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Essential Reading List - Great Books About or Set in Italy

Essential Reading List - Great Books About or Set in Italy

Old Sep 3rd, 2004, 05:39 PM
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Another good recent novel I forgot to mention: "Waking Raphael" by Leslie Forbes, a mystery set in Urbino, about an Englishwoman restoring a Raphael painting.
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Old Sep 4th, 2004, 04:43 AM
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There are many worthy suggestions here, but I am struck by the fact that the vast majority of books recommended are by non-Italian authors. I think that I can count on one hand the number of Italians suggested. Surely one of the best ways to learn about a country is to read its literature.

I'd be interested in hearing suggestions for books by modern Italian authors beyond those already cited (Eco, Lampedusa, Camilleri et al).
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Old Sep 4th, 2004, 06:53 AM
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Re: Books by modern Italian authors -- this just reminded me of a Italian novel that someone (who overestimated my fluency in the language) gave me a few years ago. Apparently it was a huge best-seller in Italy back in the 1990s. The title in Italian is "Va' dove ti porta il cuore" by Susanna Tamaro. In the English version, it was translated as "Follow Your Heart."

Since I really didn't have time to struggle through the Italian, I found the English version on tape in my library and listened to it. If you liked "Bridges of Madison County" you'd probably like this too. In other words, it doesn't fit the subject of "Great Books" but I guess it would illustrate the type of romantic novel very popular among Italian women.

Someone mentioned Luigi Barzini's most famous book "The Italians." I recently finished another of his books, a collection of essays titled "Memories of Mistresses." Again, a wonderful collection of insights into the Italian character.
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Old Sep 4th, 2004, 05:29 PM
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I discovered Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series right before my first trip to Italy- the first book is A Voice in the Wind. These are really wonderful historical fiction! One of them opens with the main character being sent in to the lions at the Colosseum-Everyone I give them to can't put them down!
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Old Sep 11th, 2004, 03:52 PM
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I'm delighted to see that this thread I started in April 2003 is still alive!

I think the idea of sharing titles of "good books" written by Italian authors is a terrific one. I may have been the one who posted that I really enjoyed The Italians, so I will look for the Memories of Mistresses--thanks for the tip!

Please keep up the suggestions. We are beginning to plan our fourth trip to Italy--to be taken end of May 2005. We are thinking of doing small towns in Umbria and Cinque Terre. Books set in those areas would be wonderful to read this winter!

DM
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Old Sep 12th, 2004, 07:24 AM
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For a look at Naples by a Neapolitan, the novel "Thus Spake Bellavista: Naples, Love and Liberty" by Luciano de Crescenzo (out-of-print; may be available used; description on amazon.com).

And for something completely different: "Venice, Lion City" by Garry Wills, for anyone interested in the iconograophy of Venice (available in paper; has been criticized for images that are too small and in black and white).
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Old Sep 12th, 2004, 08:38 AM
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A book about Umbria that I don't think has been mentioned here is Lisa St. Aubin de Teran's "A Valley in Italy: The Many Seasons of a Villa in Umbria." Her descriptions of her quite eccentric family living in a roofless ruin while trying to restore the ancient villa make Frances' Mayes saga under the Tuscan sun sound like a piece of cake.

We discovered (through an article about Lisa a couple of years ago in the NY Times) that the town she was writing about is actually Morra, although she doesn't give its real nam in the book. We drove there from Arezzo once (over one of the most hair-raisingly curvaceous roads in Umbria) in hopes of spotting her palazzo, since we had been so fascinated by her story. But I think it must be far off the main road, since we couldn't see anything resembling it.
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Old Sep 12th, 2004, 12:06 PM
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I just finished a great book on Calabria entitled "Stolen Figs" by Mark Rotella. It's an enjoyable and informative book about a region that not much is written about. Other books I've enjoyed about Calabria are the classics, "In Old Calabria" by Norman Douglas and "A Traveller in Southern Italy" by H.V. Morton.
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Old Dec 19th, 2004, 11:52 PM
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I mentioned this on another thread, but I really liked the novel Daughters of the Prince, by Noel Barber. It's set in pre-WWII and WWII-era Florence, Rome, and London. Among other things, it provided some interesting background info about how Florence's art treasures were (mostly) preserved in WWII.
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Old Jan 8th, 2005, 11:02 AM
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I want to thank those of you who called to my attention to several books which I have read and LOVED.

Vanilla Beans and Brodo was terrific, especially since we have gone to Montalcino twice for two quick day trips--and now, must go back since I know so much more about it now. Also, we always bring home 4 bottles of Brunello when we go to Italy. This book really whetted my thirst for more.

I will now search for Dusi's second book Bel Vino.

Also, I thoroughly enjoyed The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss (except hated the ending--not the author's fault, but what truly happened that he had to write about). Luigi Barzini's Memories of Mistresses and also his O America, When You and I Were Young were superb!

Two other books I've read since my last posting and enjoyed are Italy Fever and Ciao, America by Beppe Severgnini.

I've purchased many more that have been listed so far--but, as you know, so many books, so little time.

