Recently awarded the 2014 Travel Book of the Year by the Society of American Travel Writers, the tale follows a Korean-American preacher’s daughter from Paris, France to Paris, Maine where our liberal, long-standing vegetarian author falls in love with a conservative carnivore and learns to cook everything from moose liver to deer heart. “Julia Child prepping roadkill,” one reviewer quips.
As someone who leans toward the secular end of the spectrum, steers clear of firearms, and has always been confounded by hunting’s appeal, the book’s subtitle – A Memoir of God, Guns, and Game Meat – announced I would be entering very foreign territory. The fact that I laughed out loud on the first page (and that the funny one-liners kept coming) reassured me that I’d be in good hands for the journey. Deer Hunting in Paris is surely the most unique book I’ve ever found filed in the French travel section!
Paula Young Lee holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago and writes frequently on subjects related to human-animal relations. The author of five books and over 25 scholarly articles, she also contributes to Salon.com and similar venues. She splits her time between Wellesley, Massachusetts, and West Paris, Maine.
I’m delighted she’s on the blog today – and that she’s offered to give away *2* signed copies of the book! Details on how to win at the end of the post!
You’ve authored several books, many on fascinatingly specific subjects including Meat, Modernity and the Rise of the Slaughterhouse (as editor) and Game: A Global History. Much of your academic knowledge as a cultural food historian comes out in Deer Hunting in Paris, but the book is your first foray into memoir. How did writing a memoir differ from working on some of your other projects? What did you learn in the process?
Academic writing demands suppression of the self. The less of you that manifests in the writing, the better it is as a document. By contrast, memoir requires the omnipresence of self, so it is the polar opposite of the scholarly voice.
I tend to work on both academic and non-academic writing at the same time — and I mean this literally, with various book projects being written simultaneously. I often feel as if I am two people. A serious intellectual and a total goofball. Writing wise, memoir presents a creative outlet that is also relaxing. No footnotes.
Most of Deer Hunting in Paris takes place in Paris, Maine, not Paris, France. But you did meet your boyfriend John while living in the City of Light – only you met him online and he lived back in the USA. In the book’s prologue, the first mention of the French capital says that Paris “bears remarkably little resemblance to the romantic fantasies spun about it.” Could you elaborate?
When you live in a place for any length of time, the commercial ends pretty quickly. Even Carrie Bradshaw hated Paris after she ran out of museums and cafes to visit.
My experience of this city was more Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London than Hemingway’s A Movable Feast, which doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a wonderful time. It just didn’t involve shopping, eating out, or doing anything that involved money.
It mostly involved meeting lots of interesting people and spending huge amounts of time in archives. If you’re a researcher in hot pursuit of answers to an especially irritating historical question, being an archive rat is heaven on earth no matter if you’re too poor to pay your electric bill for heat.
And, despite the fact that the memoir switched locales from Paris, France, to Paris, Maine, the idea was to illuminate the respective ways that both places are weirdly the same. For example, my expat friends used to ask me how it was that I made French friends and knew my neighbors.
I told them it was because I grew up in small town Maine and understood how the neighborhoods worked, especially in relationship to church, the post office, the pharmacy, and to fresh, unfussy food. This last being what you get in a French home (as distinct from a French restaurant.)
I found it interesting in Chapter 3 that you switch from the past tense to using the present tense for the rest of the book stating “from now on, everything unfolds in the imminent present…I don’t know the outcome…” (pg 46). This speaks to an aspect of memoir I often ponder: how the narrative evolves while working on it. (Even the very act of putting it on paper can change the lived reality!) How do you approach writing a long-form personal project (I read that this book took you 3 years) when the events are happening as you’re writing it?
I mulled over switching the tenses but wanted to emphasize that this document was not, and is not, history. In other words, I didn’t decide to write it after the happy ending had been reached. That’s a rom-com.
Instead, I started writing things down as they were happening, in the manner of a dictation machine or a diary. Ultimately, I decided on the present tense in order to try and convey a sense of uncertainty, of reacting to things as they were happening and not knowing how I felt about things. It takes me a very long time to sort out my feelings. My impatient brain, on the other hand, has its own opinions about my feelings. They often disagree.
You tackle so much in this book – the politics of hunting and eating meat, your parents’ immigrant experience, being a preacher’s daughter, the culture of rural Maine, the sexual attraction between polar opposites, life, death. Did you set out with all of these themes in mind or did they emerge as you wrote? (In other words, how did this book come to be?)
I am engaged with all of these topics as an academic researcher, so they tend to pervade everything I write.
Why did you want to tell this story and what do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Somewhat perversely, I am most attracted to that which I don’t understand. Because I don’t think I’m alone in this, I decided to write this memoir as a way to share what I learned about people who hold vastly different worldviews from my own.
In the beginning of the memoir, the strangers I observe are global expats in France. Later, the people are conservative Republicans in the US, including the Yankee who becomes my boyfriend. His mind still baffles me, but this is also why we are still happily together.
In this same vein, I wrote it because I wanted to tell a story about real love that ditched the fantasies and got to the truth of human desires. That raw truth is sometimes difficult to take. Blood, guts, death, and life: in a city like Paris, these things coexist with the fashion and the glamor. This is what tourists often miss but French people understand very well.
For the sake of all my single friends genuinely wanting to find true love, I wrote this book as an explanation for how to get there, without it being an explicit how-to-find-love book. It’s actually all in the title. “Deer Hunting in Paris.” If you fixate on the romantic illusions represented by “Paris,” your hunt for love will never be successful. You may get le mariage, but you will also get le divorce. Only by being willing to change your expectations and parameters, and maybe conceding that the ungirly, vaguely disreputable stuff (i.e. deer hunting) might not be what you think, you may end up running right into the partner of your dreams.
Thank you, Paula!
To enter to win a free, signed copy of Deer Hunting in Paris, leave a comment on this post by Monday, October 6, noon EST.
You can read sample chapters and buy the book here.
UPDATE! Names have been drawn from the hat. Congratulations Barbara and Karin on winning a free copy!