Travel guidebooks can tell you hundreds of sights to visit, but Barrie Kerper wants you to understand what you see.
Kerper is the editor of "The Collected Traveler" series, and its newest installment -- Paris -- reflects her attitude.
"Immerse yourself in a destination and you'll acquire a deeper understanding and appreciation of the place and the people who live there, and, not surprisingly, you'll have more fun," she writes in the introduction.
What follows is more than 700 pages of immersion. From her vast files, Kerper pulls articles by various writers on Paris' arts, history and culture. They range from the artful Rosamond Bernier to the irreverent Ann Burack-Weiss, who asks: "Is attendance at scarf-tying classes mandatory in the public schools?"
Other contributors steer you off the tourist track into lesser-known neighborhoods where excellent bakeries hide. One explains how to see the Gothic church over your head, another explores the cobblestones underfoot. Kerper herself chats up Americans who make Paris home for at least part of the year, for Q&A's to help those of us who will have only a few days to take it all in.
Each chapter in the anthology comes with its own reading list -- 40 pages for one chapter alone! Lest she leave anything out, Kerper concludes with an A-to-Z section that crosses the border into guidebook territory. She just can't contain her enthusiasm.
The overall effect is charming, if overwhelming. You could spend years trying to read everything. Kerper would like you to bring this book along to Paris, but I'd recommend reading what you can in advance, before the city itself overwhelms you.
This brick-size volume did not make it into my suitcase on a recent trip to Paris, but it and some of the recommended reading did influence what I saw there. True to what Kerper said, as a better-educated tourist, I did have more fun. Because of her, I hope to go back and learn more.
As an appetizer, I endorse these recent additions to her reading list:
• The Seven Ages of Paris, by Alistair Horne. 2002. An engaging history from Caesar to De Gaulle.
• Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris, by Clotilde Dusoulier. 2008. A guide to restaurants in Paris' 20 arrondisements.
• Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France, by Michael Steinberger. 2009. An exploration of what's happened to France's cuisine.
• Paris Was Ours, by Penelope Rowlands. 2011. Essays by 32 writers on their lives in Paris.
• Paris Paris: Journey Into the City of Light, by David Downie. 2011. An insider's look at obvious and obscure places.
Maureen McCarthy is a senior metro editor at the Star Tribune.