Thanks for all your suggestions. Now, I must go and read...
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Old Jan 8th, 2005, 03:25 PM
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For those of you who enjoyed 1000 days in Venice, there is a sequel called 1000 days in Tuscany. I have ordered it but haven`t received it yet. My friend who is reading it calls it dessert, she reads a little every night.
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Old Jan 8th, 2005, 03:28 PM
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Pat,

Where did you order 1000 days in Tuscany? I just finished reading 1000 days in Venice and would love to read the the tuscany book? Was it from Amazon?
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Old Jan 8th, 2005, 03:33 PM
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I bought mine at Border's. Beware, as it will make you very hungry each time you sit down to read it!
 
Old Jan 8th, 2005, 03:51 PM
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I have updated this posting's compilation. And in doing so, I have done two things. 1. I've added lots of comments I've found on the books, from the amazon.com site. I tried to take only uncopyrighted comments.

2. I have spent about $100 while doing this little task--Amazon.com and half.com have taken my money because I could not resist buying QUITE a few of these books, once I read the reviews.

Oh my!

I'll post the list in a separate listing.

Poor Dog Mother
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Old Jan 8th, 2005, 03:54 PM
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A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway
A Room with a View, by E.M. Forster
A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon Venice mystery series
A Thousand Bells At Noon: A Roman's Guide to the Secrets and Pleasures of His Native City by G. Franco Romagnoli. A celebrated chef returns to his native Rome to rediscover its pleasures.
A Thousand Days in Venice- Marlena De Blasi's an autobiographical account of her meeting a Venetian man & moving to Venice to marry him. Besides being entertaining, it gives insight into Venetian attitudes (or at least her perspective of Venetian attitudes). It also mentions lots of specific food related places (she's a chef/food writer) you might want to visit. It's a quick read.
A Traveller in Italy' by H.V.Morton. Really brings the history of northern and central Italy to life through his discovery of it's characters. I believe it has just been reissued in paperback after 20 odd years out of print...
A Traveller in Rome by H.V. Morton. Very well researched and fun to read, especially because we have already been there twice and so much seemed familiar. It was interesting to see his mid-1950's characterizations of the city and its people, which probably have not changed much at all over the last half-century.
A Traveller in Southern Italy by H.V. Morton.
A Tuscan Childhood by Kinta Beevor while in Florence one year. It is a great true story of the children of Lina Waterfield, the founder of the British Institute in Florence. I had seen signs directing one to the Villa that is featured in the book and never went. Now I am sorry. It is outside Aulla Italy.
A Valley in Italy: The Many Seasons of a Villa in Umbria by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran. Her descriptions of her quite eccentric family living in a roofless ruin while trying to restore the ancient villa make Frances' Mayes saga under the Tuscan sun sound like a piece of cake. We discovered (through an article about Lisa a couple of years ago in the NY Times) that the town she was writing about is actually Morra, although she doesn't give its real name in the book. We drove there from Arezzo once (over one of the most hair-raisingly curvaceous roads in Umbria) in hopes of spotting her palazzo, since we had been so fascinated by her story. But I think it must be far off the main road, since we couldn't see anything resembling it.
A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth. Set in an (intentionally) anonymous hill town in Italy, it is about a man who keeps secrets about who he his while meeting and talking about the village priest, local prostitutes and other characters. Nice mystery thriller and well written. Synopsis: A man known as "Mr. Butterfly" has made his small fortune devising specialized arms for assassins. Now all he wants is to retire to the beautiful Italian town where he has an apartment and a woman. But he is being stalked by a mysterious man, and he knows his life would be a lot more pleasant if the stranger suddenly, somehow, disappeared....
Across the River and into the Trees by Hemingway
After Hannibal by Barry Unsworth. A wonderful character study of Italians/English with Perugia as the background. Set in the beautiful landscape and rich history of Umbria, Italy, Booker Prize-winning author Barry Unsworth has written a witty and illuminating work of contemporary manners and morals. The region where Hannibal defeated the Romans is now prey to a different type of invasion: outsiders buying villas with innocent and not so innocent dreams.
An Architect’s Rome by John M. McGuire, Jr. I am sorry to see that this book is no longer in print. Before a trip to Rome, I purchased 'An Architect's Rome' and read it from cover to cover. Reading 'An Architect's Rome' helped me plan my trip and as I read my enthusiasm for Rome increased. By the time I arrived in Rome I felt as if I knew the city and was returning to visit my favorite places. The author transfered his love for the city to me. On the author's recommendation I took the Ostia Antica day trip and thoroughly enjoyed the day. This is the best book on Rome that I have read.
An Italian Affair by Laura Fraser. When Laura Fraser's husband leaves her for his high school sweetheart, she takes off, on impulse, for Italy, hoping to leave some of her sadness behind. There, on the island of Ischia, she meets M., an aesthetics professor from Paris with an oversized love of life.
