Books & Guides, Paris
My wife and I both love Paris and, if at all feasible, plan our European trips to end in Paris. Meanwhile I enjoy reading various things about this lovely city.
There are also a lot of books on Paris, but I like the ones that show something of the history of Paris, or about people from outside France who live there or the everyday life and character of the people there. Here are some of my favorites:
"The Greater Journey" by David McCullough. The story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work. McCullough is a great storyteller and twice winner of Pulitzer prizes. He here relates the stories of both famous and unknown Americans in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War and its aftermath. One of my top 10 best books.
"A Moveable Feast" by Ernest Hemingway is a fascinating memoir of the artists days as a struggling young writer in Paris. A classic.
"Almost French" by Sarah Turnbull. She is an Australian journalist who meets and marries a man in Paris. It recounts her struggles to meld Aussie and French cultures.
"Paris to the Moon" by Adam Gopnik. He is a writer for New Yorker magazine and describes his journey both in navigating a foreign city and becoming a parent there. It is very entertaining.
"A French Affair" by Mary Blume. Columns from the "International Herald Tribune." This is a witty, but affectionate portrayal of the wonderful and strange culture of France.
"The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain. This is a novel about Hemingway and his first wife and their life in Paris. Lots of folks, especially Americans, are great fans of Hemingway and the whole literary Paris scene of the time. This is a good read.
"Eiffel's Tower" by Jill Jonnes. The big thing in the Belle Epoque in Paris was the 1889 World's Fair, and the big thing in the fair was the Eiffel Tower. Paris was already, of course, one of the great cities of the world, but I think this put them on the map then and even now in a new way. Jonnes provides interesting background, history and characters in a most readable and entertaining fashion which gives you a great understanding and feel for the time.
"Paris: the Novel" by Edward Rutherfurd. Rutherfurd is a master at using both real-life and fictional characters in his historically accurate novels, and "Paris" is no exception. For lovers of Paris, or anyone interested in its history, this is a real feast.
If you are going to Paris for the first time - this is the book to have and really the only book you need. It has everything in it from all the sightseeing information, maps, hotels, restaurants, clothing sizes and much more. Even a brief description on common things you need to ask for in French. Costs about $22.50 - I actually wrote in my book (map part) to remind myself what I wanted to see once I was there.
When in Paris, I encountered other American tourists with this book in hand.
In 2013 an attractive new guidebook was published – first in French and then a couple months later also in English – with suggestions on how to use the Vélib’ bikes for sightseeing “in the Paris of the Parisians”.
The book lists seven sightseeing tours and includes detailed maps for each, showing what there is to see and do, where there are attractive pubs and restaurants along the way, and of course where all the Vélib’ stations are located where you can check out or dock a bike.
The book also includes flash codes which you can use to retrieve additional information from the blog Vélib’ et Moi if you have a suitably equipped mobile phone.
The book’s sightseeing tour number 1 goes along the left bank of the Seine from the Île de la Cité to the Eiffel Tower by way of the Orsay Museum and Les Berges, the newly redesigned river banks which are now devoted to people instead of cars.
Sightseeing tour number 2 starts at Place de la Bastille and goes east by way of the City Hall and the Louvre to Trocadero.
Sightseeing tour number 3 starts at the Arch of Triumph and goes west by way of the Monceau Park and the Place de Clichy to the Métro station Anvers at the foot of Montmartre.
Sightseeing tour number 4 starts at Place de la Bastille, like number 2, but goes east along Avenue Daumesnil towards the Palais de la Porte Dorée and from there to the Vincennes woods and palace.
Sightseeing tour number 5 starts at La Villette, at the northeast corner of Paris, and follows the canals past the historic Hôtel du Nord. The tour ends for some reason at the Bataclan on Boulevard Voltaire, though there is nothing to stop you from continuing on down to Place de la Bastille, as I have often done.
Sightseeing tour number 6 is the most complicated one, since it zigzags a bit through various parts of the Left Bank, starting at the foot of the Montparnasse Tower and going by way of Saint-Germain-des-Prés to the Latin Quarter, and from there back to the Luxembourg Gardens and Montparnasse Cemetery.
Sightseeing tour number 7 starts at the Bercy Park, crosses the Seine on the Bercy Bridge and continues via Place d’Italie to Denfert-Rochereau.
Confusingly, the numbers of these sightseeing tours from the book are not at all identical with the numbers of the signposted bicycle routes that lead through all parts of the city. Sightseeing tour number 7, for instance, follows part of the signposted route number 4. Sightseeing tour number 1 follows part of the signposted route number 10. (Etcetera.)
