A Paris All Your Own

Best-selling Women Writers on the City
of Light
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G.P. Putnam's Sons. 264 pp. $16.

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Reviewed by

Maureen McCarthy


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I fell and broke my wrist in a bathroom in Paris. Author Julie Powell stepped in dog poop in Paris. See how Paris can make anything special? Why is that?

In A Paris All Your Own, 18 best-selling female authors take turns describing the hold the city has on them. Eleanor Brown, one of the authors (The Weird Sisters), got the idea when she wrote her own Paris book (The Light of Paris) and realized she was part of a trend. She assembled essays from 17 other women who had written at least one book about Paris, and - voilà! The essays are an engaging mix of memoir and travel guide. Paris provides a backdrop as love blooms or divorce looms. It looks on coolly as mothers try to inspire sulky children. It throws unsentimental curves as novelists try to pin down locations for their books.

Contributors include Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife, who gives a chatty account of her attempts to trace the haunts of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley.

Michelle Gable (I'll See You in Paris) recalls a family vacation worthy of a National Lampoon sequel.

Julie Powell (Julie & Julia) vents her frustrations as a nanny to two bored boys 20 years ago, memories now softened by time. "I think I'd be satisfied," she reflects, "if I only knew they remember the Nutella crepes."

Recurring themes include admiration for the Luxembourg Garden and the French finesse with scarves. Paris is a touchstone for Jennifer Coburn (We'll Always Have Paris) and a turning point for Jennifer L. Scott (Madame Chic). Throughout runs an homage to the city's power to change lives. Harlequin writer Megan Crane describes the impact of "what Paris did for me, one long-ago weekend on my own. It scared me, then it challenged me. And then it set me free."

This collection enriched my enjoyment of writers whose work I have read and pointed me to others. I will be looking for more from Cathy Kelly (It Started With Paris) and Susan Vreeland (Luncheon of the Boating Party), among others. It also has a long shelf life. I expect to refer back to the fun appendices full of dueling advice of what to see and what to skip on visits to Paris. (The Eiffel Tower makes both lists.)

Like visitors to the city itself, readers will delight in some parts and say "Meh" to others. And we will agree to disagree, non?

This review originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.