I am now the proud owner of an American Library in Paris card, which cost about $125 for a year's subscription. When you walk through the front door on rue du General Camou, in the 7th arrondissement near the Eiffel Tower, you may as well be at a public library in Stockbridge, Mass., or Stockton, Calif. Kids listen to librarians reading Dr. Seuss as they sit cross-legged on the floor. The fiction stacks are lined with novels by Danielle Steele, John Cheever, Ernest Hemingway and Herman Melville. In the reference department, American college students labor over laptops.
This haven for English-language readers in Paris got its start during World War I, when the American Library Assn. sent books "over there" for doughboys in the trenches. In the '20s, it published a monthly review, featuring the work of Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. The library managed to stay alive during the German occupation of Paris in World War II but closed its doors to Sen. Joe McCarthy, the communist-hating Wisconsin Republican who came here in 1953 looking for anti-American books.
When my French gets better, I'll spend my time in the reading room at the Bibliothèque nationale. Meanwhile, I'm overjoyed to be able to put my hands on a "The Godfather: Part II" video and a pocket version of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town."