10 books to read to help experience the real Paris

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

You can do Paris by the numbers: Tote a favorite guidebook from point to point and read blurbs about the Arc de Triomphe or the Louvre. But to understand why Paris and its amazing landmarks matter, here's some reading that will help you embrace the city on a deeper cultural level. And you don't have to cram before you go; take one of these to peruse while you dawdle over a café au lait.

1. "Paris to the Moon," by Adam Gopnik (Random House Trade Paperbacks: $14.95). A New Yorker writer and his family move to Paris for front-row seats on the bistro wars and other remarkable happenings in the City of Light.

2. "Linnea in Monet's Garden," by Christina Bjork, Lena Anderson and Joan Sandin (R&S Books: $16). A charming, illustrated introduction to Giverny, Monet's home and garden on the outskirts of Paris. It is written for children but suitable for all ages.

3. "Paris in the Fifties," by Stanley Karnow (Three Rivers Press: $14). Diverting pieces on topics as diverse as Ho Chi Minh in Paris and the fall of the Fourth Republic by a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and foreign correspondent.

4. "My Life in France," by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme (Knopf: $25.95). The story of the French Chef's introduction to Paris in the '50s, with special attention to the 7th arrondissement, where she lived. As a Paris food memoir, it follows in a direct line from perhaps the greatest of the genre, "Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris," by A.J. Liebling (North Point Press: $14). "The primary requisite for writing about food," Liebling wrote, "is a good appetite."

5. "Nana," by Émile Zola (Penguin Classics: $11). A classic by the productive 19th century French novelist about a streetwalker who becomes one of the most celebrated courtesans in Second Empire Paris.

6. "A Moveable Feast," by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner: $15). Even if Papa annoys you, this is the ultimate, inescapable book about Paris in the 1920s, with cameos by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and others.

7. "The World at Night," by Alan Furst (Random House Trade Paperbacks: $13.95). A transfixing, evocatively realized spy novel about a French film producer in German-occupied Paris.

8. "French or Foe? Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living and Working in France," by Polly Platt (Distribooks: $16.95). A longtime American expat in France explains in concrete, clear terms how and why the French are different.

9. "Pariswalks," by Alison Landes, Sonia Landes and Rebecca Landes (Holt Paperbacks: $16). Just the best, most erudite little walking guide you can find.

10. "Vichy, France," by Robert O. Paxton (Columbia University Press: $30). A shocker when it first appeared in 1972, exposing complicated, un-heroic truths about French collaboration during the Nazi occupation.

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