• Books,  Paris & France

    The Most Insightful Memoirs About Life in France: Part 2

    France Memoirs, The Most Insightful Memoirs About Life in France, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/09/01/the-most-insightful-memoirs-about-life-in-france-part-1/ #France #memoirs #French #books

    In my first article on memoirs about life in France, I covered stories of romance, food, gardening, and motherhood. Today, I’ll talk about some classics and my favorite memoir about the French lifestyle.

    Paris to the Moon 

    Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik, The Most Insightful Memoirs About Life in France: Part 2, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/08/30/the-most-insight…in-france-part-2/ #books #memoir #France #Paris #adamgopnikAdam Gopnik lived out a lifelong dream of moving to Paris in the late 1990s, then wrote about it for The New Yorker. This is a more high-minded book, packed with Parisian history and cultural facts but full of humor too. Gopnik wittily describes the education he and his wife got in adjusting to Parisian life: the lows of searching for an apartment, buying disappointingly tiny appliances, the unashamed sexiness of French doctors. It also has a political tinge as he touches on terrorism in Paris, which now in retrospect, seems eerie and prescient.

    Overall, you will delight in Gopnik’s keen insights and sharp humor, especially if you personally know French people or the culture. One memorable moment comes when he points out the strange disparity of how, when a new gym opens, they celebrate by laying out a huge spread of high-calorie, high-carb pastries for patrons. Everyone must have breakfast after all!

    Mastering the Art of French Eating

    Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah, The Most Insightful Memoirs About Life in France: Part 2, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/08/30/the-most-insight…in-france-part-2/ #books #memoir #France #Paris #annmahSo if you were to take Elizabeth Bard’s memoir and turn it on its head, you’d get Mastering the Art of French Eating. Ann Mah, an American, moved to Paris because her husband was a U.S. diplomat, but she suddenly found herself alone for a year when he was reassigned to Iraq. In Paris, by herself. Ugh, right? Well, she found solace in French food and in investigating the history of it. We learn about the origins of boeuf Bourguignon and buckwheat crepes, which is surprisingly interesting.

    I personally connected with this memoir because when I lived in Paris, all I thought about was my husband back home in Seattle. It was a bittersweet ride because I went through this weird, delightful experience of working and living in Paris but the love of my life wasn’t with me. Mah aches for her husband as well. The scenes of them struggling to visit online broke my heart a little. Good news, they were reunited. And bought their own tiny piece of Paris.

    A Year in Provence

    A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, The Most Insightful Memoirs About Life in France: Part 2, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/08/30/the-most-insight…in-france-part-2/ #books #memoir #France #Provence #petermayleFor insight into life in Provence, this should be your first pick. It’s a classic. A British guy decides to get away from the rat race and buy a country house in Provence. Dreamy, right? No. There’s lots to fix up and lots to go wrong. But Mayle’s voice is witty and his love of Provence is endearing. The book is packed with interesting anecdotes about the locals Mayle meets and the troubles he endures to renovate a home in France. It also includes a fair amount of information on the delicious food of Provence. This, as I understand it, was really the first memoir about France that led to a surge of interest in the Provence region. Deservedly so.

    French Women Don’t Get Fat

    French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano, The Most Insightful Memoirs About Life in France: Part 2, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/08/30/the-most-insight…in-france-part-2/ #memoir #books #France #Paris #lifestyle #mireilleguilianoThis book changed my life. It altered my outlook on eating and food. I learned how the French don’t “live to eat” but rather “eat to live,” and in doing so, don’t need to deal with the American-style of overeating and its consequent shame. This supported what I learned firsthand when I lived in Paris. The French’s attitude is excess isn’t flattering so don’t do it. Simple, right? Heh. Easier said than done. But Mireille Guiliano, with this book, shows how it can be done.

    Guiliano is the CEO of the Veuve Clicquot empire and has lived in France all of her life. This book is unlike the others in this list in that it’s written by a French person. It’s part lifestyle guide, part memoir. Guiliano outlines her own childhood and how her family’s eating choices were dictated by the seasons and rooted in nature. She discusses the French’s attitude toward eating, which is to enjoy wholesome, healthy, delicious food but not too much of it. Another piece of advice? Exercise enough (e.g., walking) so that you stay slim but not so much that you have to suffer and get sweaty. If you do overindulge in eating one day, pull back the next just a little so your weight doesn’t get too far out of your control. The book is full of small practical tips like this peppered with personal anecdotes about how Guiliano approaches or has approached each of these situations.

    Some may find her words unrealistic or snobby but I found them powerful. And considering this woman is a slim, attractive person in her older age is a testament that it works. After several years now, it’s worked for me too.

