Classic Literature

A favorite website of mine is The Art of Manliness. Seems odd, but many of the classic “gentlemen” traits and concepts can be equally applied to refining oneself as a lady as well.  In any case, it’s nice to know that chivalry is not entirely dead.

Recently I noticed that on the site, AoM lists 100 books every man should read , many of which are books that I was assigned during middle and high school. I’ll be honest – for most of them I don’t even recall the plot lines, only the emotions they evoke (e.g. “Call of the Wild” = sad). But there are quite a few I’d always meant to read.

I’ve been wanting to up my intellectual game for a while, if only to allow me to become a more interesting conversationalist. I adore homemaking and my Pinterest projects, but there’s only so much fodder for discussion, particularly with The Mister or other non-homemakers. I read a lot, but mostly domestic and personal improvement self-help guides, which has the same drawbacks.  And while there are some bright spots in the pop culture medium (I’m looking at you, Westworld — kisses!! ), the vast majority tends to be both banal and addictive.

Thus, I’ve decided on my Great Book a Month project. Beginning immediately I am going to select a book from Art of Manliness’ list to read each month, and then post a review of it on the site.  First on the block? The Great Gatsby: always heard about it, never read it. And it sounds like it would be entertaining.  Look for the review to be posted next week!


Review: French Toast

When I travel I try to be as inoffensive as possible in order to avoid the “Ugly American” stereotype. Not only does it feel more polite (and less stressful) to try to assimilate to the existing culture, but I figure if I am going to live there for a year, I need to start learning as much as possible as quickly as possible.

In pursuit of this goal, I recently picked up the book French Toast: An American in Paris Celebrates the Maddening Mysteries of the French by Harriet Welty Rochefort. I was hoping to pick up some cultural cues and hints, as well as background information, i.e. why do these cultural norms exist.

What I got instead was a big dose of terror.

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Review: Choosing The Simply Luxurious Life

My interest in all things French got its start with Shannon Ables’ The Simple Sophisticate podcast. I’m always looking for new things to listen to while commuting or walking the dog, and I’d recently developed an interest in fashion and home decor.  The Simple Sophisticate’s emphasis on living simply while still feeling elegant struck a chord as I — like so many others — am always balancing budget with material desires.  Beginning with Episode 1, I proceeded to devour it. While not all the episodes were particularly interesting or relevant to me, the vast majority were entertaining, thought-provoking and filled with ideas to improve my life.

Learning there was a corresponding website, The Simply Luxurious Life, I commenced scouring it as well.  I was particularly drawn to her Francophile section with its integration of French je ne sais quoi into every day life, revolving around the idea that living well does not necessitate living expensively.

When Ables released a book, Choosing the Simply Luxurious Life: A Modern Woman’s Guide, of course I pre-ordered it immediately. I was not disappointed. While many of the same points and ideas are covered in her podcast and blog, the book condenses the same information into a cohesive and highly readable package.

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Review: The Millionaire Next Door

I’m stepping away from my usual France-related books to discuss one of my favorite financial guides: The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. While discussing finances is a major faux-pas in French culture, I cannot recommend this book enough – in fact, I’ve often talked off the ears of various friends and relatives!

The premise of the book is that while we have a certain image in our head of what a millionaire looks like, that image is very likely wrong and is based on the super-rich (think Hollywood A-Listers). Rather, the average millionaire tends to live below his or her means: a ranch home in the suburbs, a 5-year old Toyota truck, jeans and a work shirt.  In other words, they look like your average middle class homeowner.

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Home Sweet Maison

As my Instagram followers already know, I’ve been devouring a new book, Home Sweet Maison: The French Art of Making a Home by Danielle Postel-Vinay. It is amazing!

Postel-Vinay walks the reader room by room (beginning with l’entree) to single out the little touches in each room that help give it that French mystique.  Note this isn’t “French Farmhouse” or “Shabby Chic” or “Parisian Modern” or any particular style at all. Instead it focuses on the purpose of the room and how the French tend to make it their own.

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Book Review: How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are

I’ve recently discovered my local library offers a wide variety of ebooks and audiobooks and I’ve been working my way through my Francophile wish list ever since.  My most recent download was one that had been haunting my list forever:  How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret and Sophie Mas. Imagine my delight to locate it within my library’s electronic stacks!

I was sadly disappointed.

The book can best be described as a collection of advice you might receive from the Carrie Bradshaw character in Sex and the City.  Tidbits that perhaps to some women seem charmingly quirky struck me instead as high-maintenance mind-games.  To wit:

“The Pariesienne already knows what she must think: the opposite of what you think, no matter what.”

In another scene, a woman on a first date immediately dismisses the gentleman from further consideration — even going so far as to begin planning her early exit from the venue — because he ordered the same entree as she did.

Pro tip: This is not charming. This is not quirky. This is a douchebag move, ladies.

If you were to use How to be Parisian Wherever You Are as your sole guide, you’d be forced to conclude that the Parisian woman is, as they say, a hot mess:

  • Emotionally unstable: “She can feel a sudden surge of sorrow or even hope for no reason at all….She doesn’t feel like talking and stays in her bedroom until the sun has set.”
  • Chaotic: “Disorder – and lots of it. A disorder so normal it may even become, through repetition, a new form of order”
  • Disingenuous: “The Parisienne lets the phone ring…she feigns surprise upon hearing his voice…she asks if she can call him back in five minutes…”.  One chapter even has the title “How to Make Him Think You Have a Lover.” Seriously? What is this — The Rules circa 1995?
  • Entitled: “[S]he leaves her car wherever she wants and acts like there’s valet parking, but feels persecuted whenever she gets a ticket.”
  • Inconsiderate: “People will no doubt be waiting for her at work…”
  • Insecure: “A Parisienne never hires a babysitter who is too pretty…”

And it goes on.

I wanted to like this book, I really did. It’s considered a classic within Francophile circles.  But as I described in La Vie Paris, my view of the French Woman / Parisienne archetype is aspirational: someone who embodies the qualities that I want to bring out in myself.  How to be Parisian Wherever You Are instead reads as a cautionary tale.  On the Hot/Crazy Matrix, the “Parisienne” would need a Hot axis score of 10+ to make up for the time, money, emotional energy and psychiatric treatment you’d need in order to endure such a self-absorbed and haphazard individual.

It’s possible the authors deliberately approached the subject tongue-in-cheek, intentionally skewering the French Woman paradigm with a more realistic (albeit exaggerated) slant.  If so, mea culpa.  I simply did not see the humor in it — although to be fair, I never enjoyed watching Carrie Bradshaw either.

TL;DR: Read How to be Parisian Wherever You Are for its entertainment value but DO NOT try this at home.

Top Francophile Books

Over the past several years Francophilia has become all the rage with scores of books written about how to eat, dress and act like a French woman.  Bearing in mind that these books tend to use an archetype as the basis for their advice, following are my favorites of the lot thus far:

Readers will undoubtedly note that I have not included the classic that arguably launched the genre, French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano.  I have not picked it up yet but I did read her book French Women Don’t Get Facelifts. To be honest, it wasn’t particularly life-changing to me so I’m in no hurry to get the original.

What are your favorite Francophile-inspired books and other media?