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Paris In Mind: From Mark Twain to Langston Hughes, from Saul Bellow to David Sedaris: Three Centuries of Americans Writing About Their Romance (and Frustrations) with Paris

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“Paris is a moveable feast,” Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, and in this captivating anthology, American writers share their pleasures, obsessions, and quibbles with the great city and its denizens. Mark Twain celebrates the unbridled energy of the Can-Can. Sylvia Beach recalls the excitement of opening Shakespeare & Company on the Rue Dupuytren. David Sedaris praises Parisians for keeping quiet at the movies. These are just a few of the writers assembled here, and each selection is as surprising and rewarding as the next.

Including essays, book excerpts, letters, articles, and journal entries, this seductive collection captures the long and passionate relationship Americans have had with Paris. Accompanied by an illuminating introduction, Paris in Mind is sure to be a fascinating voyage for literary travelers.

Jennifer Allen * Deborah Baldwin * James Baldwin * Dave Barry * Sylvia Beach * Saul Bellow * Bricktop * Art Buchwald * T. S. Eliot * M.F.K. Fisher * Janet Flanner * Benjamin Franklin * Ernest Hemingway *Langston Hughes * Thomas Jefferson * Stanley Karnow * Patric Kuh * A. J. Liebling * Anaïs Nin * Grant Rosenberg * David Sedaris * Irwin Shaw *Gertrude Stein * Mark Twain * Edith Wharton * E. B. White

267 pages, Paperback

First published July 8, 2003

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Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews
Profile Image for TK421.
556 reviews261 followers
November 18, 2011
Before: Never been here, let's see what I can learn through the veil of nostalgia.

After Read: When I was a young man, I read A Moveable Feast and was intoxicated by the idea and mystique of Paris. I wanted to be an expatriate that made love to a Parisian woman, clumsily at first, but soon with the deftness and craft of a master. And I fantasized that the only way to accomplish this was to run off and escape my way to Europe. I was seventeen at the time. Needless to say, that never happened. Instead, I soon found that I could have a secret liaison with the City of Light through the words of so many before: Hemingway, Stendhal, Balzac, Hugo, Celine, H. James, Rousseau, Proust, Sartre and dozens more that I am forgetting.

Not all of these liaisons were healthy. Sometimes, as in the case of Celine, it was brutal; like being trapped in an abusive marriage for thirty years before deciding to leave but at the same time knowing that those thirty years could never be given back. Or in the case of Proust—who had so much to share and tell—it was mostly boring but still incredible in its own idiosyncratic ways.

Fast forward time.

I am now thirty-one. I have never left the United States. Not even to Canada. In fact, barring a few trips to Hawaii, one to Boston and one to New York, most of my years here on good old planet earth have been in South Dakota. I was born here. I went to college here. I met the love of my life here. My wife and I have boy-girl twins here. But there’s more, right? I mean, no disrespect to my native land, but c’mon, how many times can a guy see Mt. Rushmore? But I have never done anything about this. You see, Paris is still a fantasy to me. It’s like a siren that calls to me perpetually in the subconscious recesses of my mind. Oh I can ignore it. I have. But the calls are becoming more frequent. Louder. Sometimes, they are even disturbing. They are telling me that the hourglass fills more and more each day. Even if only a few grains at a time, it’s like that abusive marriage where all those years were lost, I’ll never be able to get any of them back.

Enter Paris In Mind.

Now I’m not about to tell you that a book can take the place of a good romance, but this one has helped tame some of my desires. When I saw it on the bargain table at my local library, dirty from use, torn from possibly being placed haphazardly in a backpack, pages dog-eared and smudged by what looks like to me fudge (at least I want to believe that it’s fudge) it called out to me. And when I took it into my hands, something happened. All those names that I mentioned above came cascading back to the forefront of my memory, displacing all the French fries v. Freedom fries bullshit. And for a brief moment my love affair returned. Images of a nameless beauty winked at me from my mind’s eye, and I knew that a fire still burned inside me for exploration and adventure. So I bought it.

