Omnivoracious Interview
Written by
Susan Conley
September 2013
Written by
Susan Conley
September 2013

A funny thing happened after I wrote a novel starring Paris as the main character. All these other books about Paris began showing up at my book readings. People in the audience call them out during the question and answer period. Then everyone writes down the titles they haven’t heard of on the backs of shopping lists and paper napkins. It turns out that everyone has a favorite Paris novel or memoir (or two). What is it about that city?

I love so many books about Paris. And I love them all equally.

But I’ll start with Me Talk Pretty One Daybecause when David Sedaris tries to learn the intricacy of French verbs it makes me laugh so hard that I cry.

Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast comes next because this book always makes me want to fly to Paris and have a real meal in a street cafe. Soft cheeses. Filet of sole. Warm baguette. Flan and coffee. The novel has a style so immediate and intimate.

I can still read Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans out loud to myself at night very happily, even though my two boys are almost teenagers now and there’s no child in the room listening to me. There doesn’t need to be. Whenever I get to the appendix scene in the hospital, my heart skips.

The Paris in Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, is an entirely different version of the city: a city that’s vulnerable and battered and circled by the ghosts of families lost to the war. This is a beautiful novel.

Reading Marcel Proust’s entire In Search of Lost Time is like putting on someone else’s nostalgia and wearing it for thousands of pages. There’s no plotline, just a series of remembrances and how lovely is that: an ode to the fleeting mechanisms of memory.

When I first read Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon back in 1995, it was so compelling and transparent that I felt like I was there with him in the Tuileries, while he watched his daughter at the carousel. I wanted to live that life—to move to Paris. And so I did.

The Paris in Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog is an upstairs/downstairs kind of city. This book is terrific and funny and so wise. It takes Parisians and all their fascinating, inscrutable cultural fetishes head on.

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer goes back to pre-World War II Paris and then takes us right up and through the war. This is a triumphant love story even though darkness lurks around every corner.

The Pleasing Hour by Lily King is about what happens when an American au pair lands in Paris. This book is a lovely dismantling of an entire French family’s ecosystem in evocative, sensual prose.

Then here at the end I go back to Hemingway and to romance. Because even though Paris is called the City of Lights, it could be called the City of Love on Ancient Bridges. People get more romantic in Paris. They just do. And all these books allow for that. There are moments in Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife when I feel like I’m seeing Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, up close, and it’s tantalizing—as if we’re there with them in Paris flirting and drinking wine. How great is that? The passage of time has erased nothing. Each of these books bridges the miles to Charles de Gaulle Airport and lands me somewhere near the Seine at a bustling street café where I get to go on a vacation of the mind.

This interview was originally published in Omnivoracious, a book blog run by Amazon.

Photo credit: Pont Neuf Seine Paris France - Creative Commons by gnuckx 

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