Archive for the ‘books’ tag
“If you want your memoir published, be sure to write it in Paris.”
- Nathalie Atkinson, National Post
Lately it feels like whenever I walk through a bookstore I come across a display for all things French. Everything from colourful macarons to the eating habits of French children seems to be interesting to us at the moment. And in addition to French cookbooks and style manuals, the books I’m seeing a lot of lately are Paris memoirs.
Because I love Paris I naturally want to read as many of these memoirs as I can.
Over the past little while I’ve read four of them. Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes wasn’t my favourite, but it was still charming and worth the read. Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin, about a writer who moves to Paris to work for an ad agency, was witty, honest and well-written, while Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas was a lighter, somewhat fluffier look at Paris through the eyes of a writer who leaves New York for Paris. But what it lacked in plot it made up for in food description. I was very hungry while reading this book. Consider yourself warned.
And speaking of hungry, The Sweet Life in Paris by pastry chef David Lebovitz is an entertaining collection of stories about Parisian life mixed in with delicious recipes. Probably the best that I’ve read so far.
And yet it seems that I’ve barely scratched the surface. Here are more Paris memoirs I’d like to read:
As much as I’ve enjoyed reading these books, maybe it’s time I stop reading about other people’s experiences in Paris and just go there myself. It’s been five years since I last visited and I’ve been searching for a decent croissant ever since. But in the meantime, I guess other people’s stories, as many of them as possible, will have to do. Because much like choosing from a tray full of French pastries, why stop at just one?
I came across the website BiblioTravel while researching a previous post, and since I found it extremely useful and the internet is all about sharing useful information (in addition to the cat videos), I thought I’d share it with you here.
BiblioTravel is a free online resource for identifying books set in distinct locales. Perfect for those of us who like to learn more about a place we’ve been or are planning to go to by reading about it in a book.
The website has 3834 books and 1847 locales, with New York City at the top of the list of most books per locale. You can search by place or by book to find what you’re looking for. And if it doesn’t already exist on the site you can add it (here are the guidelines).
As an example, if you’re looking for a Young Adult book set in Venice, you’ll be pointed in the direction of For the Love of Venice by Donna Jo Napoli. Or how about a Children’s book set in South America. A Bicycle for Rosaura by Daniel Barbot is set in a small town in Venezuela.
I looked up Toronto and was amazed to discover over a hundred books set in my hometown. Sometimes it can be just as nice to read books set in your own backyard as it is to read books set in far off destinations.
“I was bombarded with self-indulgent whining and a lot of religion that didn’t feel universal enough to be empathized with at all.”
“If I had it to do over again, I’d spend my money on another book.”
“…I was annoyed at her whiny, martyr-like tone.”
Those are all reviews I found on Amazon for the book A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love & Faith by Lori Smith.
I hadn’t read any of those reviews before I picked up the book from my local library. The only thing I had read was the blurb on the back of the book that promised readers they would travel through “landscapes Jane knew and loved-from Bath and Lyme, to London and the Hampshire countryside…”.
But by about page 30 I knew this book wasn’t going to give me what I was looking for. It wasn’t going to live up to that blurb promise.
Instead, it became clear that I would spend the next couple hundred pages learning about the author, not about Jane Austen and her life in England. It was around that time that I realized I wasn’t all that interested in the author and her quest to find a good man. And it was when Lori Smith declared “Christian guys beyond a certain age are weird” that I realized this book just wasn’t for me.
If you still want to read this book, please don’t be put off by this review or any of the others on Amazon. Many people had positive things to say about it, and part of me feels a bit guilty for not giving it a few more pages before returning it to the library. Maybe I would have started to care about Lori’s journey a bit more. And then again, maybe not.
I am, however, still interested in reading Lori Smith’s upcoming book, The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman. And I’m still searching for a travel book for Jane Austen’s England, so if you’ve read any good ones please let me know.
It seems like every time I go on Amazon there are a bunch of new literary travel books for me to buy.
Here are just a few of the new literary travel books I’ll be picking up in 2012:
All Roads Lead to Austen: A Year-long Journey with Jane
by Amy Smith
Armed with only a suitcase and dozens of copies of Austen’s novels, professor Amy Elizabeth Smith took to the road and organized book clubs in six different Central and South American countries. Along the way, she battled through a life-threatening illness, discovered friendship and love, and learned more about life-and the power of Austen-than she ever could have imagined. All Roads Lead to Austen celebrates the wisdom of letting go and becoming, no matter what our age.
Walking with the Brontes in West Yorkshire
by Norman and June Buckley
In the style of Walking with Beatrix Potter and Walking with Wordsworth, Walking with the Brontës is a pocket-sized book containing fifteen walking routes, predominantly in West Yorkshire. Each walk is to somewhere associated with one or more of the Brontë family, either in real life or with important characters or places in their novels: for instance the house on which Emily based Thrushcross Grange in Wuthering Heights, or the countryside around Cowan Bridge School which, with its harsh regime, caused the Brontë girls much suffering and became Lowood School in Charlotte’s Jane Eyre.
