suffused with a nostalgic glow like a carafe of cheap white wine lit by the afternoon sun, this restored edition is an incomparable guide to the salons, cafes, and unheated studios among which one of the most vivid and enduring literary worlds was forged.