There are a lot of things that I love. Museums. Going to the Movies. Paying to run a specific distance in order to get a shiny medal at the end. But one thing that I love more than anything else is books. Beauty and the Beast was the first movie I ever saw in theatres, and let’s just say that the library scene made quite the impression. Ever since that fateful day, all I’ve ever wanted was to be surrounded by books. And since moving to Paris, I’ve made a lot of progress on that front. If the stacks (yes, plural) of books by my bed are any indication.
I love reading all kinds of books, but I especially love reading books that are set in Paris. I love reading other people’s vision and interpretation of this city, whether good or bad, and I love experiencing Paris through other people’s eyes. There’s nothing I love more than getting lost in a character’s story and imagining them walking the streets of Paris that I know so well. If you are the same and you love getting lost in a story set in Paris, below are my favourite books (to date) that you should check out.
The Paris Wife – Paula McLain
Ernest Hemingway is one of the most famous writers to have lived in Paris. His autobiography, A Moveable Feast, is a classic book set in the city of light. The Paris Wife tells the story of the same time period, but from the point of view of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley. If you’re a fan of the Roaring 20s, The Lost Generation, and fascinating but fraught relationships, this book’s for you.
All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015, and it is easy to see why. Sweeping in scope, All the Light We Cannot See weaves together the story of Marie-Laure and Werner, two children on opposite sides of World War II, whose lives are fatefully intertwined. I wouldn’t say that this book has a particularly happy ending. But it was deeply satisfying, and I spent many an afternoon feverishly turning the pages.
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
Giovanni’s Room is set in Paris in the 1950s, and it tells the story of David, an American expat, who falls into a passionate affair with Giovanni, an Italian bartender. This book is a searing examination of desire, gender and sexual identity, morality, and masculinity. It is also heartbreakingly beautiful in its depiction of the 50s queer community in Paris. Groundbreaking at the time, Giovanni’s Room is still a classic today.
No and Me – Delphine de Vigan
No and Me is a beautiful book about the friendship between Lou and No. Lou is a socially awkward young girl whose family is struggling to come to terms with a tragedy. No is a homeless teenager who gradually moves into Lou’s life. This book is a poignant look at family, mental health, and homelessness, and while I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a happy book, it certainly is hopeful.
I Love You Too Much – Alicia Drake
Of all the books on this list, I Love You Too Much is the one I still think about regularly years after I read it. It tells the story of Paul, a shy and lonely 13 year old who is neglected by all the self-involved adults in his life. He lives in the 6th arrondissement, a neighbourhood famously obsessed with perfection. But this book pulls back the curtain to reveal the ugly truth under that facade. The author has clearly lived in Paris, because this book knows exactly how this city operates. It was real in a way that made reading it feel like stepping into the city itself. I absolutely love this book.
If you’re looking for a delicious non-fiction book about French history, I highly recommend The Rival Queens by Nancy Goldstone. It tells the story of Catherine de’ Medici and her daughter, Marguerite de Valois, and it reads like a soap opera. I’m not exaggerating. And it’s a soap opera that just so happens to be true. Highly recommend!
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.