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
Artemisia: A Novel by Alexandra Lapierre. An international best-seller, Alexandra Lapierre's Artemisia sweeps us through the streets once frequented by Caravaggio, Velasquez, and Van Dyck and into the studios of artists who used their daggers as efficiently as their brushes. Born in the early 1600s when artists were the celebrities of the day, Artemisia was apprenticed to her father, the artist Orazio Gentileschi, at an early age. Raped by his partner Agostino Tassi at seventeen, the Gentileschi name was dragged through scandal for Artemisia refused, even when tortured, to deny that she had been raped. Indeed, she went farther: she dared to plead her case in court. Artemisia is the story of a powerful love/hate relationship between master and pupil, father and daughter, and a talent that overturned the prejudices of the day, winning commissions from wealthy patrons, nobles, and kings. Lapierre brings Artemisia Gentileschi to vivid life as she tells of the emotional struggles of the most fascinating and controversial artist of her time.
As the Romans Do by Alan Epstein. It's a collection of little essays on the author's experiences in living in Rome as an expatriate with his wife and two children. Very funny and a light, quick read that provides a glimpse of everyday modern Roman life
Baudolino by Umberto Eco. Set in Italy when Barbarossa was named Emperor of Italy. It is April 1204, and Constantinople, the splendid capital of the Byzantine Empire, is being sacked and burned by the knights of the Fourth Crusade. Amid the carnage and confusion, one Baudolino saves a historian and high court official from certain death at the hands of the crusading warriors and proceeds to tell his own fantastical story. Born a simple peasant in northern Italy, Baudolino has two major gifts—a talent for learning languages and a skill in telling lies. When still a boy he meets a foreign commander in the woods, charming him with his quick wit and lively mind. The commander—who proves to be Emperor Frederick Barbarossa—adopts Baudolino and sends him to the university in Paris, where he makes a number of fearless, adventurous friends. Spurred on by myths and their own reveries, this merry band sets out in search of Prester John, a legendary priest-king said to rule over a vast kingdom in the East—a phantasmagorical land of strange creatures with eyes on their shoulders and mouths on their stomachs, of eunuchs, unicorns, and lovely maidens. With dazzling digressions, outrageous tricks, extraordinary feeling, and vicarious reflections on our postmodern age, this is Eco the storyteller at his brilliant best.
Bel Vino: A Year of Sundrenched Pleasure Among the Vines of Tuscany by Isabella Dusi. A must read for those interested in Brunello di Montalcino. Isobel and Lou moved to Montalcino and became Isabella and Luigi ten years ago and they have now been embraced by the locals and immersed in their antiquated customs and age-old feuds. Isabella takes the reader on a winding journey to discover the true aristocratic origins of the world-renowned wine Brunello di Montalcino on whose vintage the fortunes of many of the Montalcinesi depend. Taking us through the seasons of the wine harvest, Dusi weaves a path that brings in the local white-hooded monks who have lived in the Abbey of Sant' Antimo since at least 814; the last remaining local shoemaker; the harvesting of mushrooms, olives and truffles; an archery contest with a local village at which passions run high; and the fight to save a 1000-year-old church with no foundations. As an insider, Dusi is able to portray Tuscan life with all its idyllic charms whilst also giving an intriguing insight into the daily workings of the ancient village of Montalcino. Available through Amazon’s UK site, as apparently no US site is carrying them.
Biography of a City by Christopher Hibbert has written three books (nonfiction), one on Rome, one on Venice, and one on Florence, each subtitled "A Biography of a City"--he writes really well, and the historical background you need to understand Italy goes down easily.
Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant. It's set in Florence when Savaronola was doing his thing.
Books by Donna Leon. Mystery novel series featuring her detective, Guido Brunetti, and set in Venice.
Books by Edward Sklepowich. Mysteries set in Venice.
Books by Iris Origo. The writer Iris Origo (1902-1988), a friend of Edith Wharton and Somerset Maugham who was equally at home in the cities of Italy and England, is profiled in Iris Origo : Marchesa Of Val D'orcia by the biographer of Bertrand Russell. Origo's colorful memoir, WAR IN VAL D'ORCIA, about life on her Italian husband's estate in the mountains of Tuscany during World War II, is a classic of the genre. Her literary milieu, as it flourished in the interwar period, is brought vividly to life in this biography, including a sharp portrait of her difficult and much-married mother and a dispassionate look at the relationship between Origo and her husband and the serious long-term love affair that threatened the stability of their marriage. A New York Times Notable Book for 2002.
Books by Michael Dibdin. Aurelio Zen mystery series. Set all over modern Italy--Cabal is set in Rome.
City of the Soul: A Walk in Rome" by William Murray.
City Secrets: Rome, a guidebook, has a nice couple of pages recommending a "Marble Faun" route. This is a wonderful book, by the way, which hasn't been mentioned in this thread: the subtitle describes it as "The world's foremost artists, writers, architects, archaeologists, and historians reveal their favorite discoveries in this ultimate insider's guide."
