With the economy in a downward spiral, the weather unseasonably cold, and the non-stop, never any free time schedule of a grad student behind me, the local library has become my new favorite hot spot. It's free, warm, and filled with all the books I always wanted to read but couldn't because I was too busy studying. Benjamin Franklin was on to something; why don't more people take advantage of this fantastic public resource? In any case, as I perused the shelves of the Arlington Central Library this afternoon I was once again powerless to resist the lure of the travel section. The guidebooks are perfect for daydreaming about my next big escape, but I'm especially drawn to travel stories. Whether myself currently traveling or not, I love reading tales of people getting out there, seeing the world, dissecting a culture, or simply overindulging fine wine and foreign food. Books about France hold a special place in my heart, and with the unbelievable variety that exists I'll thankfully never run out of options.
Some books about life in France are light and fun, capturing the simple pleasures of living la vie française. Words in a French Life by Kristin Espinasse is a perfect example. She's an American expat who helps you brush up on your vocab with short, witty stories of life with a French husband, two Franco-American kids, and the sunny skies of Provence. Of course, not everything in France is beauty and romance. There is also the tragic side of life as an expatriate, and no one better captures that scenario than Henry Miller. His Tropic of Cancer is a dark, disturbing tale of life among the outcasts of Paris in the 1930s that was at one time banned in the U.S. A must for anyone wanting to get past the sparkling Seine and chic cafés for a deeper understanding of the French capital. Culture comparisons are always good for stirring debate, and Ted Stanger's Sacrés Francais! and Sacrés Américans! do just that. If you read French, you must read Stanger. Also, if you like to examine similar situations from different points of view, be sure to pick up a travel anthology. I like A Woman's Europe, which is part of the Travelers' Tales collection.
Non-fiction travel books are valuable for their first-hand accounts, but I enjoy novels set in France just as much. A Year in the Merde is good for a laugh as author Stephen Clarke keeps you bounding from one culture clash-filled run-in with the French to the next. I like this book because it tells a story from the male perspective, which, other than the quintessential Peter Mayle works, I find to be lacking when it comes to France. The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier of Girl With a Peal Earring fame is an intriguing historical fiction novel that would be perfect for passing time on the TGV. Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky is set in WWII France and gives the reader an up close and personal view of life during the German occupation. Tragically, Ms. Némirovsky died in a Nazi concentration camp before she could finish her masterpiece, whose abrupt ending highlights the significance of the story.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway has been high on my reading list of France-themed books for what feels like ages. But first, I'll be tackling Trail of Crumbs by Kim Sunée, recommended to me by Julie of Collazo Projects. I don't think I'll ever tire of reading about France, just as I still haven't tired of traveling there. Bit of an obsession, really, but I think it's a healthy one. Sure gives my library card a workout. Benjamin Franklin would be proud.