The Paris Library

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I read the large print hardcover and ebook versions of this novel. I've never been 100% sure, but always believed that regular page numbers, large print page numbers and ebook numbers are the same, however, in this case I am sure they are not. Unfortunately, I already turned in the print version before I finished going through the eBook notes so some of my references may be out of sequence per the story. I wish I had heard the audio to appreciate all of the French names and other words. It wasn't until very late in the novel (Ch. 47, ePg. 340) that we are told by a character how to pronounce the main characters name (Oh-deal).

Like so many novels of late, this story is told in two threads - one starts in the past (Paris, 1939) and one starts more recently (Froid, Montana, 1983). I thought Froid might be a reference to Sigmund Freud but actually the real town is named for the French word for "cold". Odile exists in both threads. When we meet her she is a young, French woman who secures a job in the American LIbrary in Paris (a real place) even though her father is eager to marry her off.

I read this at a time when Russia was invading Ukraine. Ironically, there is a reference to President Reagan talking about the Russians shooting down an air plane saying, "The Soviet Union violated every concept of human rights...we shouldn't be surprised by such inhuman brutality..." (Ch. 2, ePg. 10, loc. 150) The same comments could've been made today.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 2

Religion: 2

Gruesome: 3

Suspense: 1

Morality: 1

Traditional: 4

Sex - a couple is interrupted before a brief moment of passion goes too far. (LPg. 316) An unmarried couple uses "an apartment of romantic assignations" (LPg. 321) with minimal details about loosing virginity.

Religion - "Iron-Collar Maloney" (Ch. 2, ePg. 10) in reference to a priest. Waiting for the coffee pot at church was standing "at the pulpit of the percolator". (Ch. 2, ePg. 10, loc. 156) Lily wondered if France had Jehovah's Witnesses. (Ch. 2, ePg. 14, loc. 209) Mary Louise and Lily wished for a place, "Where we can do scream in church...or not even go to church". (Ch. 2, ePg. 21, loc. 315) A gossipy scene in church. (Ch. 2, ePg. 22, loc. 337) A divorced woman is not allowed to go to church but says, "It's a pity, but I can read scripture on my own." (LPg. 120) "Jesus, did the whole congregation know." (LPg. 171) There were a few instances where somewhat derogatory comments were made about religion. Such as "Dipping my fingers into the rancid holy water." (Ch. 21) and referring to the priest as "Iron Collar Maloney". (LPg. 250) Several mentions of going to church, not just for funerals and weddings but regularly on Sunday, including Ch. 39, ePg. 295. Jean-Charles was upset that Louis "won't stop taking the Lord's name in vain". (Ch. 40, ePg. 304, loc. 4223)

Gruesome - Odile lost a son in the Vietnam war (Ch. 2, ePg. 22, loc. 336) and she also lived through World War II and was affected by casualties. A French woman and a baby were violently attacked for having been friendly with German soldiers. (Ch. 41, ePg. 309, loc. 4289) A woman's head is shaved as punishment. (Ch. 41, ePg. 310, loc. 4306) Gang rape. (Ch. 42, ePg. 312, loc. 4329) On Pg. 414, someone is shot at close range.

Suspense - there was some mild suspense in regards to the Nazi confrontations and check points.

Morality - There are several references, including in Chapter 9, of the normalcy of a married man having an affair, even with the knowledge of his wife. Maman shuns her own sister because she got divorced and the church says divorce is a sin. A couple delayed marriage but still had trysts in abandoned apartments. Women made "bitchy comments". (Ch. 39, ePg. 297) A teenager says, "You risked your life to defy the fricking Nazis." (Ch. 39, ePg. 300)

Traditional - Soviets called "Godless bastards." (Ch. 2, ePg. 10, loc. 157) Family members on different sides of the immigration debate regarding war refugees. (Ch. 3, ePg. 26, loc. 390) No incidents of gender confusion or homosexuality. Odile's Aunt Carol was practically cut off from the family when she divorced, even though her husband had been having an affair and gotten his mistress pregnant. A high school girl had birth control pills. (LPg. 416-417)

Early in the novel, Odile mentions that she has a twin brother. (Ch. 2, ePg. 17, loc. 255) I made a note to see if the twin would be of consequence. Then I started reading about her brother Remy in the past French pages but it wasn't until much, much later (LPg. 118) that she referenced him being her twin again and I was surprised by the news because I'd forgotten about the reference in the second chapter.

