I'm making a few changes to my site and have decided to remove the Books for Francophiles feature from the right hand side column. But I don't want to lose the content so I'm offering it up here in this post. Be on the lookout for future posts with more recommended reading.
Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik. I read this collection of essays, originally published in The New Yorker, before coming to France and, in due course, I plan to read it again. Gopnik writes warmly about Paris, and shares his experiences bridging the cultural divide and becoming a new father.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. I've never been a huge Hemingway fan but I truly enjoyed this book, a series of vignettes about life of a young writer in Paris between the two world wars. I especially enjoyed the chapters about Gertrude Stein whose book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, left me cold. Hemingway's famous quote from which the title is taken does not actually appear in the book although the sentiments are there through and through.
Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A.J. Liebling. Another collection of essays by a correspondent for The New Yorker but from another era. Liebling visited Paris frequently from the 1920s through the early 1960s and seems to have spent most of his time eating and drinking. The tone is somewhat elegaic, making me feel that I arrived in Paris at least 60 years too late.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Great swashbuckling fun with lots of over-the-top plot devices, mistaken identities, and all-too-convenient coincidences.
Suite Française by Irène Némirovksy. An incredibly powerful novel of the German occupation of France in 1941-42 written contemporaneously by a Russian Jewish emigre to Paris who lost first her husband and then her own life at the hands of the Nazis.
Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser. Fraser doesn't hide her affection for Marie Antoinette in this biography, sketching a portrait of a young girl ill-prepared for her role and ill-served by those surrounding her.
The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. A rather silly novel (I suppose you would call it a romp) chronicling the adventures of a young American in Paris during the 1950s. What's fun is that many of her haunts are still in business.
My Life in France by Julia Child. I didn't realize it but Julia Child knew nothing about cooking until she followed her husband to Paris in the postwar years. She immediately fell in love with France and dedicated herself to learning how to cook. There are no recipes in this book; it simply glows with her warm memories of Paris, Marseille, and la cuisine française. Thanks to my college pal Deb for this recommendation.
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. You only have to read a few pages of this book to understand why it was a runaway bestseller. It's an easy read and paints a picture of a magical region with colorful characters and food to die for. And yet because of it, tourism in Provence has spiked, so much so that Mayle himself has decamped to somewhere in Italy.
Napoleon's Women by Christopher Hibbert. This biography focuses of course on Napoleon's two wives, Josephine and Marie Louise, and his many mistresses but also chronicles Bonaparte's own rise to power and eventual fall. At first, Hibbert can scarcely contain his contempt for Josephine, pretty much calling her a slut and a spendthrift, but later softens. It's a good way to learn about the Napoleonic era without having to spend too much time on the battlefield.
The Mark of the Angel by Nancy Huston. Once I started this novel, I had a hard time putting it down. The central characters wrestle with damaging memories of World War II and the potentially restorative power of love. As the story unfolds in Paris in the 1950s, it's set against the backdrop of the French war in Algeria which has powerful parallels to the current American war in Iraq.
Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas by John Baxter. Fluffy but I mean that in a good way. Aussie John Baxter tells the story of cooking Christmas dinner for his French wife's family and ends up spilling the beans on cross cultural misunderstandings, French cuisine, and holiday traditions.