Best Books Set in Paris: Novels, Memoirs, Biographies and More

Best Books Set in Paris: Novels, Memoirs, Biographies and More

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Gertrude Stein with Hemingway's son
Gertrude Stein with Hemingway’s son, Jack in 1924/ held by John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston/ Public Domain

Another day, another great book comes out about Paris. Or so it seems. The City of Light fuels an endless literary appetite. We are seemingly fascinated with this city like no other, and dozens of books fly off the shelves to feed the need. Not to mention the importance of the city as a source of inspiration to expat writers—from James Fenimore Cooper to Gertrude Stein. This rich literary tradition continues today, with a slew of impressive expat writers taking up residence in Paris.

Recent picks

Bonjour Paris is lucky to review a number of Paris books. Below is a frequently-updated list of recent volumes (and advance copies) that have crossed our desks.

Lauren Elkin’s fabulous Flâneuse, Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London. This wonderful volume has been listed as a best book of 2017 by multiple critics. [Read the Bonjour Paris interview here.]

When in French: Love in a Second Language by New Yorker columnist Lauren Collins. We highly recommend this excellent book. [Read the Bonjour Paris interview here.]

A Taste of Paris: A History of the Parisian Love Affair with Food by David Downie. [Read the Bonjour Paris interview here.]

The Mistress of Paris, a fascinating biography by Catherine Hewitt about “the 19th century courtesan who built an empire on a secret.”

City of Noise, professor Aimée Boutin’s insightful study of historic Parisian soundscapes.

The Streets of Paris, Susan Cahill’s guide to the City of Light following in the footsteps of 22 famous Parisians throughout history. Say our colleagues at France Today magazine: “Let yourself be guided through history along Paris’s sweeping avenues and tapered passages, with the odd pitstop in the capital’s coveted patisseries!”

A Paris Year, an illustrated journal and city guide by Janice MacLeod. The author built up a following with her “Paris Letters”– a fun subscription service featuring painted letters about life in Paris. This is her second book.

The Bonjour Effect, The Secret Codes of French Conversation Revealed by Julie Barlow & Jean-Benoît Nadeau. This is the latest book by the award-winning authors of the international bestseller Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong. [Read the Bonjour Paris interview here.]

Murder on the Quai by Cara Black, the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of 16 books in the Aimée Leduc mystery series, all set in Paris. [Read the Bonjour Paris interview here.]

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown– a novel she was inspired to write when she discovered a stash of letters written by her grandmother as a young woman in Paris. [Read the Bonjour Paris interview here.]

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables by David Bellos. [Read the Bonjour Paris interview here.]

Lindsey Tramuta’s buzzed-about The New Paris: The People, Places and Ideas Fueling a Movement. There’s a dynamic new energy in the City of Light, and journalist Tramuta has mapped out this exciting scene. [Read the Bonjour Paris interview here.]

Doorways of Paris by Raquel Puig, the Parisian woman who’s behind the Instagram account “Doorways of Paris.” Peruse the photographs and discover “the most beautiful city in the world through its doors.”

The Pilot by Ed Cobleigh, a BP contributor

Miracle at Midlife: A Transatlantic Romance by Roni Beth Tower, a BP contributor. [Read the Bonjour Paris interview here.]

Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War One by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb. A romantic novel set during the Great War.

Our reader’s recommendations

Back in February, we polled readers: do you have a favorite book set in the City of Light? Many of you wrote in to share suggestions. (And please feel free to leave more in the comments section below.)

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Le Divorce by Diane Johnson

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard

Les Misérables. This list wouldn’t be complete without Victor Hugo’s classic.

Pulang (Home) by Laila S. Chudori.

Metronome: History of Paris from the Underground Up by Lorànt Deutsch.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (Reader Patricia Schneider wrote, “Cliché though it may be, I have to admit that my favorite is “A Moveable Feast”. This viscerally evocative book unsentimentally captures the fragile period in the 1920s when expats and Parisians could enjoy a meal for several francs at the Closerie des Lilas, or engage in spirited debates with other writers and artists. Its nostalgia isn’t sugary, but transportive. I know I’m not alone in saying that I wish I could’ve experienced my beloved Paris during this time. Life wasn’t simpler-in many ways it was more difficult-but the sense of community and artistic fertility could only have happened during the 1920s.”