The first six chapters were either Odile or Lily. Then, Chapter 7 was about Margaret. I felt a little overwhelmed. I was already having problems connecting with the library cast and keeping them straight, so I was a little annoyed that now we had another character and she ranked enough for her own chapter. Margaret was easier for my mind to organize because she did become a central character. She could be nominated for "best supporting actress" when compared to the library group. Eventually, I did assemble the library people into individual characters but it took me almost until Chapter 39. I was almost half way through the book before I realized that the library characters were addressed by the titles in their native language: Professor Cohen was American, a Mister was from America or Britain and the French were addressed as Madame or M. (short for Monsuier) Lily's chapters were 2 and 4. We didn't see her again until chapter 12 and I'd kind of forgotten about her. Miss Reeder got her own chapter at 19, which seemed a little late to me.

One of my biggest problems with this book (which really is a small problem) was inaccurate and inconsistent body descriptions. In Chapter 33, on one page Lily holds a sweater up to her flat chest and on another she's wanting to take driver's ed. Even when she's about to graduate, it seemed like she was still rather flat chested. I grew up in the '80's. Most girls started developing in middle school. I don't know how old the author is, but I would guess she grew up in the '80's, like Lily. In the '90's, some girls even started developing in elementary school because of the hormones in the milk. On page 529, we read that one twelfth grader has boobs and hips and the other does not.

The other problem I had is also small. On page 449, in the last two paragraphs, the flow is off. It seems like a major editing error. On the preceding page, Paul had come to the library for Odile. They started to walk home and had an argument and Paul stalked off. Then, on page 449, "The following day...Paul didn't stop in at the Library. ... Distracted by my worry, I forgot about the books I was supposed to deliver to Professor Cohen and went straight home. // For the second evening in a row, Paul didn't come. At closing time, I tucked the novels for Professor Cohen into my satchel." So, she forgot the books and went straight home and in the next paragraph she tucked the books into her satchel and went to deliver them? Maybe the next paragraph, when it says "For the second evening" is supposed to be the day after she went straight home. But the passage of a whole day is not clear, and not represented in the same way it is throughout the rest of the book.

I found the word choice unusual when Lily "revised the day's French" lesson. (Ch. 21, ePg. 154, loc. 2174) I think the word should have been "reviewed" instead of "revised". It appears in one other instance. I thought maybe it was an unusual use for the word so it bothered me enough that I went to the dictionary. Indeed "revised" is not the correct word for that sentence. Ironic!

Discussion Questions

" 'Who's your favorite author?' Miss Reeder asked." (Ch. 1, ePg. 4, loc. 72)

Someone in Lily's neighborhood had "forty-seven gnomes scattered around their yard, one for each year they'd been married." (Ch. 2, ePg. 20, loc. 308) Do you have any collections or traditions?

Odile had more books than pictures. Lily's house had more pictures than books. (Ch. 2, ePg. 22, loc. 333) Which do you have more of? What does it indicate?

Odile wished she could turn the pages of life faster to see what would happen with Paul. (Ch. 3, ePg. 30, loc. 447) Do you ever wish your life were more like a book? Do you peek ahead in books to see what will happen? Would you like to peek ahead at your life?

Early in the book Odile comments that she met her husband at the hospital. We soon realize that, even though Paul seems to be her intended, they did not meet in the hospital so Paul must not be the man she marries. At one point, Odile is sent to volunteer in the hospital. But she didn't seem to meet anyone significant. How did this tease and delay impact your reading? Were you creating possible explanations? What were they?

Remy said, "What's the point of studying laws when no one respects them? Germany taking over Austria...Japanese soldiers marauding in China...The world's gone crazy, and no one gives a damn." (Ch. 8, ePg. 60, loc. 858) Even though Remy existed in the World War II timeline, the same sentiments can apply today. Is this history repeating itself or fiction imitating life?

Maman wore a cameo to Remy and Bitsi's engagement luncheon. (Ch. 11, ePg. 90, loc. 1296) Did your mom have an item for special occasions? Do you?

Lily watched Days of Our Lives. What soap operas did you watch in the '80's?
For her birthday, Lily's dad took her to get a t-shirt with iron-on letters on the back. (Ch. 12, ePg. 103, loc. 1488)
Was this an '80's or a '70's trend? Did you have a letter shirt growing up? What did yours say?

