memoir

Good for Book Clubs
Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

Carving Out a Place to Write in Paris

I had been to Paris often as a girl, on vacations to visit my mother’s family. Other Americans might swoon at the buttery croissants, the perfect foulards, the flower and cheese shops. But I knew Paris. Paris was shop-keepers who slapped children’s hands. Paris was sitting still for hours at the dinner table while my grandfather scolded me for using the wrong fork. It made me feel very French, to not love Paris.

Three years ago however, as I prepared to move from New York to Paris in order to write a book, I found myself suddenly awash with romantic visions. I imagined I would sit in the same chairs as Hemingway, be invited to join literary salons, stroll cobblestone streets that would leave me blinded with inspiration. I pictured myself at a round bistro table on a café terrace, an overflowing ashtray by my notebook, while French waiters gave me free café crèmes, simply because I was a regular, and they loved me. There was really no limit to my fantasies, no matter how much I told myself I knew better.

As soon as I arrived, I set about finding the café that would become my café. I settled on the closest one, on the corner: a large brasserie identical to all the others that lined the extra-wide Grand Boulevards. The street was a main axis, and the cafés along it catered to a high-turnover of tourists and businessmen on lunch breaks. The decor was black and modern and slick, the menu was printed in both English and French, and they served food at any hour of the day. Now that I have a better understanding of the nuances of French culture, I blush to think that I was ever naïve enough to believe this particular café could be mine.

Good for Book Clubs

RIF’s Favorite Reads of April

To be or not to be? To read or not to read? To read, of course. As usual, we spent this month with our noses in books, and we suspect you might have as well. With Willy Shakespeare’s birthday, a legendary musician’s death, and both the Bard and Prince’s connections to poetry (sonnets; lyrics), April has been one packed National Poetry Month. And whether or not you’ve been pranked recently—be it by friends on April 1 or by the fickle spring weather—we’re not fooling with our favorites.

Click on our favorites to buy them, and tell us in the comments which were your best April reads!

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

My Years in Provence

It is safe to say that starting a new life on the European continent, particularly in an old house, is a literary genre of its own. Indeed, since a certain English gentleman chose to write about twelve months of his life in a certain corner of France, it’s bloomed into a sort of pan-cultural archetype. It spread to the movies with films like Chocolat, which added Johnny Depp and confectionery to the mix; not a bad idea, I feel. You are, I am sure, familiar with what I call the Mayle Literary Cycle: the protagonist, real or fictional, moves to a European country (usually southern), introduces us to a certain number of quaint rural types, eats a lot of good meals, and learns that life really is better when it contains quantities of red wine, olive oil, goat cheese, and—depending on the author—love, sweet love. Now I am certainly in favor of red wine, olive oil, goat cheese, and sweet love, in approximately equal amounts, which is to say, lots. But I didn’t come to Alba for any of that. In fact, twelve years ago, when I arrived, I often wondered why I had come here, trying to write a book about my grandparents and their mysterious, war-torn marriage in a decrepit stone house in an isolated medieval hamlet on the northern edge of the south of France.

Giveaways Good for Book Clubs

Memoir Giveaway: Only in Naples

Full of lighthearted humor, sumptuous food, the wisdom of an Italian mother-in-law, and all the atmosphere of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, this warm and witty memoir follows American-born Katherine Wilson on her adventures abroad. Thanks to a surprising romance—and a spirited woman who teaches her to laugh, to seize joy, and to love—a three-month rite of passage in Naples turns into a permanent embrace of this boisterous city on the Mediterranean.

One evening, she meets handsome, studious Salvatore and finds herself immediately enveloped by his elegant mother, Raffaella, and the rest of the Avallone family. From that moment, Katherine’s education begins: Never eat the crust of a pizza first, always stand up and fight for yourself and your loved ones, and consider mealtimes sacred—food must be prepared fresh and consumed in compagnia.

Author Q&A Good for Book Clubs

Kate Bolick, Author of Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own is on Book Club Appetizer!

“Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.”

So begins Spinster, a revelatory and slyly erudite look at the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single. Using her own experiences as a starting point, journalist and cultural critic Kate Bolick invites us into her carefully considered, passionately lived life, weaving together the past and present to examine why­ she—along with over 100 million American women, whose ranks keep growing—remains unmarried.

Tune into this month’s episode of Book Club Appetizer to hear Bolick talk about finding her awakeners and writing this memoir that celebrates singledom and strong, independent women.

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

An Homage to Perfectly Imperfect Style

We Americans scratch our neatly coiffed heads and re-knot our brand new Hermes scarves and wonder why it is that we cannot achieve the effortless elegance that French women seem to have claimed as part of their national identity. Why can’t we pull off the je ne sais quoi of Ines de la Fressange in her bright fuchsia silk blouse, stovepipe jeans, and neat black ballet slippers? Or the sultry pout and sloppy chignon of Brigitte Bardot? Where is the rule written that says you can smoke tiny little cigarettes at the dinner table and still look like the epitome of chic, Catherine Deneuve? And how on earth does every Parisienne go to the market on Sunday morning, wait in line for a fresh baguette, and then drag one of those canvas trolleys home behind her in vertiginous heels, a skinny pencil skirt and a slash of red lipstick like it’s just another day of domestic bliss?

Giveaways Good for Book Clubs

Memoir Giveaway: Braving It

Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, home to only a handful of people, is a harsh and lonely place. So when James Campbell’s cousin Heimo Korth asked him to spend a summer building a cabin in the rugged Interior, Campbell hesitated about inviting his fifteen-year-old daughter, Aidan, to join him: Would she be able to withstand clouds of mosquitoes, the threat of grizzlies, bathing in an ice-cold river, and hours of grueling labor peeling and hauling logs?

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

Falling in Love in Paris

I never intended to fall in love in Paris. And yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds. Who doesn’t go to Paris without hoping there will be a little bit of love on their itinerary? It is, after all, the whole point of the place.

But when I alighted on the City of Light, I had just endured a protracted break-up in London. Arriving in Paris, I felt like an emotional refugee: fleeing a shattered romance, determined to find a nice little pocket of the world where I didn’t know a soul, where the wine was cheap and I could tend to my broken heart.

I had no interest in love. It only led to heartache. My only intention was to emulate the writers who had come before me, to take a seat at the table of Hemingway’s moveable feast and eat and drink to my heart’s content.

But as it turned out, the city had other plans for me, just as she has had for countless thousands of hopeless romantics before me.

For the fact of the matter is you cannot escape love in Paris. It’s on flagrant display on every street corner.