So it's Bastille Day today, and I couldn't be more pleased with the crop of nonfiction books that are popping up around this celebration. Last month we had Elaine Sciolino's La Séduction, which brilliantly explains what, exactly, that term has meant to French society and culture. "[S]eduction is more than a game; it is an essential strategy for France’s survival as a country of influence," Sciolino told us in a fascinating web Q&A.
But there are a few other intriguing titles on our shelves. Paris: The Collected Traveler (Vintage), edited by Barrie Kerper, would make a lovely companion for anyone planning a trip to the City of Lights. For a sample of the sort of essays, interviews and articles that fill this entertaining book, check out her website.
American expats in France have long been a popular topic for fiction and nonfiction—see David McCullough's latest for a recent example—but The House in France (Knopf) by Condé Nast Traveler editor Gully Wells covers a more recent time period than most. Wells' mother, Dee Wells, was an American journalist; her stepfather, A.J. Ayer, was an Oxford scholar (and womanizer: Dee was not his last wife and he eventually became Nigella Lawson's stepfather as well). During the 1960s the two rented a summer house in the South of France that became a gathering place for intellectuals like Martin Amis, Iris Murdoch and Bertrand Russell. Wells' memoir is a fascinating look at their circle and will appeal to fans of books like Oh the Glory of It All and Dead End Gene Pool.
On the lighter side, Stuff Parisians Like (Berkley) by native Parisian and wine bar owner Olivier Magny riffs on the popular blog-turned-book Stuff White People Like to poke good-natured fun at Parisians. Including essays on everything from Bertillion ice cream to the sun ("Under the sun, Parisians become more sexually attracted to one another, more joyful, and more conversant. All this messes up Parisian social interactions based on distance and coldness. Fortunately, it only lasts for a few months.").
Related on The Book Case: In 2010 I mentioned a few of my favorite French-related books.