“Something to read in the train,” Part II

“Part I” was mainly books about travelling in France, and a few about French history. Here are some particularly about Paris – or set in Paris – and a couple of literary classics.

Paris, paris (2011), by David Downie. This book is a series of short chapters on places in Paris; the people who live (and lived) there; and the phenomena that give the city its unique colour and flavour. The idea is that “Paris”– pronounced the way we’re used to saying it, and the city as tourists normally experience it – is quite different from par-ee, as it’s known by those who live there. It’s an entertaining look into Parisian life and Parisian secrets.

The Hotel on Place Vendôme (2014), by Tilar J. Mazzeo. My latest discovery! The author, who “divides her time between New York and Paris” tells the story of the famous Hotel Ritz from the time of its opening in 1898, until the end of the second World War. I’m only on page 41 so far, but it’s fascinating! The cast includes Coco Chanel, Hermann Goering, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, and dozens of others.

Dreyfus Petit JournalA Man in Uniform (2010). Kate Taylor’s first book, Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen, was a quirky balance of fact and fiction. Her latest, is a retelling of L’affair Dreyfus: that sorry tale of anti-Semitic prejudice combined with justice denied. It was a defining moment for France at its critical turn to the twentieth century, and some would say the country is still dealing with the results. For another look at these pivotal years, read the fine historical novel An Officer and a Spy (2013) by Robert Harris.

Mavis GallantMavis Gallant, short story writer extraordinaire, died in February at the age of 91. Many of her finely-crafted, unforgettable stories are set in Paris, where she lived for 60 years. In 2006, she had this to say for the CBC documentary Paris Stories: the writing of Mavis Gallant:

The first flash of fiction arrives without words. It consists of a fixed image, like a slide—or closer still, a freeze frame—showing characters in a simple situation. Every character comes into being with a name (which I may change), an age, a nationality, a profession, a particular voice and accent, a family background, a personal history, a destination, qualities, secrets, an attitude toward love, ambition, money, religion, and with a private centre of gravity.
After the first idea of the story, and your first vision of people in it… the next thing that comes, perhaps a couple of days later, is a flow of dialogue. They speak. And I don’t hear the exact words—I don’t know how to explain this… but I know what they’re talking about and I know what they’re saying. I know what they’re saying, even if it’s in another language.

Many of her Paris stories are collected in Across the Bridge.

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