The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier

by Thad Carhart

Hardcover, 2001




Random House (2001)


The author passes a little storefront in Paris every day and finally enters to find a shop filled with dismantled pianos where, on Fridays, local people gather to discuss music, love, and life over a glass of wine.

User reviews

LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
I had the wonderful fortune of popping this book in my suitcase before a quick trip to Paris. What a great little book that says so many things about so many things! At its core, it is the author's "re" discovery of his love of piano, both playing the instrument and the its origins and history. He begins his journey towards this passion by meeting a really interesting gentleman, Luc, who runs an "atelier" or open studio that at first blush, is about repairs of same. But it is so much more. I think this is a discovery for the reader, so describing too much would take away the beauty. However, the story touches on what it feels like to reconnect with a passion (it could be any one really, painting, drawing, other instruments) as an adult, both the hurdles and the wisdom therein. Also, it's about finding joy with others in something you just really love to do. I took a LOT away from this little book and I thank the author for sharing his path through this quiet, rather reclusive world of deep-feeling music/piano lovers in his neighborhood, and a bit beyond.… (more)
LibraryThing member thornton37814
Thad Carhart is an American residing in Paris. One day he stumbles across a shop that restores and sells used pianos. He wanted to buy a used piano but discovered he must have an introduction from an existing customer to be allowed access. This book recounts Carhart's renewed interest in the piano he learned to play in childhood. While a great deal of technical information on the building and tuning of pianos is included, it is done so in a highly engaging manner. This book will be enjoyed by those who share a love a music, especially of the piano.… (more)
LibraryThing member baswood
A memoir of an American resident in Paris during a two year period in the 1990's.

A memoir writer who has no celebrity status and who has not lived through newsworthy world events, must either have an interesting story to tell or must bring something else to the table. Thad Carhart's story is not particularly exciting: he discovers an old piano shop near where he lives in Paris and then negotiates his way around the peculiarly french way of doing things to buy a piano, have it installed, and arrange for lessons for himself and his daughters. Not enough to sustain a 268 page book. The extra things that Carhart brings to the table are: a snapshot of an outsiders struggle to come to terms with the french way of life, a rekindling of a partially forgotten passion to own and play a piano and a sort of potted history and description of how a piano works and is manufactured. These together with some childhood memories are interwoven to fill the required number of pages. This sounds a little negative and although I did enjoy the book I felt it outstayed its welcome by a few chapters.

Carhart is at his most interesting when he is describing the "intricate world of mutual trust and obligation" that exists amongst the artisans who live and work in the quartier where he lives. As an outsider he must break through some of the barriers to achieve his aims. For example he must get an introduction from a former client of the piano shop before they will even consider his request to buy a piano. There are so many books on the market about the experiences of English speakers living and working in Europe that it requires something a bit special to stand out from the crowd. Carhart scores here by limiting his canvas to a relatively small area of Paris and by his ability to gain acceptance into the hidden world of the artisans and musicians. His observations ring true and he brings his characters to life on the page: Luc the young patron of the piano shop who steers a course between his love of an unusual piano and the need to sell them to make a living, Jos the eccentric piano tuner living with his alcoholism ticking underneath him like a time bomb and Anna his sympathetic piano teacher.

Carhart writes well about the rekindling of his passion to own and play the piano. He comes across as an enthusiastic amateur with a good ear who wants to feel the music. He wants to discover for himself the qualities needed for a great piano player and a great piano. He learns all he can from his repeated visits to the piano shop, his lessons with Anna and his attendance at some master classes. He explains in loving detail how a piano works and relates many anecdotes from the artisans on how they should be made and restored. Some technical details are necessary for the reader to understand some of the conversations with the artisans and on the whole Cathcart makes a decent fist of explaining these for the general reader. He is not so good at an attempted potted history of the instrument and his attempts made my eyes glaze over at times. The frequent discussions of the various piano makes/brands and their relative worth were also a little dull.

Carhart writes well enough in an easy flowing style, but when he needs to move into another gear to demonstrate his passion and enthusiasm, it is not quite there. There is no poetry in his prose. He lacks the ability to raise the quality of his writing to turn a good read into an exceptional one. He comes across as a regular likeable guy, but seems to lack a sense of humour. perhaps he takes himself too seriously. I can just imagine the patron of the piano shop when he is together with his cronies spotting Thad about to pop in saying "here comes that American again whose writing that book, nice enough guy, a bit intense and no joie de vivre
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LibraryThing member safetygirl
i always avoided practicing piano as a child and never really developed a love for playing the instrument, but i love hearing it played - especially in jazz. this book helps you develop a love for the craftsmanship that goes into making pianos.
LibraryThing member clothingoptional
I don't know a thing about music, but I loved this book. Carhart is a writer who rekindles a love for the piano in Paris. However, the book is about more than just playing piano or the atelier of the title. It's about friendship that extends beyond the casual, everyday feelings people have for one another and dives into the cosmic bonds that form between old souls.