When I got home, my wife was reading on the couch as the twins were building robots out of Play-Doh and blocks. (It’s easier if you don’t ask.) I needed to share with her my discovery. Since we first met she has known my infatuation with Paris. The history. The characters. The architecture. Napoleon. Revolutions. Passion and romance. I mean there’s a reason why so many astounding books have Paris as a backdrop. She saw my excitement and eagerly accepted the book. But when she flipped through it, wafting the smells of an imaginary Parisian life my way, disappointment crisscrossed her face.

“These are just vignettes of what other people thought about Paris,” she said.

“Not just any people,” I retorted. “This is Paris with what all the literati thought about and experienced and dreamed and sought and reminisced over. In here the reasons for wanderlust are given.”


It was lost upon her. This book provided two things in my life that I am passionate about: Paris and literature. So I took the book back and went down to my office (Den of Inequity) and read the first two chapters. And before I knew it, E.B. White and Edith Wharton had transported me back to Paris during WWI and WWII. But it wasn’t the bombings or the carnage they recalled, rather it was the aftermath of lamenting a life that was momentarily taken from them. White even goes as far as taking the encyclopedia off her shelf when she heard an armistice had been reached and read the article about Paris, ultimately chocking up when she read about the annual rainfall because it reminded her of all the tears that had been spent crying over the past five years. Friggin-A! When was the last time you read anything describing pain that beautifully? But I couldn’t stop there. I went ahead and read what Art Buchwald had to say. And, you know what? He reiterated what my heart and mind had been trying to tell me for the past fourteen years: It was okay to laugh at the fanciful nature of romantic foolishness of Paris and humanity because we all need a little romance in our lives—even if it’s misconstrued or fabricated.

But there was more. Thomas Jefferson. Gertrude Stein. Irwin Shaw. Langston Hughes. Benjamin Franklin. Mark Twain. John Adams. Anais Nin. Sylvia Beach. Dave Barry (!). T.S. Elliot. James Baldwin. They all had things to say about Paris. Remarkable things. And as the night wore down, I sat in my chair and rocked and thought about the movie Last of the Mohicans when a British officer scornfully says, and I’m paraphrasing here, that their [French soldiers] Gallic laziness combines with their Latin voluptuousness with the result that they would rather eat and make love with their faces than wage war. To me that doesn’t sound too bad.

Perhaps I would have made a good Parisian.

Profile Image for Giuliana.
29 reviews1 follower
August 2, 2011
Interesting compilation of essays about American perceptions of Paris. What's good about this book is that I got to read Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and Bricktop, none of whom I'd read before. Editor Jennifer Lee includes an excellent bio on each author that gives a good contextual reference for each piece. There is a wonderful essay by Maxine Rose Schur about being newlywed and "Penniless in Paris" that captures a lot of the magic of the City of Lights, and sets up an expectation that many more essays will be about having a wonderful tourist experience there. But this is where the collection veers off; the rest of the essays are not so much about the magic of Paris but rather real life experiences. I like the idea that so many of the pieces are historical, but some of them were also surprisingly the least compelling selections. Letters by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, and the section from Thomas Jefferson's autobiography didn't seem like the best selections. Overall, I'm glad I read this, and learned about so many gifted American writers, but would have liked some of the selections to be more reflective of the authors' creative writing talent and ability.
Profile Image for Dvora Treisman.
Author 1 book22 followers
July 19, 2013
Mixed review here. I liked that the editor tried to include a wide variety of writers, topics (although all had to do with Paris), and opinions. But some of the essays were far better and more interesting than others and I felt that she could have chosen more carefully.

Mark Twain's essay, taken from The Innocents Abroad was OK, pretty amusing, but his comment at the end, that "by far the handsomest women we have seen in France were born and reared in America" leaves me questioning his honesty, or his ability to engage with French people when he was there.