Dances with Luigi: A Grandson’s Search for His Italian Roots by Paul Paolicelli (A real favorite, about an American taking a period of time off to discover some information about his Italian grandparents - very sensitively written. I preferred it to Pasquale's Nose, hands down!) More that just a spiritual account of one man's ancestral search, Dances With Luigi is also a stunning portrait of la bella Italia--both old and new--that is painted beautifully in all of its glamour, history, and contradiction.
Daughters of the Prince by Noel Barber. It's set in pre-WWII and WWII-era Florence, Rome, and London. Among other things, it provided some interesting background info about how Florence's art treasures were (mostly) preserved in WWII.
Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann.
Deeply Rooted by Ginda Simpson. A personal memoir by artist/writer living in Umbria. It was published in Italy but can be ordered through her website www.gindasimpson.com. One of the most entertaining and moving stories that I have read.
Disturbance of the Inner Ear: A Novel by Joyce Hackett. Dark, intense, and often very funny, this critically lauded debut novel tells a story of inherited trauma healed by erotic love in the lives of two unlikely soul mates: Isabel, a former cello prodigy and daughter of a Holocaust survivor, and Giulio, an Italian gigolo. With its hypnotic internal logic, Disturbance of the Inner Ear conjures a ravaged landscape in which anything is possible. Hackett’s musical language comes alive in a pitch-perfect first-person narrative that is evasive yet intimate, and utterly unforgettable. Stylistically daring and psychologically acute, this dazzling debut marks the arrival of an exciting new novelist.
Etruscan Places by D.H. Lawrence
Extra Virgin: A Young Woman Discovers the Italian Riviera, Where Every Month Is Enchanted by Annie Hawes. A sister travelogue to IN PROVENCE and UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, this book talks about the Italian Riviera, its landscape, cuisine, and local color. This is a wonderful book written by a young British girl settling down in Italy.
Follow Your Heart by Susanna Tamaro. Apparently, it was a huge best-seller in Italy back in the 1990s. The title in Italian is "Va' dove ti porta il cuore". Since I really didn't have time to struggle through the Italian, I found the English version on tape in my library and listened to it. If you liked "Bridges of Madison County" you'd probably like this too. In other words, it doesn't fit the subject of "Great Books" but I guess it would illustrate the type of romantic novel very popular among Italian women.
Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life In the process of discussing his life and the genesis of the Franciscan Friars, there's a wealth of information about the region surrounding Perugia, Umbria and beyond. Fascinating dissection of the political, economic and class issue that affected life at the time and best of all many of the referenced sites can still be seen and visited.
Galileo's Daughter, by Dava Sobel
I, Claudius: From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius, Born 10 B.C., Murdered and Deified A.D. 54 by Robert Graves. Fabulous book about the emperors, murder, emperors, murder, emperors, murder, emperors, murder, emperors, murder, emperors, murder, gripping read you'd not want to be Caesar, set in Rome, Pompeii and Capri.
Old Calabria by Norman Douglas. When Norman Douglas visited Calabria, Italy in the early years of the 20th century, its wild, secluded, and enigmatic country attracted little interest and few tourists. But Douglas never followed the already-traveled path, and so, we have this classic in which he wittily escorts us from the promontory of Gargano to the tip of Aspromonte, and through the influences of many invaders. Elegant and literary, this remarkable travel book stands in a class of its own.
Italian Days (Barbara Grizzuti Harrison)
Italian Education, Tim Parks
Italian Hours (Henry James)
Italian Neighbors, Tim Parks
Italian Villas and their Gardens, by Edith Wharton
La Bella Vita by Vida Adamoli. It is written by an English woman who marries an Italian in the late 1960's and writes about their lives in Rome and then on the coast above Naples. They settle in a small coastal town and she describes how the town and the locals and the "outsiders" change and cope over the years. She doesn't faun or condescend and I enjoy her writing style
La Cucina by Lily Prior - fiction, but beautifully written - Sicily based, some Mafia involvement, and an ode to cooking. Really worth the reading!
Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi. I have never read a Don Camillo novel that I didn't like. Comprising short, humourous, often heartwarming, tales about a parish priest in a small Italian village and his battles against the local communist mayor, his conscience, and other local crises. It has a charm, warmth and local flavour that take the reader on a journey through time to a different world. These stories are simply excellent!
Love and War in the Appennines and A Small Place in Italy by Eric Newby. Biography or war and love and then the reconstruction of a "rustico" after WW 11 in an area near La Spezia
Mapping the Edge by Sarah Dunant.. which partly takes place in Florence and in the Italian countryside. Not only does the character's love of Italy come across but it's the kind of book you'd open up as your flight takes off and you won't be able to put it down until you land. It's considered a thriller, although that always makes me think of spy stories which it isn't at all. It's about responsibility, lust, love, children, the meaning of friendship, motherhood and what happens when something frightening happens in our lives. Dunant is an award-winning mystery writer, so her sense of timing and suspense is impeccable.
Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers. The first book is A Voice in the Wind. These are really wonderful historical fiction! One of them opens with the main character being sent in to the lions at the Colosseum-Everyone I give them to can't put them down!
Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, by Ross King about the painting and politics of the Sistine Chapel and Rome during that era.
Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers. Miss Julia Garnet is a quiet and repressed schoolteacher whose life changes immeasurably when she goes on vacation to Venice, where she encounters art, beauty, love, and loss, and finds herself.
Nectar by Lily Prior. It was a rollicking farce, made me blush more than once, but hilarious nonetheless. Set in the past, exact era unknown, it's the adventures of an albino servant who emits a scent that intoxicates every man around, driving some to the point of suicide when they can't be among her multitude of lovers. Again, it's a naughty comedy, but the character names (and there are 99 of them) are absolutely hilarious. And of course, I can't think of a one at this moment!
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Old Jan 8th, 2005, 03:55 PM
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Songbirds, Truffles and Wolves: An American Naturalist in Italy. By Gary Paul Habhan. The ethnobotanist author visits Genoa and then walks from Florence to Assisi. Readable observations on Italy past and present: flora and fauna, food, people, history, St. Francis. I didn't read it intently from cover to cover (the stuff about his personal life are distracting) but I learned some interesting things, especially about polenta!
Pasquale's Nose: Idle Days in an Italian Town by Michael Rips. Everywhere hailed for its quirkiness, its hilarity, its charm, Pasquale's Nose tells the story of a New York City lawyer who runs away to a small Etruscan village with his wife and new baby, and discovers a community of true eccentrics—warring bean growers, vanishing philosophers, a blind bootmaker, a porcupine hunter—among whom he feels unexpectedly at home.
Postcards from Europe by Rick Steves. There is a good thread on his website graffiti wall for more book ideas.
Renato's Luck by Jeff Shapiro and it was WONDERFUL! In this fable-like novel, Renato Tizzoni, who lives in the Tuscan town of Sant'Angelo d'Asso, is distressed when his best friend dies, the government announces it's going to build an intrusive a dam in his quiet town, and his daughter falls for a boy he can't stand. Life has lost all its luster, and he becomes depressed. Then a dream instructs him to go to the Pope for counsel, and as the townspeople find out where he's going they load him down with their own requests. Enlightened by the hard luck of others, Renato determines to try to solve his own problems.
Ripe for the Picking by Annie Hawes. [I cannot find anything about this book anywhere. So I’m uncertain of the accuracy of the title/author/etc.]
Sea & Sardinia, D.H. Lawrence
See Naples: A Memoir, by Douglas Allanbrook, a memoir of his experience in Italy during the war and after -- lyrical and haunting.
Serenissima by Erica Jong. was written several years ago and I believe is out of print, but if you can get a used copy or one from the library, it's well worth it.
Silver Pigs: A Detective Novel in Ancient Rome, by Lindsey Davis. Winner of the Best First Novel award from the Authors' Club, and debut of the Didius Falco mystery series. It is A.D. 70, when Roman P.I. Marcus Didius Falco runs into comely Sosia Camillina on the steps of the Forum. It seems she's being chased by a few unsavories for a stockpile of silver pigs—silver ingots—but Falco wants more information. What he gets is a whiff of treason and a one-way ticket to his own funeral pyre.... "It has everything: mystery, pace, wit, fascinating scholarship, and above all, two protagonists for whom, by the end, I feel genuine affection, and want to meet again." Ellis Peters (reviewer on Amazon.com)
Stolen Figs: and other adventures in Calabria by Mark Rotella, Calabria is the toe of the boot that is Italy—a rugged peninsula where grapevines and fig and olive trees cling to the mountainsides during the scorching summers while the sea crashes against the cliffs on both coasts. Calabria is also a seedbed of Italian American culture; in North America, more people of Italian heritage trace their roots to Calabria than to almost any other region in Italy. Mark Rotella’s Stolen Figs is a marvelous evocation of Calabria and Calabrians, whose way of life is largely untouched by the commerce that has made Tuscany and Umbria into international tourist redoubts. A grandson of Calabrian immigrants, Rotella persuades his father to visit the region for the first time in thirty years; once there, he meets Giuseppe, a postcard photographer who becomes his guide to all things Calabrian. As they travel around the region, Giuseppe initiates Rotella—and the reader—into its secrets: how to make soppressata and ’nduja, where to find hidden chapels and grottoes, and, of course, how to steal a fig without actually committing a crime. Stolen Figs is a model travelogue—at once charming and wise, and full of the earthy and unpretentious sense of life that, now as ever, characterizes Calabria and its people.
Stones of Florence (Mary McCarthy)
Summer's Lease by John Mortimer, who wrote the Rumpole of the Bailey series. Busybody British woman with husband, kids, and outrageous father rents a Tuscan villa for the summer, replete with mystery and humor.
That Fine Italian Hand by Paul Hofmann.
The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone. Really gets you inside Michaelangelo's mind.
The Apprentice Lover by Jay Parini, set on the island during the Vietnam War era. It's wonderfully well written; I'd highly recommend it.
The City of Florence (R.W.B. Lewis)
The Collected Traveler: Central Italy Tuscany and Umbria. It is described as "an inspired anthology and travel resource." ISBN 0-609-80443-X
