Exploring France Through Books

Over the holiday break I took plenty of time to read. Did I have the time? Perhaps not. I would often find myself wishing to play hide-and-go-seek with the kids I watch just so I could take a minute to read a page or two of a book. Then, when I wasn't watching kids, I'd take a book with me in the car reading until I felt sick. (As a child I didn't have this problem. Why now?) The end result was that I got through a lot of books (for me) in a short period of time.

Funny enough, most of the books I had the chance to look through and read took place in France, more specifically Paris. Having just visited in 2014, I find myself highly interested in discovering what others think about the fabulous city of lights and how they would describe it to readers. The following collection of reviews discuss how authors have decided to share France with a wide variety of readers ranging from the young to the creative, all categories of which I have an interest in.

For chefs and foodies: Luke Barr – Provence 1970*

Receiving this book shortly before Thanksgiving, I have to say that this book had a major influence on my ideas for what should be included in our Thanksgiving dinner. This historical account of chefs M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, and James Beard takes place in Provence, France during 1970 as American food was undergoing some of it's biggest changes to date. Based off of time spent with his aunt M.F.K. Fisher, letters and written accounts of the chefs, interviews with Judith Jones, and travel to Provence, Luke Barr transforms rather mediocre individual accounts of life during 1970 into a fascinating story full of vision showing Americans, in particular, just how far food has come. Barr's discussion of fast, mass produced, easy-to-make foods through the perspective of these chefs really brought home the idea that perhaps the idea of food has changed in America in a truly, fascinating way.

While I can't say I would recommend this book for just anyone, it is a fun read for foodies (or people who think they could be foodies) … or fans of any of the chefs listed above. The description of foods served during the many meetings of the group is enough to encourage anyone to get in the kitchen and cook. Don't expect to find recipes in this account though. For that, you will have to access cookbooks such as Mastering The Art of French Cooking or American Cookery.

For the young: Beatrice Alemagna – A Lion In Paris

A visit to the library yesterday resulted in some time sitting at a table exploring books in the children's section in which I discovered this artistic rendition of what it must be like to be a lion in France. The story begins after the lion emerges from the train station on a mission to find love, a job and a future after obtaining an espresso, of course. With the story told in pictures, as much as text, the author introduces children to Parisian city streets allowing children to answer big questions regarding Parisian lifestyle, art, and the world without taking away from the plot in any way. I highly recommend this book to parents or anyone interested in illustrated books of any kind. The landscape orientation of this large format book, the unique details found within the illustrations, and the simple yet-complete plot will entrance any reader.

For artists: Gail Albert Halaban – Paris Views

Originally discovered in Anthropologie (where else?), I became enchanted by the beautiful images found within this picture book. From that point on, I was on a quest to discover more about the artist and how the images were created. While I can honestly say that this book is fantastic coffee table read and I imagine the printed images would make for gorgeous home decor, I was a bit thrown off by the photographer's attitude toward her work when I watched an interview where she discussed how her work is the very specific print that she designed and anything else is just replication of that work (and thus not as important or worth as much). All of a sudden, with those words stated, my desire to own this beautiful $79 book went from incredibly interested … to not so. I simply cannot understand how you could devalue your work through an interview while still charging such a high price. Nevertheless, I would be one of the first in line to see this work an exhibition, and I still think that the photos in this book are absolutely gorgeous and worth a view or two. It definitely provides a unique view of Paris and the people who live there in a way that I have not seen done before.

Your Turn

If you could only choose one book that I have reviewed, which would you choose? Would you consider the books I've shared to be travel books or something else? What do you think about looking at a location from a variety of different perspectives? Share! I'd love to hear your feedback!

• I received a free copy of Provence, 1970 to read in exchange for writing a review. All opinions shared are my own.

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