Best Books about Paris

I’ve read dozens of books about Paris this year, and these six are my new favourites.

Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan (translated by George Miller)

Part of the trending auto-fiction genre (autobiography mixed with fiction,) this book was made into a film by Roman Polanski and premiered at Cannes this year. It’s a thriller about a female author who lives in contemporary Paris. One of the most creative and multi-layered pieces of writing I have ever read, where one is never quite sure what is true and what is not. Like me, you may go back and read de Vigan’s entire award-winning oeuvre.

Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan (translated by Heather Lloyd)

“I didn’t have to get used to Paris again. The first time I went it absorbed me completely,” says the protagonist Cécile. How it took me so long to discover this vintage masterpiece is shameful. Written in 1955 by a precocious Parisian 18-year-old, the newest translation (with a forward by Canadian writer Rachel Cusk) has all the naughty parts put back in. The author made such an impression at the time she got a guest editorship at French Vogue.

Say Bonjour to the Lady: Parenting from Paris to New York by Florence Mars and Pauline Léveque

This charming new picture book by two Parisian mothers living in New York illustrates the differences between French and American parenting styles, from playground politics to playdates (they are not a thing in Paris). The funniest section shows French children naked at the beach in the water while their mother sits smoking with her back to them as far away as possible. The American parents, meanwhile, are on hands and knees building sandcastles for their sunscreen-smothered kids. 

The Bird Market of Paris: A memoir by Nikki Moustaki

This memoir only takes place in Paris for a short time, but I was drawn to it as our children loved visiting the bird market on Ile de la Cité on Sunday mornings. It’s a harrowing story of alcoholism (and recovery) by a woman who has gone on to become a bird expert. It will have you gripped from beginning to end.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (translated by Alison Anderson).

When I wrote about the nasty concierge in our Paris apartment building, two friends recommend this book, written from the perspective of a highly intelligent teenager who lives in an upscale building much like ours. She bonds with their concierge who is also highly intelligent but tries to hide it.  A very touching book about tolerance and preconceptions.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

A fascinating book written from the perspective of Ernest Hemmingway’s first wife Hadley during the 1920s when he was just getting started. It takes place in the years he recounts in A Moveable Feast, so the two books are interesting to read back-to-back as counterpoints. And a good place to start a nostalgic Paris travel itinerary, as most of the places they frequent still exist.