Ok, perhaps that's a little deep, but this book works on several levels.
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LibraryThing member asphaltjunkie
This book was a pleasant surprise. I started taking lessons at 6 and grew up playing the piano and not having one in the house has made me a little lazy in my practice, but reading this book renewed my passion, not only for the piano, but for music in general. It's a quick read and definitely one worth checking out...particularly if you already love music and appreciate a well-made instrument!… (more)
LibraryThing member Pool_Boy
A great, quick, interesting and enjoyable read. It really lured me in with the descriptions of Paris and the pianos. Well written and recommended.
LibraryThing member samfsmith
A very enjoyable memoir that chronicles the author's relationship with the piano, a particular piano that he purchased, and the the owner of the Paris shop where he purchased it. Along the way we learn about piano history and construction, piano performance, and the quirks of the residents of Paris. A lot of fun to read for anyone with an interest in pianos or Paris.… (more)
LibraryThing member willoughby
This book is a gift to anyone who treasures good writing. I have never played the piano in my life, but even the chapters dedicated solely to the instrument (as opposed to those on life in Paris) were still interesting to me due to the quality of the writing.

This book would make an excellent gift for anyone you know who likes music, travel, or just good writing.… (more)
LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
Original and lyrical first novel. Carhart enchants with his enthusiasm for the piano and his observations of Paris life, and instructs with his historical knowledge and anecdotes. The whole book is evocative and inviting, as his light and personal style delivers the narrative with friendly ease. A charming memento of Paris!
LibraryThing member JMBLibrary
I loved this book and did not stop reading it!
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
A delightful and even captivating book especially for those who enjoy playing or listening to the piano. The author has an engaging style and a beautiful story about the spirit of a place that seems almost like a fairy tale in the telling. The book certainly rekindled and expanded my own love for all things pianistic.
LibraryThing member alkb
I agree with everything the others before me said. I also like the "historical" aspect. The description of how the current day instrument evolved. And the technical description of the workings of the grand piano. Makes me appreciate this magical instrument even more.
LibraryThing member Cleoxcat
Excellent read! A character study of pianos, the French, and Paris. Thad Carhart took a subject I would consider rather dull (pianos)and turned it into a narrative I found hard to put down.
LibraryThing member Cormach
A delightful and informative book
LibraryThing member Margaret-J.
Thad Carhart is an adult American, returned to Paris where he had learned to play the piano as a child. He is married to a French woman and lives with her and their 2 children in a traditional Parisian neighborhood or quartier. But he is a outsider, in a way, even though the children attend a near-by school, and he shops in the local market and he has business dealings throughout the neighborhood.. It is his quest to find a piano and resume his love of playing that makes him a part of his neighborhood....for American ways are different from French ways and as he learns about the French point-of-view, so does the reader. He does find a piano, but so much more. A delightful read....… (more)
LibraryThing member bnbookgirl
I chose this book because it took place in Paris which I love. However, I gained a real sense of appreciation for pianos and the art of them by reading this book. Carhart not only brings alive the atelier which sells and restores the pianos, but he brings to life the Paris neighborhood it is located in as well. You also get to meet several interesting people from the area. This is really an interesting read and it brings to live a piece of Paris most of us will never get to experience in person. Not only for lovers of music but for lovers of Paris as well.… (more)
LibraryThing member AnglersRest
I soon became caught up in the world of Luc and his wonderful piano shop. The book was written in a gentle way and I found that I really did enjoy it.

I guess the historian in me was interested in the facts and figures of how many pianos were made - 50,000 in 1850 and 500,000 in 1910, of which 350,000 were in the US. I did a quick search on for piano maker and that showed that 471 people were recorded as piano makers in England in the 1881 census. There were no later figures, but only because I searched for an occupation rather than a known individual.

I was slightly disappointed that the author didn't try and find anything out about the name and serial number that was found on his piano, but again that is the historian in me and didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book.

I did enjoy this book. It is one of those books that will leave me pondering and thinking about it after I have finished it.
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LibraryThing member janglen
I enjoyed this book, which says a lot as I am not in the least musical and have little interest in music. The author evokes Paris beautifully, and presents the people he meets with sympathy and understanding. The detail is as absorbing as the wider story.
LibraryThing member michigantrumpet
To call this lovely book lyrical just seems so, well, twee. Yet, try as I might, nothing else seems as apropos. So, lyrical it is. Tad Carhart has woven threads of love of music, theories of learning, personal history, Parisian oddities, technical background and interesting eccentrics into a delightful little story that was fun and quick to read. I'm so happy to have found this book and benefitted from our authors obsession.… (more)
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
EXCELLENT. A memoir of rediscovering the joys of the piano. An American writer, living in Paris, discovers a quaint little piano shop where the proprietor refuses entry to his shop where he repairs, restores and sells pianos to select customers. But once Carhart gets a proper introduction, he is taken into the fold and soon is matched with just the right instrument. Oh, this made me want to start practicing the piano again.… (more)
LibraryThing member BooksForDinner
Loved everything about this book. It helps that I am a piano player. I suppose if I were French it would get five stars!
LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
While strolling to take his children to school in Paris, an American gentleman becomes intrigued with a small shop that displays piano parts in its window. The story of how he discovers that there is more to this small shop than of what he was first aware is what brings this book alive. It's a tale of piano history, piano mechanics, piano care, life in Paris, and friendship. Luc, the new owner of this shop, welcomes the American into the back of his store and helps him become more accepted by his French neighbors through a reawakening interest in playing a piano. A lovely book!… (more)



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