Since starting this blog I’ve wanted to write about the best books to read before heading to Paris. So here it finally is- my top ten favorite books about France. It’s taken me many years and Amazon orders to curate this list, so I do hope you enjoy.
A word of warning- almost all of these books are about French food. Because who doesn’t love a good food memoir?
I also wanted to mention that finding English books in Paris is tough. I’d highly recommend bringing an e-reader if you’ll be there a while – I absolutely love my Kindle Voyage. I had a Kindle during the year I lived in Paris and it was a total lifesaver.
1. The Sweet Life in Paris – David Lebovitz
The Sweet Life in Paris is the story of American pastry chef David Lebovitz’ move to Paris to start a new life.
In his hilarious memoir David Lebovitz delves into the local food and culture of Paris, making ever-so realistic observations about his adopted hometown. What I love most about this book is that he depicts Paris in such an honest light- sidewalk dog shit and all.
Random fact- I met David Lebovitz during my time in Paris and completed fan-girled him. I also sent him a totally creepy and serious email about wanting to work for free as his baking assistant- but let’s leave that in the past, I suppose.
2. The Belly of Paris – Émile Zola
The Belly of Paris follows the story of Florent, an escaped revolutionary who finds both solace and community in Paris. But what I love my about the book is how richly it depicts life in 1870s Les Halles, a proletariat market that stood for nearly a thousand years.
This book is perfect for both diehard francophiles and/or food nerds who want to imagine a world now gone. As an aside Émile Zola is a great writer and I’d also recommend his book Le Rêve.
3. Mastering the Art of French Eating – Ann Mah
And the gushing continues- I LOVED Mastering the Art of French Eating.
Mastering the Art of French Eating follows the story of Ann Mah, an American food and travel writer living in Paris. When Mah’s husband is called away to Iraq, Mah mitigates her loneliness by tracking down all of France’s best dishes in their regions of origin.
Mah’s writing is just gorgeous. Case in point- “It still sailed next to me, that parallel life- it would always sail next to me- as full of joy and challenge as the one I was living. I thought of it sometimes, pale and chilled- lit by a satellite moon, not the sun of reality- a ghostly ship charting a route to what might have been, while I remained on the course of what was.”
Here’s my full review of the book in case you’re still not sold!
4. The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen – Jacques Pépin
Jacques Pépin, the famed French chef and TV personality, seems like the most adorable person in the world. I seriously wish he was my grandfather and would cook delicious French meals for me. Anyway.
The Apprentice follows Pépin through his childhood in rural France, the beginnings of his culinary career and his eventual fame and fortune.
The book made me nostalgic for a world I never knew, and also made me want to train in an militaristic, Escoffier-style kitchen and open a bouchon in Lyon. I honestly LOVED this book and would recommend it to anyone who loves food, chef memoirs and/or France.
5. The Paris Style Guide: Shop, Eat, Sleep – Elodie Rambaud
The Paris Style Guide is the perfect book for not just dreaming of Paris, but actually exploring it.
The book details where you should go to find the best boutiques, flea markets and cafés in Paris. I used to work for a very chic French interior designer so I’ve been to a good amount of the stores in the book- particularly the design shops in Le Marais.
If you’re planning a shopping trip to Paris and have excellent taste, this would be the perfect companion- it’s like having a fashionable Parisienne friend in your pocket.
6. My Life in France – Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme
My Life in France is about Julia Child’s expat life in France, as well as her journey to becoming a TV personality and cookbook author.
What I respect most about Julia Child is over-the-top food nerdery. I especially enjoyed reading about how she perfected the baguette in the U.S. by dropping a hot brick in a pan of water to create the right heat and steam conditions.
This book is a great substitution for her tome of cookbook as the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking are difficult and unhealthy. If you’re more-so curious about Julia Child’s life in France, this book is what I’d recommend.
7. French Women Don’t Get Fat – Mireille Guiliano
This book demystifies “the French paradox”: i.e. how the French eat butter, chocolate and bread every day and still stay trim. Guiliano gives no-nonsense, applicable advice on how to live and eat better. She advises you throw out the diet book and instead eat reasonable portions of delicious, seasonal food, something I wholeheartedly stand behind.
8. Blood, Bones & Butter – Gabrielle Hamilton
Blood, Bones & Butter is chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir and is truly one of my favorite chef memoirs of all time. (next to Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, of course.)
I not only loved reading about the author’s childhood in rural Pennsylvania and growing up with a French-American mother, I loved her candor when describing career uncertainties and marriage troubles.
Hamilton is a great writer, which makes reading her memoir all the more pleasurable. Plus it’s relatable (and encouraging) for all twenty or thirty-somethings who don’t know what to do with their lives.
9. Stuff Parisians Like – Olivier Magny
Did you guys ever read Stuff White People Like? This book is the Parisian version.
So often Paris is overly romanticized, but this book calls Parisians out on all their quirks. Stuff Parisians Like is especially funny if you have French friends and recognize the obsession with sushi, Pellegrino and all things Brooklyn.
Read this if you want a good laugh and a real understanding on how Parisians really live.
10. My Paris Kitchen – David Lebovitz
I own a lot of David Lebovitz’ cookbooks, but My Paris Kitchen is my favorite. I love this one because it mostly contains recipes for savory dishes (though there are several sweet ones- this is David Lebovitz we’re talking about.)
One thing to note the recipes aren’t just French, but also Moroccan, Indian and even American to reflect Paris’ rich ethnic landscape. As per usual, the book contains lots of Lebovitz’ wry remarks on Paris life.
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Are you a francophile too? What are your favorite books about Paris?
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HarperCollins Publishers provided me with a copy of The Paris Style Guide in exchange for a review. They in no way requested I give a favorable review. I purchased all the other books and all opinions are my own, as always.