    Worth Mentioning:

    L’Appart

    This book makes the list because it’s so darn useful if you want insight into the dealings of real estate and home renovation in France. American chef David Lebovitz decided to move to Paris on a whim and figure out the details later. Well, the French don’t do “whims.” He found this out the hard way.

    Picnic in Provence

    Elizabeth Bard’s follow up to Lunch in Paris. She and her husband move to Provence and work to create a slower, more wholesome life. Again, it’s anchored by food and recipes of the region, which of course is beautiful and alluring. They fix up a historic house, adjust to country life, have a son, and open an ice cream shop. You know, the usual.


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  • Books,  Paris & France

    The Most Insightful Memoirs About Life in France: Part 1

    The Most Insightful Memoirs About Life in France: Part 1, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/09/01/the-most-insight…in-france-part-1 #French #memoirs #France #AlmostFrench #books

    English-language memoirs about life in France usually follow a common trajectory: an American or Brit or Australian somehow lands in France and must cope with the unfamiliar culture while learning the language and navigating a new job or life situation. They often cover settling into that new life, fixing up a home, shopping at local markets, cooking food, discovering romance, etc. They are mostly light-hearted affairs with only a touch of drama. In short, they can be formulaic. But I often forgive their formulaic nature because an author’s voice, experiences, and narrative structure do vary. I also forgive the formulas because, to put it simply, I love France.

    It’s worth noting I’ve read plenty of memoirs about France that haven’t resonated with me. The prose was either average or the actual story was nothing terribly impressive — or I didn’t click with the author’s persona. But the number of favorites outnumber the number of duds. Here are a few of the most insightful memoirs about life in France.

    Almost French

    Almost French by Sarah Turnbull, The Most Insightful Memoirs About Life in France: Part 1, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/08/30/the-most-insight…in-france-part-1 #france #sarahturnbull #parenting #ParisOf all the books listed here, I think Almost French captures the allure and awkwardness of romance between an ex-pat and French person. Sarah Turnbull stumbles her way into Paris via an invite from her future husband and never looks back. Then comes the struggle to learn French, to deal with government bureaucracy, to understand a mate with an odd sense of humor. But Turnbull doesn’t whine nor does she sugarcoat, she mostly reports, probably because of her journalistic background, which beefs the book up not only with acute observations but informative facts about Paris.

    One moment I’ll never forget, and what seems to sum up the difference between the French and other Westerners is when her husband scolds her for wearing sweatpants in public. She’s about to leave their apartment to make a quick run to the bakery. He’s horrified by her sloppy clothing choice. “It’s just the baker,” she says. “Yes,” he says, “but it’s not nice for the baker!” That’s stuck with me a long time. I highly recommend this book.

    Bringing Up Bébé

    Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, The Most Insightful Memoirs About Life in France: Part 1, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/08/30/the-most-insight…in-france-part-1 #france #pameladruckerman #parenting #ParisI used to think my husband and I parented in a stricter-than-average way. We didn’t let our kids run around at restaurants, or groan about what they had to eat, or get every popular new toy. We trained them to often say “please” and “thank you.” We taught them not to complain when they had to share, to go to bed at a regular time. We love them but they don’t lead, we do. Then I read Bringing up Bébé. With much relief, I realized we’re not strict, we’re just French.

    This is a wonderful memoir about American Pamela Druckerman’s observations of French parenting. A journalist married to a Brit, she lives in Paris. After she has a baby, she meets a lot of French mothers. While her child is disobedient and bratty, the French children are behaved, happy, and not picky eaters. While she feels lost at what to do with her child, the French mothers know exactly what to do with theirs. For the French moms “No” means “no,” put your own life first, and most of all, don’t view your child as a “king.” Children don’t need to be indulged but viewed as a young human who needs wisdom and discipline. Plus, Druckerman investigates the research, which turns out to support the French style. It’s a memoir every new parent should read.

    French Dirt

    French Dirt by Richard Goodman, The Most Insightful Memoirs About Life in France: Part 1, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/08/30/the-most-insight…in-france-part-1 #france #richardgoodman #parenting #ParisAs a professional gardener, it was difficult but enticing to read this memoir about growing a garden in France. What a dream, after all. Who wouldn’t want to adopt a rectangle of land and grow a bunch of plants in a dreamy place like Provence? That’s what New Yorker Richard Goodman did. He’d never gardened before, let alone in a foreign country. His naivety might make gardeners roll their eyes. But he was educated quickly about horticulture and the salty, often serious Provençal people. I don’t know which was more difficult but his optimistic outlook makes the American reader root for him.

    What’s special about this book is its cast of characters. You get a close look at a Spanish couple living in Provence, themselves somewhat outsiders despite being in France for decades. You meet the old farming families that actually grow the grapes and lavender and olives that makes the agricultural industry there tick. It offers a clear, insightful look at how rural life in Provence operates. And the garden that Goodman grew? Not particularly special but perfectly respectable for a beginner.

