Emily in Paris landed into our Netflix queues at, arguably, the perfect time. Seven months into the pandemic, we had watched everything we could think of and were starved for new content. We’d probably already finished Call My Agent, and maybe wanted more French-themed entertainment. Some of us missed travel; some of us missed gallivanting around cities in pretty outfits, meeting new people. So we clicked play and watched as a clueless young American woman implausibly got on a plane to lend her social media “expertise” to a French advertising firm. It only got more implausible from there, but we kept watching.
I’m half-French and also a former teacher of my mother tongue, so I’ll leave it up to you to imagine how much the show hurts both my heart and my ears. Did I still hate-watch the second season the same week it dropped? Obviously. Do I hope more people will be unironically drawn to learning about authentic French culture as well as the language? Of course. If that’s you, then I wanted to recommend some books.
Among them are books that Emily would have found helpful to read before she headed haplessly to Paris: books to understand how the French think and communicate, as well as fiction that shows the grittier side of Paris life and, crucially, the more diverse side.
Colloquial French by Valérie Demouy and Alan Moys
Firstly, let’s face it. Emily needs to do some serious work on her French. If you do, too, this is probably the all-around best French textbook for self-study, with accessible explanations of grammar, and real-world-like conversations to listen to and emulate.
When in French by Lauren Collins
It’s a little bit of an understatement to say that Emily needs some help when it comes to sorting out her love life – and especially when it comes to French men. She would benefit from reading Lauren Collins’ memoir of falling in love with a French men and her thoughtful exploration of what it means when love intersects with a foreign language and a new culture.
The Bonjour Effect by Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau
From the fatal mistake of talking about work at a party to countless other faux pas, Emily has some things to learn about how people converse in France. It’s not just about having the right words – it’s about knowing how and when to use them. This book would help her with that.
Something to Declare by Julian Barnes
Acclaimed British writer Julian Barnes, who won the Booker Prize in 2011, turns his pen to essays about the French culture he loves and is fascinated by. Whether it’s to learn more about cinema, pop music, or the Tour de France, this book would be a great place to start for Emily if she wanted to better understand the people around her.
The Idea of You by Robinne Lee
If you find yourself rooting for the French women of Emily in Paris, rather than Emily herself, pick up this incredible book. Solène is a French-American art gallery owner about to turn 40 when she meets and starts a steamy love affair with a young guy from the boy band that her teenage daughter loves. This book is beautifully written, very sexy, and smartly explores motherhood, aging, and fame.
The Cheffe by Marie NDiaye, Translated by Jordan Stump
A show set in Paris would no doubt have us thinking about food even if one of the characters weren’t a sexy chef named Gabriel who seems to have issues deciding which woman he wants to commit to. So, as cheese is to wine, this book is the perfect accompaniment to the show: the story of a talented woman determined to make it in France’s culinary scene and prepared to make big sacrifices for her career – sacrifices which will come back to, ahem, bite her.
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
It’s an understatement to say that the characters in Emily in Paris exist in something of a white and affluent bubble. That’s far from representative of Paris as a whole, though, and this gritty thriller about a nanny from the working class and the darkness she’s driven to is another angle on the city.
The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain
The charming Paris Emily dreams about does exist, if only in Antoine Laurain’s novels. All of them are worth a read, especially if you’re a Francophile, but this one is particularly lovely. Bookseller Laurent searches Paris for the owner of a handbag he finds in the street, with not many clues to go on beyond the red notebook inside. The Telegraph describes it as “in equal parts an offbeat romance, detective story and a clarion call for metropolitans to look after their neighbours”.
The Paris Connection by Lorraine Brown
If you watch Emily in Paris mainly for the Paris of it all, and long for more love stories set in this most romantic of cities, pick up this delightful love story. Hannah is on an overnight train to Amsterdam with her boyfriend Simon and, after switching carriages to a quieter one so that she can sleep, wakes up in the morning in Paris instead. The train has uncoupled while she slept – and maybe she and Simon are uncoupling too? In the meantime, she keeps bumping into an annoying French man called Léo – and ends up spending a magical day with him.
Kisses and Croissants by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau
If you want more of the American girl falls in love with handsome Parisian vibe, pick up this YA contemporary. It tells the story of Mia’s summer in France, where she attends ballet school but gets distracted by Louis, who shows her around Paris on his Vespa…
So while you wait for the next two confirmed seasons of Emily in Paris, and with Valentine’s Day just behind us, why not immerse yourself in the City of Love?