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 just one book out of the universe. There are books on travel, art, culture, history and also on perfect little houses in Tuscany. Today I have come up with a list of top 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! 🙂
1. Inspector Montalbano Series by Andrea Camilleri:
Crime and delicious food mixed with Camilleri’s writing will give you the Inspector Montalbano series. His dry humour will make you fall in love with the region. 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 10 languages. I have read 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.) A lot of people find his stories repetitive but that is the case with most of the writers I’d say. I find comfort in knowing those characters.
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 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 for her story which could easily be mine. La Bella Lingua which means the beautiful language includes phrases and history of the Italian language. It offers a lot more than just words and I cannot recommend it enough to anyone learning or curious about Italian. It also includes a great chapter on Dante.
3. Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr:
I have already gushed a little about this book before over here and that defines my love for Rome. Four Seasons in Rome is lyrical and poetic and is the author’s personal account of his struggles in the eternal city. Oh Rome!! This book made me fall in love with the city yet again and whether one has visited 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 is history and a bit of everything -politics, drama, aristocracy and power. A must read that easily makes it be one of the top 10 books on Italian Literature, The Leopard is also 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 below?? You are not alone! Ross King’s book on Filippo Brunelleschi, the mastermind behind this dome, will make you fall in love with Florence. The book 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. His dome is not only the subject of many photographs but it is also what defines Florence as a city. Ross King’s book highlights the hardships that he had to endure in the times of plagues and wars and is definitely worth a read.
Region: Florence, Tuscany
6. Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere by Jan Morris:
I love Trieste and have always pointed out how underrated that port city is. It seems I am not alone in that thought as Jan Morris agrees with me 😉 Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere was recommended to me by an Italian lady in a quaint bookcafe of Trieste. How coincidental! It is about the city’s troubled past and its moods and changeability. It is a book like no other because it portrays Trieste 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. As Lahiri 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”. So true!
Region: Rome, Lazio.
8. The Neopolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante:
You might have heard of The Neopolitan Series possibly everywhere online these days because people are trying to find out who “Elena Ferrante” is. But that is not why I read it. It started as curiosity and got me hooked to 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 and one that would make you cry. This book changed me in many ways and is a must read especially for women.
Region: Naples, Campagnia; Pisa, Tuscany; Florence, Tuscany; Milan, Lombardia
9. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco:
My very first Italy read also 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 easy to read either but take it slowly and imagine the world of Calvino with all its eccentricity.
Region: Venice, Veneto
I’d love to hear more “Italy specific” recommendations. Have you read any of these books??
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