Too naturally amiable to achieve his one-time goal of deciphering the recondite code for achieving Parisian-ness, the writer Simon Kuper is resigned to living in his adoptive city as an eternal outsider. Good thing too, for as he noted in a recent piece for the Financial Times, membership in this inscrutable coterie will cost you any eccentricity or romance you might bear. Parisian comportment leaves no room for folly. How do we know this about Paris? Because after centuries of ineffectual literary interrogation by others, Kuper sets us straight in just a thousand words. It’s a practice he’s archly skilled in–at once explaining the ineffable while not altering the intrinsic fact of its ineffability.
You could (can and should) read him on nearly any subject and emerge from the few minutes of commitment feeling that you’ve earned a measure of mastery. Sports is a regular subject–he’s won the prestigious William Hill Sports Book Prize–but this serves mostly as a base from which to radiate out, illuminating all sorts of issues sports customarily touches on, which forms a comprehensive catalog. He’s written about Arab women on the front lines, how the media works, the murder of Dag Hammarskjöld, wine, and the contemporary status of the woebegone nation-state. That’s just since October. The cosmopolitan Kuper has lived in lots of places (enough, he admits, to know Paris ain’t all bad) and has been educated in those old institutions with the fancy names. But he talks–writes, that is–just as you’d want a friend to. A very smart friend who goes to the trouble of finding out the facts first, before he begins. Don’t miss him.