The best books about Paris you need to read

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Oliver Gee - [email protected]
The best books about Paris you need to read
Photo: Kyu/Flickr

Here are some of the best books ever written about about Paris, according to authors in France. How many have you read?


The Only Street in Paris
France's cook book king David Lebovitz recommends recent release The Only Street in Paris, by Elaine Sciolino. 
"She captures a small part of Paris (the rue de Martyrs), a microcosm of the city, and it reveals much about French culture as she describes the pastry shops, fish markets, fromageries, and other businesses that line one of my favorite streets in Paris," he tells The Local. 
"Time has changed the feel and composition of the neighborhood, as it has to the rest of Paris, and she does a remarkable job chronicling how France has held on to its past while at the same time, works to maintain what makes it so special."
Tableau de Paris (Panorama of Paris)
Elaine Sciolino herself says Louis-Sébastien Mercier's classic is "the forgotten jewel of French literature". 
"One of the best ways to experience the smells, sounds, sights, and feel of Paris on the eve of the French revolution is to plunge into Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s Tableau de Paris," she says.
"Mercier was the first street reporter of Paris. He wandered the streets with his notebook, recording the habits and customs of all sorts of people: prostitutes, police, street vendors, beggars, philosophers, priests. 
"Mercier was more than a detached observer. He opened conversations with just about anyone. Immediacy, not deep analysis, was his objective, so he is easy to read. His Tableau de Paris is a never-ending source of discovery, a forgotten jewel of French literature." 
500 Buildings of Paris
Author and blogger Lisa Anselmo can't go past photo-filled gem by Kathy Borrus. 
"I’m one of those people who can’t get enough of nostalgia, architecture, history, and trivia—oh, and Paris. This book has all of this, and I’m completely obsessed," she says.
"Originally 1000 Buildings of Paris (how I would have loved that), the abridged edition is just as packed with photos, facts, and some jaw-dropping trivia about the buildings and monuments that make the City of Light, beautiful and interesting."
Anselmo is the author of My (Part-Time) Paris Life: How Running Away Brought Me Home. Buy it here
Zazie dans le Métro (Zazie in the Metro)
British author Stephen Clarke suggests Zazie dans le Métro by Raymond Queneau.
"There are all sorts of interpretations of this novel – that one character is the angel Gabriel or that it's a parody of Homer, but I enjoy reading it as a joyful comedy about a young "provinciale" coming to 1950s Paris because she's always dreamt of riding on the Métro, and getting embroiled with a bunch of seedy underworld characters," he says.
"Queneau's language is a delight, he puns all the time and transcribes words phonetically so that every sentence becomes a joke. Most of all though, the café and street scenes are just so brilliantly Parisian."
Clarke's latest book is "Merde in Europe". Read more here
Paris, Trance
Blogger Adam Roberts recommends Geoff Dyer's 1998 novel Paris, Trance. 
"Geoff Dyer's hypnotic tale of dance music, ecstasy, friendship and self-discovery in 1990s Paris corresponds in many ways with my own early experiences of the city in the same period," he says.
"His Paris is an unusual one, an exotic playground that exists in the thrilling present rather than a nostalgic past. I was already a big fan of Dyer, an extremely visceral and charismatic writer, before he published this novel, so having the city I was seeing described in his words was a powerful treat." 
Adam Roberts is the creator of the Invisible Paris blog and the author of the Paris Cityscopes guide that will be published in spring 2017.
The Flaneur: A stroll through the paradoxes of Paris
Paris-based US author Pamela Druckerman claims Edmund White's novel from 2001 changed her perceptions of the capital.  
"I read it soon after moving to Paris over ten years ago," she says. 
"White was the first person I encountered who acknowledged that, despite Paris's many charms, it is perfectly rational to feel adrift and even a bit depressed here. He made me feel like I wasn’t nuts – and that I wasn’t alone. Isn't that what books are for?"
Paris: The Secret History
Paris-based British author and journalist Peter Gumbel's favourite is Andrew Hussey's 2006 classic Paris: The Secret History.
"It's a riveting and highly original account of the French capital as experienced by those living in its soft underbelly – the thieves, urchins, prostitutes, and other sans-culottes who have been every bit as important for shaping the city's culture as the aristocrats, grand visionaries and intellectuals who are usually celebrated."
Bel Ami
Paris-based author Matthew Fraser has gone for Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant. 
"I read this about twenty-five years ago and have re-read many times. It's a fascinating study of social ambition and moral corruption in late 19th century Parisian society," he says.
"In my opinion Bel Ami is the French 'Great Gatsby'. In truth, not much has changed since time of Maupassant — especially his portrait of Parisian journalists and their connections to the rich and powerful."



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