Buon Novembre! Happy November! 🙂
I am starting the month on a bookish note after a big festive season in India. Many a times I am asked to suggest books on “Italy” and often find myself confused because it is impossible to mention just one book.
Seriously the choices are plenty (not to mention fantastic) which is why it is really tough to pick one good book out of the universe. There are several good books on travel, art many on culture and history and even more on the perfect house in Tuscany 😉
Taking the inspiration further, I have come up with a list of top 10 books that came to my mind first. These are my favorite Italy reads and I hope they set the pace for anyone wanting to know more on Italy.
1. Inspector Montalbano Series by Andrea Camilleri:
Crime, delicious food, fantastic scenery and hot Sicilian men, this book has it all. Camilleri’s books on Inspector Montalbano has made him one of the greatest Italian writers of the 21st century. I have already read a dozen of his translated works and hope that some day I can read the entire book in Italian Sicilian dialect. Needless to say, his books propelled me to visit Sicily in April this year. To know more about my travel read my post for The Local Italy here.
2. La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales:
For those of you following my blog for a long time know that I am learning Italian since more than a year now. I regularly do a series on Charming Italian Words and many words come from this beautifully researched book by Dianne Hales. This isn’t just a language book but has stories, phrases and history of the Italian language. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who is curious about Italian or to those who want to learn a new language. There is a great chapter on Dante too.
3. Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr:
I have already gushed a little about this book before here and for those who haven’t read this post please do. Four Seasons in Rome is lyrical and poetic and is the author’s personal account of his struggles in Rome. It made me fall in love with the eternal city all over again and whether one has been there or not, his writing weaves a certain magic.
Region: Rome, Lazio
4. The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa:
This book was one of my first few reads on Sicily but it was nothing like I expected. The Leopard documents Italy during the period of its unification or risorgimento. There is class and traditions among the noblemen of Sicily followed by aristocracy and power. It is a must read to up your game in the Italian literature section and easily makes it one of the top 10 books on Italian Literature.
5. Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King:
Saw the latest movie Inferno?? Can’t stop thinking about this beautiful dome below? You are going for the right book. Ross King’s book on Filippo Brunelleschi’s beautifully created dome is intriguing and historical. Although there are a lot of engineering details, I still enjoyed the story of the paranoid Italian goldsmith who is one of the most famous names in the field of European architecture. The book highlights the hardships that he had to endure in the times of plagues and wars.
Region: Florence, Tuscany
6. Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere by Jan Morris:
I love Trieste. This book by Jan Morris was recommended to me by an Italian lady in a quaint bookcafe of Trieste. It talks of the city’s troubled past and its moods and changeability. Trieste is a great memoir by Morris with a lot of history but her humurous and nostalgic way of writing doesn’t make it boring. It would make perfect sense to visit the town of Trieste after you have read this book or even before like me because that is how I got attracted to the city’s “nowhereness”.
Region: Trieste, Friuli Venezia Giulia
7. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri:
This book surprised me with passion. I not only devoured the book but also recommended it to many who in turn loved it. Jhumpa Lahiri could be easily writing my story on learning Italian 🙂 In Other Words will open your world to the world of knowing a new language. As Ms. Lahiri rightly says “When you live without your own language you feel weightless and, at the same time, overloaded. Your breathe another type of air, at a different altitude”.
Region: Rome, Lazio.
8. The Neopolitan Series by Elena Ferrante:
You might have heard of this name in the news off late as privacy isn’t respected in the world any longer and that makes me very sad. Anyhow, I implore you to read The Neopolitan series but with an open mind. This isn’t the story such as a Tuscan Sun but a very gritty one of two friends. It highlights Italian crime, politics, history and complex relationships. Ferrante’s words are bold, effortless and brutal and one that made me cry. It is a must read for all you Italophiles out there.
Region: Naples, Campagnia; Pisa, Tuscany; Florence, Tuscany; Milan, Lombardia
9. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco:
One of my very first Italy reads, The Name of the Rose is both a fabulous book and a movie. A murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in the hills of Piedmont, the story takes place in the Saint Michael’s Abbey which Umberto Eco had once visited. I’d suggest to pick this book first before starting anything else on Italy from this list.
10. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino:
How can one list books on Italy and not mention the genius Calvino? That would be blasphemy. Invisible Cities explores the travels and dialogues of Marco Polo and Kubail Khan. The cities are described with careful attention and magic that will capture your imagination. Quiet messages, ideas, city signs, images, prophetic warnings and human despair, this book is hypnotic. The only thing I would point out is that the prose is not like a usual book and is a little difficult to understand.
Have you read any of these books? I’d love to hear more “Italy specific” recommendations. Of course there are so many that didn’t make this list and maybe I can include them in a separate post.