The Dark Heart of Italy" by Tobias Jones. It is an amazing eyeopener about the very real political and cultural malaise that exists in modern Italy. As the book cover describes, the author moved to Italy "expecting to discover the pastoral bliss described by centuries of foreign visitors. Instead he found a very different country: one besieged by unfathomable terrorism and deep-seated paranoia." I know it sounds depressing, but really it just balances the mythical Italy created by so many sycophantic books and movies. And ultimately helps you understand and still love this fascinating country.
The Death of Faith by. Donna Leon seems determined to expose the ugly underbelly of Italy and Venice in particular -- she's got issues! -- I found Donna Leon's books at MysteryLovers.com. They seem to have the whole Guido Brunetti series. But, having said that, her books left me with a feeling of sadness if what she sees in Italy is true -- corruption and rampant greed everywhere, a grim view of the Catholic Church, a dim view of tourists, and on and on.
The Decameron - For a series of great & fun short stories set in another century. These are all short stories based on different facets of love, and are quite entertaining.
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. A gentle sweet novel about life, love and the changes natural beauty of the land bring to four English women. Movie was based on this book
The Evening of the Holiday by Shirley Hazzard
The Fall of a Sparrow by Robert Hellenga is fairly thick and kept me awake late for several nights. It is the story of the return to life of a father whose daughter was killed in the 1980 Bologna train station bombing.
The Floating Book: A Novel of Venice, by Michelle R Lovric. Venice, 1468. The beautiful yet heartless Sosia Simeon is making her mark on the city, driven by a dark compulsion to steal pleasure with men from all walks of life. Across the Grand Canal, Wendelin von Speyer has just arrived from Germany, bringing with him a cultural revolution: Gutenberg's movable type. Together with the young editor Bruno Uguccione and the seductive scribe Felice Feliciano, he starts the city's first printing press. Before long a love triangle develops between Sosia, Felice, and Bruno—who has become entranced by the verse of Catullus, the Roman erotic poet. But a far greater scandal erupts when Wendelin tempts fate by publishing the poet—and changes all of their lives forever. Sosia, the heartless sensualist; Felice, a man who loves the crevices of the alphabet the way other men love the crevices of women; Lussieta, whose anguish gives the story its soulful heart: these and many other characters make The Floating Book an unforgettable experience for lovers of romance, history, and the printed word. Marlena de Blasi, author of A Thousand Days in Venice, called The Floating Book "breathtaking”. ISBN: 1-844408-003-X
The Food of Love by Anthony Capella. A new, absolutely delightful novel set in Rome. My husband and I both laughed all the way through this. It sort of reminds me of the light-hearted Peter Mayles Provence novels, although as different from Mayles as Rome is from the Luberon.
The Stone Virgin by Barry Unsworth. Set in Venice; read it and visit the Madonna dell'Orto Church, with a sculpture that inspired the story.
The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It's not easy to wade through the 19th-century prose, but much of this book really is a travelogue of Rome disguised as a romance novel and it's fun from that standpoint. Apparently, about a century ago, editions of this book were sold with blank pages for tourists to paste in pictures of themselves at all the points where action occurs in the story.
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani. This novel is about a rich Jewish family in Ferrara on the eve of WWII.
The Geometry of Love by Margaret Visser is an excellent, poetic, lyrical, fact-filled introduction to why churches look the way they do. Absolutely fascinating,and you will feel so knowledgable every time you look at anything in a church, cathedral, basilica or chapel for evermore!
The Hills of Tuscany: A New Life in an Old Land by Ferenc Mate. As seductive as A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, but with the wit and charm of a 1930s romantic comedy, the true-life adventure of a couple who chucked New York for a new life in Tuscany. The Mates arrived in Tuscany in the late 1980s knowing no Italian and with only four weeks to search for the country house of their dreams. On their last night there, after having been chased by wild boars and befriended by a country realtor who also sells pigs and coffins, they finally concluded the deal on the hood of a rusting tractor with the lawyer speaking Italian and them responding in French, English, and Hungarian, in a Tower of Babel version of "Who's on First?" So begins Ferenc Mat's endearing, in-love-with-life memoir of their first five years in Tuscany, by turns buoyant, reflective, and laugh-out-loud hilarious. His engaging, often poetic prose describes the way of life they were looking for and found-where neighbors, community, home, and, most of all, children, form the focal point of daily life. They live in a small thirteenth-century monastery, surrounded by their vineyards and olive groves, in the spectacular hills near Siena, a few miles from where The English Patient was filmed. The Hills of Tuscany-steeped in mesmerizing scenery and wonderful medieval towns, full of unforgettably delightful characters and spectacular food and wine-nourishes body, mind, and soul. If you're not passionately in love with life at the moment, you'll be hopelessly so by the time you turn the last page.--
The Italians by Luigi Barzini
The Last Promise by Richard Evans. It is a simple romantic story about an artist and a tour guide at the Uffizi, not a brain stretcher, but a pleasant read that has loads of Italian atmosphere and vocabulary. It takes place in Florence and at a villa in Tuscany where Machiavelli is supposed to have lived.