The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino (Reader Patricia Schneider shared: “I loved this book. It captures the rare and unique flavor and sense of community that rarely exists in today’s world. Her passion for her quartier is palpable.”) [Read the Bonjour Paris interview with Elaine Sciolino here.]

 

Reader Lisa recommends a trio of art-related books: Bohemian Paris (“one for the library!”), Shocking Paris (“set during World War II, at times heartbreaking, focusing on Jewish artists of the School of Paris”); Renoir (“a rare first person account, written by his son. As a Paris lover I loved reading how the tenements surrounded what is now the Louvre and how the little kids (Renoir being one of them) would play in the courtyard as the guards tried to chase them off and the queen would open the window and toss out bonbons. Those weird little tidbits that get the obsessed excited!”), and Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir (“While most people might first think of England, Bacon lived a great part of his life in Paris; this is a rare perspective from an author who met Bacon just as his career was taking off, and remained close friends until Bacon’s death. An intimate, sometimes raw read. As art lovers we are fortunate to get such intimate access to an artist and his personal life and thoughts.”)

If you think we’ve missed any great novels set in Paris let us know in the comments section below!

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Cara Black has a nice mystery series of Aimee Leduc, a French computer security pro and part-time private eye in her Murder mystery series. Each book is written to occur in a different arrondisement. She is more than half way there, and I am not sure what she will do if she gets past 20. She does a prodigious amount of research, so the background is reasonably accurate.

  2. My all-time favorite book set in Paris is, of course, The Pilot: Fighter Planes and Paris. Why? Because I wrote it. I’ve visited The City of Lights over 50 times, I know it well and I put my experiences in the book, from bistros on l’ile Saint-Louis, Le Tour Eiffel, Fouquets, the inner office of the US Ambassador, Le Coup Chou, Sidney Bechet, and naturally a boudoir or two. The book is a literary aviation novel, a genre invented by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. He wrote the third best selling book of all time, maybe some of that success will rub off on me. My current project is a creative non-fiction bio of Roland Garros. Thanks for enduring this exercise of shameless commerce.

  3. IRRESISTIBLY YOURS by Lark Brennan is set in a fictionalized Deyrolle. It’s an adult novel–a combination of suspense, fantasy, and a bit of romance where the protagonist has the ability to “bring the animals to life.” Charming and fun to read!

  4. Delicious Days in Paris @Amazon, Book Depository by Jane Paech. This book is one of best looks inside Paris as a traveler you NEED to read it.

  5. I can’t go past ‘The Piano Shop on the Left Bank’ as my favourite book set in Paris. It combines the uniqueness of the city with interesting musical musings. There is so much to be learnt about the noble piano, as well as lots of Parisian atmosphere.

    • This is one of my favorites too. I’ve read it many times. It’s by Thad Carhart and his latest book, ‘Finding Fountainbleau: An American Boy in France’ is also worth a read even though it’s not set in Paris, but a short train ride away.

  6. Joanne Moncrieff
    Any book on Paris by John Baxter gives the most interesting, factual, educational view whilst his personal sweet fascinating touch makes me smile as I read. My bedside table is like a John Baxter shrine, love those books !!

    • Me too!!!….my question is why are we in Australia getting this part of Bonjour Paris now when all your replies are in April??…anyway I totally agree with you!!!
      He was just on my favourite podcast …Earful Tower …and i won a signed copy of Montparnasse!!!!

  7. The Autobiography of Waverly Root
    Read it for the description of Lindbergh’s arrival in Paris after his solo flight across the Atlantic.

  8. Paris Revealed by John Baxter
    Dirty Bertie by STEPHEN Clarke
    The golden Moments of Paris by John Baxter
    Montmartre by John Baxter
    Montparnasse by John Baxter
    Can’t remember the full name but the book about the Ritz!…Hotel Vendome
    The Flâneur!!!

  9. Thank you for this wonderful list of books about Paris. I’ve read some of these, and I’ve put others on my “must read” list.

    I’d like to recommend, “Paris to the Moon,” by Adam Gopnik, Random House 2008. A wonderful Paris “memoir” by an American journalist.

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