The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (Penguin, $6). Wharton, the leading American female writer of the early 20th century, experienced her first, and most likely only, passionate love affair in the city of Paris. This novel explores the anticipation, longing, concealment, reserve, and deception of a deep love, never consummated.
The Lovers by Alice Ferney (out of print). Ferney’s powerful, troubling novel about infidelity recounts an extended flirtation between a beautiful, happily married 26-year-old mother expecting her second child and a worldly, successful 49-year-old writer whose marriage is ending. The most sensual passages in the novel are the phone conversations between them. They capture the power of the voice.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (Dover, $5). The characters in this 18th-century novel, written in the twilight of the Enlightenment, make use of contemporary — and diabolical — techniques of seduction.
A Little Bit of Paris by Jean-Jacques Sempé (Universe, $25). The cartoonist Sempé is a national treasure. With a delicate pen, he captures the Paris of our imagination, with enough truth to make us smile. Women in hats and ruffled skirts sun themselves on park benches, balding men in overcoats and elegant scarves contemplate the Eiffel Tower. It is a world of Haussmannian buildings, with mansard roofs and flowers on the wrought-iron balconies.
Le Divorce by Diane Johnson (Plume, $21). A superb comedy about the American encounter with France and a helpful guide for American women on the mystique of their French counterparts. The scene in which young Isabel, fresh from California, is advised by her older, married French lover to “perfume her juices” by drinking an entire pot of orange-and-rosewater tisane is worth the price of the book.
Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd (Berkley, $15). The never-ending sexual battle between men and women as described by the snappy, sassy, always authoritative New York Times columnist. For Dowd, sex is nothing less than "a trip wire in American history." I love her.
—Elaine Sciolino's latest book is La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life. A Paris correspondent for The New York Times, Sciolino is also the author of two portraits of the Middle East — Persian Mirrors and The Outlaw State