Many a times I am asked to suggest books based on “Italy” and often find myself in a pickle 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 just one book. There are memoirs, books on travel, art and culture, history and people, the mafia and the list goes on. Today I have come up with a list of 10 books that are set in Italy. I hope they set the pace for anyone wanting to read more on the country:
Ten Favorite Books on Italy
1. Inspector Montalbano Series by Andrea Camilleri:
Crime and delicious food mixed with Camilleri’s writing will give you a serious high. The series is based out of a fictional town in Sicily that is filled with intriguing mysteries and murders.
The Inspector Montalbano series is full of the author’s dry humour and wit.
Camilleri, who was known to be one of the greatest Italian writers of the 21st century, writes about his alter ego “Montalbano”. His books have been translated worldwide in over 12 languages! Having read a dozen of his translated works. and seen the TV series of the same name, I took a trip to the shooting locations of the TV show in 2016! Read my post for The Local Italy here.
2. La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales:
For those of you who have been following my blog since a long time know that I am learning Italian. I even wrote several posts on Charming Italian Words
Many words come from this beautifully researched book by Dianne Hales. La Bella Lingua includes history of the Italian language and offers a lot more than just an introduction. There are words and phrases and amazing chapters (such as the one on Dante!).
La Bella Lingua (the beautiful language) is Dianne’s story but it could easily be mine. Anyone looking to know about the Italian culture should pick this book!
3. Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr:
I have already gushed a lot about this book before over here as it defines my love for Rome.
Doerr’s Four Seasons in Rome is lyrical and poetic and is the author’s personal account of his struggles in the eternal city.
This book made me fall in love with the city all over again. Whether one has visited Rome or not, Doerr’s writing weaves a certain magic that will make you take that trip to the city!
4. The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa:
The Leopard was one of my first few reads on Sicily but it was nothing like I expected.
Documenting Italy during the period of its unification or risorgimento, The Leopard is about class and traditions among the noblemen of Sicily. It has history and a bit of everything -politics, drama, aristocracy and power.
The Leopard is a must read that easily makes it be one of the top 10 books on Italian Literature. It has also been made into a movie!
5. Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King:
Ross King’s book on the genius “Filippo Brunelleschi” will make you fall in love with Florence. The book, aptly titled, is based on the mastermind behind the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore that was constructed in the 15th century.
It is intriguing and full of facts and engineering details. I enjoyed the story of the paranoid Italian goldsmith who is now one of the most famous names in the field of European architecture!
Brunelleschi’s done is not only the subject of millions of photographs but it is also what defines Florence as a city!
6. Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere by Jan Morris:
I have always believed how underrated Trieste is as a city. At times it almost feels as if it weren’t a part of Italy! It seems I am not alone in that thought as the author Jan Morris describes exactly that “Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere”.
This book was coincidentally recommended to me by an Italian lady in a quaint bookstore of Trieste. It is about the city’s troubled past and its changeability.
Morris who seems to be very attached to this city entwines humour and nostalgia. It would make perfect sense to visit the town of Trieste and then read the book but then again you could always read the book and then visit Trieste and understand its “nowhereness”.
7. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri: Jhumpa Lahiri could easily be writing my very own account of learning the Italian language. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect of this book when it first came to me but I devoured it!!
All Italophilies who love the language like me, should read In Other Words.
The book is an honest account of Lahiri’s Italian along with parts of living in Rome. Every time I read the book I find something new in it.
8. The Neopolitan Seress by Elena Ferrante:
You might have heard of The Neopolitan Series by Elena Ferrante because people are trying to find out who “Elena Ferrante” is. But that is not why I read it. Don’t go by the cover but the Neopolitan novels give a very gritty account of a city and the lives of two friends. It highlights everything you don’t want to see about Italy- Italian crime, politics, history along with the status of women in the most fierce and raw way you can imagine.
Ferrante’s words are bold, effortless yet one that would make you cry.
This book changed me in many ways and is a must read on Italy, especially for women. The book is now made into a famous TV Series, the first part is already out while the second part is due in 2020!
9. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco: My very first book on Italy that has also been made into a successful movie,
The Name of the Rose is a murder mystery set in the hills of Piemonte.
It takes place in the Saint Michael’s Abbey which Umberto Eco had once visited in his life and chose to add it as a backdrop to his book. Since I don’t want to add spoilers and give away the story, I’d suggest to pick this book before starting anything else on Italy or Italian authors from this list.
10. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino:
How can one list books on Italian Literature and not mention the genius Calvino?? That would be blasphemy!
Invisible Cities is Calvino’s account of the travels and dialogues of Marco Polo and Kubail Khan. The book describes different cities with careful attention and imagination and includes city signs, prophetic warnings and human despair.
It is a very hypnotic book and one that is not easy to read either but take it slowly and imagine the world of Calvino with all its eccentricity.
You can buy the books here:
I have a ton of other Italy specific book recommendations but I’d love to know if you’ve read any of these??