One of my favorite novels this year is The Elegance of the Hedgehog. This quiet, rambling story explores the unlikely relationship between Madame Michel, a middle-aged concierge who hides her intelligence while she looks after an exclusive apartment building in Paris, and Paloma, a smart 12-year-old tenant, who intends to commit suicide when she turns 13. If "incunabulum" and "seppuku" aren't in your lexicon, keep a dictionary nearby. The enchanting vocabulary is part of the joy of reading this unusual book, which riffs on the meaning of beauty, art, culture, and cats. Given the philosophical ruminations peppering the narrative, it's enlightening to discover that the author, Muriel Barbery, was a philosophy professor. There are, however, few descriptions of Paris itself, and 7 rue de Grenelle, where the book is set, is currently a Prada boutique. Heavy on ideas and thin on plot, the story doesn't gather steam until the arrival of a new tenant, Mr. Kakuro. As soon as this Japanese gentleman sees Madame Michel for who she really is, this wonderful, insightful, heartbreaking novel is hard to put down. When you're through, your concept of time will be altered.
And speaking of time, the present prepares you for Paris. Real Simple is giving away $3,000 to, well, buy yourself a little time. What you do with it is up to you. Stop procrastinating and enter.
Voilà - the link to the Real Simple Gift of Time Sweepstakes: