Photo: Paris pastries shop window

A slice of The Sweet Life in Paris, as described in David Lebovitz's new book.

Photograph by Frank Heuer, Laif/Redux

By Don George

May 2010

Book of the Month

The Sweet Life in Paris, by David Lebovitz

Pastry chef, cookbook author, and popular blogger David Lebovitz moved to Paris from the San Francisco area (where he had been working at Chez Panisse) in 2002. He has spent the ensuing years studying the secrets of French cooking and Parisian living, and shares both here with passion and humor.

His windows onto Parisian life explain a range of everyday idiosyncrasies, from the utter indifference of many salesclerks and service people (“Unlike in America, where everyone’s taught to say yes, in France oui means more work. And if more work sounds as appealing to you as it does to them, you’re beginning to understand a bit of the logic around here”) to the locals’ penchant for cutting into line—and how to foil it (“Unless you’re standing genitals-to-backside to the person in front of you, you may as well put up a sign that says, ‘Please, step ahead of me’”). He hilariously recounts the moment when he knew he had become Parisian: the Sunday afternoon when he changed from his sweatpants and sweatshirt into neat pants, a wrinkle-free shirt, socks, and shoes—in order to take out the garbage.

Lebovitz also serves a feast of food tips, including where to find the best croissants, chocolates, and cheeses; how to order coffee the proper Parisian way; and when not to use a knife and fork. So that readers can concoct a taste of France in their own kitchens, he complements his accounts with 50 tantalizing recipes, from Breton buckwheat cake with fleur de sel to plum and raspberry clafoutis.

For a final treat, Lebovitz offers a detailed directory of his favorite food shops—perfect for forging your own edible adventures. Having lived in Paris, I was salivating for my next visit by the end of Lebovitz’s sweet treatise.

Around the World

Chris Stewart had never been on a boat, but on his 30th birthday was given the chance to trade his life as a sheep shearer to captain a boat around the Greek islands for a summer. Three Ways to Capsize a Boat: An Optimist Afloat is Stewart's hilarious account of exploring the world, and he proves that no obstacle—seasickness, setting the boat on fire, capsizing—will stand in his way of exploring the seas. Bloggers and twentysomethings Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, and Amanda Pressner have turned their popular blog TheLostGirls.com into a memoir, after they quit their high-pressure media jobs in New York City to backpack around the world for a year. In The Lost Girls they explore Brazil's Iguazú Falls, the Amazon, Kenya, India, Laos, and more, and the result is an inspiring account for anyone who wishes to escape the daily grind in search of something more.

Off the Map

After growing up in a 19th-century log cabin in Wisconsin (where he learned that "as an American, I had inherited this legacy of wilderness, that it shaped my forebears, and me"), Peter Stark is inspired to visit America's other little-known wilderness regions. In The Last Empty Places: A Past and Present Journey Through the Blank Spots on the Map, Stark explores northern Maine, western Pennsylvania, and southeastern Oregon in search of Muir, Emerson, and Thoreau's wild America.

If You Like...

...Cold War stories, check out Penguin's new series, Central European Classics. These ten books originally published between 1931 to 1989 come from a disparate group of writers who hail from countries that have seen war, invasion, and oppression through much of the 20th century. They provide fascinating insight into the culture and history of countries including Hungary, Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, and Romania. Pick your literary form: Gyula Krudy's Life is a Dream is a collection of short stories set in early-1900s Hungary; Josef Skvorecky's The Cowards is a blackly comic novel of post-war politics in the former Czechoslovakia; Gregor von Rezzori's The Snows of Yesteryear is a memoir of growing up in Czernowitz, Ukraine; and Czeslaw Milosz's Proud to be a Mammal is a compilation of essays ranging from his happy childhood in Poland to his harrowing journey across Nazi-occupied Europe.

One Last Thing:

Alone in Alaska

Lynn Schooler has lived in Alaska for almost 40 years, working as a fisherman, photographer, and wilderness guide. In Walking Home, he recounts a solo journey into the Alaskan wilderness, an adventure fraught with danger, from raging rivers and aggressive grizzlies to emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Graced with precise, learned, evocative observations and reflections (of two cranes at dusk, he writes, "The rusty yodeling sounded like the musical instruments of an ancient civilization being played to celebrate a migration that has continued without interruption for millions of years"), Schooler's work guides us into the heart of one of the wildest regions in North America—and into a renewed appreciation of man's intersection with the natural world.

Don George has won numerous awards for his work as a travel writer and editor. He is the author of Travel Writing and the editor of eight literary travel anthologies, including Lights, Camera…Travel!, A Moveable Feast, and The Kindness of Strangers. E-mail Don at dgeorge@ngs.org.

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