Sunday, May 31, 2015

Reading Guide to Italy

I've been talking about a leisure trip to Italy for years now, and it looks like this Fall I will actually succeed. I've been to Milan a few times on business, but I had zero sightseeing time, so it's almost as if I haven't really visited Italy yet.

Anyway, I really like to read books about places I visit, fiction and non-fiction, so I've been quietly ignoring my reading lists for 2015, and compiling an alternate list of what I hope to read before my big adventure.

I just read book #15 in the Guido Brunetti series by Donna Leon, set in Venice, and which I love, but I wanted a broader fare:
An Italian Education by Tim Parks
Christ Stopped At Eboli by Carlo Levi
Ratking by Michael Dibdin
When in Rome by Ngaio Marsh
Italy in Mind, an anthology of writings from Lord Byron to Edith Wharton to Susan Sontag
Vivaldi's Virgins, by Barbara Quick
The Man Who Became Caravaggio, by Peter Robb
My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante
The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone (novel about Michelangelo)
The Italians, by John Hooper
The Shape of Water (Inspector Montalbano, Bk 1) by  Andrea CamilleriStephen Sartarelli (Translator)

I would like to reread Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann (one of my all-time favorite novellas), and something by Henry James (not The Aspern Papers, which I've already read and didn't care for).
I am totally open to other suggestions.  What evokes Italy, past and present, most for you?


  1. The Enchanted April is my favorite book set in Italy. I remember enjoying A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi, too.

    1. I really enjoyed Enchanted April too, but forgot about it when compiling my list. A Thousand Day in Venice needs to go on the list for sure! Thanks for the suggestions.

  2. Well, there are EM Forster's Italian books of course (A Room with a View and Where Angels Fear to Tread). The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, by Rumer Godden. For more recent releases, Bitter Greens (which I reviewed not long ago) is partly set in Venice. And I just read In a Dark Wood by Joseph Luzzi, a Dante-inspired memoir that was quite good -- he also wrote a book called My Two Italies about his immigrant family that I was interested in checking out, but haven't yet. I can't help you with James as I haven't managed to get through one of his novels yet. As I recall though the novella Daisy Miller is set in Italy (and quite readable). Enjoy your reading and traveling!

    1. Great suggestions. I'm A Room With a View fan, so that's definitely in the reread category, but I need to get a copy of Where Angels Fear to Tread. Bitter Greens is definitely on my to read list for this year--sounds great. Will also check out the Godden and Luzzi books.

      Henry James and I have a troubled relationship, but I downloaded an audio of The Wings of the Dove, which I read in college and didn't care for...but people's tastes change over time, right?

    2. They certainly do! I hated Jane Austen when I tried to read her way too young. Hey, I also thought of I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves. Not wholly "Italian," but they give you a sense of the whole crazy ancient world that underlies Rome.

  3. How exciting that you will be visiting Italy. It looks like you have a great bunch of books lined up.

    I would just add one book set there, Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. It is a favorite of mine.

    1. I have been wanting to read something by Eco for years, and Foucault's Pendulum has such a great title. And, I have a copy. No excuses! Thanks for the suggestion.

    2. I love your reading list! I'll be bookmarking it, along with everybody's excellent additions in their comments. I've thought of a couple more. I really enjoyed "On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal" by Mary Taylor Simeti, about an American with Sicilian roots who marries a Sicilian native and moves there--wonderful detail about daily life, and beautifully crafted narrative style. I also highly recommend reading a good translation of Collodi's original Pinocchio, which is so amusing and too sly to be just for children. Both touching and brilliant, and said to be the key to understanding Italy, in the way that Cervantes is for Spain. I also highly recommend Roberto Benigni's live-acted film of Pinocchio (with his brilliant wife as the Blue Fairy). It can be rented as instant video on amazon; Benigni is so brilliant, one quickly forgets he is a little old--chronologically, but not in spirit!--to play the wooden puppet who wishes to be a boy.

  4. I haven't read any of the books on your list, but I have a very old, falling apart copy of The Agony and the Ecstasy - it looks most interesting! I love Italy too, but haven't been to Milan. I've read a few books on Tuscany - the sort about buying a house there, growing grapes etc - light reading but I did like them - by Frances Mayes. I also have another Tim Parks book - Italian Neighbours which I haven't read yet.

    For historical fiction I loved Colleen McCullough's series Masters of Rome when I read them years ago. And I've got a Steven Saylor book - Roma to read too! I'm sure there are many more, but these came to mind straight away when I read your post. Happy reading!

  5. I have been reading Italian books all year, but I do not know how many would be much help with travel. The regions matter a lot. So as much as much as I enjoy Camilleri, I would say he is almost essential for a trip to Sicily, but of no help at all for a trip to Rome or northern Italy.

    If you go to Florence, my advice is art history, art history, and more art history. The city is itself like an art history textbook.

  6. AnonymousJune 03, 2015

    I loved Death in Venice!
    Recently a member of our book club shared about this book that sounds really good: La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language, by Dianne Hales.
    I recently enjoyed Juliet's Nurse, by Lois Leveen, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, through her nurse, very well done

  7. I'm so thrilled for you!! I hope you post lots of pictures when you return.

    I really enjoyed reading Extra-Virgin by Annie Hawes ....... very funny. And I've been meaning to read My Brilliant Friend for ages but it always needs to be returned to the library before I can get to it.

    I hope you have a wonderful trip!! :-)

  8. I am going to Florence for 3 weeks starting September 27. My reading list so far had included only A Room with a View. Now have a few more to think about. I will email you.It would be fun if we could meet for coffee or something, is we overlap.