The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, is considered by some people to be the greatest Italian novel of the 20th century. The author was a Sicilian prince, and the hero of the novel (which takes place in the 1860's) was supposedly based on his great-grandfather. The book was turned into a movie with Burt Lancaster.
The Marshal by Magdalen Nabb for mystery lovers and all who find Florence fascinating, Cunningly crafted mystery stories, very well written and available through Amazon.com.
The Merchant of Prato gives a very interesting insight into what made one man a successful businessman in Tuscany in the late 14th-early 15th century.
The Miracles of Santo Fico is a sweet novel set in Tuscany.
The Name of the Rose. A mystery
The Rage and the Pride by Oriana Fallaci. With The Rage and the Pride Oriana Fallaci breaks a ten year silence. The silence she kept until September 11's apocalypse in her Manhattan house. She breaks it with a deafening noise. In Europe this book has caused and causes a turmoil never registered in decades. Polemics, discussion, debates, hearty consents and praises, wild attacks. And a million copies sold in Italy where it still is at the bestsellers' top. Hundreds of thousands in France, in Germany, in Spain: the other countries where it has become the Number one Bestseller. Around a dozen translations will soon appear. With her well-known courage Oriana Fallaci faces the themes unchained by the Islamic terrorism: the contrast and, in her opinion, incompatibility between the Islamic world and the Western world; the global reality of the Jihad and the lack of response, the lenience of the West. With her brutal sincerity she hurls pitiless accusations, vehement invectives, and denounces the uncomfortable truths that all of us know but never dare to express. With her rigorous logic, lucidity of mind, she defends our culture and blames what she calls our blindness, our deafness, our masochism, the conformism and the arrogance of the Politically Correct. With the poetry of a prophet like a modern Cassandra she says it in the form of a letter addressed to all of us. The text is enriched by a dramatic preface in which Oriana Fallaci reveals how The Rage and the Pride was born, grew up, and detachedly calls it "my small book." In addition, a preface in which she tells significant episodes of her extraordinary life and explains her unreachable isolation, her demanding and inflexible choices. Because of this too, what she calls "my small book" is in reality a great book. A precious book, a book that shakes our conscience. It is also the portrait of a soul. Her soul. No doubt it will remain as a thorn pierced inside our brains and our hearts.
The Roman Way by Edith Hamilton
The Seasons of Rome: A Journal. By Paul Hofmann
The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi by Jacquline Park set in several Italian cities during the Renaissance, about the plight of a young Jewish woman and her family as they are kicked out of one town after another. Very well researched.
The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri
The Sixteen Pleasures: A Novel, by Robert Hellenga. "I was twenty-nine years old when the Arno flooded its banks on Friday 4 November 1966. On Tuesday I decided to go to Italy, to offer my services as a humble book conservator, to save whatever could be saved, including myself." The Italians called them "Mud Angels," the young foreigners who came to Florence in 1966 to save the city's treasured art from the Arno's flooded banks. American volunteer Margot Harrington was one of them, finding her niche in the waterlogged library of a Carmelite convent. For within its walls she discovered a priceless Renaissance masterwork: a sensuous volume of sixteen erotic poems and drawings. Inspired to sample each of the ineffable sixteen pleasures, Margot embarks on the intrigue of a lifetime with a forbidden lover and the contraband volume--a sensual, life-altering journey of loss and rebirth in this exquisite novel of spiritual longing and earthly desire.
The Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin. An elderly gentlemen relates the story of his life from growing up in a wealthy family in Rome through the horrors of World War 1. Survival, and love of family comes through; humorous at times, but very moving.
The Stones of Florence by Mary McCarthy
The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe. A bestseller in a dozen languages and a favorite of readers for decades, The Story of San Michele is one of a remarkable life filled with fabulous experiences and ambitions. Axel Munthe was a fashionable physician in Paris who built one of the best-loved houses in the world, San Michele, on the Isle of Capri, on the site of the villa of the emperor Tiberius. Written with intelligence and verve, this autobiography tells tales of buried treasure in Italy, legendary creatures in Lapland, and the cold countesses and kindly whores of Naples—enough material, as one critic put it, “to furnish writers of short stories with plots for the rest of their lives.” “A frank and absorbing autobiography…packed with good stories, vivid scenes, and memorable portraits.” -- The Times [London] “Written in an imaginative style that is vigorous and impressive.” -- New York Times
The Terra-Cotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri. Inspector Montalbano has garnered millions of fans worldwide with his sardonic take on Sicilian life. Montalbano's latest case begins with a mysterious têtê à têtê with a Mafioso, some inexplicably abandoned loot from a supermarket heist, and dying words that lead him to an illegal arms cache in a mountain cave. There, the inspector finds two young lovers, dead for fifty years and still embracing, watched over by a life-sized terra-cotta dog. Montalbano's passion to solve this old crime takes him on a journey through Sicily's past and into one family's darkest secrets. With sly wit and a keen understanding of human nature, Montalbano is a detective whose earthiness, compassion, and imagination make him totally irresistable.

