The Paris Bookshelf
Visiting Paris and living in Paris are two different things. At one level, the tourist takes full advantage of their time here, but often forgetting to slow down or go off the beaten track. Meanwhile, the local gets so wrapped up in their daily life (which admittedly sometimes feels far outside their control), they take for granted what may be just around the corner. And top it off with another level of cultural codes and cues hidden in the language and customs, making every day an adventure in France. Below is my collection of favorite Paris reads to help bridge the best of both worlds.
No Parisian can live without their Plan de Paris map book. While iPhones seem to have invaded Paris, Parisians will still turn to their handy street maps. Perhaps Paris is one of the few cities where you will look more like a local than a tourist by pulling out a map. Every street is listed and you turn to the page of the arrondisement (there are 20 total, known by the last two digits of the zipcode) and follow the coordinates to locate the street. They come in multiple formats, but I always had a thing for the pocket-sized ones (as you can see mine – one for me, one for my guests – are well-loved). The easiest place to find them are at news stands around the city, but they’re also available at bookstores, and likely at tabacs as well.
Polly Platt‘s French or Foe and Savoir Flair, are my favorite recommendations for anyone getting ready to move to France. They’re humorous guides to life full of rules to live by, and minor etiquette that will go a long way in making anything happen in this not always forgiving country. Parts may now seem dated, but the books serve as a great cultural bridge in understanding the French. Sadly, Polly passed away a few years ago, but her books and contribution to expats lives on.
David Lebovitz‘s My Sweet Life in Paris is a must-read for all, but especially those who have been settled in the city for a couple months. His wonderfully cynical sense of humor will make you laugh out loud and realize you’re not crazy, nor alone in this city. You’ll also pick up some great recipes and tips while you’re at it. (And don’t forget my insider interview with David).
Adam Gopnick‘s Paris to the Moon and Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French further share the expat perspective, making the most mundane moments and interactions a lesson in life.
Not everyone has the opportunity to live in France, but there are ways to appreciate the more local scene nonetheless. Catherine & Caroline Taret’s book Paris the Second Time Around strives to do just that – getting tourists beneath the surface of Paris. Catherine further shares her love and knowledge of Paris as part of the team of My Little Paris, a website of local finds for locals, francophiles and style mavens alike. This past year they produced their first book (en français), Le Paris Secret des Parisiennes.
As you delve deeper into neighborhoods, Pia Jane Bijkerk’s Paris Made By Hand is a charming little book full of hidden little shops around the city. You’ll truly feel like a local in some of these places, while embracing your inner desire for beautiful things.
But as we get settled in Paris we get into a routine, we become habitués [regulars], and we have to make more of an effort to venture out and try the new places people are buzzing about. GoGo Paris updates their downloadable city guides every couple months which keep it fresh and interesting. I also love the layout, design and the way the neighborhoods are organized.
And to take it full circle, pick up a copy of Paris Pas Cher for the best addresses from a Parisian perspective for “cheap Paris.” You’ll see restaurants and shops around town with the label on the door helping to reassure you it’s an affordable stop. Last year some friends and I went to test out the hammam at La Mosquée thanks to a tip from this book!
There’s also my Design*Sponge Paris guide, with classic, yet stylish favorites. Speaking of which, that deserves an update soon…
February 4, 2011 at 5:15 am //
I think *all* of these books are on my shelf. I am such a Paris-o-phile. Have you read ‘The Seven Ages of Paris’? One of my favorite books on this city’s history.
February 4, 2011 at 7:08 am //
And, Les Parisiennes. Creative nonfiction. Totally brilliant.
Prêt à Voyager
February 4, 2011 at 8:27 am //
Non. I’ll have to check those out!
This Time Now
February 4, 2011 at 11:49 am //
Great and informative post yet again, my dear!
I do love my pocket-sized Plan de Paris. I didn’t use it as much a couple of weeks ago. I pretty much did the show and my favorite areas. Time for some new routes!
February 4, 2011 at 12:40 pm //
I have many of these on my shelves…still have not read David’s book yet though, thanks for the reminder! I did a post today on how I planned our trip, and made sure to advise people to take the time to wander! ;)
p.s.–your design sponge guide has always been a reference for me!
February 4, 2011 at 3:26 pm //
Oh, these sound so helpful! I might have to pick one up….
I must admit I’ve only really been walking to and from the 5th, but I should go see the rest of the city! Thank you!
February 4, 2011 at 4:26 pm //
City Walks Paris is always fun, and I see on Amazon that the latest revision is dated February 16, 2011.
For me, I never wander Paris without my handy spiral-bound copy of Michelin’s Paris Par Arrondissements – the same as your Plan de Paris, oui?
I love the way it allows me to see the city at random, with no worries. As I always know I can never really get lost, with every street and metro or bus stop at my fingertips if I *really* need to know exactly where I am.
It’s not great, but I also like the Knopf MapGuide Paris. It’s cute, helpful enough, and what can I say. I just love maps!
February 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm //
What do you think of Culture Shock: France? And Culture Shock: Paris is due out this month.
I’ve found the Culture Shock books I’ve read for Asian countries quite insightful and valuable.
February 5, 2011 at 7:48 pm //
I have most of these books and love them. I just got the Handmade in Paris this past Christmas and love it – more hidden treasures to explore!
February 5, 2011 at 8:15 pm //
Nice post! I read ‘French or Foe’ before Paris in ’01 and loved it.
February 5, 2011 at 11:30 pm //
Great list! Have you read 60 Million Frenchmen Can’t be Wrong: What makes the French so French? It is very history heavy, but worth a read . . . at least a look through. Some chapters are better than others.
Carmie of the Single Nester
February 8, 2011 at 10:08 pm //
A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke is another good one.
May 5, 2011 at 11:04 am //
Le Bescherelle bien sur!! I still have mine from my school days ;-)