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20.8.03

Someone Else's Paris Reading

Janet Flanner and Ernest Hemingway at Les Deux MagotsThanks to blogger The Lusty Musketeer, whose post Reading about Paris (August 20) linked me to a book review in the New York Times that I probably would have missed otherwise (Frank J. Prial, With Writers to Thank, We'll Always Have Paris, August 16). The book is Paris in Mind, an anthology of 29 excerpts of novels, memoirs, and so on relating to American experiences in Paris, edited by Jennifer Lee. Most of these selections are on the list I have been compiling (see the not-yet-complete list at the bottom of the links bar to the right), and I have gotten around to reading several of them, but there are a few that I need to add. (If you don't recognize his name, the reviewer is the Times wine critic, and he has spent a lot of time in Paris over the last 20 years, so his comments about the limited experience most American visitors have of Paris are written with deadly accuracy.) What makes me laugh about this sort of book is how it reproduces the blindered approach to understanding France and its culture that even some of the great expatriate writers have, Hemingway (shown here with Janet Flanner, thanks to the America's Story project at the Library of Congress) being the classic example. To counter this tendency, I have been trying to read as many French books about Paris as I can. It's remarkable to compare American and French books written around the same time. After I spend several years at this project, I will start searching around for writers from other foreign countries with work centered in Paris. That's another can of worms.

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