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The Paris Reading List

Following the surprising turn of events that will lead me to a new, unexpected destination, I compile a list of books for me to read before (and during) the trip to Paris. I’m not surprised I haven’t heard, let alone read, most of these books since I’m no Francophile.

The Dud Avocado Elaine Dundy. It follows the romantic and comedic adventures of a young American who heads overseas to conquer Paris in the late 1950s. This is the first book I’ll pick up.

A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway. It’s a set of memoirs by American author Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) about his years in Paris as part of the American expatriate circle of writers in the 1920s.

The Paris Wife Paula McLain. To supplement Hemingway’s memoir, this new novel (2011) dives into his first big love. Hadley Richardson appears here and there in Hemingway’s book about his Paris years, and these glimpses of Hemingway’s first wife caught McLain’s eye, who fictionalizes their marriage.

Les Miserables Victor Hugo. I doubt I will finish this one in such short notice, since the trip is just a month away. The story of the trials of the peasant Jean Valjean–a man unjustly imprisoned, baffled by destiny, and hounded by his nemesis is unforgettable.

A Year in the Merde Stephen Clarke. Set at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the comic novel is about the cultural differences between the British and the French, which are somewhat heightened by the war, especially by the opposing views on the invasion held by Blair and Chirac respectively.

That Summer in Paris Morley Callaghan. In the book, he discusses the infamous boxing match between himself and Hemingway wherein Callaghan took up Hemingway’s challenge to a bout. While in Paris, the pair had been regular sparring partners at the American Club of Paris.

Tropic of Cancer Henry Miller. From Amazon: “Miller’s once controversial story that ended up altering United States censorship laws tells of a young writer and his pals in Paris during the Great Depression. Part memoir, part fictional tale, Miller’s prose is a complex mix that demands the reader’s utmost attention.” Miller, whom I haven’t read, is high on the list.

Seven Ages of Paris Alistair Horne. With a predilection for straight-ahead narrative and gossip, the British historian gives is a dense but consistently bewitching history that runs from the city’s Roman founding to the riots of 1968. My co-worker highly recommends the book of which each section includes fascinating insights into the social and cultural life of the age, fashions in clothing, architectural developments, leading personalities, and lifestyles of rich and poor alike.

What do you recommend?

28 Responses

  1. I’ve not read one of these so of course I am absolutely no help!! :d

  2. Sounds like you have a great reading list in preparation for your trip.

    • In just a month I’ll be over the pond to the City of Light. I want to give myself plenty of time to prepare mentally. I am such a nerd in this regard as I want to know the history of my destination. My trip to Paris five years ago was last-minute and so it was very disorganized.

  3. So funny – I am heading to Paris for a month in July and just today I posted a blog about coming up with a list of books to download on my Kindle 🙂 The Paris Wife is already on my list but I think I’m going to have to add some of these! thanks for the list.

    • That’s awesome! Like you I’m trying to come up with a list so I can read about Paris before I go. Paris Wife, which is mainly a fictionalized account of Hemingway’s first wife, will go well with A Moveable Feast.

  4. Mmmm a moveable feast is so good. Enjoy!

  5. Wow Matt! That is so exciting! I think if I had a limited time left here on earth, I would go exactly there and eat cheese and drink wine until my time was done. I’ve not read any of these books, but have heard so much awesome about Moveable Feast. Read that one!

    • Sandy, Paris is one of the most romantic city, and not to mention the wine, the food, and the books! I am determined to prepare myself more thoroughly this time by reading about its history and literature. I think Paris (and France in general) should be on everyone’s bucket list.

  6. I have samples of The Paris Wife and The Dud Avocado on my kindle right now. I am really excited for both of them. Have fun in Paris!

    • I have started Dud Avocado and it’s so much fun and chic. The Paris Wife is just irresistible since it’s about the wife of a literary figure.

  7. Nice list! You could add No and Me by Delphine de Vigan & also Underground Time by the same author. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is also set in Paris as are many of Fred Vargas’ detective stories. I’m going to Paris in a week myself and am yet to decide which books to take with me. Enjoy your time in Paris!

    • Wonderful! Thanks so much for your recommendation—I have never heard of Delphine de Vigan and I add both titles to the list. Hedgehog I have read last year. I wish a safe and fun trip to Paris. 🙂

  8. I really loved Paris Wife, too. It made me pick up The Sun Also Rises! I was thinking of Muriel Barbary as well–have you read Colette? There’s a NF book about Shakespeare & Co that I read years ago and Janet Flanner wrote essays/columns about living in Paris in the 20s!

    • It’s great to know that many book bloggers are giving good feedback to Paris Wife, which I very much look forward to reading. Now I’m going to search out the nonfiction about Shakespeare & Co—is that about a guy who found a job and ended up staying in Paris??

  9. The Flaneur by Edmund White is a must!

  10. You must get a copy of Walking Paris by Gilles Desmond. Here’s a link to my review.


    It’s full of wonderful self-guided walks each centered on a particular district, starting and ending at Metro stations.

    One thing that makes is a perfect book for literary types is that it’s full of historical and literary information. He takes you through all sorts of lesser traveled areas and tells you who lived in or what happened in the buildings you pass by. We did four of the walks on our visit to Paris and loved them all. We found many of our favorite spots in Paris because of this guide book.

    It’s the one to get.

    • I love walking tour because you see more walking. Consider how much I enjoyed my self-paced walking tours in London, I’ll do the same for Paris. The road less traveled is even more to my liking. I’m going to take your word and buy the book. Thanks James! 🙂

  11. I really enjoyed Anais Nin’s Henry and June. It tells of her (anais nin’s) relationship with Henry Miller along with her/their relationship with Henry Miller’s wife. Pretty intense, but interesting and worth the read nonetheless.

    • How could I have left out Anais Nin? This one sounds awesome especially I’m planning to read Tropic of Cancer after Dud Avocado.

  12. Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik

  13. The Story of O – Pauline Reage
    Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

    • Giovanni’s Room is one of my all-time favorite novels! It begs for re-read. I’ll put The Story of O on my list. Thanks a bunch!

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