Best Books to Read Before You Travel to Paris
"Paris is always a good idea," they say. For good reason, I say! It seems only natural to start where this travel reading list journey started for me.
My Paris travel story begins 12 hours after I graduated from my small midwestern college. I anxiously waited for the hour when it was acceptable to show up at the airport to set off on my first overnight flight. It was the spring of 2013 and I hadn't managed to secure a job after graduation (as luck would have it, I would return from this trip with two offers so the moral of the story is.. go to Paris, kids). I threw all of my post-grad anxiety into experiencing Paris in every way possible, including through books. Paris is engrained in my psyche. It's the place that my daydreams often take me. Hopefully this book list will help to send you to Paris, too.
The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure. A stunningly beautiful debut novel that captures the story of an ordinary and reluctant hero in World War Two Paris. There are many books that capture this time period in Parisian history, but this one grips anyone who reads its pages asking us to consider what we owe each other and how far we're willing to go to defend one another in crisis.
Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology by Adam Gopnik. Paris is many things to many people, and this entertaining read distills many of those stories. For those of you that dream of the expat life, this book is for you.
A Paris Apartment: A Novel by Michelle Gable. I have all the heart eyes for this book that is somewhere between a treasure hunt and love affair with Paris. If you've ever dreamed of being bequeathed a secret apartment filled with story-filled treasure or starting a career as an antique dealer/historian (no, just me?) this one's for you.
Paris: The Novel by Edward Rutherford. This fictional epic weaves dozens of stories together across decades of Parisian history. This book is perfect if you want an intimate and exciting way to grasp the history of Paris without digging up a old textbook.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. One of the best historical fiction novels that I've read in a while, this book shares the Jazz Age of Paris from the point of view of Hadley Richardson (Ernest Hemingway's first wife). With cameos by Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and realistically flawed characters like Ernest Hemingway and Hadley, this book deepened my obsession with the lost generation in 1920's Paris.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Let's continue the Hemingway train. I especially enjoy adding this book to the list because I actually did read it while on my first (and so far, only) trip to Paris. In true Hemingway fashion, it's brutally blunt and vividly sharp.
Pancakes-Paris by Claire Huchet Bishop. This simple and awe-inspiring children's book continues to give me goosebumps even today. It tells the story of a French boy curious about the American soldiers occupying his town. I found a first edition copy on New Years Day, just days after getting my plane ticket to Paris. It was fate and might have brought a tear to my eye right then and there.
Unlike many places I cover, books that have some tie to Paris are a dime a dozen. This is far from a comprehensive list of books set in Paris. It's simply a curated list of books that (in my very humble opinion) captures the magic that Paris offers. Please comment with more suggestions below!