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on July 5, 2001
Comparing Adam Gopnik's "Paris to the Moon" to any of Peter Mayle's books is like comparing Carl Jung to Deepak Chopra. Chopra offers "quick fixes" for an ailing soul, but Jung's intellectual and deeply insightful approach to what ails mankind has the power to transform the soul. Likewise, both Gopnik and Mayle write about France and French culture, but, unlike Mayle, Adam Gopnik offers a truly critical assessment of the culture in which he immersed himself. Gopnik's insights transcend Mayle's casual observations, and his candor obviously makes some people uncomfortable (truth often does). Compared to Gopnik, Mayle is "light reading": It's certainly enjoyable but doesn't have much substance; it offers little or no "food for thought." Gopnik's writing reflects his background (journalism/teaching), just as Mayle's reflects his (advertising). I personally prefer Gopnik's intellectualizing of la vie parisienne to Mayle's selling of Provence by the pound!
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on January 29, 2001
Mr. Gopnik has a talent for moving from the personal to the universal and back... making the connection between his son's park playing habits and the inevitable French political corruption scandal du jour. As a Canadian living in France, what I appreciate most about this book is not just the great writing but the fact that Mr. Gopnik recognizes the sometimes infuriating things about "the French" (insofar as one can generalize) but loves them and their country (as much as they do) anyway. The only small weakness: it seems at times to be a collection of articles because he repeats himself (about the best walk in Paris, for example) a number of times on a number of things... maybe a bit more cohesive editing would solve this very minor flaw to a very great book.
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on October 20, 2000
Adam Gopnik has provided me with some of my best laughs and best reads over the years in the New Yorker. His piece on the "Last Psychoanalysis" is my all time favorite essay. So, I ripped into this book and was delighted, engaged, dazzled by his skills to convey a country I adore but now realize I know only superficially. Hats off Gopnik for his: talent, this great travel book, and most of all: his ability to capture France in all its intricate nuances. This is an author not only to relish but to trust.
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on October 22, 2000
After reading this book, I want to do two things: 1) go to Paris, and 2) have lunch with Adam Gopnik. A surreal blend of travel literature, history, and even philosophy, _From Paris to the Moon_ will almost certainly contain anecdotes and observations unknown to even the most diehard Parisian-trivia buffs. For those of us who haven't been studying the city for a lifetime, Gopnik provides an accessible overview of his subject before delving into the nitty-gritty. Beautifully written and tremendously engaging.
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on April 25, 2006
Contrary to many of the reviews provided for this book, I have cherished this book as one of my favorite books on France. I lived in Tokyo, Japan as an expat for five years and felt an immediate kindred spirit with the author. I found my own personal experiences to be not that different from his own and related to many of his experiences on a deep, personal level. His gift of prosaic writing is a rare and wonderful treat within the travel essay genre, and I was delighted to be invited in to such an intimate and personal account of life in Paris. While most travel essay books are written by amateur writers, offering shallow accounts of brief stays in foreign lands, this book combines the rare writing talents of Adam Gopnik along with a fascinating, intimate portrait of Paris, a city that offers so much but which reveals so little for most of us who don't have the time to absorb and observe and experience what he was able to enjoy and write about for the rest of us.
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on December 22, 2000
Just as the world is divided into New York City haters and lovers, so are we divided over Paris. Adam Gopnik, his wife, and young son Luke decamped to Paris in 1995 to let Luke grow up, if only for a few years, in a great city besides New York, and this is their story. It's a family tale, or a variety of them, and the theme is always the City itself. And why not? If ever there was a city that deserves its own chroniclers, it's Paris. Gopnik does it right: He's got a genius for turning the personal into the general, and for bringing to fruition some terrific insights into French character (at least, where that intersects with Parisian character). "Trouble at the Tower" is without equal -- maybe only O'Henry, in his New York stories, could pull off something equal. If you loathe Paris, fine, buy another book. But if you're educable and recognize that cities and their residents can demonstrate the best and most contradictory sides of human society, then dig in. -- Incidentally, now back in New York, Gopnik's work remains the best reason to subscribe to the New Yorker; his essay on The Map of The City (November 2000) was a treasure. My only regret? That some of the favorite pieces he wrote in Paris weren't included (viz: The Virtual Bishop...).
