Books to Get You Thinking

One of the most beautiful cities in the world, Paris, the City of Lights, conjures up visions of breathtaking views of the River Seine, cathedrals, museums, gorgeous architecture, tree-lined boulevards, sidewalk cafes and public gardens. It has been revered by writers, poets and artists over the centuries. The beauty of the city is surpassed only by the indomitable spirit and resilience of its people, as reflected through several challenging times in history, most recently during the November 2015 attacks. Through it all, Paris has retained its vibrancy and the city continues to be a flourishing center for the arts, music, and fashion, as well as a symbol for freedom of expression and a celebration of life. The lure of the city captivates and draws thousands of visitors every year. Perhaps the next best thing to travelling there is to visit the city through reading the many fascinating books that have been written about different facets of Paris and are available at the Mercer County Library System! This month’s selections include books about Paris from the different genres of history and memoirs.


How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean
How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean
Joan DeJean , a Trustee Professor of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania, has authored ten books on French literature and culture. The growth of Paris from a medieval European city to a dazzling modern city is often attributed to Baron Haussmann who, in the nineteenth century, is believed to have transformed the landscape of Paris with beautiful boulevards and wide streets. In this engaging and well-researched book, the author traces the growth and the evolution of Paris back to the seventeenth century under the reigns of the Kings Henry IV and Louis XIV. Using a multitude of primary documents, city road maps, travel guide books and beautiful paintings, the author interweaves the different facets of history that transformed Paris in the 1600s. Innovative architectural structures such as the Pont Neuf - the beautiful bridge over the River Seine; the Place des Vosges - the first public recreational place in a European capital; and the Ile Saint Louis were all constructed during this period. Old ramparts were torn down and replaced with tree-lined streets, eventually giving rise to beautiful avenues, boulevards, promenades and bridges, notably the Champs Elysées. The seventeenth century also saw the start of indoor shopping at fixed prices which culminated in the Parisian fashion industry and luxury shopping that makes it the fashion capital of the world today. A notable feature of the book are maps, dating back to the 1600s, showing streets, buildings and bridges built during this era.
Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends by Mary McAuliffe Twilight of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Picasso, Stravinsky, Proust, Renault, Marie Curie, Gertrude Stein, and Their Friends Through the Great War by Mary McAuliffe
Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends by Mary McAuliffe
Twilight of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Picasso, Stravinsky, Proust, Renault, Marie Curie, Gertrude Stein, and Their Friends Through the Great War by Mary McAuliffe
Mary McAuliffe, a social historian who has travelled extensively in France and written for Paris Notes, pens two separate volumes covering the years following 1871 when the city of Paris lay ravaged in the aftermath of the Franco-German Wars. In both volumes, McAuliffe provides a unique window to life in Paris through engaging biographical vignettes of artists, musicians and other intellectual and cultural icons. She follows their individual stories chronologically with successive years covered by each chapter. In Dawn of the Belle Epoque, readers get a multifaceted glimpse into the rise of Paris from the ruins of war into a reverberating cultural space – the Paris of Claude Monet’s Impressionist art, Claude Debussy’s music, and Émile Zola’s writings. It was also the period when the silhouette of the Eiffel Tower loomed against the skies of Paris. McAuliffe covers the stories of the people behind the structure that has defined the Paris landscape through the centuries. Her second volume, Twilight of the Belle Epoque, deals with Paris in the two decades that followed 1900, including the ominous years leading up to World War I. It was a time of major change, when trains and motor cars started replacing the horse-drawn carriages on the road; the time when Picasso’s art, and Stravinsky’s music flourished; and scientific discoveries by Marie Curie signaled leaps in the practice of medicine. At the same time, the shadows of war grew and 1918 witnessed heavy bombing of the city by German planes, bringing the extraordinary times of the Belle Epoque to an end.


The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino
The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino
Elaine Sciolino, who served as the New York Times Paris Bureau Chief for many years, writes this delightful, deeply researched book that pays tribute to the city by bringing to life a street in the north west section that stretches just half a mile - the Rue des Martyrs. For the author, the eternal beauty of Paris lies not just in the architectural beauty of its cathedrals and tree-lined boulevards, but in the authenticity and diversity of its people. It is this thought that forms the underpinning of the book. She spent many hours in a café on Rue des Martyrs from where she could observe the lively comings and goings of the people around the neighborhood. A few years later, she decided to move there with her husband and daughter. Scioline deftly interweaves vivid descriptions of the Rue des Martyrs and its two-hundred stores and homes, with historical stories of past residents and intricate vignettes about its long time residents. The street has a rich history with names such as Renoir and Van Gogh frequenting the area in years gone by. It is the fascinating characters of the Street’s longtime residents that come alive under Sciolino’s masterful writing - Sébastien Guénard, the chef and owner of Miroir, a bistro where each morning the residents of the street started their day with coffee; Ezzidine, the Tunisian greengrocer; Guy Lellouche, a dealer in antiques; Éric Vandenberghe, who owned a Corsican food shop; and a husband and wife whose shop stocked gourmet cheeses. When the fishmonger Marc Briolay decides to close his shop, La Poissonerie Bleue, it was a loss felt by all for, in the end, the residents of Rue des Martyrs were one big family.

A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway
A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway is a memoir penned by the author about the years he spent in Paris during 1921 – 1926. It was published in 1964 - the manuscript of the book was discovered by his wife after Hemingway died, and was edited and published three years later. The book captures the essence of Paris in the twenties - a city recovering from the War and undergoing a cultural renaissance brought brilliantly to life by gripping prose about the many streets, bookshops and cafes of the city. The twenties were a time when Paris was buzzing with artists and authors and Hemingway describes anecdotes, encounters and his experiences with other authors during this time – notably F.Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. It was also when Hemingway, who had come to Paris as a correspondent for The Toronto Star, had not yet published a book. A Moveable Feast poignantly paints a picture of Paris through the eyes of a young, struggling writer. The title of the book was selected by his wife, Mary Hemingway, and comes from a quote from Hemingway – words he had exchanged with a friend, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."

 -Nita Mathur


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