L’appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, by David Lebovitz
As charming as it is informative, L’appart offers a chef’s eye view of the beauty and bureaucratic madness that is France.
After moving from San Francisco to Paris, Lebovitz spent a decade living in a tiny top-floor flat with a magnificent view of the City of Light. When he finally decided to buy his own place, he had no idea what he was in for. In this fresh, funny memoir, sprinkled with insider knowledge about Paris life (sales only happen twice a year, for example, and baguettes always come wrapped in tiny paper “because excess is ground upon in France”), Lebovitz chronicles his attempt to buy and remodel a Paris apartment amidst miles of red tape and misunderstandings. Each chapter ends with a recipe, which, for the culinarily untalented among us, may prove as daunting as dealing with the Parisian real estate agents and electricians. Even if you can’t imagine pulling off a pain perdu caramelise, you’ll be happy to learn that pain perdu got its name because it “takes lost (perdu) bread and turns it around, making it something marvelous.”
Leibovitz’s love of his adopted city, as well as his passion for the bounty of the Parisian marche, comes through loud and clear. An utter delight.
La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life, by Elaine Sciolino
Don’t let the title and the silly cover deter you. La Seduction is a highly informative examination of French culture from the perspective of the former Paris bureau chief for The New York Times. In this thoroughly researched book, Sciolino dives deep into French history to explain how and why seduction is as much an intellectual pursuit as a carnal one. From food to fragrance to politics, Sciolino argues, seduction is deeply ingrained in the French way of looking at the world. Although the narrative at times feels forced to meet the theme, there is much to learn from Sciolino’s interviews with politicians, executives, farmers, perfumiers, fashion icons, and chefs.
The Bonjour Effect: The Secret Codes of French Conversation Revealed, by Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau (review to come)
A practical primer on what to say and when to say it, The Bonjour Effect should be required reading for American expats in France. You can’t play the game of life in France if you don’t know the code. Read this book with a highlighter in hand, and commit its “rules” to memory.