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on March 9, 2001
This book is hilarious, erudite and amazingly enjoyable, making it the best piece of travel literature (but it's more *living* literature than travel literature, I think) I've ever read. It's full of insights on French culture -- cuisine, labor unions, childbirth and everything else -- and, more affectingly, thoughts on the bittersweet experience of watching a child grow and change.
Gopnik, a New Yorker (the magazine as well as the city) writer known for his wit, chronicles in this book his years of living in Paris with his wife and young son. Sure, they enjoy an enviably plush lifestyle, with nothing to do but...well, observe all day. But the observations are worth the envy. Who else could describe the music (or muzak) inside French department stores so perfectly? Who else could describe the plight of the French garcon in his favorite restaurant with such humor and sadness?
Most wonderful, though, is the tender portrait of Gopnik's growing young family. It reads like a love letter to his son and wife. He chronicles Luke's first experiences, and eventual assimilation, in Paris with the eye of a brilliant naturalist, the kind of eye parents always seem to have. Far from being indulgent, this tendency is charming and makes me want to get pregnant and expatriate immediately, just to get a whiff of what Gopnik has experienced.
This book reads like a set of essays. Like a set of essays in the New Yorker. I have read some of the preceeding (negative) reviews, and would like to emphasize that if you have never picked up a copy of the New Yorker, if you don't enjoy the New Yorker, etc., that you avoid this book. Bear in mind that Mr. Gopnik is a staff writer for the New Yorker, and he epitomizes their dry, observational, academic reference-laden prose style. If you hate the New Yorker, you will hate this book as well and call it pretentious and stuffy. Hey, you may have a point. But I myself enjoy acerbic and bittersweet wit, with references just obscure enough to make me feel like my liberal arts education is good for something.
"Paris to the Moon" is one of the most enjoyable books of last year, and also one of the most intelligent -- a rare combination. Highly and enthusiastically recommended.
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on June 4, 2004
...and think that "The New Yorker" slant on everything is the apex of Western thought, then you'll love this book because you're the kind of person who goes to Paris and experiences it and notices it the way Mr. Gopnik does. If you detest "The New Yorker"/"New York Times" Manhattan-centric provincialism, you'll hate this book. If you're somewhere between these two extremes, well, you'll love and hate "Paris to the Moon."
Gopnik is a fine writer and observer it's always gratifying to read well-written expatriate tales. (I lived in Asia for years and am still looking for competent contemporary expat memoirs of Southeast Asia). Some of what he writes is engaging--he takes you inside the national library, demystifies the Ritz, describes everyday rituals that become something else overseas. Some is mundane--if you're not a parent or you loathe (your) children, your eyes might glaze over reading about his son and daughter and wife's pregnancy. Some is excruciatingly precious--the occupation of a restaurant (such revolutionary, soul-shaking activism!), the explanation of how super-expensive French restaurant cooking really is about peasant roots, one person's outrage over a perceived misuse of curry powder.
In short, my reactions to Gopnik's book were pretty much my reactions to Paris. It's hard to tell sometimes if Gopnik is just reporting or really finds all he writes about momentous, but it's refreshing to read contemporary accounts of urban life that aren't layered in irony or polemics.
A good companion piece is Lawrence Osborne's "Paris Dreambook", a fantastical account of Paris's underworld that is feverish and lurid where Gopnik's book is measured and polished.
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on October 23, 2000
I'd never before read any of Gopnik's work, but this was a wonderful introduction to this light and insightful writer. The five years he, his wife, and his small son (eventually joined by another baby) are chronicled by Gopnik through "New Yorker" essays and journal entries and all are so very well done. The small things in life, the simple pleasures, the minor inconveniences don't escape his eye or ours. I'm heading to Paris in a few months and this was a lovely tribute to the culture I cannot wait to get to know (and perhaps be exasperated by) as well.
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on January 21, 2001
Paris-to-the- Moon is insightful, gently self-deprecatory, and right-on for American observers of the often confusing dynamics of Franco-American interaction.
Adam Gopnik is terrifically insightful and delightful as a Parisian companion -- my next trip to the City of Light will be indescribably enriched for the experience of seeing it through his eyes (if only to ensure that I have dinner at the Brasserie Lipp!)
The book lost a half star in my estimation only because it seems (perhaps in the rush to publish the book in time for the holidays of 2000, when the original source material was completed only months earlier?) that perhaps it could have used a bit more editorial attention -- there are several cases of prose that could have been de-tangled and anecdotes that were repeated, rather than referred to thematically.
But read it -- it will be like finding a new lifelong travel companion!
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