Have you ever wondered why so many writers and artists have always chosen Paris as a destination to get inspired?
Don’t tell me you've never wanted to visit Paris, and if you have already, that you haven’t thought of returning. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but there’s a strange and undescribable vibe in its streets that you can perceive as you wander around aimlessly. Throughout history, this city has lured tons of creative minds from all over the world and has inspired them to create some of humanity's most wonderful works. As for the literary field, some of the greatest classics were either conceived or set in this important capital of the world due to its alluring magic. The fact that the list isn’t so short tells us why this place has become one of art’s greatest muses. So, without further ado, let’s delve into some of the books that were born out of a fascination with the city.
Never Any End to Paris (2003) by Enrique Vila-Matas
I had to start this list with one of my favorite contemporary books. In his mocking and kind of fictionalized autobiography the Catalonian writer opens with a story about his visit to Key West Florida in a quest to be acquainted with everything related to Ernest Hemingway, since he believed they had so much in common, even the looks. Wanting to prove his family and friends wrong, because they didn't believe in that resemblance, he decided to enter a look-alike contest that he lost (or rather said, was disqualified) for not looking enough like the iconic author. From that moment on, he starts talking about how he started sensing that sort of connection when he moved to Paris during the seventies to follow the steps of his favorite writers and get the inspiration he needed to write a masterpiece in literature, something similar to what we see in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. In a narrative that blends both comical autobiographical elements and his own worries and despair for not being able to deliver the masterpiece he envisioned, Vila-Matas shows us a very personal side of the city, the everyday intimacy we miss when we’re just tourists.
Paris Was Yesterday, 1925 - 1939 (1972) by Janet Flanner
It’s hard to say which was the most glorious period of the city. Some would say it was the Belle Epoque, with the great artists emerging during the last decades of the nineteenth century until the outbreak of World War I. Others will argue that it was actually during the twenties where Paris got its most magnificent cultural breakthrough due to all the different immigrants that arrived with a thirst for the creative freedom the city offered. It is precisely during this time that this book was set and written, although it was published in the 1970s by Janet Flanner, a correspondent for The New Yorker. Besides writing about the important events occurring at the time, she devoted a great deal of her time to describing the artistic and cultural scene of Paris. Moreover, her letters and reports have become a piece of historical relevance due to her close friendship with some of the most prominent figures of the circle known as the Lost Generation, including authors such as Gertrude Stein.
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) by Gertrude Stein
And talking about Stein, if you want a first account testimony of those glorious years in Paris, you definitely should take a look at her own experiences. As one of the many expats who saw Paris as the ultimate artistic Promised Land, she became one of the most important patrons and art agents of the time. Everyone with artistic inspirations would have to contact her and impress her to become someone relevant in the circle. This book that claims to be an autobiography of Stein's longtime partner, Alice B. Toklas, is a very personal and intimate view of those gilded years in Paris. If you’re an art buff, you’ll love reading about her encounters with Picasso, Matisse, Pound, Cézanne, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and other artists in her iconic salon in 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris.
I'll Always Have Paris (1997) by Art Buchwald
The roaring twenties were definitely an iconic historical period all over the world, and Paris became the capital of art and culture. But the outbreak of Nazism and the later German invasion of the country shattered all that magical and wonderful vibe that inspired the world. What happened after the end of the war? In 1948, the young American author Art Buchwald decided to try his luck in the city, not only to get the inspiration so many creators looked for, but to intellectually destroy one of them, Hemingway, and what many call his masterpiece, A Moveable Feast. With an air of devastation and sobriety, Buchwald describes his experiences as a young writer following a non-existent time.
In Search of Lost Time (1913) by Marcel Proust
Proust's masterpiece has long been considered one of those difficult books you have to read in college, but you just pretend to do so. No? Is it just me? I mean, it took me so long to actually take the courage to tackle it, and honestly I’m thankful I did it that way. The series is about young Proust’s experiences and memories, and how these are triggered by random things he encounters. In this particular volume there are some episodes devoted to his time in Paris during the Belle Epoque, so if you’re all about the romantic nature of that era, you’ll definitely enjoy this.
Some say Paris is the city of love, while others praise it for its fashion history. Some might love the historic importance of the city, and others the artistic environment of Paris. And let's not forget the food! No matter what, there’s always something for everybody in this iconic city. If you want to know more reasons why Paris will always be such a wonderful city, don’t miss these:
Images by @messynessychic