Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Paris, Paris

When the publicist for Paris-based American author David Downie contacted me asking whether I'd like a copy of Downie's new book Paris, Paris with the explicit expectation that I would post a review on my blog, my first thought was simple: "Free book!"  How could I refuse?  My second thought was "Does the world really need another book about Paris?"  In my diligence (or some might say obsession) to read what others have been writing about Paris, I find recently that I've ODed on the subject.  In fact, I kind of feel like if I read another gushing piece of chick lit about loves lost, love found, pastries, lingerie, wine, and strolling along the Seine, I might just lose it.  So when Downie's book arrived in my mailbox, I threw it on the towering stack on my nightstand and figured I'd get to it eventually.  And then when I saw that Sion over at paris (im)perfect and Karin at the Alien Parisienne had written reviews, I felt a sense of relief.  Downie had gotten his reviews from the Paris blogging community and therefore there was really no need for me to actually read it or write a review.  I could have my free book with a clear conscience.

Then for some unknown reason, I threw it in my bag when we were packing for our recent biking vacation, and one evening, I actually picked it up and started reading it.  (Oh come on, don't tell me that you pack books and never read them.  Happens to me all the time.)  And you know what?  I found myself hooked. 

Happily it turns out the world actually does need another book about Paris as long as it is as well written as this one.  Downie bypasses the cliches and the overstatements, digging deep and dishing up a series of essays about bits of Paris that I'm pretty sure you don't know all about.  His essays cover the lives of boat dwellers, bouquinistes, and artisans, Parisians' attachment to their dogs and cemeteries.  He profiles the lives of Modigliani and Chanel, talks with the city's chief lighting designer, and spends a good bit of time exploring the complicated issue of the regentrification of the Marais.  And that's just for starters.

Downie's writing has an easy quality to it (even though he gets worked up about some things) and the format of short essays lend itself well to those of us who get their reading done on the Metro or late at night with sleep beckoning.  You can read a chapter or two and set it down for later or plunge straight ahead.  Frankly though, what I liked best about this book was Downie's willingness to share his thoughts on Paris without insisting that the reader adopt them.   He doesn't push a right way to experience Paris, although anyone would certainly be enriched by following in his footsteps, at least for a bit.

I got the impression that these essays may have been separately published and only now bound into one volume because there are quite a few repetitive sections that a good editor should have rooted out.  But that's a small complaint and certainly not enough to dissuade you from getting your own copy.   Put this on your own wish list or gift it to your favorite Francophile.  Better yet, give it to someone who doesn't already have an undying affection for the City of Light.  They may just find that there's a lot more to Paris than loves lost, love found, pastries, lingerie, wine, and strolling along the Seine.  And amen to that.

9 comments:

FrenchTwistDC said...

I'm still finishing up my copy... I too expected kinda another book on Paris but was so pleasantly impressed with the writing. Such beautiful words, so well written...

debbie in toronto said...

lord...like you Anne I have read waaay to many books on Paris but now I'm intriqued....I trust your taste...

g said...

i'm in agreement with debbie, so off i go to amazon to order up a copy along with your previous read-13 rue therese.-g

Linds said...

Glad to read your review. I was debating whether to pick up a copy, but I need something to read before bed and this sounds like just the right book.

Mary Kay said...

The mailman just delivered a box full of books about Paris and it looks like I'll be making another order in the near future because this one wasn't in the box. As I'm just starting my Parisian sojourn, I still have a lot to learn and haven't tired of all of the cliches.

Starman said...

Interesting that the publisher chose you (among others) and I assume it's because you have a rather large following. There are many blogs I read by people living in Paris, but at this point, you are the only one to get a free copy of the book.

Anne said...

Starman: I'm pretty sure the publisher offered a free book to lots of folks!

Elizabeth said...

Anne

I have the previous version and really have to pick up the new one. I just got back from Paris. I will be sad to see you leave. I hope you will still blog?

frenchstage said...

I wouldn't mind getting a free copy too :)

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