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Slow Traveler's Picks - Recommended Books about France

Pauline Kenny

Reading memoirs and novels about France is a good way to prepare for your trip. You get very different information than from the guide books. There is more about day to day life, how things work, what it feels like to live there. This page contains my favorite books and some recommended by other Slow Travelers.

All of France

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Travels with Alice, Calvin Trillin, 1989 (reissued in 1999)

Colleen from CA, spring 2002: Although not strictly related to France, one of my all time favorite books is Calvin Trillin's "Travels with Alice." I find his stories laugh out loud funny! He manages to find the most off-beat thing happening wherever he goes, and then he describes it so well you feel as though you're experiencing it right along with him - and his sometimes beleaguered family. One of my favorites essays in this book details "taureaux piscine" in Uzes, but I also love his tales of "Babyfoot" in the bars of Italy.

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Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't be Wrong, Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, Sourcebooks Inc., 2003

This couple from Canada spent a couple of years living in France and studying the French way of life. The book is a detailed look at how things work, and why, in France.

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Paris

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Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris, Sarah Turnbull, Gotham Books, 2003 (paperback)

A good memoir by an Australian woman who, while taking a year traveling in Europe, meets a French man and falls in love. She moves in with him in Paris. When the book starts she is in her late 20s and the book covers her first six years living in Paris. She talks about fitting in with French society and daily life in Paris - finding work, shopping, visiting with friends, visiting Australia. A nice story about expat life.

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Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik, Random House, 2001

Memoir of an American living in Paris. I have not read this yet, but everyone recommends it. It is in my pile of books to read.

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A Year in the Merde, Stephen Clarke , Bloomsbury USA, 2005 (hardcover)

This is a novel written as a memoir of a Brit living in Paris for one year. It was quite entertaining and had some interesting details on the work environment (in an office of a food company in Paris). The main character moves to Paris for a one year contract to help set up tea rooms (based on English tea rooms). The "merde" refers to the dog shit on the Paris sidewalks - which I had heard was not so bad in recent years. The novel pokes fun at the French, at Brits and at the differences.

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C'est La Vie: An American Woman Begins a New Life in Paris and--Voila!--Becomes Almost French, Suzy Gershman, Penguin, 2005, paperback

A fun read and informative if you plan to move to Paris for a year or so. Suzy Gershman writes the Frommers "Born to Shop" guides, so is an expert shopper. The book follows her through her decision to move to Paris after her husband dies at a young age, her first year living in Paris, finding an apartment to rent, furnishing it, making new friends, and finally deciding to stay in France. Lots of shopping and eating in restaurants. Detailed appendix with practical information for someone moving to Paris.

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Provence

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A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle, Vintage Books, 1990

This is the book that started our current phase of "I bought a house somewhere in Europe and renovated it" books. It has a lot to answer for. But still it is worth reading (as are most of them) to get a feel for the area. This book became so popular that busloads of British tourists would come to his town and find his house. Peter Mayle sold the house and moved to the US. He is now living in France in another area.
Tracy from NC, spring 2002: It's been years since I read the book, but I still remember quite well his descriptions of life in his Provencal home - and all the problems involved. It's a French version of Under the Tuscan Sun - sans recipes, as I recall.

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Encore Provence: New Adventures in the South of France, Peter Mayle, Vintage Departures, 1999

An update to A Year in Provence. Peter Mayle moves back to France after living in the US.

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The Olive Farm: A Memoir of Life, Love and Olive Oil in the South of France, Carol Drinkwater, Penguin, 2002

Carol Drinkwater (an actress from England) and her new partner from France buy a house in the countryside above Cannes. This is the story of their remodelling of the house. I thought this was a good read. There is a good description of being in the Provence countryside off-season (in the winter).

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Other Countryside Regions

Instructions for Visitors: Life and Love in a French Town, Helen Stevenson, Washington Square Press, 2002

I loved this book! I picked up the British edition on a recent trip to Italy and was glued to this entertaining story about a British woman who moves to a small town in France near the Mediterranean and the Spanish border. She writes the book with instructions for how things are done in the town but weaves in the story of her affair with a local man. I loved the title too and decided to reorganize SlowTrav into "Instructions for Visitors" sections.

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From Here, You Can't See Paris : Seasons of a French Village and Its Restaurant, Michael S. Sanders, HarperCollins, 2002

It is next on my pile to read - several people recommended it on the message board.

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Village in the Vaucluse, Laurence Wylie, Harvard University Press (out of print)

Susan writes: This one is for those who want a real look at a small village in Provence. Mr. Wylie, as part of his dissertation in sociology, spent a year with his family in Roussillon, a tiny (and now famous) hill village in the Luberon. As a result, we get a wonderful insider's look at Provence in the 1950s. Each chapter addresses a particular subject: cafe life, schooling, parenting, marriage...etc. This book is available in paperback edition at www.half.com (a really neat way to buy books inexpensively).

Television (DVD)

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Absolutely Fabulous - First Season 1994, episode "France". This is a comedy series from England (early 90s). The episode where Eddie and Patsy spend a week in a vacation rental in the French countryside (Luberon in Provence) is very funny and shows some good local scenery. Available on video/DVD.

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Picture Books

The Most Beautiful Villages of Provence by Michael Jacobs, Hugh Palmer, Thames and Hudson, 1994. Great book with photos of villages - good to help you decide where to go.

Discovering the Villages of France by Michael Busselle, Arcade, 1991. Photos and descriptions of villages all over France.

Villages of France by Joanna Sullam, Charlie Waite, John Argagh, Weidenfeld Paperbacks (London), 1988. Photos and descriptions of villages all over France.

Novels

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. A biographic novel of Hemmingways time in Paris in the early 1900s.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, 1926. One of my favorite novels. Story takes place between the wars in Paris and Spain.

Anything by Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Satre.

Lost Illusions by Honore de Balzac, written in 1837-1843. Fabulous story of a corrupt life in Paris compared with a hard-working life in a small town in the provinces (Angouleme).

Le Divorce by Diane Johnson, Vintage 1998 ISBN 0 09 975391 X
Susan writes: Young American college grad goes to Paris to help her sister (pregnant with her second child) and arrives to a catastrophe -- husband has left for another woman. Story develops into more drama, but basically is an especially amusing vision of French life and living in Paris. Because I live part of the year in France, I laughed out loud at several points in the book.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Susan writes: Birdsong is about a British chap who goes to Normandy on a work assignment prior to WW2, falls in love with the boss' wife. A wonderful read, beach companion. The fellow ends up in a horrific war situation (war is hell). You will now know Faulks for the recent movie Charlotte Grey. He also wrote Girl at the Lion d'Or. All take place in France and all great escape books -- though fair to say that Birdsong is serious and reminded me of All Quiet on the Western Front. If you are a franophile, rush out to the internet and buy this book!

Metroland by Julian Barnes Vintage 1992 0 679 73608 5
Susan writes: Precocious adolescence in a London suburb to awakening in Paris, touching and funny at the same time.

Of Illustrious Men by Jean Rouaud, 1994 Harper Collins, ISBN 1 55970 265 6
Susan writes: By the author of Fields of Glory, this book has been highly recommended to me. It is the story of a boy who, at 11, loses his beloved father in WW2 and tries to cope with the consequences.

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