Janet Flanner's essay was excellent whereas John Adams' was really, really boring. James Baldwin came last and provided one of the best, if not the most amusing or romantic portraits of The City of Light.

Overall, I thought this was a book well worth reading both for the different perspectives, as well as for a source of more titles to look for for my future reading.
Profile Image for Renee.
232 reviews
January 18, 2015
Many of these are familiar t readers of the ex-pat generation, but some were new to me--and should really be part of the usual readings. This would be worth the price of the book if only for Langston Hughes' reflections on jazz & blues jams in the early mornings (post-shift) for the Black American ex-pat population in Montmarte, and James Baldwin's incisive calling out of the racism and hypocrisy of the Algerian/French relations he witnessed in the 1950's. These are just a few of the stories.

Mixed in there is the usual Hemingway, Stein, Beach trifecta. There's Daves Barry & Sedaris getting punny and feeling puny. There's Ben Franklin loving gay Paree, John Adams hating it (and Franklin), and Thomas Jefferson loving everything about diplomacy and France. It's covers all the ground an American headed to Paris might want. It's a very worthy read.
Profile Image for Queezle.
232 reviews
December 30, 2016
Some of these excerpts were amazing; some weren't. The best part of the book was that I ended up with a list of other books I should read, based on the excerpts I liked. The worst part was that I have no idea why the categories were organized the way they were (and sometimes I got so bored).
Profile Image for Keara Glandt.
6 reviews1 follower
May 29, 2020
I was excited to read this book thinking it would be filled with incredibly historic, exciting, and colorful recounts of Paris from past times.. and I was sadly mistaken. While there were a few stories that ALMOST transported me to a gorgeous Parisian escape that I was hoping for most of these stories were random and boring. There were also several stories about how Paris was NOT likable and was rather annoyed by those stories as the book suggests that the book's purpose was to romanticize Paris. There was a fair bit of historical information that was interesting to learn about but the book overall had a mostly negative tone.
Profile Image for Kelly.
9 reviews3 followers
March 18, 2021
A fantastic collection of essays — long and short, silly and somber — by American expats and immigrants to Paris by names most readers are familiar with. Even if you haven't read works by one of the writers, the chance to introduce yourself to them by dint of their personal experiences in a foreign place rather than, say, a novel is something I'd like to see done more often. Thank you, Jennifer Lee.

I did skip over Thomas Jefferson, though. I tried, twice, but he couldn't keep my attention. Perhaps I'll try again another time.
Profile Image for Cherrie.
47 reviews
January 13, 2022
Initially was frustrated by how cliche all the galvanizing is taking place, but they’re not wrong
Fav piece is the last one by James Baldwin bc of course it is
Love the almost cynically sharp descriptions and reflections of imperfect societies, Paris and New York
Because sir aren’t we all spiraling

Yes, perhaps, my journey has not been to ny but simply away from cn
Profile Image for Ginna.
118 reviews
January 26, 2018
Started out with some real gems, unusual and poignant stories about Paris, but the end, esp. the last story was totally depressing, and really such an odd one to end on.
Profile Image for Carol.
825 reviews
January 14, 2013
Paris in Mind is a compilation of 29 essays, book excerpts, letters, articles and journal entries on Paris written by American authors such as John Adams, James Baldwin, Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, T. S. Eliot, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Thomas Jefferson, David Sedaris, Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, and E.B. White.