When Eleanor was drinking from the coffee cup that had belonged to Lily's mom, Mary Louise swiped it onto the floor where it broke. (Ch. 12, ePg. 104, loc. 1505) Was that the right move? Would it have been better to let someone drink from the cup instead of having no cup at all?

There really was an American Library in Paris. (Ch. 13, ePg. 106, loc. 1536) Why is that not the title instead of "The Paris Library"?

Odile told the journalists, "We all have a book that's changed us forever. One that let us know that we're not alone. What's yours?" (Ch. 15, ePg. 118, loc. 1697)

Odile and Lily discuss what their number would be in the Dewey Decimal system. (Ch. 21, ePg. 152, loc. 2146) What would your number be?

Obviously we know it was important for plot purposes to get Odile out of Froid for a few days, so she went to visit "Lucienne, her war bride friend in Chicago". (Ch. 21, ePg. 158, loc. 2241) Had we ever heard of Lucienne before? Who could she have gone to visit that would have served the plot purpose but been more believable?

Maman would not leave Paris, even for her own safety, because she wanted to wait for Remy. Odile turned down an invitation to visit Paul at his aunt's country home, because she felt she "must stay in Paris in case we hear from Remy." (Ch. 22, ePg. 166) If you were in a similar situation, would you stay and wait for word?

Who did you think wrote the letters, like the letter about Professor Cohen at the end of Ch. 23 (LPg. 310) and at the end of Ch. 26 about the library? Did you think it was Odile? Or Paul, since they seemed to divulge everyone but Odile's secrets? What did you think when the letters were found in the closet? (Ch. 33, ePg. 263, loc. 3654) Did you think Odile wrote the letters? Did Mme. Simon have anything to do with the letters since her "son and daughter-in-law moved into the professor's apartment"? (Ch. 36, ePg. 283, loc. 3958)

Odile appreciated that Ms. Reeder gave her a chance to grow by trusting her to learn her own lessons without being lectured. (Pg. 325) Do you have anyone like that?

In Ch. 26, Lily stands up to her dad. Was she justified? Did she do it respectfully? Did you ever have to take a stand?

Lily developed a habit of snooping. (Ch. 33, ePg. 261, loc. 3625) Did you think it was foreshadowing? Did you ever snoop into anyone's things? How did it turn out? When Odile caught Lily snooping, she said, "I don't blame you for poking around my things because you're bored or curious...But to believe I could write those words! What have I done to make you think I could be capable of such evil?" (Ch. 39, ePg. 294) How would you respond if you caught Lily snooping in your things? How would you handle the situation?

After 30 chapters about either Odile or Lily (with one about Margaret), was it weird or helpful to have Chapter 32 about Boris and Chapter 35 about Paul?

Odile has a habit of sliding her foot over people's foot? How would you feel if someone slid their foot over yours? Would you think it was fun or rude?

In Chapter 43, Odile and Margaret have a conversation about blame. Who was to blame for what Margaret suffered?

Were you surprised to learn what Odile had been about to do before Lily went over to interview her? (Ch. 47, ePg. 342, loc. 4716)

How does the war time compare to the recent pandemic when libraries were closed but people still wanted, or needed, to read?

In the Reading Group Guide (end of eBook), the introduction states that Lily and Odile shared a lot of things, "never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them". What was the dark secret?

There were several questions that I liked from the Reading Group Guide: (ePg. 353)
(2.) When Odile is first introduced as Mrs. Gustafson, Lily notes that she "donned her Sunday best -- a pleated skirt and high heels --
just to take out the trash. A red belt showed off her waist. Always." (10) What does the red belt represent? And why, at the end
of the novel, does she replace "her tatty red belt with a stylish black one"? (344)

(4.) Odile and Lily come from very different backgrounds, different countries, and different eras. Where do they find common

(5.) ...habitues are many fascinating and eccentric characters, such as Professor Cohen and Mr. Pryce-Jones. Who is your favorite,
and why?

(6.) Consider Odile's Aunt Caroline, and how Caro's experience informs Odile's decisions regarding Paul and Buck. Do you
believe Odile's assertion that her mother would "cast me out, just like Aunt Caro"? (332)

(12.) ...Would you have reacted as Odile does, or what would you have done differently?

"The climax of the novel is Odile's betrayal of Margaret, which she does mostly unwittingly, and which has ramifications for the rest of Odile's life." (Reading Group Guide - Author Q&A, ePg. 353, loc. 4925) Do you think Odile ever wrote to Margaret? Was she forgiven?

