July 30, 2012

Paris Trip Reading: 20 Favorite Books About Paris

The Eiffel Tower (Photo by Lynne Murrell)


Ah, Paris–City of Lights, City of Love, city that’s inspired so many books!

Getting ready for a fall trip to Paris, I’m working on my reading list. Mon dieu! There are so many books out there, including several new ones published within the past year, so many lists of favorites, that I could read for a year and barely scratch the surface. I’ll spend nine days in Paris, most of it with the fantastic Wanderland Writers focused on left bank literary haunts. Then, Jack and I will tour some of the best French Gothic cathedrals. Another highlight will be opera at Palais Garnier, the original Paris Opera House.

With that itinerary in mind, here’s my very personal Paris Reading List: Some of these are old favorites,  some I’m hoping to read.


Lonely Planet, Blue Guide, Frommer’s, Foder’s, Rick Steve’s, Michelin–we all have our favorite guidebook brands. But here are some guides that cater to special interests. They’re small and easy to carry, always a big plus for me:

Walks in Hemingway’s Paris: A Guide To Paris For The Literary Traveler by Noel R. Fitch

Forever Paris: 25 Walks in the Footsteps of Chanel, Hemingway, Picasso, and More by Christina Henry De Tessan (Published Mar 21, 2012)

The Impressionists’ Paris: Walking Tours of the Artists’ Studios, Homes, and the Sites They Painted by Ellen Williams

The Historic Restaurants of Paris: A Guide to Century-Old Cafes, Bistros, and Gourmet Food Shops by Ellen Williams

Great Gothic Cathedrals of France: A Visitor’s Guide by Steve Parry


A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Paris par Hasard: from Bagels to Brioches by Terrance William Gelenter. From an Amazon review: “With Terrance you’ll meet someone you’d love to spend time with …” So well written “you can smell the pastries and coffee on the pages.”

A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke. Novel or Memoir? Clark describes it as an “almost-true account” of his adventures as an expat in Paris, with names changed to “avoid embarrassment, possible legal action-and to prevent the author’s legs being broken by someone in a Yves Saint Laurent suit”

Paris in Mind by Jennifer Lee. In essays, book excerpts, letters, articles, and journal entries, American writers share their pleasures, obsessions, and quibbles with the great city and its denizens. Contributors include Mark Twain, Sylvia Beach, David Sedaris and others.



Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux: A mystery involving a ghost, a murderer, set in the Paris Opera, a gigantic, intricate building with layer upon layer of subterranean levels masked in noirish, dark shadows.

Notre-Dame de Paris (Or The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) by Victor Hugo. Set in the Middle Ages, it tells the strange and moving story of a hunchback bell-ringer Quasimodo and his love for Esmeralda.


The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is the story of an intelligent, philosophical, and cultured concierge who masks herself as the stereotypical uneducated “super” to avoid suspicion from the building’s pretentious inhabitants.

That Paris Year by Joanna Biggar, offers a luscious view of the City of Lights, a nostalgic glimpse of life in the 60s, a timeless look at the choices young women make on their way to adulthood.

Historical Fiction:

The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McLain. Publishers description: “A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.”

Chasing Sylvia Beach by Cynthia Morris. Publishers description: A young bookstore clerk from Denver dreams of a life like that of bold expatriate Sylvia Beach, who founded the famed Shakespeare and Company bookshop and became her own literary legend. An impromptu trip to the City of Light carries Lily further than her imagination ever took her.

Pure by Andrew Miller. Paris on the cusp of the French Revolution

Short Stories:

Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant. All written in Paris (where Gallant has long lived), many of the stories originally appeared in the New Yorker.


New This year:

Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation by Charles Glass. Recounts tales of adventure, intrigue, passion, deceit, and survival under the brutal Nazi occupation through the eyes of the Americans who lived through it all.

Oldies from my dusty bookshelf:

Philip Augustus, King of France by Jim Bradbury

Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of St.-Denis and its Art Treasures, Erwin Panofsky, ed.

Make your own list: Here are links to a few “Best Paris Books” lists assembled by others:

The Guardian. 10 of the best books set in Paris

Flashlight Worthy: Best books set in Paris

Why Go Paris: Paris Reading List

Women World’s Paris Top 10: Historical Novels set in Paris

Good Reads: Best Books Set in Paris

What are your favorite books about Paris?

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Anne Sigmon

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