I felt that Lee’s book focuses on the cliche of the “American in Paris” instead of what makes Paris so special, so endearing. I did enjoy some of the author's stories that were engaging. But overall I thought the book lacked that "Je ne sais quoi," (a certain something) which was I thought I would find in this book.
Profile Image for Margi.
490 reviews
June 13, 2017
This book on Paris includes many essays, book excerpts, letters, and journal entries from authors, presidents, founding fathers, and many more. I would have to say my personal favorite was the excerpt from Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain and Sylvia Beach as she reminisces about the opening of Shakespeare & Company. Not all of the contributions held my attention so I merely skipped over those. But there were several that I truly found riveting. For anyone who LOVES Paris, this is a book you may want to pick up.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
124 reviews4 followers
March 26, 2010
An interesting book with perspectives on Paris by Americans from Jefferson and Franklin to present-day authors. I must admit I like reading the 20th-century impressions the best, but it's also good to think about what Paris was like in other times and to people from different cultural backgrounds. Love the sepia-toned cover picture of a snow-dusted Paris street...can almost believe I'm in an apartment overlooking it, except for the old-fashioned cars....
Profile Image for Marion.
693 reviews
May 16, 2011
I really enjoyed the collection of pieces that Lee put together. It was fascinating to read so many Americans' perspectives of Paris - throughout a broad period of time. I was particularly intrigued by Sylvia Beach's description of starting Shakespeare and Company, Dave Barry's entertaining columns about sightseeing in Paris, and James Baldwin's reflections on being black and American in Paris.
Profile Image for Deb.
868 reviews
Want to read
October 22, 2011
Another book I have that I read sporadically. This is a book of essays, book excerpts, letters, articles and journal entries from writers that have a passionate relationship with Paris. Some of the authors in the book: Langston Hughes, Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, E.B. White, Gertrude Stein, Irwin Shaw.....
Profile Image for Adena.
48 reviews
January 9, 2012
A collection of excerpts from Americans writing about Paris over the last three centuries. The strange thing is how so many of them come to the same conclusion: I arrived expecting the Paris I heard about. I didn't find that Paris but I found My Paris.
You keep expecting the myth of Paris to fail but in text after text, it never does.
Profile Image for Megan.
105 reviews
March 24, 2015
If you're heading to Paris this is a good book to start with. Paris was the spot for many intellectual minds in the 1920s and was a key ally during the American Revolution. Hitting these major areas, Paris in Mind does a good job of relating Paris to reader during her important years. The writers chosen can be dry but nothing is so important that you can't skim or skip parts.
Profile Image for Danielle.
93 reviews2 followers
August 1, 2007
loved this book as a psuedo-travelog! fun and anecdotal.
Profile Image for Shannon.
712 reviews1 follower
May 9, 2008
Eh... I couldn't get excited about this collection of writings on Paris. Who doesn't love Paris? This whole thing seemed lukewarm at best.
Profile Image for Emily.
350 reviews11 followers
July 11, 2008
although this collection of personal encounters w/ the city of light was a bit "eh" at times, there were still enough anecdotes to conjure up images of my favorite haunts in paris.
Profile Image for MissLadyFemme.
8 reviews8 followers
June 10, 2008
Read this before my trip to Paris. It was given to me as a graduation present by a very dear former prof. It really transports you to the land of read wine, crust bread, and walks along the Seine.
Profile Image for Kassie.
31 reviews2 followers
August 23, 2008
such a wonderful collection of touching, funny, informative, romantic, personal, beautiful remembrances of paris. READ IT. GO TO PARIS. READ IT AGAIN.
Profile Image for Lauri.
473 reviews8 followers
August 11, 2011
Some of the essays in this book I really enjoyed; others, not so much. But it is a nice representation of how many great writers have viewed Paris over the last 200 years or so.
387 reviews
June 18, 2012
Trying to read in a hurry while savoring every word. Set the tone for my first trip to the City of Lights. It did not disappoint.
Profile Image for Jinni Pike.
197 reviews
December 25, 2012
Really interesting and entertaining essays regarding many aspects of Paris. I need to remember to reread this before I go back!
Profile Image for Christine.
41 reviews8 followers
January 29, 2014
Brings me back. I loved Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Dave Barry, Sylvia Beach and Langston Hughes. I could read this over and over again.
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews

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