France: A Reading List

Image of Pont Du Gard in southern France.

Pont Du Gard

My Life in France
– Julia Child.  I don’t know how to cook, but I think Julia Child is Fab.U.Lous.  In My Life in France, Julia Child explains how she became a chef against all odds while living in France with her husband after World War II.  Pique your interest by watching Meryl Streep portray Julia Child in the movie Julie & Julia, and then read this book.  Travel Inspiration: Fans of Julia should visit the Julia Child’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon’s Greatest Army – Stephan Talty.  Stephan Talty is a talented writer who weaves the riveting tale of Napoleon’s defeat at the hands of the Russian army and, perhaps more importantly, a typhoid epidemic.

Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation: 1940-1944 – Charles Glass.   Mr. Glass provides a glimpse into the actions of Americans who lived under Nazi Occupation in Paris.  Some became collaborators, others became prisoners, and the most inspiring were heroes of the resistance.   Travel Inspiration: The city of Paris itself. Beautiful parts of Paris were supposed to be destroyed as the Nazis withdrew at the end of the war, but the orders were disobeyed.

A Year in Provence – Peter Mayle.   Will we ever know how many people visited Provence due to this book?  Mr. Mayle, who recently died, published his account of renovating a 200-year-old house in Provence, France.  His book introduced me to the travel memoir genre.  Travel Inspiration: Drinking a provencal rosé at the advice of Mr. Mayle in a gorgeous restaurant in Avignon, France.

A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France – Caroline Morehead.  This is the powerful story of the fate of more than 200 women who resisted the Nazis in occupied France.  Travel Inspiration: There are few travel experiences as important as visiting Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps.

The Widow Clicquot – The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It – Tilar Mazzeo.  I adore champagne and strong-willed female role models, so I thoroughly enjoyed The Widow Clicquot.  The author details the life of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, who built the Veuve Clicquot champagne empire in the 1800s after her winemaker husband’s death.   Travel Inspiration:  I toured the Veuve Clicquot cellars, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in Reims, France.

Paris: A Love Story – Kati Marton.  Widowed by the death of her famous diplomat husband, Richard Holbrooke, Ms. Marton travels to Paris, a city that she seems to view as a second home.  As I read this book, I lost my beloved grandmother without much warning.  Ms. Marton’s eloquence about love, life, loss and travel helped me through my own grieving process.  Sometimes, a book comes into your life at exactly the right time.

Marie Antoinette: The Journey – Antonia Fraser.  As the title foreshadows, this book is a biography of Marie Antoinette, and the author expertly draws the reader into the life of this famous and doomed monarch.  Travel Inspiration: I spent a delightful afternoon at Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon at the Palace of Versailles followed by a bike ride of the grounds.  The Petit Trianon is a welcome respite from the crowds at Versailles, because most tourist groups do not venture far from the Palace.

The Hôtel on the Place Vendôme: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris – Tilar Mazzeo.  Please note this the second book on this list by Tilar Mazzeo.  He is a fantastic writer of non-fiction.  Mr. Mazzeo provides captivating insights into the intrigues, occupants, and history of the Ritz Hotel during World War II.  Travel Inspiration: I took a Coco Chanel tour in Paris.  Coco Chanel lived at the Ritz Hotel and plays a prominent role in The Hôtel on the Place Vendôme.

Almost French: Love and A New Life In Paris – Sarah Turnbull.  I am a sucker for books written about Americans packing up and moving to Paris.  Why? Because I want to move to Paris!  However, it seems self-serving to love only books about other Americans bumbling through France.  So, I am recommending Almost French, which was written by an Australian!  Ms. Turnbull does a fine job of discussing the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations, and the wonders of living in Paris.

Suite Française – Irène Némirovsky (Fiction).  Suite Française is one of the most haunting, beautifully written books I have ever read.  Set in France during World War II, it tells the story of a woman fleeing Paris in advance of the Nazi occupation and her subsequent life in an occupied village.  Ms. Némirovsky never completed the novel, because she was murdered at Auschwitz.

L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home – David Lebovitz. Anyone who has ever dreamed about becoming an expat, moving to Paris, and buying and apartment should read this book.  As someone who went through a year of home renovation myself, I found this book to be both delightfully funny and horrifyingly captivating.

Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris.  Portions of this essay collection cover David Sedaris’s move to France.  I listened to the collection in my car during my commute.  I laughed so hard at his description of learning French that I had to pull to the side of the road.

Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France – Craig Carlson.  Many Americans imagine themselves moving to Paris and setting up a new life and business.  Craig details his adventures of opening his restaurant, Pancakes in Paris, where diners can experience a real American breakfast in Paris.  He is brutally and delightfully honest about the joys and pitfalls of living your dream.