Also each of the sightseeing tours is divided up into segments which are also numbered.
But aside from all the numbering, I still find the book very useful – and I can especially recommend the blog Vélib’ et Moi, which I often read to keep up to date on what is going on in Paris.
Additional photos: People riding Vélib’ bikes in Paris, 2013
The Vélib' book can be ordered online at the Boutique of the City of Paris: http://boutique.paris.fr/en/cultural/books/traveller-s-corner/24-paris-a-velib-.html.
Next review from October 2013: Place de Clichy
There are a zillion books set in Paris, here are some of my favorite fiction books set in Paris:
Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, one of my all time favorite books, set in London and Paris during the French Revolution.
Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, a light romantic read, also set during the French Revolution.
Almost French by Sarah Turnbull, a funny, delightful account of an Australian expat living in Paris with her French boyfriend and her attempts to break through the Parisian social barriers
Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart, I didn't love this book as much as I thought I would but it was still an interesting read, once again about breaking through the Parisian social barriers by an American expat and his reconnection with his childhood passion of playing the piano
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, an account of his early years in Paris as an American ex-pat in the 1920s and people in his social circle such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, Paris in the 1920s comes alive in his posthumously published memoir.
Still in the pile to be read-French or Foe, and Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong which have been recommended to me
Here are a couple set in France:
A Very Long Engagement by Sebastein Japrisot
Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux
Annabel Sims little book by this title is a wonderful introduction to some of the lesser known (and lesser traveled) places in and around the Ile de France. Her suggestions may be just a start for arriving at some unassuming place that gives the feel of being in a different world from Paris. Now these places are not necessarily insiginifcant. She gives interesting and informative background on over 20 places as well as a lot of practical information about getting there and getting around including times, travel connections and maps. A great resource for a day trip break from Paris.
Fondest memory: We visited Rambouillet and its presidential retreat where the first G-4 (then) conference was held and where both Napolean and Josephine visited. We visited Provins, a medieval power house trade route. But in both cases we were the only tourists visible.
I found the Frommer's Paris from $95 per day guide to be excellent.
Although the "$95 per day" term is to be used lightly. The only
way you could accomplish this is to stay in a youth hostle---in other
words, bring lots of Euros when visiting Paris---especially if you are
American or Canadian. But it is a wonderful city---I will definitely go
back one day!!!
Fondest memory: #1--sitting in a cafe with my wonderful, fun cousin watching the world
#2--The stunning view of the beautiful Invalides from our hotel balcony.
#3--Just walking around our hotel neighborhood.
The moment you arrive in Paris, immediately go to a newsstand and buy a Pariscope. It is a weekly publication that lists all the concerts, films, art exhibits, expositions, etc. happening that week. It also lists the locations, hours, and costs for every museum and tourist attraction, and a lot of restaurants, clubs, etc. It is published each Wednesday, and it costs next to nothing. This will give you an overview of all the remarkable events that happen on a daily basis. If you enjoy classical music, every day there are reasonably-priced concerts in several churches (and often some free ones). The film listings tell you if the film is VO or VF-- VO means version originale, or in the original language. There are many films in English showing every day.
Unfortunately, the "Time Out" section (The last few pages of Pariscope written in English) was discontinued, so if you ne parles pas francais you could have a problem.
You can carry it around with you and use it as a reference throughout your days here. It will be the best 40 euro cents you ever spend!
Just wanted to share with you some of the things that la Beatchick is listening to now, the music that transports her to Paris and keeps her momentarily sated until she can get back to the fair City of Light!
When I bought my plane ticket for the 2006 trip to Paris I was going nuts, so I bought myself some CDs. They were a huge salve; perhaps they will be for you, too!
Amélie soundtrack - music by Yann Tiersen
Not only will this transport you to Paris but will also place you inside the movie.
Before Sunset and Before Sunrise - Music from the Motion Pictures
Not only are the beautiful, haunting songs of "Céline" (Julie Delpy) here but also music that evokes the places: Paris & Vienna. You'll hear an eclectic mix of classical, rock, jazz & folk.
Naturellement, once you've gotten a taste of mademoiselle Delpy's singing on the above soundtrack you'll want to hear more!
French Kiss - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Who could forget the great soundtrack to this great, feel-fuzzy, sweet-as-a-macaron movie? Old great French classics mixed with blues (Louis Armstrong) and even Kevin Kline singing La Mer!
Nina Simone - At the Village Gate
I've wanted to get Nina's music since I saw Point of No Return (Luc Besson's American version of his Nikita) and of course that desire was sharpened when I saw Before Sunset. Sigh - at long last!
