Ah, Paris. The silver-skied, snail-shaped city of the Seine. I don’t know whether the croissants, the cobblestones, or the unshaven men are what steal my heart, but one thing’s for certain: I'm in love. And I'm sure you are, too.
If it were up to me, I’d visit 12 times a year. I would waltz down the Boulevard St. Michel, turn right at the Seine, and spend hours curled up at Shakespeare & Company. Life would be like study abroad, but better — because in this version, I’m magically dating a young Gerard Depardieu. There’s just one little hitch in my (somewhat unrealistic) plan: $$$. Because at a thousand bucks a ticket, it’s unlikely any of us are jetting off to Paris at a moments notice. (Unless Kim Kardashian is reading this. In which case, she’s exempt And, well, hi, Kim.)
The City of Lights is a place often confined to dreams — not visited IRL. But fortunately for us non-Kanye-wed plebes, there’s a plethora of books to make us feel like we’re mid-picnic in the Tuileries. Of all the art forms associated with Paris, literature may have the strongest claim. For centuries, writers have flocked there hoping to channel one ounce of its glamour and charm into their work. France has been a constant source of inspiration to the literary.
Pop on that beret you overpaid for underneath the Eiffel Tower, and reach for the nearest bottle of Two Buck Chuck. This list will make you feel like you’re strolling along the Seine and — not swimming in it, as that would be gross.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
This book is Paris. It details Hemingway’s own experience as a poor, expatriate writer, providing a caricature of his most celebrated peers. (Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald both make appearances as a trendsetting lesbian and an alcohol-laden hypochondriac, respectively.) Bonus points if you love the Luxembourg Gardens, where so many of these stories take place.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Giovanni’s Room is the most excruciatingly sad representation of Paris. Baldwin’s tale follows an American man who flees to France in hopes of escaping his hidden homosexuality. After realizing that his sexual preferences do, indeed, transcend oceans, David is forced to deal with the reality of his situation. Enter Giovanni — a seductive, Italian barman who is impossible to resist. Wrought with sex, love and murder, this is an oft-overlooked masterpiece.
A Year In The Merde by Stephen Clarke
I would describe this book as “playfully anti-Frog in a way that might almost cure a case Francophilia.” Inspired by the writer’s own life, A Year In The Merde follows a thirtysomething Brit given the chance of a lifetime: the opportunity to relocate permanently to France. With lessons ranging from how to date a Parisian woman (difficult) to getting his French employees to do actual work (impossible), Clarke’s novel is laugh-out-loud funny.
Paris I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin
Already read A Year In The Merde, but love the theme of broken Parisian dreams? Pick up this American version of Clarke’s woes. When Baldwin moves to Paris to pursue a job in advertising, he and his wife leave New York for the City of Lights. Unfortunately, adult life in Paris isn’t as sweet as his childhood memories convey.
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
Written under the guise of an autobiography, this recounting of Alice B. Toklas’ life was actually penned by her lesbian partner, Gertrude Stein. Together, Stein and Toklas helmed the arts scene in Paris, fulfilling almost motherly roles to aspiring writers like Ernest Hemingway. The best scenes explore Picasso’s tumultuous affair with his mistress, Fernande.
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
Orwell's first full-length novel splits its time between London and Paris. Published in 1933, the memoirs cover the overwhelming poverty in both cities at the start of the twentieth century. It's a view of Paris we don't often see, covering an important moment in the city's history.
Three Strong Women by Marie Ndiaye
This French-Senegalese author was the first black woman to win the Prix Goncourt — the most prestigious literary award in France. Her novel represents the country's strong ties with North Africa, as seen through the lives of three powerful females.
Eloise in Paris by Kay Thompson
OK, so it’s not exactly Proust. But for those of us who grew up loving Eloise, her adventures in the Paris are riveting. The charming, Parisian illustrations are worth a look in and of themselves.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Make this your next read after A Moveable Feast. McLain’s fictionalized recounting covers the same time period as Hemingway’s novel, but is told from the perspective of his wife, Hadley Richardson. The story focuses on their relationship, from courtship until divorce. Fun fact: The Sun Also Rises is actually dedicated to Richardson and her son.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Much like the movie it inspired, Sarah’s Key follows two major plot lines: That of a 10-year-old Jewish girl captured in Paris during WWII, and an American journalist assigned to write about the famed Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Both sad and hopeful, this book transcends two distinct moment’s in the history of Paris.
My Life In France by Julia Child
Before she was the master of French cooking, Child was just another aspiring chef wandering the streets of Paris, hoping to learn from the city’s vibrant culinary scene. Neither Child nor her husband spoke a word of French when they arrived, which makes their tale all the more humbling and relatable.
The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures In The World’s Most Glorious and Perplexing City by David Lebovitz
Because who could know Paris better than a pastry chef? Lebovitz’s memoir detail his time spent studying the craft of pastry making in the Dessert Capital of the World. It’s touching and funny, and even includes recipes for the overly ambitious reader.
Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
While a book of poetry may not be at the top of your list, this one is worth a read. Baudelaire’s collection focuses on a variety of relatable topics, from love to the bourgeois movement in Paris. It was considered extremely scandalous at the time of its publishing, and many of the poems were originally banned in Baudelaire’s native France.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
One of the millennium’s greatest comedic writers gives croissants a spin in this hilarious recounting of a homosexual male making his way in the French countryside. And while it’s not necessarily focused on Paris, there are enough baguette scenes to satisfy any dreams of the France.
Parisians by Graham Robb
This book covers a wide span of time — almost 250 years to be exact. Starting with the revolution, Robb uses prose to unravel the tales of Parisians past and present. The stories are based on fact, too, so you’ll get a not-so-mini history lesson while you read.
How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline De Maigret, and Sophie Mas
Ever wonder how French women manage to be effortlessly chic, confident and cultured at all times? Wonder no more, and dive into this book. It's worth reading for the tips on French style alone.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
One of France's most famous authors, Alexandre Dumas, represents the country's relationship to Haiti. His father was born on the colony, the son of a Frenchman and an enslaved African woman. His novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, partially takes place in the southern port city of Marseille — where many French citizens of African American ancestry live to this day. The story brings to life many pivotal moments in the country's history, and will make you feel as though you're living in the era of Napoleon and King Louis Philippe.
Le Divorce by Diane Johnson
The movie it inspired may have fallen flat, but this book is an absolute romp. Two American sisters find themselves single and in Paris, leaving a whirlwind of drama in their wake. Full of sex, betrayal and art, this 1997 book is worth a revisit.
The Paris Cookbook by Patricia Wells
One of the most beloved food writers to ever live, Wells has spent decades of her life living in France. With more than 150 recipes from the best restaurants in Paris, this book was even nominated for a James Beard Award — which is like the Oscars of food writing.
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
One of the books most often associated with the city of Paris, Les Mis has inspired dozens of musicals and movies. Hugo wrote the tale from the window of his home in beautiful Place des Vosges, where you can still tour his home for free.
Americans In Paris by Adam Gopnik
To sum up our list, we have Gopnik’s anthology of famed Americans who have visited Paris — and their self-described reactions to the city. From Henry James (who called it “the most brilliant city in the world”) to Harriet Beecher Stowe (transfixed as she tours the Louvre), this book is a great way to view the city through exceptional eyes.