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 one book. Seriously the choices are plenty (not to mention fantastic) which is why it is really tough to pick just one book out of the universe. There are books on travel and food of Italy, it’s art and culture, history and people, the mafia, the list goes on. Today I have come up with a list of 10 books based in Italy that can introduce you to Italy or Italian authors in general. I hope they set the pace for anyone wanting to read more on the country:
Buon Divertimento! Enjoy! 🙂
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 Inspector Montalbano series is full of the author’s dry humour and wit. Known to be one of the greatest Italian writers of the 21st century, Camilleri’s alter ego i.e. Montalbano has been translated worldwide in over 12 languages. I have read over a dozen of his translated works and also seen the TV series that propelled me to visit Sicily. (Read my post for The Local Italy here.) The series is all based out of a fictional town in Sicily and tells a lot about the culture and people of the region.
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. And it is a constant endeavor. I have done a series on Charming Italian Words and many words come from this beautifully researched book by Dianne Hales. La Bella Language (the beautiful language) is Dianne’s story but it could easily be mine. The book includes phrases and history of the Italian language and offers a lot more than just words. Anyone looking to know about the Italian culture should pick this bool. It also includes a great chapter on Dante and is a perfect book to read on Italy.
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. Oh Roma……!! This book made me fall in love with the city all over again. Whether one has visited it or not, Doerr’s writing weaves a certain magic that will make you take that trip to the city!
Region: Rome, Lazio
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, this book talks 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:
Did you see the movie Inferno?? Can’t stop thinking about the beautiful dome?? You are not alone! Ross King’s book on Filippo Brunelleschi will make you fall in love with Florence. The book is based on the mastermind behind this dome and is intriguing and historical with a lot of 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 many photographs but it is also what defines Florence as a city.
Region: Florence, Tuscany
6. Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere by Jan Morris:
I love Trieste and have always pointed out how underrated it is. It seems I am not alone in that thought as Jan Morris agrees with me in 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. This book is like no other because it portrays Trieste more as a person more than a city. 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”.
Region: Trieste, Friuli Venezia Giulia
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 but it completely took me by surprise. I devoured the book and recommended it to many Italophilies who in turn loved it. In Other Words is an honest account of her learning Italian and her story of living in Rome. Every time I read the book I find something new in it.
“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”.
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. It started as a mere curiosity and got me hooked to read the very gritty account of two friends and their life in Naples. It highlights Italian crime, politics, history and complex relationships 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!
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.
Region: Venice, Veneto
I have a ton of other Italy specific book recommendations but I’d love to hear your take?? Have you read any of these??
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Ishita is an Indian Blogger who is in love with all things Italian. Every year, Ishita seek’s new experiences and destinations in Italy; from the southernmost tip of Sicilia to the Northern most parts of Piemonte.
Ishita works and lives in Delhi.