Fondest memory: And then there are the 3 great CDs that my lovely friend Jim from Seattle gave to me for Valentine's Day:
Paris Combo - Living-Room
Malcolm McLaren's Paris
Who could forget the cool, jazzy melodies about Miles Davis (I wore black, you were black) or his anthem to Paris (Jazz is Paris & Paris is Jazz!). Hard to believe he used to manage the SexPistols! He makes a few references to Paris fashion, an obvious nod to his connection with Vivienne Westwood who he used to co-own the Sex shop with in London.
And this great combination Paris CD from Starbuck's that is just too faboo (but I've forgotten the name of it for the moment - oops)!
Food Lover's Guide to Paris by Patricia Wells (absolute must for anyone who loves food - listings are broken down by type of establishment & then by arrondissement - lists restos in the back by terrace, open late, taking reservations early, open on Sunday, etc. + she has recipes - the only bad part is she won't be updating it)
Fodor's Paris - gold guide series - fantastic guide, the best in my opinion, although they don't have the pretty pictures & map like they used to
Frommer's Irreverent Guide to Paris - hilarious & cuts thru the BS
Bistros of Paris by the Hamburgers (it has great cross-referencing of foods in the back that tell you where the best Coq au Vin is, for example, & they list recommended wines to drink at each resto)
The Historic Restaurants of Paris - by Ellen Williams (a great pocket-sized book)
Lonely Planet's World Food France - goes into great detail about the different regional foods (and drinks such as wines, bier, digestifs & aperitifs) of France which is perfect for Paris since there is no true Parisian food, it's all regional.
Charming Small Hotels: Paris and Around a Duncan-Petersen Guide - they only problem is that it doesn't seem to have been updated the last few years, last I looked prices were still in $$ & the prices hadn't been updated but GREAT for the photos and listing attractions & restos nearby
Historic Hotels of Paris by Wendy Arnold - great photos of the most magnificent luxury hotels in Paris - this is where I drool & dream - she also lists attractions & restaurants that are nearby, too, so it sorta puts Paris into persective
Rick Steves' Paris for the newcomer, especially suited for someone who is afraid of going to Paris & fearful of the cultural differences & just the unexpected - he really breaks everything down BUT he also has great walk-thru guides for the museums; plus he has great little tidbits of info that you don't find - here is where I read about Wallace Fountains.
Fondest memory: ALL of Thirza Vallois' but especially Romantic Paris for the beautiful photos. You could seriously itinerize your whole Paris trip around her shopping suggestions.
Expatriate Paris: a Cultural & Literary Guide of Paris in the 1920s by Arlen Hansen - my absolute favorite book to recommend especially if a person is into art, culture, literature - everyone who was everyone during that era is chronicled here, the only person missing is George Orwell, and I don't know why.
A Moveable Feast - I think everyone should read this even if they aren't a Hemingway fan (which I'm not) - it just really chronicles (although not always with true detail) the era of the Lost Generation in the '20s and is not his valentine to this city but more to his first wife, Hadley.
Paris, France by Gertrude Stein - she puts her spin on the Lost Generation but her writing is too declarative & straightforward for my taste but I do find it interesting for its historical context - she considered F. Scott Fitzgerald (my favorite over Hemingway) to be the best writer of that generation.
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald - pseudo-biographical of their time in Paris & their relationship with the Murphys (Dick & Nicole Divers characters), he called it his "confession of faith"
Save me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald for her perspective on the story - a little weird sometimes, you can see her schizophrenia shining through at moments but still important to read if you love the era of 1920s Paris, the Jazz Age & the flapper (who Fitzgerald patterned after Zelda)
The Beat Hotel by Barry Miles - chronicles the era of the Beats in Paris, particularly Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso form 1957-1963. George Whitman owner of Shakespeare & Co is highlighted in this book. Before he renamed it, the shop was called the Mistral & he was close friends to the Beats & published a lot of their material, no wonder he is the best bet to carry on the Sylvia Beach flame.
Photo: Feb 2006
As a solo female traveler, I sometimes find I feel a bit lonely, intimidated, shy or uncomfortable. Whenever that happened I start writing and pasting stuff into my journal (at the Ritz, Place des Vosges café) or balance my travel budget; it's almost like a defense. I'd just write things down during those down times when I stop at a café. I eat, smoke, people-watch & write. Maybe that's why the waiters were so nice to me in Paris; it seems people in Paris respect the writing tradition even if one is just writing in journal! They tend to leave them alone & don't think it's odd. I find, too, as a single woman that a journal is a great way to keep me company, a great icebreaker with people around me, and a great memory collector (I paste receipts, tickets, business cards, passes, etc. in it), a great way to remember your trip. It makes the trip more tangible when musing through your journal later.
