Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas



 
Title: Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate)
Author: Amy Thomas
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication Date: February 1, 2012
Source: personal purchase (e-book)

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Part love letter to New York, part love letter to Paris, and total devotion to all things sweet. Paris, My Sweet is a personal and moveable feast that’s a treasure map for anyone who loves fresh cupcakes and fine chocolate, New York and Paris, and life in general. It’s about how the search for happiness can be as fleeting as a sliver of cheesecake and about how the life you’re meant to live doesn’t always taste like the one you envisioned. Organized into a baker’s dozen of delicacies (and the adventures they inspired) that will tempt readers’ appetites, Paris, My Sweet is something to savor.

My Review:

Finding my first book for the Around The World in 12 Books challenge was a cinch.  This month's country (France) has been written about from top to bottom, so the recommendations were endless.  However, the one I eventually went with was Paris, My Sweet (mentioned to me by Andi from Estella's Revenge--thanks Andi!).  I thought this was a perfect choice, because it doubles as a book for the Foodies Read challenge (nom).

Paris, My Sweet is the nonfiction account of advertising copywriter/food blogger Amy Thomas during her yearlong stint working in Paris.  After a semester of study abroad in the City of Light during college, she dreamed of eventually returning.  She got the chance at the age of 36 when her job temporarily relocated her there from her longtime home in New York City.  During that year, she experienced all aspects of the city, but especially the ah-may-zing pastries and desserts.  Amy recaps how she ate her way through Paris, while also connecting her food experiences to her personal ups and downs as an expat in France.

I feel like I have to review this as two separate books.  Because first, there's Paris itself: the history, the ambiance, and the food.  OH, THE FOOD.  Amy Thomas pulls no punches when she's describing the positively decadent chocolate, croissants, macarons, cupcakes, et al throughout the city.  I was ravenous before the end of the first chapter.  Each section usually focuses on one type of food (the chocolate chip cookie, madeleines, French toast, etc) and how she experienced it in Paris--along with how it has (or has not) taken off in the NYC restaurant scene.  The contrast between the two cities makes this better than your average food or travel memoir.  (Plus, she provides addresses for every bakery and restaurant she mentions--major score.)

And even beyond the descriptions of the food itself, I felt myself falling in love with the French method of cuisine.  "Fresh, local, and delicious was not the marketing mantra du jour in Paris.  It's just the way it was."  Thomas emphasizes how her Parisians neighbors treasured high-quality ingredients and freshly-prepared dishes, something that is unfortunately undervalued in the US.  It made me yearn for a 3-hour lunch and some local wine.  GAH, divine.

So yes, as far as Paris and the food--this book gets a major thumbs up.

However, then there is the OTHER part of the book: Amy's personal experiences.  To put it plainly, Thomas is just awful at expressing her feelings in a relateable way for readers.  Is she a poor writer structurally?  No.  But she has a complete lack of self-awareness that ends up making her sound spoiled, whiny, and outrageously stuck-up.  She spends the first few chapters recounting how phenomenal her life is: awesome apartment in NYC's East Village, hoppin' social life, amazing job.  Then she gets transferred to the city of her dreams, where she lands a ridiculously perfect apartment (which she doesn't have to pay rent for), gets to work on the Louis Vuitton account, and spends her downtime eating copious amounts of chocolate and jetsetting around Europe.  At one point, she says, "It was almost stupid how picture-perfect my new life was."  And all I could think was, EXACTLY.  Thomas shows positively no humility in these descriptions, and as a reader, I lost all interest in her as a result.  (Best part: when she complains about how she had to work SO MUCH in the summer (wait, like the rest of us?)...but oh yeah, she did have time to vacation in the Loire Valley and the Cote d'Azur.  Oh, and she got to watch the Tour de France from her office.  Please excuse me while I cry all the tears for you.)  Later in the memoir, she starts to talk about some relationship and health problems that she encountered, but by then I found her so eyeroll-worthy, it took me a long time to sympathize.

