Friday, April 29, 2011

Les livres pour les francophiles

I've been on a bit of a French jag with my books lately. I think I might have to take a break from reading France-centric books for a bit and give other countries a chance to hold my imagination. Here are some of the wonderful books I've read recently dealing with things and people that are French:

Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Ollivier
I read this book a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. I liked how Ollivier boiled down her observations of all things French into nice little lists (so very appropriate for an American audience!). I got quite a good number of movie, book, and beauty product recommendations.

French Women Don't Sleep Alone by Jamie Cat Callan
This was a very cute book. It's definitely put me in the mind to accept more social engagements and to put more effort into my appearance (even if it's just a trip to Trader Joe's). Also, a walking "date" sounds so much more appealing than a one-on-one dinner and a movie date, so I'll definitely be suggesting that in the future. And, of course, keeping the mystery alive, even when you're married is always a great suggestion.

All You Need to be Impossibly French by Helena Frith Powell
Another very cute book that attempts the feat of boiling down millions of French women into the things that make them French and therefore different from British and American women. I liked how the author said she'd take the things she liked about the French and apply them to her own life, but also keep what she likes about being British. I agree—the French have many desirable attributes: a healthy diet, a mysterious air (due to NOT spilling every single little detail about themselves to everyone they meet), a polished appearance, ability to drink in moderation, matching underwear etc. But they also have idiosyncrasies that I would not like in my own life, such as the prevalence of cheating (obviously this happens just as much in the States too, but the French seem more understanding about it) and the lack of girlfriends. So I think I will do like the author did and incorporate the things I admire about the French into my life but also keep my insistence upon monogamy and my best friends.

French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano
Surprisingly, I had not read this book until this year—crazy, I know. I already loved the author because my former French teacher's name was also Mireille and because she's the former president and CEO of Veuve Clicquot, my favorite champagne. This book did NOT disappoint. It's all common sense, really, but the way Mireille tells it, it makes even more sense. These are not things Americans are taught to do—eat bread and cheese and yogurt—so perhaps it's not common sense to most people, but I found her advice to ring true. I have definitely made some steps in the right direction with what I eat after reading this book. But to be honest, I only lasted 3/4 of a day on that Magic Leek Soup weekend. I am absolute rubbish at fasting—even fasting that includes eating leeks and drinking leek soup. However, I'd never had leeks before, so to discover that I actually like them quite a bit was a nice surprise!

The French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook by Mireille Guiliano
I'm not exactly what you'd call a cook. In fact, I don't really cook at all. In fact, I honestly think the first time I've ever cooked pasta was just the other night. When you hear about people who can't even boil water, picture me. I'm not even kidding. So, while I have only tried two of the recipes in this book so far (Magical Breakfast Cream—seriously SO yummy and something else involving peas that I didn't really care for), I do plan on trying more and actually learning how to cook. But seriously, that Magical Breakfast Cream is delicious. I have had it every morning for breakfast for the past three or four weeks and cannot get enough of it!

What French Women Know About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind by Debra Ollivier
Another great book by Debra Ollivier. It brings to light so many wonderful aspects of the way French women think, act, and live. After reading it, I'm more inclined to embrace my imperfections and just enjoy life as it happens. That is far sexier and more enjoyable than trying to control every little aspect of your life like many American women do!

I also have plenty of French books on my "plan to read" list, such as:

Reading all of these books about French women has definitely made an impact on me. I see things in the French that I would like to exhibit myself. Namely, taking very good care of myself (eating well, walking a lot, drinking lots of water, taking excellent care of my skin, hair, and nails, making an effort with my appearance at all times, etc.), not really caring what others think of me (which you might think is mutually exclusive with wanting to look good all the time, but it’s not!) and not needing everyone to like me, allowing some mystery about myself (I am really bad about sharing too much!), wearing matching scanties, drinking only in moderation, and not trying to achieve perfection. I like how the French don’t need everything spelled out in a relationship, but I would still like to know for sure that the relationship I’m in is monogamous and will stay so—I’m not into “open” relationships. That said, a little more mystery is a good thing—your significant other doesn’t need to know every little secret about you.

