“One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” – Oscar Wilde
It’s not much exaggeration to say that there must be a million books about France. Some of them might even be sensational! If you’re looking for something to read – on the bus, on the ferry, on the plane … even on the train – here are a few suggestions. All will give you something of the history, the atmosphere, the people, or the quirkiness of the places in France we’ll visit this fall.
You really can’t go wrong with books by Peter Mayle. Yes, he’s probably single-handedly responsible for the throngs of tourists that now visit the Luberon region every summer; but his sense of humour is irrestible, and he writes with genuine affection of the people and places he’s come to know very well.
Provence A- Z (2006) An alphabetical compendium of information you just can’t be without. Open it at random, and learn about everything from “accent” to “xylophone.” Amaze your new travelling friends with your Provencal trivia! I found this on the remainder table at Munro’s in Victoria (or was it Russell’s?).
Encore Provence (1999) This is essentially a contuinuation of Mayle’s classic A Year in Provence. The entertaining stories about his neighbours and acquaintances seem truly inexhaustable.
Another longtime resident of Provence was Lawrence Durrell, brother of Gerald (My Family and Other Animals.) Lawrence’s 1990 book Caesar’s Vast Ghost is a unique perspective on the Roman history of the south of France. More recent, though less poetic, is The Roman Provence Guide (2013) by Edwin Mullins, with four chapters that discuss places on our itinerary. It features a wonderful photo of the Pont du Gard on the cover. Mullins has also written books about Avignon, and the Camargue.
I love the Eyewitness Travel series. Though a little bulky to carry around all day, they’re full of colourful pictures, useful illustrations, and accurate descriptions of anywhere you’d care to visit. Provence & the Cote d’Azur is no exception. I like this guide so much, I photocopy the pages I think I’ll need (or even–gasp!–tear them out ahead of time) rather than carrying the whole book.
I like books about French art and culture that are not just lists of names and dates. Here are three that fill that requirement:
Time Was Soft There: a Paris sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. The most famous English bookstore in Paris has a fascinating history. This memoir, by Canadian journalist Jeremy Mercer, is based on the few months he stayed there; but it also lets us into the store’s bohemian history, and its connection with the careers of writers famous and not-so-famous from all over the world. Shakespeare & Co. is just a few minutes’ walk from our Paris hotel.
The Angel on the Left Bank, by Jean-Paul Kauffmann. I hope that, while we’re in Paris, we’ll have time to visit the church of Saint-Sulpice, which houses a remarkable painting by Eugène Delacroix, among other marvels. This is the story of the church, the painting, and the art world of Paris in the early 1800’s.
The Judgment of Paris, by Ross King. A must-see in Paris is the Musée d’Orsay, which specializes in art of the late 19th century, including the Impressionists. This book is a lively retelling of that turbulent, often scandalous, era. “Sensational” indeed!
OK, that finishes Part I of “Jamie’s List of Favourite Books about France.” Part II coming soon!
If you have any suggestions to add to our book list, leave a comment and let us know.