Some More Favorite Books on Italy

Literature is a wonderful way to know another culture. Don’t you think?? In the past few years, having read several books based in Italy and/or by Italian authors, I have managed to make many book lists. The thirst to read books based in Italy doesn’t satiate, continuing the trend here is another list of books based in Italy that fall under the essential Italy reading category 😉


Il Bel Centro by Michelle Damiani:

Translated as “the beautiful centre”, Michelle Damiani’s book is about her journey living as an expat in Spello, Umbria. Il Bel Centro is a memoir and a journey of self discovery.

Michelle’s writing is beautiful and takes the reader to Spello- an ancient town in the heart of Bella Italia. She makes us part of her struggles, frustrations and victories. Not only do you get to know about life in a small Italian town (with no frills) but also understand the traditions of small town Italy. Il Bel Centro is a must read for travel enthusiasts in general and especially for anyone looking to move to Italy.

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon:

It is difficult to mention books based in Venice and not think of Donna Leon. An American living in Venice for over two decades, Donna Leon is a lover of Venice. Her vivid descriptions of the city prove how much she loves it. The main character of her books, Commissario Brunetti, keeps the readers on toes with his tumultuous Venetian life and handsome looks.

While I have read only a few out of the 25 or so odd novels, Death at La Fenice stands to be my favorite. Donna Leon takes her readers to the back alleys of Venice in the home and life of Brunetti. The fabled city’s charm with hints of Venetian food and old canals gets more interesting than you can imagine. Another book on Italy but this time for crime fiction lovers! The books have also been made into a German TV series.

Region: Veneto

The Stones of Florence and Venice Observed by Mary McCarthy:

Well written and poignant, this book is an underrated gem and a great commemoration to the cities of Florence and Venice.

It is an honest recollection of McCarthy’s intense travels in the two places and includes large explanations about the people and art of both the cities. She makes the reader feel the intensity and crowd of a piazza and then effortlessly takes them to the quietness of a small alley. The research behind this small book is noteworthy. Of course it is an the icing on the cake if you have visited either or both the cities. A great book on Italy and could be a favorite for all Italophilies!

Region: Tuscany and Veneto

Italianissimo by Louise Fili and Lise Apatoff:

Anyone looking to know more about the Italian culture should get their hands on this handy 6 inch of a book. From art, architecture, food, fashion and family to smaller details such as vespas, fiat 500s, aperitivo, gardens, markets, bars and festivals, Italianissimo is a peek into the Italian life that you might not otherwise know. What a great effort by the two authors!

This book is everything Italian you should know. There are one page chapters on an aspect of Italian life that also makes it an easy read to flip on your ride back from work.

Louise Fili is a very popular name in the graphic media world and this book is a testament to that. You should definitely check her caligraphy and designs.

Region: Italy

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Related Reading:

5 Books on Italy to Read this Spring


47 thoughts on “Some More Favorite Books on Italy

  1. Haven’t read Il Bel Centro but it sounds really good! I know it’s not about Italy or Italian but I just ordered “When in French: Love in a Second Language”, I’ve heard good things about it and I’m always interested in how languages interact with each other and how it enriches or changes relationships 🙂

    1. You will love it. I emailed the author later and we became Twitter pals 🙂 checking your book now. I’m in awe of your Italian language skills.

  2. This inspired me to go back and check your previous recommendations as well. I love the Brunetti and Montalbano series (book and TV), Frances Mayes’ first book, and almost anything Jan Morris has written. As an Italian-American, I adored Barbara Grizzutti-Harrison’s “Italian Days” and also some of Marlena DiBiasi’s books, particularly “That Summer in Sicily.” Thanks so much for the great recommendations!

    1. Thanks for reading the older recommendations too 🙂 so cool how many people love Jan Morris! I’ll check Italian days too. I couldn’t connect with Marlena’s writing in The Umbrian Supper club (I think that’s the name) I had to leave the book after 30-40 odd pages. Will check the one you mentioned

  3. Hi Ishita, I always love your book posts. I have read all of Donna Leon’s books- the moment they come out every April. Her earlier works are much more enthralling than her later ones. I have also read Bel Centro as I stayed In Spello, Umbria for a time and was keen to read about someone who had stayed there longer. I finished the book, but at some point found it became quite annoying, as the author changed and became quite negative and self focused and dare I say, american centric. This annoyed me and spoiled what was otherwise a good book.
    I must look into Mary McCarthy’s book.

    1. Thank you dear Francesca. I need to read more of Donna Leon then 🙂 agree about the negativity to some extent but that’s what makes it very honest too. American centric is the case of all the books written by the American authors. And it’s hard to understand some things if you are not from there. Btw you must be excited for your upcoming trip!!

      1. I have read a vast amount of ‘traveller goes to Italy, buys a house and settles there’ literature. I have a library full of it and so when I say ‘American centric’, I do mean that this fact stands out in this particular book, and a feature that grates a little. Donna Leon, is also American, though a resident of Venice and a supporter of the arts there, mostly small ensembles. A discussion of literature involves a discussion of these ideas, the pros and cons of books, and so you must excuse me if I feel the need to debate these points you have raised.

        1. I have read those too and I know what you mean. Of course I have no problem if you stand to give out your opinion. I merely meant I can’t understand half the problems mentioned in these books as I myself am not from America. I am open to discussion always so you must not justify yourself.

  4. In my opinion we are born on this earth as a human, to learn every aspect of universe…. And literature (I mean books) are source of knowledge…. As more as, we will read we will be closer to our target or life goal..I loves book too….

  5. I like the sound of Il Bel Centro! I’d like to hear more about small town living. Have you read Beautiful Ruins? Someone recommended it to me this weekend, so I might pick up that one too!

  6. I do read lots of Donna Leon but I am always quite shocked at how sexist they can be, the women are always beautiful before they are professionals or police or dead bodies…a bit like Camilleri!

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