A Pocket Guide to Dickens’ London
by Daniel Tyler
A warning about Lunch in Paris: don’t read it if you’re hungry. It won’t end well for you.
The descriptions of food and meals in Paris are definitely the best thing about this book. I’m partial to dessert myself, and the recipes included are all worth trying.
I’ve categorized this as a literary travel book but to be fair it only points out one literary spot in Paris when it briefly mentions La Coupole. Hemingway used to drink there, of course, as did Fitzgerald, Beckett, Sartre, and many other writers and artists. (There is a pretty handy list on their website.)
But Lunch in Paris doesn’t claim to be a literary book. It’s for foodies and general Francophiles. Some of Elizabeth Bard’s descriptions made me want to hop on a plane: “There are very few streets that don’t bear some small imprint of a grander, more gracious time – the swooping curve of a wrought-iron balcony or a fading stencil above the window of a boulangerie.” And there were some interesting observations on architecture, such as this one about Notre-Dame: “It is difficult to imagine that the same imposing towers and jutting gargoyles have been presiding over Paris since before the printing press, or the bubonic plague.”
The last time I wrote about my growing literary travel library I mentioned that I was still searching for a good book about the literary side of Paris. Literary Paris: A Guide by Jessica Powell is exactly what I was looking for.
While I would prefer it in paperback, Literary Paris is a hardcover book with just the right amount of information on 30 writers who have spent time in Paris. Each profile tells you a little bit about the writer and how Paris played an integral part in his or her life. It’s illustrated with photos and paintings and all the sites mentioned include address and visitor information (including Metro stops), but I’d probably double check all that info since the book is now over five years old.
With Literary Paris you can visit the library where Proust worked as an honourary assistant, the home where Mark Twain lived and hosted dinner parties, and the restaurant where Balzac loved to eat.
This book will definitely be coming with me on my next trip to Paris.
“Libraries are the memory of humankind, irreplaceable repositories of documents of human thought and action.”
- New York Public Library
Every time I visit New York I always make a stop at the main branch of the New York Public Library at Fifth & 42nd, otherwise known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman building.
This particular branch is more than just the place that Carrie got stood up by Big in the Sex and the City movie. It’s also considered to be the finest example of Beaux-Arts architecture in the United States (here’s a great self-guided tour of the building). Here are some other interesting NYPL facts:
While a lot of my travel research is done online, I’ve found that books are still an amazing and important resource.
Here are the books about literary travel that I’ve found the most useful (so far). Keep in mind that my collection is growing and I would love to hear some of your suggestions of any titles that I may have missed:
Toronto: A Literary Guide by Greg Gatenby
After checking this one out from my local library, I realized that it had so much information on writers, both famous and obscure, who have lived in or visited Toronto that I just had to buy it. And since Toronto is where I call home, it’s easy for me to go exploring any of the neighbourhood walks that Gatenby details in the book. I’ll definitely be sharing some of the gems from this book here on Tour the Page.
Literary Landmarks of New York by Bill Morgan
This one was a bit harder to find, but I eventually bought a second hand copy, which is now an important part of my collection.
New York is one of my favourite cities in the world (check out my New York reading list and my favourite New York City souvenirs), and you can be sure that Literary Landmarks of New York will now join me on all my future trips there. From the San Remo to Truman Capote’s last home, this book has an incredible amount of information packed into a light, travel-friendly format.
Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt & Joni Rendon
A definite must-have when it comes to books on literary travel. Novel Destinations has everything you need for planning your trip to author houses and museums, literary festivals and tours, and literary places to drink, eat, and sleep. I will never run out of trip ideas thanks to this book.
A Literary Paris by Jamie Cox Robertson
Paris is full of literary landmarks, and while this book will get you familiar with some of them, I have a feeling that there is another book out there that I still haven’t found that would do a better job at taking me through all the literary sites in Paris. As I said, my book collection is still growing. If you know of a better book about literary travel in Paris, please let me know.
Storybook Travels by Colleen Dunn Bates & Susan La Tempa
While this book may be targeted to parents of young children, I found most of the trips outlined by the authors to be totally suitable for grown ups. I’ve had my own Eloise at The Plaza experience, and I am still kicking myself for having missed out on the Pinocchio Park in Tuscany. Storybook Travels definitely inspires some literary wanderlust, whether you have kids or not.
So, what did I miss?
I used to think I was the only one. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In fact, I am so far from being the only person interested in literary travel that it’s almost laughable. I realized this when I couldn’t get a table at Les Deux Magots. When I couldn’t find an inch of free space on Oscar Wilde’s gravestone to add my kiss. And when I couldn’t walk through the Vatican without having a particularly eager Angels and Demons tour group in my way.
Tour the Page is an attempt to use my own love of literary travel to (hopefully) inspire others to travel to those places as well. Words on the page can take you anywhere you want to go, and sometimes you want to back to where those words got their start.