I’ve amassed a nice little collection of books which help satisfy my Francophile longings. I’ll read most anything set in Paris or providing a glimpse of the inner workings of that elusive creature…the French woman. Here are some of my favorites.
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A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
I picked up a copy of “A Year in Provence” at our local used book store many years ago. What a charming story! I’ve since read other books by the author and enjoyed them all.
In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January’s frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine. A Year in Provence transports us into all the earthy pleasures of Provençal life and lets us live vicariously at a tempo governed by seasons, not by days.
Chic and Slim by Anne Barone
My introduction into the ways of the French woman began with this book. It’s not the most professionally written (or edited) yet it was one of the first books on this subject.
How do those chic French women eat all that chocolate, cheese and pastry — and all that delicious French bread — and still stay slim? They don’t count calories. Few go to a gym. Is their slimming secret chic personal style? In Chic & Slim: How Those Chic French Women Eat All That Rich Food And Still Stay Slim, author Anne Barone shares French secrets to dressing chic and staying slim. After a quarter century struggling with excess weight, in her mid-20s, Anne Barone used techniques she learned from chic French women to lose 55 pounds. With her Chic & Slim system — her translation of those techniques designed for life outside France — she has stayed slim more than 40 years. In Chic & Slim, Anne Barone shows you how, no matter where you live, you can eat as well, yet stay as slim as chic French women.
Joie De Vivre by Robert Arbor
This is a truly lovely book. Gorgeous photos and more…
When it comes to making the most of life, nobody does it better than the French. Now, with Joie de Vivre: Simple French Style for Everyday Living, an inspired fusion of art, style, and easy-to-implement ideas, anyone can feel like they spent a weekend in the French countryside, no matter where they live.
Renowned restaurateur Robert Arbor puts a refreshing emphasis on simplicity and accessibility, explaining the rituals and traditions that comprise a typical French day. Featuring dozens of simple, everyday recipes, Joie de Vivre captures the family meals, market trips, and charming domestic settings that make the French way of life so pleasurable. In eight chapters, illustrated with 85 full-color and black-and-white photographs, Arbor details how you, too, can achieve the simplicity and relaxing life the French treasure.
My Life in France by Julia Child
I’m a huge fan of Julia Child and thoroughly enjoyed this book about her time in France.
Julia Child single handedly awakened America to the pleasures of good cooking with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show The French Chef, but as she reveals in this bestselling memoir, she didn’t know the first thing about cooking when she landed in France.
Indeed, when she first arrived in 1948 with her husband, Paul, she spoke no French and knew nothing about the country itself. But as she dove into French culture, buying food at local markets and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu, her life changed forever. Julia’s unforgettable story unfolds with the spirit so key to her success as a cook and teacher and writer, brilliantly capturing one of the most endearing American personalities of the last fifty years.
Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik
Haven’t we all dreamed of escaping our everyday life and moving to Paris? There are many memoirs out there about this very thing. This is one of the best.
In 1995, Adam Gopnik, his wife, and their infant son left the familiar comforts and hassles of New York City for the urbane glamour of the City of Light. Gopnik is a longtime New Yorker writer, and the magazine has sent its writers to Paris for decades–but his was above all a personal pilgrimage to the place that had for so long been the undisputed capital of everything cultural and beautiful. It was also the opportunity to raise a child who would know what it was to romp in the Luxembourg Gardens, to enjoy a croque monsieur in a Left Bank café–a child (and perhaps a father, too) who would have a grasp of that Parisian sense of style we Americans find so elusive.
Entre Nous by Debra Ollivier
If you’re looking for the best overall guide to what makes the French woman someone many of us admire, this is my pick.
Provocative and practical, lively and intelligent, Entre Nous unlocks the mystery of the French girl and the secrets of her self-possession. Why do French women always look inimitably stylish? How do they manage to sit in a café for a three-course lunch and a glass of wine…by themselves? How do they decide when they’re ready to let someone become a part of their very private lives?
