I have a small bookshelf devoted to French self help books: people telling me how to do various things better, like dress, cook, travel, and design my home.
I do think the French have more of a sense of humor about these things than we do — the vibe is less “You can do it if you really try!” than “We’re all f-ed so you might as well enjoy yourself.” It’s a nice way of lowering expectations.
For the record: This list is only about Parisians (and ex-Parisians, in Garance Doré’s case) translating their lives for non-Parisians. Outsiders coming to Paris — like Pamela Druckerman, who I totally love — and then translating the French back to us is entirely different genre (er, which I have added at the bottom).
The books I love:
How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: A tongue-in-cheek guide to life that definitely advocates cheating on your partner, smoking, and more of the “bad habits” referenced in the subtitle. I actually have two copies of this book, I like it so much. (Though I do not endorse the bad habits, because I am American, and I am sure we can lead pure, selfless, perfect lives.)
In Paris: 20 Women on Life in the City of Light: Basically the same book, but with Jeanne Damas and former Elle France editor Lauren Bastide fronting the effort. (If you understand French, Lauren Bastide has a great and very politically minded podcast — and there are English versions for the highest-profile guests, like Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and author Leïla Slimani.)
Maison: Parisian Chic at Home: From Ines de la Fressange, this catalogue of fancy interiors in Paris. (When I bought this at BHV, the clerk was like, “Not all apartments look like this.”) They all sort of look alike, but they are all very beautiful, and the killer differences — a wall-sized painting here, an antique apothecary jar there — are worth the price of the book.
Parisian Chic Look Book: What Should I Wear Today? Also from Ines de la Fressange. I’ve literally given this book as a present three times. Nothing makes the French style uniform look easier to obtain — and there’s tons of little moments of black humor inside, like the page dedicated to dressing like you’re headed to court to finalize your divorce.
Love Life Style I am such a Garance Doré fangirl. I love seeing her move into the U.S., and then from New York to L.A. This was one of the books I brought to Paris when I first arrived. I’m not even sure what this book contains: musings? essays? ideas about the titular subjects? I’ve slept with it under my pillow.
Chez les Parisiens This is only available in French so far — it’s like Maison, except featuring the homes of the staff of My Little Paris. You definitely don’t need to speak French to get something out of all the pretty pictures of all the grand apartments.
Three books by Americans translating the French back to us — so not exactly French self help, but American self help for dealing with everything (including the French)
1. Pamela Druckerman (my favorite): There Are No Grown Ups: A Midlife Coming of Age Story
2. Kate Betts’ memoir about working in Paris after college: My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine
3. The original: A Moveable Feast. I think every American expat in Paris has a copy of this somewhere in their apartment.