    Lunch in Paris

    Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard, The Most Insightful Memoirs About Life in France: Part 1, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/08/30/the-most-insight…in-france-part-1 #france #elizabethbard #parenting #ParisIn essence, this is a love story with recipes. Elizabeth Bard landed in London as a graduate student and met a handsome Parisian Ph.D. student. Soon, they married and she found herself living in Paris, coping with French in-laws and a foreign culture. Food plays a large role in this. At each chapter’s end, there are recipes based on the previous story Bard has told. I haven’t made them but they do seem delicious and remind me of the freshness and beauty of French food.

    Bard’s breezy voice will either win you over like a girlfriend or grate on you. I like it. She’s vivid with details and open about her vulnerabilities. Very American. But that’s the charm. She, as I when I lived in Paris, sometimes feels like a clunky, forward, overweight American even though by our standards she’s a perfectly appropriate, slim enough woman. If you’re looking to escape, this memoir is a sweet journey of romance, food, and Paris.


    In Part 2, I’ll cover a classic about Provence, a classic about Paris, another on French food history, and the memoir that drastically changed my life.


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  • Writing

    William Zinsser Makes Memoir Writing Easy

    Writing About Your Life Book, William Zinsser Makes Memoir Writing Easy, Karen Hugg, The Cultivated Life, https://karenhugg.com/2013/03/21/william-zinsser #WilliamZinsser #WritingAboutYourLife #memoir #writing #nonfiction

    Last year in preparing to write my memoir about adopting three kids from Poland, I checked out five books from the library. They were all on how to write nonfiction. I’d written and published a few short memoir pieces before, but I was unsure how to approach a full-length memoir. Unfortunately, these books didn’t teach me what I was looking for. They had lots of good advice on technique and how valid my story was. But I wasn’t looking for that. I was looking for how not to be overwhelmed.

  • Writing

    Don’t Write Brilliantly, Just Write

    Don't Write Brilliantly, Just Write, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2011/03/13/dont-write-brilliantly-just-write/ #EatPrayLove #Elizabeth Gilbert #writing #books #writinglife #inspiration

    Welcome to my blog about the writing life and who knows what else in time to come. It’s meant to inspire, inform, and support those out there who love language and love to express themselves through it. This first post is the outcome of my reading Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s first-person account of her spiritual journey. If you’re not familiar with this funny, vivid, contemplative memoir, make it your next read. It’s the kind of book that, while telling the story of one woman’s transformation from depressed wife-who-has-it-all to untethered woman trying to get her physical and emotional and then spiritual life together, inspires anyone who reads it into taking at least some sort of small action to make their own life (and maybe even others’) better.

    Don’t Be Perfect, Just Be

    I’m starting this blog against all of my better writerly intentions today. If I don’t, I never will. You see, I’m often at war inside my head about what to do, what is quality, what is interesting, what is The Best way to post on a blog. I’ve had this idea, for months actually (when I first created the blog and then abandoned it). I decided this blog needs to premiere with no errors, with lists and photos and recommendations and helpful resources and an archive. I wanted to create a faux archive of the postings I would’ve published had I been dedicated to writing. This ambitious goal lives in my head as if anyone out there, anyone who might be reading this now, would be disappointed if I just posted what I’m posting now — a journal entry about the writing life that’s meant to help myself and others.

    An Epiphany About Self-Criticism

    Why, of all times, did I have a breakthrough? Well, in reading Eat, Pray, Love, I had an epiphany (several actually, which is difficult not to do after reading that book, especially if you’re a woman). But it was Gilbert’s words on her website about writing that helped me most. She says:

    One day, when I was agonizing over how utterly bad my writing felt, I realized: ‘That’s actually not my problem.’ The point I realized was this – I never promised the universe that I would write brilliantly; I only promised the universe that I would write. So I put my head down and sweated through it, as per my vows.

    And though I might have heard words to that effect before, under the most intellectual of circumstances, I didn’t really register it. It didn’t zing to my core until I read her book. Then I related to a thirty-something woman eating delicious meals in the ancient city of Rome, battling with her minds’ wild thoughts in meditation in India, falling in unplanned love. I guess my imagination had to be triggered in order to really listen through my heart.

     So in an act of dedication to making my writing life better, and hopefully, others’ as well, I’m launching this blog. I will update as often as I can. Some public blogs say, “Updated every Tuesday” or “every two weeks,” but if I commit to a window, I may fail. I’ll confine myself to a schedule and that, I suspect, is the quickest way, to kill the momentum I have going now. So I’ll just say “as often as I can,” which today, feels like it might be in just a few hours.