Books about France and the French

Here's a reading list, as suggested by past ESA participants.
Into A Paris Quarter by Diane Johnson
Naturally, you'll want to walk from one end of rue Bonaparte to the other, exploring every nook, cranny and boulangerie discussed. Better read with pen in hand, as you'll soon have a long list of other books you'll want to read on French history, as well as The Three Musketeers, also set in Saint Germain.

Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation by Noel Riley Fitch
Tells the story of American ex-pat Sylvia Beach and her founding of the bookshop and lending library Shakespeare & Co. It spans the era from 1917, through WWII and her final closing of the shop. The book tells of her patronage and publishing of James Joyce’s Ulysses, as well as friendships with Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein and many others. I like this book perhaps even better than Beach’s own memoirs where she whitewashes her relationship with Joyce, making everything sound wonderful all the time. This book recounts the real relationship, including incidents where Joyce, who was unbelievably spoiled, borrowed from her to the point of nearly putting her in bankruptcy. It gets a bit too detailed in the middle – I don’t really need to know every letter they wrote to one another, but the pace picks up in the last half and there are literally dozens of interesting people who touched her life, and she theirs.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Published posthumously, this book recounts the life of a very young Hemmingway before his literary success. It is set during his time in Saint Germain, and you’ll of course recognize the many bistros he haunted which we still patronize today. The book recounts his winter sojourns to Spain to write and watch the bullfights, his first two marriages, his publishing success with The Sun Also Rises and his long and lasting friendship with Sylvia Beach, Gertrude Stein and others.

Four Americans in Paris
Published by The Museum of Modern Art in 1970, you may only be able to find this book in the library, but it’s well worth it. A quick read, the book accompanied a show which exhibited the art collections of Michael, Sarah, Leo and Gertrude Stein, who began collecting around 1905. Michael and Sarah, who lived on rue Madame, eventually became great patrons of Matisse and brought many of his works back with them when they returned to live in San Francisco and Palo Alto. Matisse’s famous Woman With the Hat, described by some as “brilliant and powerful” and others as “bizarre and ugly” now hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco as a gift from the Hass family. (Madeline Russell Hass, great grand-niece of Levi Strauss of blue jean fame really was one of a kind. She tried parasailing in her mid-70’s, traveled the world until the end of her life in 1999 and gave a vibrancy and zest to the art world of San Francisco. I had the opportunity to meet her – neat gal.) Hass was in correspondence with Matisse as far back as 1955, collecting his work for a tribute collection to the Steins. Gertrude Stein, who lived at 27 Rue de Fleurus and held open salons every Saturday, also collected Matisse and others, but was a huge patron of Picasso early on and through the cubist period, when many became disillusioned with the direction he was going and abandoned his work. Dozens of photos of their collection are included in the book.

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnick review by Lesley Reed: In 1995 Gopnik was offered the plush assignment of writing the "Paris Journals" for the New Yorker. He spent five years in Paris with his wife, Martha, and son, Luke, writing dispatches now collected here along with previously unpublished journal entries. A self-described "comic-sentimental essayist," Gopnik chose the romance of Paris in its particulars as his subject. Gopnik falls in unabashed love with what he calls Paris's commonplace civilization--the cafés, the little shops, the ancient carousel in the park, and the small, intricate experiences that happen in such settings. But Paris can also be a difficult city to love, particularly its pompous and abstract official culture with its parallel paper universe. The tension between these two sides of Paris and the country's general brooding over the decline of French dominance in the face of globalization (haute couture, cooking, and sex, as well as the economy, are running deficits) form the subtexts for these finely wrought and witty essays. With his emphasis on the micro in the macro, Gopnik describes trying to get a Thanksgiving turkey delivered during a general strike and his struggle to find an apartment during a government scandal over favoritism in housing allocations. The essays alternate between reports of national and local events and accounts of expatriate family life, with an emphasis on "the trinity of late-century bourgeois obsessions: children and cooking and spectator sports, including the spectator sport of shopping." Gopnik describes some truly delicious moments, from the rites of Parisian haute couture, to the "occupation" of a local brasserie in protest of its purchase by a restaurant tycoon, to the birth of his daughter with the aid of a doctor in black jeans and a black silk shirt, open at the front. Gopnik makes terrific use of his status as an observer on the fringes of fashionable society to draw some deft comparisons between Paris and New York ("It is as if all American appliances dreamed of being cars while all French appliances dreamed of being telephones") and do some incisive philosophizing on the nature of both.

Sweet Life in Paris by David Liebovitz
Part recipe book, part cultural study, Liebovitz paints a picture of the French as they are today: engaging, funny, intellectual, quirky and frustrating. His experiences as an American living in Paris will resonate -- especially after you've been in Paris for a few weeks. He writes with affection for France and the French (and Parisians, in general), while still maintaining his essential American-ness. You'll find that many of the things we discuss in the Survival Culture class were adventures that Liebovitz encountered, too. A delightful must-read! Visit Liebovitz's foodie blog here:

Books by French authors (available in English or French)

The Three Musketeers or The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Both of these books are set in Paris with many, many scenes in the Saint Germain neighborhood. The abridged editions will save you some weight in your luggage.

A historical romance, The Three Musketeers tells the story of the early adventures of the young Gascon gentleman, D'Artagnan and his three friends from the regiment of the King's Musketeers - Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Under the watchful eye of their patron M. de Treville, the four defend the honour of the regiment against the guards of Cardinal Richelieu, and the honour of the queen against the machinations of the Cardinal himself as the power struggles of seventeenth century France are vividly played out in the background. But their most dangerous encounter is with the Cardinal's spy, Milady, one of literature's most memorable female villains, and Dumas employs all his fast-paced narrative skills to bring this enthralling novel to a breathtakingly gripping and dramatic conclusion.

A rollicking good yarn of adventure, wits, and revenge, this is the story of a man imprisoned for 14 years who escapes by outsmarting his captors. Then, with the sharpest of minds, he works justice with a vengeance on his enemies ( description).