The novel might be summed up by some as people avoiding tough discussions. The author explains that:
Odile was not able to admit how she felt when Margaret said thoughtless things. Because Odile could not be forthright when Margaret
hurt her feelings, Margaret never knew of Odile's resentment, and Margaret herself never had the opportunity to change how she thought
and spoke. This situation in the book is very specific, but speaks to a general trend. These conversations, where we must tell people when
we are uncomfortable or upset, are challenging. Many people today would rather cut off relatives and friends completely than express
how they actually feel. We tend to bottle our feelings and then come to a breaking point. And then the fabric of community tears more.
I hope this book will help us mend.
(Reading Group Guide - Author Q&A, ePg. 353, loc. 4929)
What is your strategy for having difficult conversations?

Theme Ideas

Serve croissants like Odiel got in the mornings. (Ch. 1, ePg. 1, loc. 24)
coffee, reminiscent of how the Directress's office smelled. (Ch. 1, ePg. 4, loc. 65)
Serve "
turkey...trussed and sprinkled with parsley" like Maman did for Sunday lunch. (Ch. 1, ePg. 4, loc. 78)
coffee and doughnuts (doughnut holes) like the congregation had in the hall after church. (Ch. 2, ePg. 10-11, loc. 155/160) Include juice (Ch. 39, ePg. 295) or other pastries. (Ch. 48, ePg. 343, loc. 4725)
Girl Scout Cookies, because Lily was not allowed to bother Odile when she was selling them. (Ch. 2, ePg. 13, loc. 190)
spare ribs, salad, and a pineapple upside-down cake like Lily's parents had when they hosted dinner club on Fridays. (Ch. 2, ePg. 13, loc. 202)
chocolate chip cookies like Lily's mom offered Odile on her first visit. (Ch. 2, ePg. 16, loc. 241)
financiers, like the cake Odile's father brought her after her first day of work. (Ch. 2, ePg. 17, loc. 258)
operas, "swathes of deep, dark chocolate enveloped in layers of cake soaked in coffee", like Odile's mother liked. (Ch. 2, ePg. 17, loc. 259)
Serve "
Cigarettes russes. Russian cigarettes." (Ch. 2, ePg. 23, loc. 348) which are sugar cookies, "thin and crunchy, ... wrapped in the shape of a miniature spyglass." (Ch. 2, ePg. 23, loc. 344) - I assume "wrapped" should be "cut" or perhaps "rolled".
Serve aperitifs like Odile's parents served when Paul was their guest ("vermouth for the men, sherry for the women"). (Ch. 3, ePg. 26, loc. 383)
Serve "
potato-leek soup" (Ch. 3, ePg. 27, loc. 412) and "rosemary mashed potatoes and pork roast" (Ch. 3, ePg. 28, loc. 412) followed by "mousse au chocolat in small crystal bowls" for dessert (Ch. 3, ePg. 29, loc. 441), like when Paul joined Odile's family for Sunday lunch. To make the soup, "cut off the curly roots before splitting its slender white body. ... Slice the leek and scrape the pieces into a pan of bubbling butter while the potatoes boil. Puree leeks and potatoes in a blender before adding a dollop of cream. Pour into bowls." (Ch. 4, ePg. 36, loc. 537 - edited for tense)
scones, like Miss Wedd was known for. (Ch. 6, ePg. 49) and baked for the Soldiers Service Operation volunteers. (Pg. 205)
salisbury steak frozen dinners and green jello like when Lily's mom was in the hospital. (Pg. 59-60)
roast and potatoes like they served at Remy and Bitsi's engagement luncheon. (Ch. 11, ePg. 91, loc. 1310)
roast, mashed potatoes, and gravy like after Lily's mom's funeral. (Ch. 12, ePg. 94, loc. 1351)
chocolate cake like Odile brought for Lily's birthday. (Ch. 12, ePg. 103, loc. 1494)
Serve carmelized apples (
tarte tain), profiteroles and chocolate mousse - Odile's three favorite desserts that she mentioned when Paul took her and Margaret to a bistro. (Pg. 128) They also ate steak frites. (Pg. 130)
buttery croissants, like Odile served when Lily stayed with her during the honeymoon. (Ch. 21, ePg. 152, loc. 2141) Serve cafe au lait like Mary Louise and Lily drank at Odile's. (Ch. 21, ePg. 152, loc. 2152)
ginger cookies like Lily made with her family. (Ch. 21, ePg. 155, loc. 2201) They also made molasses cookies cut into Santa shapes and drank hot cider. (Ch. 21, ePg. 155, loc. 2202)
Serve a
plate of grapes like Lily ate after school with Eleanor and Odile. (Ch. 21, ePg. 158, loc. 2242)
croque monsieurs (Pg. 165) like Odile served the first day she babysat Lily. She also served Lily's favorite - chocolate chip cookies.
cupcakes like Lily and Robby made in Home Ec (Pg. 169) and cheese fries like she went to eat after class. (Pg. 170)
Earl Grey tea like they served the Bibliotheksschutz. (Ch. 22, ePg. 178)
orange pekoe, Russian cigarettes (tea and cookies) like the Professor did when Odile delivered books. (Ch. 23, ePg. 184, loc. 2585)
rutabegas, like they ate often. (Ch. 24)
chocolate cookies like Odile did when Lily was upset about her report card. (Ch. 26, ePg. 208, loc. 2925)
Serve "a few
spoonfuls of oatmeal and an egg" cut into thirds like the wartime breakfast. (Ch. 29, ePg. 231, loc. 3212)
Serve "
chocolat chaud" like Paul imagined Odile whisking. (Ch. 35, ePg. 272, loc. 3776)
Oreos like the priest offered Lily when she went to talk to him. (Ch. 39, ePg. 296)
club sandwiches and French dips like when Eleanor and Lily went out for a girl's day. (Ch. 39, ePg. 299)
salo like Boris and Anna ate with their neighbors. (Pg. 411)
Serve Lily's "favorite dinner,
steak and french fries served with a green salad" and pieces "of cheese like a Parisienne". (Pg. 526)
Serve ham and baguettes like Buck traded his cigarette rations for. (Ch. 45, ePg. 333, loc. 4604)
beef stew because Buck reminisced about his mother's stew. (Ch. 45, ePg. 333, loc. 4605)
chocolate cake, like after Lily's graduation. (Ch. 48, ePg. 345, loc. 4755)

