Reading is like dating. There are the books you’re initially infatuated with, but become irritated by as the relationship progresses. There are the books you should love because they’re perfect for you, but you just can’t seem to connect. There are the books you love secretly because they’re no good, and you’d be embarrassed if your friends knew. There are the fix-ups, the “meet cutes,” the love-at-first-sights, and the long-term relationships that grow stronger over time. For me, Janice MacLeod’s Paris Letters was an immediate friendship that grew into love. However, it was a romance that almost never happened.
I initially requested Paris Letters from the library thinking it was a book of artwork, the painted letters from Paris referenced in the title. When it turned out to be memoir, I nearly took it back, because do I really need to read another story of a woman simplifying her life, jetting off to see the world, and finding herself and/or true love? I mean, I’ve read Eat, Pray, Love and many other stories both fictional and non- of that ilk. Still, I decided to read the first few pages just to see…and I connected with MacLeod immediately. I liked her turns of phrase and casual voice. She seemed approachable, down-to-earth, real. Somehow, this story of a 30-something vegan copywriter who goes to Paris and unexpectedly falls in love with a French-speaking Polish butcher resonated with me.
For MacLeod, it all started with a New Year’s resolution in 2010. She wanted to become an artist, and began journaling nearly every day, following Julia Cameron’s instructions regarding Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way. “Really, I just wanted to create something that made me feel good, because what I was currently creating definitely did not,” MacLeod writes. What was she creating? Junk mail.
After two months of journaling and complaining about her job, a question emerged: “How much money does it take to quit your job?” In discussing it with a friend, she chose the figure of $100 a day (partly because of the easy math!) multiplied by how many days she did not want to work (at least one year). She spent the next year selling, saving and being vigilant about where her money went, eventually saving $60,000! It helped that she had a good job and was successful investing in the stock market. She quit her job in December with the plan of traveling the world and writing about it. When her money ran out, she would decide what to do next.
The rest of the book follows her journey to Paris, the UK, Italy…and back to Paris to be with “the lovely Cristophe.” She writes humorously about her struggles to communicate with Cristophe, the daunting paperwork required for her visa, and the challenges of (spoiler alert) planning a wedding in a foreign country. The title of the book comes from her unique solution for refilling her dwindling bank account: she would write and illustrate an original letter from Paris, and make personalized copies to sell. (At the time the book was printed, she had sent out more than 10,000 painted letters about life in France.) Some chapters end with copies of her Paris letters, illustrated in black and white (an unfortunate decision made by her publisher). She also includes a list of 100 ways she saved or didn’t spend her $100 a day. You can see (and subscribe to) her illustrated letters here.
Paris Letters was a happy read—and so far, one of my favorite books of 2015.
*Click here to download the stationery pictured beneath the book.