France: A Reading List
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.