Decorate with petunias, like on the border of the secret garden in the library's courtyard. (Ch. 1, ePg. 2, loc. 43)
Decorate with ferns like Odile's mom kept. (Ch. 3, ePg. 30, loc. 452)
Decorate with daffodils like Paul brought Odile on her first day at the library. (Pg. 83)
Decorate with a "teacup full of posies" like Odile put on Bitsi's desk. (Ch. 22, ePg. 167)
Decorate with liliacs because Paul brought a bouquet to Odile near Easter time. (Ch. 23, Pg. 306)
Decorate with purple gladiolas like Odile took to Professor Cohen. (Pg. 318)
Decorate with Lily's senior class colors, red and white. (Ch. 48, ePg. 343, loc. 4724)

Do something to help refugees like Remy did such as an awareness campaign or clothing drive. (Ch. 3, ePg. 30, loc. 457)

Lily and her mom talked about what groups of species are called. (Ch. 4, ePg. 35, loc. 514) Play a game to see who knows the most correct terms. Example: a _______ of geese (gaggle), a ______ of sparrows (host), a _______ of hawks (cast)


  • French songs (Ch. 2, ePg. 12, loc. 185)

  • Tchaikovsky and Bach, like in Odile's record collection (Ch. 2, ePg. 15, loc. 225)

  • "Jingle Bells" like Lily remembered singing with her mom. (Ch. 21, ePg. 154, loc. 2186)

  • "Silent Night" like Odile hummed while the women made cookies. (Ch. 21, ePg. 155, loc. 2201)

  • Billy Joel, "You May Be Right" like Lily and Mary Louise sang. (Pg. 173)

  • Pachelbel like at Lily's Dad's wedding. (Pg. 249)

  • "Stars and Stripes Forever" and "La Marseillaise" played by a band like the library subscribers after the war. (Ch. 41, ePg. 308, loc. 4278)

  • Bach, like Odile remembered hearing when Buck muted the track race on the TV. (Ch. 47, ePg. 340, loc. 4680)

  • "Only the Young" by Journey, like at graduation (Ch. 48, ePg. 345, loc. 4752)

  • "Silent Night" like the friends were singing when a couple quietly got engaged. (Pg. 360)

  • The Cure, like Lily and Mary Louise listened to too loudly. (Pg. 421)

  • Bach, like Lily missed hearing at Odile's house. (Pg. 421)

  • Josephine Baker, like the record Odile lent Lily (Pg. 521)