Also, Thomas breaks a well-known rule of Girl Law: if you're a skinny girl, you don't tell the world about how fat you feel.  I can say this, because I am a somewhat skinny girl, and I know better than to complain publicly about a fat day.  I will not get sympathy.  I keep that sh*t between me and my husband and/or BFF, who are the two humans who will listen to me about it without punching me in the face.  Thomas, however, spends the entire book complaining about how "fat" Parisian chocolate made her, when it is plain from every Googled photo of her ever that that is not the case.  Again, she loses reader sympathy here.

So, overall--as a food memoir (especially a dessert memoir), this book rocks my socks.  I am really glad that I bought a copy, because I'd love to take it with me if I ever visit Paris--all the best foodie spots are mentioned!  And Paris, as a setting, is gorgeously described.  It made me want to hop a plane ASAP.  However, as a personal memoir, Paris, My Sweet falls on its face.  Thomas needs to re-think how she presents herself to her audience.  She had some good stories to tell, but she just doesn't go about it with the right tone.

Foodies--rejoice!  This one is a hit.  But memoirists, you may want to take a pass.

What are your favorite books set in Paris?  How about food memoirs?

16 comments:

  1. Agreed all the way around! She did do a great job describing the food; not such a wonderful job with her feelings and self-awareness. Glad you had time to read this one! :) Great review, too.

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  2. Thanks Andi! I really appreciated the recommendation.

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  3. I love Paris (in my mind since I've never been there) and I have a weakness for food so this seems like a good match. A little sad that Amy Thomas isn't good at expressing her own feelings, though.

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  4. This one my be going on my list. I've always wanted to visit Paris, so love anything related to it, and I really really love food!

    Thanks for linking your review to the Foodies Read challenge

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  5. If you guys love Paris (or are curious about it at all), this is a good choice...she scours the city looking for bakeries, parks, etc. and you get a good overall glimpse of what life is like there.

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  6. Okay - adding this to my files for when I do go to Paris. But your review definitely made me wary of reading this as anything other than a sort of foodie travel guide.

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  7. Definitely perfect for a travel/food guide...there are maps and addresses in the index, maybe just take that with you! :)

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  8. I read Paris, My Sweet recently too- I did notice the difference in the Paris and personal memoirs- how ridiculously amazing the experience that plopped into her lap was, but my fascination with Paris carried me through. And Amy knows her way round a patisserie or two, I'm more than willing to take her recommendations.

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  9. Louise, I'd agree, Paris itself and Amy's food knowledge are the shining lights in this book! I'd take her eating recommendations any day.

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  10. I feel a need to defend Amy here because I think your review is completely off track. As a writer, Amy divulged readers in her vulnerable side and her innermost thoughts. Those are not ones we are always proud of, but that's the point of a memoir -- to be real and relatable. If you found yourself not liking Amy, well, that's your opinion of her, not of the book.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Adena, though I do respectfully disagree with your last line. I do not dislike Amy as a person (never met her, can't speak to that), but I dislike the way she portrayed herself in this book. Any time a writer takes on an autobiographical or memoir-style book, they control the tone. Was Amy being real/relatable? I would assume, yes. However, she did it in a way that made her seem bratty rather than worldly, lucky, or wise. Not every memoirist is likeable, or has done admirable things--but the way they choose to relate their story can still cause the reader to view them with respect or admiration.

      For what it's worth, after I posted my review, I read a few others on Goodreads/Amazon, and it seems I am not the only reader who interpreted the tone this way.

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  11. Hi Kelly, Carole's Chatter is currently collecting posts about Favourite Travel Books. This looks like a good one. It would be super if you linked it in. This is the link - Your Favourite Travel Books There are quite a few good links already. I hope to see you soon. Cheers

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    1. So glad you added this to the travel "library", Kelly. Hope to see you again soon. Cheers

      PS following via GFC

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  12. You know, I just finished this and I felt the same way- that she did sound whiny and irritating when not describing food. I was doing a small review for my blog, and I actually Googled 'amy thomas paris my sweet whiny' to see if anyone else felt the same way! You have echoed my feelings exactly :) The food parts of the book are decadent, though!

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    1. Haha, after I wrote my review I ended up googling others as well. I wanted to make sure I wasn't alone in my criticism! Seems that is definitely not the case.

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