Laced with practical tips, engaging sidebars, and essential observations about French women and their ways, Entre Nous is a delightful book that will help you take the best of all pages from the French girl’s book—the page that reveals how to really enjoy life.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
I loved this one so much I’ve read it twice. I listened to the audio version the first time and then a couple of years later picked up a copy at the library book sale and read it. Excellent!
History is sadly neglectful of the supporting players in the lives of great artists. Fortunately, fiction provides ample opportunity to bring these often fascinating personalities out into the limelight. Gaynor Arnold successfully resurrected the much-maligned Mrs. Charles Dickens in Girl in a Blue Dress (2009), now Paula McLain brings Hadley Richardson Hemingway out from the formidable shadow cast by her famous husband. Though doomed, the Hemingway marriage had its giddy high points, including a whirlwind courtship and a few fast and furious years of the expatriate lifestyle in 1920s Paris. Hadley and Ernest traveled in heady company during this gin-soaked and jazz-infused time, and readers are treated to intimate glimpses of many of the literary giants of the era, including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But the real star of the story is Hadley, as this time around, Ernest is firmly relegated to the background as he almost never was during their years together. Though eventually a woman scorned, Hadley is able to acknowledge without rancor or bitterness that “Hem had helped me to see what I really was and what I could do.” Much more than a woman-behind-the-man homage, this beautifully crafted tale is an unsentimental tribute to a woman who acted with grace and strength as her marriage crumbled. –Margaret Flanagan
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
A list like this wouldn’t be complete with “A Moveable Feast”.
In the preface to A Moveable Feast, Hemingway remarks casually that “if the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction”–and, indeed, fact or fiction, it doesn’t matter, for his slim memoir of Paris in the 1920s is as enchanting as anything made up and has become the stuff of legend. Paris in the ’20s! Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, lived happily on $5 a day and still had money for drinks at the Closerie des Lilas, skiing in the Alps, and fishing trips to Spain. On every corner and at every café table, there were the most extraordinary people living wonderful lives and telling fantastic stories. Gertrude Stein invited Hemingway to come every afternoon and sip “fragrant, colorless alcohols” and chat admid her great pictures. He taught Ezra Pound how to box, gossiped with James Joyce, caroused with the fatally insecure Scott Fitzgerald (the acid portraits of him and his wife, Zelda, are notorious). Meanwhile, Hemingway invented a new way of writing based on this simple premise: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”
Hemingway beautifully captures the fragile magic of a special time and place, and he manages to be nostalgic without hitting any false notes of sentimentality. “This is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy,” he concludes. Originally published in 1964, three years after his suicide, A Moveable Feast was the first of his posthumous books and remains the best. –David Laskin
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
This one is rather different from others in this list but definitely worth the read.
In a bourgeois apartment building in Paris, we encounter Renée, an intelligent, philosophical, and cultured concierge who masks herself as the stereotypical uneducated “super” to avoid suspicion from the building’s pretentious inhabitants. Also living in the building is Paloma, the adolescent daughter of a parliamentarian, who has decided to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday because she cannot bear to live among the rich. Although they are passing strangers, it is through Renée’s observations and Paloma’s journal entries that The Elegance of the Hedgehog reveals the absurd lives of the wealthy. That is until a Japanese businessman moves into the building and brings the two characters together. A critical success in France, the novel may strike a different chord with some readers in the U.S. The plot thins at moments and is supplanted with philosophical discourse on culture, the ruling class, and the injustices done to the poor, leaving the reader enlightened on Kant but disappointed with the story at hand. –Heather Paulson
Lessons From Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott
I absolutely loved this one and am looking forward to reading this author’s other books soon. If you’d like to read my review of this book, here is the link.
Inspired by Paris, this lighthearted and deceptively wise contemporary memoir serves as a guidebook for women on the path to adulthood, sophistication, and style. Jennifer Scott’s self-published success is now a beautifully packaged and fully illustrated gift book, perfect for any woman looking to lead a more fulfilling, passionate, and artful life.
If you’re a Francophile, too, I’d love to hear your favorites. Leave me a comment!
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