Yesterday, I received an email with the photo on the left from one of my oldest friends in Paris, Sam. Sam has met David Lebovitz a couple of times at our place in Paris over the years and thought I'd be interested in seeing what he's up to these days. Luckily for me (and I do mean that wholeheartedly) I was already au courant, having received my advance copy of The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - And Perplexing - City from David's publishers a little over a week ago. David had offered me a copy several months ago in return for a small courtesy and to be honest I'd nearly forgotten about it when the book arrived. David had been a little cagey on the subject of the book except to say vaguely that it would be about his experiences in Paris and would include a few recipes.
Like about a million other enthusiastic cooks and Paris fans out there, I read David's blog avidly. I have followed his adventures with the French, commiserated knowledgeably with his trials confronting French bureaucracy, bookmarked his recipes and enjoyed keeping up with a friend who is witty, warm and observant. So I knew his book would be good. What I didn't expect (and forgive me, David) was that it would be great. There are books that I read, enjoy, and pass on to others to enjoy. And then there are books that I read, enjoy, and put on my bookshelf so that I can read them again later. David's book falls in this category. If any of my friends or family receive a copy of The Sweet Life in Paris, it will be because I have ordered them their own, new, copy.
So how is this book different from the blog? Well, it has some of the same stories, it's true. But the virtue of a blog is its immediacy and rough edges. I enjoy reading blogs - no one more - but I don't expect them to have such good writing that I'd like to curl up in front of a fire and consume them slowly. I expect them to have a good story, possibly a good recipe, a lot of fun. Blogs, for me, are like newspapers - to be consumed with relish and then you move on. A book should be enjoyed in comfort, away from the lure of emails and news stories. And although the book follows many of the same themes and stories as his blog, David's book is a coherent whole, standing on its own.
The Sweet Life is divided into thematic chapters, recounting David's move to Paris and his first steps growing to love and adopt his new city. Without being coy or cutesy (David is never cloying) he manages to convey a deep love and appreciation of its quirks and beauties, while keeping a firm lock on the absurdities of your average Parisian. I have read many, many books about Paris over the years. (For some reason, living in a place like Paris makes people think you need to know more about it and they send you books and articles galore. Especially if they are my mother.) The best of them had me nodding my head sagely a few times in agreement. Many made me think "this writer has no clue what makes a Parisian tick!" And many of them were simply badly written stories by people who (understandably) love the maddening city of Paris. What makes David's stories different from all of these is that he has a way of delving into the "why" of the behavior he observes. Instead of just collecting a group of humorous stories about living in Paris, he has tried to understand his subjects. When he first arrived in Paris, like every other visiting American he was appalled with how "rude" shopkeepers could be. But unlike most of them, he took the time to observe and figure out that there is a different set of rules: in Paris, the cheese monger or store clerk you meet has a sense of métier, or profession, and considers it a gross insult if you don't greet him politely ("Bonjour Monsieur, Bonjour Madame") on entering the shop. Rudeness, begets rudeness, and the American client gets pointedly ignored when asking for help. And then, in addition to the funny and insightful stories, there are the recipes. If you own any of his cookbooks you know that the man knows how to construct a foolproof recipe. However, like his blog, the book does not confine itself to sweet recipes but also shows his flair for fascinating savory dishes. The only problem for me is deciding whether to put his book on my cookbook shelf or with the rest of my books. It's a dilemma.
Only once before have I bought a book that so closely resembled the blog of the author. Sadly, in that case I was left feeling like the book simply existed so that those who were new to the blog wouldn't have the bother of paging through her archives. The stories seemed to have been lifted straight from the web, with editing and little or no expansion. It was a nice book and I'll pass it along to a friend one of these days. And I'll keep reading her blog, because I do think she's a wise and witty woman.
But David - needs to write another book so that I can buy it and put it on the shelf next to this one. If you love David, buy it. If you love Paris, buy it. If you are unsure, check it out from the library: you'll undoubtedly end up buying it afterwards.
Living the Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City
David will be signing copies of the books at W.H. Smith's on Tuesday, the 19th of May 2009 at 19:30. For more details on other signins, check the Schedule section of David's blog.