The Wings of the Dove by Henry James. Of the three late masterpieces that crown the extraordinary literary achievement of Henry James, The Wings of the Dove (1902) is at once the most personal and the most elemental. James drew on the memory of a beloved cousin who died young to create one of the three central characters, Milly Theale, an heiress with a short time to live and a passion for experiencing life to its fullest. To the creation of the other two, Merton Densher and the magnificent, predatory Kate Croy, who conspire in an act of deceit and betrayal, he brought a lifetime's distilled wisdom about the frailty of the human soul when it is trapped in the depths of need and desire. And he brought to the drama that unites these three characters, in the drawing rooms of London and on the storm-lit piazzas of Venice, a starkness and classical purity almost unprecedented in his work. Under its brilliant, coruscating surfaces, beyond the scrim of its marvelous rhetorical and psychological devices, The Wings of the Dove offers an unfettered vision of our civilization and its discontents. It represents a culmination of James's art and, as such, of the art of the novel itself.
Thus Spake Bellavista: Naples, Love and Liberty by Luciano de Crescenzo. For a look at Naples by a Neapolitan (out-of-print; may be available used; description on amazon.com). The professor Bellavista was retired from many years, but he is still working on his peripatetic philosopher activity. The book is the report of amusing and coloured talks in his old house in the heart of Naples about life, Naples, love and history of the humanity. After this book the author has directed a very funny movie (already an italian cult) and a pictures book.
Venice, Lion City by Garry Wills, for anyone interested in the iconography of Venice (available in paper; has been criticized for images that are too small and in black and white).
Twilight in Italy, D.H. Lawrence. In these essays, written not long after his elopement with Frieda von Richtofen in 1912, D.H. Lawrence recorded much of what he saw and felt as he traveled with her from Bavaria to Gargano. TWILIGHT IN ITALY is not autobiographical, nor can it be labeled as travel sketches. Most of the pieces are vivid, sensitive, masterful, often rhapsodic impressions of the Italian countryside and the Italian temper. With his genius for combining psychological perception, sociological insight, and personal enthusiasm, Lawrence transforms ordinary rights of passages into intense beauty.
Under the Tuscan Sun, of course, is now a well-recognized and widely-read book, among those of us who are Italophiles.
Vanilla Beans and Brodo by Isabella Dusi (nonfiction memoir, set in Montalcino)
Vaporetto 13 may be out of print now, but you can probably still obtain a copy through an out-of-print book service. Very intriguing, IMO.
Venetian Dreaming by Paula Weideger. It was discussed here before and a lot of people seemed to dislike it, but I really enjoyed it. Who hasn't longed to escape to the enchanting canals and mysterious alleyways of Venice? Globetrotting writer Paula Weideger not only dreamed the dream, she took the leap. In Venetian Dreaming, she charts the course of her love affair with one of the world's most treasured cities.
Venice Observed (Art and Places), Mary McCarthy. MCarthy's tone is leisurely and informative, her style witty and engaging. Her asides about her personal experiences in the city complement her grander historical and artistic musings: you never feel alienated from her prose (the way you can in her earlier THE STONES OF FLORENCE). Her anecdotes about the doges, Tintoretto, Veronese, the Councils, etc. greatly enhanced one's understanding of the city, and her musings on the art are thoughtful and illuminating.
Waking Raphael by Leslie Forbes. , a mystery set in Urbino, about an Englishwoman restoring a Raphael painting.
When in Rome by Ngaio Marsh. It was fun for light diversion. Much of the action takes place in a church which must really be San Clemente, although it's called San Tomasso in the book, and two of the main characters supposedly look exactly like the Etruscan couple on the Villa Giula sarcophagus.
When In Rome by Robert J. Hutchinson. It is very informative and funny at times. It is a journal of life at the Vatican. Humorous, irreverent, but ultimately respectful, When in Rome does for the Vatican what A Year in Provence did for the French countryside, in an unforgettable and unprecedented eyewitness account of one of the most fascinating places on Earth.
Where Angels Fear to Tread by e.m. forster
White Smoke Over the Vatican by Don Sharkey There is a great interesting small book about the story of the Vatican and the Pope's elections.
Wilful Behaviour by Donna Leon
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Old Jan 8th, 2005, 03:59 PM
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Old Jan 8th, 2005, 04:41 PM
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I just ordered my copy of 1000 days in tuscany on Amazon...and yes, DogMother..Amazon is a dangerous place. I think that they should put a warning..Beware this website can be addictive and dangerous to your finances!
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Old Jan 8th, 2005, 05:39 PM
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Dear Dog Mother,
I just want to say thank you for the compilation of wonderful books you put together. Obviously it was a lot of work and I wanted you to know it is appreciated.
p.s. in addition to my human children, I am mom to two dogs.
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Old Jan 8th, 2005, 06:03 PM
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Dog_Mother, As far as I know, you are the only person other than I on this forum who has recommended Oriana Fallaci's book The Pride and The Rage. It is so powerful.

Getting off track a little...I would like to also recommend a video "The Night of the Shooting Stars," from 1982, subtititled in English. This Italian movie was recommened to me, and if you do a search on Amazon and read the customer reviews, you just might be inclined to rent it (if you an find it).
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