That's when I find the waiters or maître d’s will start to talk to me, make me feel more comfortable. I did feel a little uncomfortable at the first when I had tea at the Ritz but after conversing with Henri, maître d’, I felt comfortable enough to walk around the lovely garden & peek into the Espadon restaurant next door.
Fondest memory: Every year I buy a new journal for the trip; I don’t always fill it up. But last trip I brought along a very pretty spiral journal that has Monet print (Madame Monet with an umbrella) on the cover that inspired me to fill it up. And I did - over 90 pages full of musings, pasted receipts, tickets, napkins, menus, name cards, etc. What better thing to start off writing about than the Musée Marmottan, which was the very 1st place I went to.
Photo: Feb 06
Just a small links collection i tought to put here as, for (at least) half the questions about Paris i see, the answer is in one of them. All have an english and a french version.
In & around Paris (maps, timetables, prices, itiniraries ...)
In France and around (trains, also hotels and planes)
What to see
For a first overview and some good tips:
Ile de France tourism office
www.paris-ile-de-france.com ILE DE FRANCE
Paris tourism office
Local informations (Mairie de Paris) : www.paris.fr/en/ MAIRIE
Special interests :
Monuments : www.monum.fr MONUMENTS
National Museums (Reunion des Musees Nationaux) www.rmn.fr RMN
Le Louvre : www.louvre.fr LE LOUVRE
Exhibitions : www.stargonaut.comCULTURE
Going Out : www.timeout.com/paris Time Out
To find someone/something (by name, activity, location), get photos & maps
www.pagesjaunes.fr/pj.cgi?lang=fr PAGES JAUNES
For questions like : will my electric appliances work ?
Should i pack a swimsuit or a fleece ?
Customs infos (Duty free shopping, VAT ...)
My best friend gave me a "Paris-Popout Map" one Christmas. Not expensive, but practical & cute (3" x 5") and perfect for me. Very unobtusive! It has a listing of museums & historical sites plus a street index. And, amazingly, it all fits into this little booklet-thingymabobber. All the major spots are highlighted on the map so it's very easy to see. It even has a Metro/RER plastic laminated map on the back. It's tiny so it's very easy to tuck into a back pocket or into a purse pocket.
Plan de Paris
I bought my excellent Plan de Paris from a vendor on the Place de la Concorde; a good one shows all the streets in Paris. The price in 2003 was 6€ and it was worth every bit the cost.
MapEasy's Guidemap to Paris
Another excellent map is MapEasy's Guidemap to Paris because it shows Paris in 3-D birds-eye view! It's color-coding system shows everything you need at a glance: blue diamonds for hotels, red dots for restaurants (this is how I found L'Êté en Pente Douce), green squares for shopping havens (Diptyque on Bd. St-Germain) & black stars for museums & attractions. Plus, it's laminated so it'll outlast the Parisian rainbursts!
Photo: August 2005
Please see my tip on Les Pages Jaunes to learn about a fantastic web tool to use in planning your Paris trip before you go!
Fondest memory: My Plan de Paris I use so much in planning my next trip the poor thing is in tatters! I've written all over it, circled places of interest, highlighted places and now it's just about to fall about. Good thing I'm going to Paris in February so I can buy me a new one.
One place I love to go to when I visit any country...is the local bookshop :-) In this case, Shakespeare & Co. Bookshop in Paris! It is the first all-English bookstore to open there...and it is worth a visit.
When you're visiting the Quartier Latin, you will find this bookshop on the left bank opposite the Notre-Dame.
Opening hours: noon-midnight
If you stop by the Musee Rodin you will see some sculptures done by his muse/lover, Camille Claudel. She was driven mad by Rodin and his eventual banishment of her.
I found her life to be both fascinating and tragic. Read about her, look at a movie about her life called simply "Camille Claudel" starring Isablle Adjani, and be sure to get a souvenir book about her and her sculpture at the Musee Rodin.
There are lots of Paris guidebooks on the bookshelves nowadays. There are glossy guidebooks such as the Eyewitness guides, but they weigh almost as much as a small baby. So although they are nice to browse they are not practical to pack in your luggage. Alot of people prefer the Rick Steves series, but I find that he concentrates on a few districts only. Others prefer the Green Guides but I don't find them so useful as they don't offer much advice for hotels and restaurants.
Two books that I find to be organized well are Fodors and Frommers. However, one caveat is that the authors (like many authors) do not update their listings on a yearly basis.