And there are some French things that I think I already exhibit. For example, in What French Women Know, Debra Olliver quotes VĂ©ronique Vienne “[joie de vivre is] a form of bliss triggered by the world at large, not by an internal reality. Unlike happiness, which can be described as an inner state of contentment, joie de vivre is not self-involved. You derive this kind of joy from acknowledging greatness outside yourself—in things, in nature, in others.” I never noticed this about myself until recently, but after taking the VIA Survey of Character Strengths, it showed that my #1 strength is “appreciation of beauty and excellence”. I thought this was a sort of weird strength to have as my #1. I mean, what can you do with an appreciation of beauty and excellence? Does that translate into a job? And then I remembered that our jobs do not need to be our lives and I can enjoy the beauty and excellence around me any old time and who cares if I get paid for it? It makes me happy. Anyway, as soon as I read Vienne’s definition of joie de vivre, I got all excited—I have joie de vivre!

Of course, there are other so-called French attributes mentioned in more than one of these books that I am not overly fond of. Everything You Need to be Impossibly French had a whole section on how French women don’t hang out with other women like Americans and British women do—they just don’t do “girlfriends”. While I admire the French way of co-ed socializing (I really could stand to do more of that myself), I love my girlfriends and I can’t imagine life without the occasional girls’ night out. It was also mentioned that one of the reasons they don’t do “girlfriends” is because they’re all worried their female friends are going to steal their husbands/boyfriends. This seems silly to me. I trust my girlfriends implicitly. I would just not be friends with a woman I didn’t trust. And if my significant other could be “stolen”, then he isn’t worth my time. Also, the whole French inability to stand in lines. I experienced this first-hand in Paris—especially in Disneyland Paris. I’m definitely not calling French people rude because I met the nicest, most accommodating French people when I was there. But, at the train station and at Disneyland Paris, I encountered the most annoying lack of respect for lines I’ve ever experienced. I’m a firm believer in first come, first served and I dislike it when people cut in line because they think they’re more entitled. My sister even hip checked a girl into a trash can in line for Space Mountain because she tried to get in front of us. I think it’s only polite to wait in line and I will continue to think so, even if that makes me terribly American. I have no problem with that.

I find much to admire in French women (see, there goes that appreciation of beauty and excellence!) and plan to incorporate those admirable qualities in my own life. But I also have developed a better appreciation for myself and can proudly claim some of my very American traits, such as love for my girlfriends and patiently waiting in line.

Monday, April 25, 2011


So I just bought a copy of Water for Elephants online—even though I already read the book a couple of years ago and HATED it. I thought the storyline itself was great and it was obvious that Sara Gruen knew her stuff (i.e. did extensive research). However, I thought the way she set you in the 1930s was too obvious. I felt like I was being hit over the head with it. And that's what rubbed me the wrong way and made me hate it.

As a huge fan of the 1930s—the movies, the books, the music, the culture, the outlaws (I'm obsessed with Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger)—I probably know a lot more about this time period than your average reader. And so, I totally understand that Sara Gruen's writing style is probably not irritating to the millions of people who loved this book. But to this 30s fan, it rankled me big time.

However, as I said before, I think the story itself was great and the characters were wonderful. Also, being a fan of all three leads in the movie version, I went and saw the movie on Friday night. I figured the movie version would be better because they could visually show you the 1930s without overdoing it. And I was right—I enjoyed the movie much more than the book (even though the line about "He hates Ringling Brothers even more than he hates this depression" made me cringe and I'm pretty sure the flag on the big top had 50 stars on it, but I could be wrong).

One of my favorite things to do after watching any movie is to go to IMDb and read all of the goofs and trivia about it. When I did this for Water for Elephants, I found out that Sara Gruen wrote the novel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I couldn't help but be impressed. I've never given NaNoWriMo a true try before (because it has to be a new novel, not one you've been working on and I'm still working on one and don't want to start a new one yet), but I can figure out for myself that it's no easy thing to do. Of course, she obviously didn't write the entire 350 page novel in 30 days, but she wrote at least 50,000 words of it.*

I've been wanting to re-read the book so I could give specific examples of why I didn't like Gruen's writing style. Every time I explain to people why I didn't like it, I think I sound like a know-it-all who thinks she's pretty awesome because she knows a lot about the 1930s. And, well, I am and I do. Having forgotten much of the book since I read it in 2008 or 2009, I can't honestly remember the specific passages that drove me crazy. So I figure if I re-read it, I can make note of them and better defend my opinion. But also, now with my new-found respect for Sara Gruen, I might actually enjoy it this time.

We'll see. . . .

*Edit: when I received the book in the mail, it had a little interview with Sara Gruen in it and she never mentioned NaNoWriMo,which is  kind of lame. I'd brag about that shit!!