Part memoir, part Paris guide book, John Baxter takes us through a year of his life in Paris as a literary tour guide through the city of light’s 6th Arrondissment, better known as The Latin Quarter.
Written as a series of essays, each chapter chronicles a different part of Baxter’s life that either lead to his career as a literary tour guide, or what followed as a result. What I liked about the book is that Baxter offered a lot of insight into the famed Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore, as well Paris itself. Many of his warnings and advice came in handy while I was there. The best time to read this book is either in Paris, or on your way to Paris because that is when you can see Paris through Baxter’s eyes. This is especially true of the Latin Quarter. Had it not been for this book, I would have missed the significance of much of this area of Paris in terms of its literary history. I loved that he included tips to get around the city in the back of the book. In fact, I had torn out these pages and carried them around me during my week stay. I liked that he complimented the narrative with quotes, songs and poetry, and that this wasn’t a typical chronological memoir.
What I didn’t like: Since this was an ARC copy, there were a few minor editing errors throughout the book (ie. William Faulkner being named twice in a list of authors.) I thought that it would help if the photos provided in the book had captions to help explain their significance. One chapter was missing a photo entirely and had an error message in the box. I also thought a nice added touch would have been for Baxter to create either a simple map or a reference guide for all the street names and their histories on one page. Something easy to refer to when trying to decide what spots to visit on a day trip.
Overall, this book was a great way to prepare myself for the literary side of Paris. Baxter’s writing style is very eloquent without being pompous, and his portraits of Paris at its best times and worst times are a great way to understand the mood of the city.The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter Harper Perennial, 2011 302 pages Via Harper Perennial Book 20 of 2011