An Unusual Reading List for Paris

Time has never in my life seemed as slippery as it has in Paris. My days left in this lovely city can already be marked by single digits. It is true that the brevity of my stay in Paris has been partly my fault because I have tried to travel around Europe as much as time and money would allow, which no matter how much I love Paris, I could not stop myself from doing. Nevertheless, I find myself getting attached to Paris a little bit more each time I return from a trip. Like many other people, Paris to me is no longer the city where I studied abroad. It has become my home in Europe – a place filled with familiar comforts and fond memories.

While travelling to Dublin from London, I was able to finish a novel entitled The House I Loved, which is set in the background of the Parisian modernization conducted by Baron Haussmann and Napoleon III. It reminded me about all I have read about Paris, whether it was a book I read before I had even seen Paris or a novelette I read on a return trip to Paris. You may say that this is an English major’s affliction, but reading about Paris has indeed added so much richness to my day-to-day experience of living in Paris.

Here is a rather unusual reading list for getting to know Paris. They are not your typical everyday traveler’s guides, nor are they romance novels set in the perfectly romantic Paree. To me, these are the books that have genuinely helped me to build my very own City of Lights in my mind.

1. A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. To start with, this extremely famous book has a glorious title both in English and in French (Paris est une fête) which simply sums up the quintessential beauty of Paris. I have read it over and over again while sipping over a mocha latte in all these chic classy cafes, just like how its author Hemingway would while writing inspirations down on paper in a coffee shop at St. Michel. Words could never sum up the emblematic significance of this book which is why one needs to actually read it to get a taste of Hemingway’s eternal city.

2. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough. I read this book before coming to Paris, yet everything about it constantly surfaces in my head when I am strolling through the streets of Paris. I cannot visit the Louvre without thinking of that studious and determined American painter Samuel F. B. Morse who used to come there every single day to work on what would be his masterpiece Gallery of the Louvre; I cannot pass through the streets in the Latin Quarter without imagining the eminent American medical students such as Oliver Wendell Holmes who persisted with their studies despite homesickness and financial strains. This book offered such a grandiose historical panorama of Paris and of those talented Americans in Paris that it definitely served as that adrenaline shot for me before my departure for Paris.

3. L’Assommoir by Émile Zola. This is probably one of the easiest books from my Comparative Literature class at University Paris Diderot, yet it exposed the miseries of the underworld of the 19th century Paris in such a heartbreaking way that it has transformed my perception of a flawless Paris while bringing out its dark Gothic characteristics. No city is truly perfect in this world. Being able to see Paris in this light made me realize that my love for this city did not just stem from looking at its pretty face.

4. Sarah’s Key and The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay. These two can be categorized into easy reads compared to the three previous ones. Nevertheless, they excel so much in bringing back an important, even ignored part of Parisian history. Closely linked to the actual locations in the city, reading these two books literally changed how I felt when walking through a particular boulevard that was built at the cost of numerous old Parisian houses or going past the sports stadium that used to be used as a Nazi concentration camp for Jewish people.

Probably one of the most filmed and written about cities in the world, Paris never lacks stories to tell. Only if you are willing to listen, they will stay and become a part of you!

Vicky Huang is a student at Colby-Sawyer College and an official API Student Blogger. Vicky is studying abroad with API in Paris, France.

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