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  • Lisa

Curious Minds: the reading list

Several people at the Curious Minds lectures asked me for a reading list about Inventing Modern Paris. Which is a great idea! But I have some trouble winnowing down my list. I have a few all-time favourite books, and then a wide selection of books on my shelf which contributed to our talks this year. So here is a brief selection. Several of these titles are in French; most exist in English translation. There are innumerable books about the Second Empire and/or The Belle Epoque in general; I leave you to choose a favourite from your local bookshop. Meanwhile here are some special favourites from my own shelf...

Crucial books I have read & reread:

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

Colette, CHERI (or really pretty much anything she wrote, but this novella is a classic of the Belle Epoque)

Eric Hazan, L'invention de Paris

Camille Laurens, La petite danseuse de quatorze ans

Tom Reiss, The Black Count (a life of the amazing military general, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, father of the famous novelist)

And other related books that I've enjoyed:

Stephen Clarke, Paris Revealed - the Secret Life of a City (easily the most readable, well-researched, actually FUN book about Paris - history, facts, a few personal odds & ends. I also like his bio of Edward VII, "Dirty Bertie, An English King Made in France")

Sarah Bernhardt, Ma double vie (there's also an interesting short novel by Francoise Sagan about Sarah--definitely out there in translation & a fun read)

Victor Hugo, LES MISERABLES (well, yes, it's rather long. but generally worth it.)

Graham Robb, Rimbaud (the book which led me to do a stand-up comic routine about how much i dislike Paul Verlaine. extremely well-researched.)

Eric Vuillard, Tristesse de la Terre (short, grim, poetic - about Buffalo Bill's Wild West show in Paris in the 1880s)

a series of chapbooks about Marie Curie, put out by the Institut Curie, available for purchase in English & French at their tiny museum bookshop 

the letters of George Sand, any collection really -- the ones to Flaubert are great, but really any selection will entertain & inform


Edmond White, THE FLANEUR (also, if you're interested in Proust, White's slim biography is a nice starting point)

Willett Weeks, The Man Who Made Paris Paris (a life of Baron Haussmann) 

Taschen has an excellent collection of historical photographs, just called "Paris, Portrait d'une ville" (the text is in English)

And really if you have any chance of seeing the NADAR exhibition in Paris (on until the beginning of Feb 2019) PLEASE GO! Felix Nadar was initially a cartoonist; his painter brother is the one who first became interested in photography. Between them--and later, with Nadar's son--they made all kinds of innovations in the art of the photograph. Meanwhile, Nadar's wife, Ernestine, attempted to keep the books balanced & the office running smoothly. The expo corrects many assumptions I've been making, based on earlier research, over the years. So for me, this show was a must-see. Go for the celeb portrait sight-seeing (Sarah Bernhardt, of course!) if nothing else. And if you can't go to the expo, if you ever see a book of Nadar photographs, do get it!


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