For this month’s recommended reading list, I’ve got something old, something new, and something that will probably make you want to pack up and move to Paris if you’re not already here.
To start off with the most magical of the three, The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs is not, in the words of its author Elaine Sciolino, “a chick-lit expat book about how I discovered sex, fashion and life in Paris”. It is, however, a story about how this highly honored international news journalist fell in love with a market street in Paris, its people, its history, its food and the way it slowly but surely transformed her into a “local” in her adopted neighborhood south of Pigalle. Yes, this book will make you die of envy if you don’t already live in Paris, and make you nod in recognition if you do (because like Elaine, we all can’t help but fall in love with our own market street in Paris).
When my long-ago intern, running buddy, and tour guiding colleague Bryan Pirolli finished his doctoral thesis and obtained French citizenship this fall, I wanted to find the perfect gift. I stopped into the Abbey Bookshop and one of the other clients recommended Sudhir Hazareesingh’s new book, How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People. Perfect! Only when I started reading it on the way home, I quickly realized I’d need a second copy for myself. Even after 20 years in France, I can pretend I know the French, but the “why” remained a mystery. This book, heavily researched by a British academic, finally clued me in. I’m only two chapters in (Descartes, the cult of Napoléon, Victor Hugo’s occultism) and I already feel the little pieces of insight I’ve collected over the years are finally falling into place with the right context. It may be a bit heavy for the casual visitor, but if you live in France, this should be required reading. As an aside, I find it amusing that the UK cover has a suave-looking man smoking a cigarette, but the US cover is just the cigarette on its own.
The last book is one that I never actually thought I’d read. Secrets of Paris is a novel by Luanne Rice, one of those prolific romance writers who comes out with a book every year. This one came out in 1991, and I hadn’t heard about it until I started using Google search around 2001 (anyone remember metacrawler?) I’m not really a romance genre reader, but when I was at my aunt’s house in Arizona last month she had a pile of paperbacks and told me to take one, and guess what was in the pile? I hate badly-researched books set in Paris (yes, I’m looking at you Dan Brown), but this one is faultless. Either the author lived in Paris or did her homework. It’s a perfectly entertaining airplane or poolside read, and you can probably find it at your local library.