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What should I read before going to Italy?

What should I read before going to Italy?

May 31st, 2001, 11:22 AM
Pat Jensen
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I concur immensely with the recommendation of Agony and Ecstasy, well, well written; you hated to part with a good friend at the end and he, Michaelangelo, lived 90 years. Can you tell I just read the book this week.

If you're into ancient Rome, the Colleen McCullough series starting with The First Man was good. And, along this line, you'll want to watch the video Gladiator.
Jun 1st, 2001, 10:33 AM
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A really fun historical detective series is by Lindsey Davis. Set in 70AD Rome, the detective is Marcus Didius Falco, an informer for the Emporer Vespasian. Great fun!
Jun 2nd, 2001, 06:18 AM
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In anticipation of our upcoming trip to Florence, I also am reading the Agony and the Ectasy. It has provided history and background on not only Michaelangelo but the other contemporary artists of his time that I will appreceiate what we see more.

For mysteries set in Italy read Patricia Highsmith.
Mar 30th, 2007, 08:42 AM
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Many great ideas here.

I can recommend a novel called "I'm Not Scared" by Niccolo Ammaniti - a gentle sort of thriller about a boy who discovers a crime in his remote village. VERY evocative and contemporary, a good translation from the original Italian.
On the plane my first time to Italy I read "D. H. Lawrence and Italy: Twilight in Italy; Sea and Sardinia; Etruscan Places" - great and quirky tales of a less modern Italy. Wonderful writing, of course.

I must recommend "Pasquale's Nose" by my good friend, Michael Rips. A very quirky "memoir" that blends fact and fantasy as seen through the eyes of an American living in a small town north of Rome (Sutri.)

All the Paul Hoffman books are fine reading:
- ROMA (an educated "guidebook")
- THAT FINE ITALIAN HAND (A great look at the people)
- CENTO CITTA (describing 100 small Italian cities, a real must for the Italophile and repeat traveler)
- UMBRIA (when you've decided to know more about this great region)

Also am a fan of SPREZZATURA: 50 WAYS ITALIAN GENIUS SHAPED THE WORLD, by Peter D'Epiro and Mary Desmond Pinkowish. Something for everyone there, whether your thing is art, architecture, literature or food, etc.

RE: Venice, I have yet to read John Berendt's (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) well-regarded THE CITY OF FALLING ANGELS.

If the Veneto and Palladian villas are on your list, read THE PERFECT HOUSE by architect Witold Rybczynski. A real gem.

For the serious student or devotee of art and architecture and Roman history (ancient and not so), see ROME AND A VILLA by Eleanor Clark. (1952, in and out of print ever since) Gives a wonderful picture of the post-post-war years, great for comparison with today.
"If all the crosses in this Holy City disappeared overnight it would hardly be noticeable, but if the obekisks or the river gods were fone it would be as if the city had had a frontal lobotomy, everyone would know that its deepest nature had been interfered with in some way."

A TIME IN ROME by novelist Elizabeth Bowen is the rarefied view of a long stay in 1960.

Also loved Luigi Barzini's THE ITALIANS, as well as his other work, THE EUROPEANS. Barznini is a rarity: an Italian writing about his own country for the foreign reader.

I heartily recommend a romantic novela called THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA by Elizabeth Spencer. RE-released a coule of years ago after the fine B'way musical of the same name. Also a film in the 60s starring Olivia de Havilland. A quick read, easily accomplished on the flight over or even in the waiting area ... takes place in Florence and Rome.

These and other books can take you to Italia for a few hours - and make the time you really spend there that much more rewarding.

tomassocroccante is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 08:56 AM
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Sorry, Tomas-"City of Falling Angels?" Well regarded by whom? friends of John Berendt's? That's who stacked most all of those favorable reviews on Amazon-but there were a number of Venetians and ex-pats and people like me who wrote scathing reviews of the book. Not to mention the mayor/philosopher of Venice himself, Signore MC, who weighed in on the subject of this book by telling the NY Times "it's not my habit to comment on things that don't really interest me, or that I don't particularly like."

If ANYONE thinks that that book in any way represents what Venice is all about, then, I've got news for you-it doesn't. If anyone thinks that the ex-pat community of Venice has ANY say in what goes on in Venice, or that the Venetians really have any idea who or what these dueling "Save Venice" foundations are or what they do, then again wrong.

Some of the Venetian aristocrats do, indeed, dawdle with these groups, and some of the wealthy ex-pats in Venice are quite mad, but they run in a very isolated, and different circle than the professional class of Venetians (read: Italians) who run the city, and the working class Venetians who make it operate.

Berendt doesn't speak Italian well enough to communicate on more than a very superficial level-despite what he claims to the contrary-that was pretty obvious.
Girlspytravel is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 08:58 AM
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I can't believe no one's mentioned (or I missed it) "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. It's the best book I've read in ages, and 1/3 of it focuse on her months spent in Italy during her year of traveling.
nycgirl1 is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 08:59 AM
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Pillars of the Earth- Tom Follett (I think). It will make you appreciate every church and what went into making it (without cranes and all the equipment we take for granted)
ilana25841 is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 09:33 AM
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OK, Girlspy - maybe that's why Falling Angels has been on my shelf for a year but I still haven't opened it! Some kind of psychic power ...

I appreciate hearing what you and others who know Venice well think. At the same time:

"... the story of the Fenice fire and its aftermath is exceptionally interesting, the cast of characters is suitably various and flamboyant, and Berendt's prose, now as then, is precise, evocative and witty." - The Washington Post

"Regardless of whether Venetians really talk this way, Mr. Berendt uses such entrances to fine effect. Though he lacks a narrative of great urgency, he nonetheless delivers an urbane, beautifully fashioned book with much exotic charm. The authorial gondola glides from one sharp-daggered standoff to another, and the details of these stories are chosen with care.

Once again, Mr. Berendt makes erudite, inquisitive, nicely skeptical company as he leads the reader through the shadows of what was heretofore better known as a tourist attraction. " - the New York Times

I admit, though, that, like you, when something I feel is "off the mark" gains praise it can be irksome. In any case, since I haven't read the damn thing yet, I can neither bury nor praise it first hand.
tomassocroccante is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 09:38 AM
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If Sicily is in your plans you might
enjoy the detective series by Andrea
llamalady is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 11:23 AM
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I really enjoyed Berendt’s ”City of Falling Angels” —especially the parts about the family of glassblowers, Ezra Pound-Olga Rudge, and the investigation into the La Fenice fire. No, I’m not an expert about the city, and, yes, I’ve only visited as a tourist. It would be interesting to me if someone shed light more specifically on what was inaccurate about the book. (I came to it late, when it went into softcover, so I didn’t read the immediate reviews. And later, laudatory testimonials, of course, on the flap and inside can be skillfully edited by the publisher, though Berendt does seem to have his healthy share of backers.) But I found it it to be a compelling read, and the fellow can write.
wanderful is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 12:08 PM
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Dan Browns "Angels and Demons" is the same plot as the "DaVinci Code" except it is set in Rome. It is a fun, quick-read that will give you an overview of a lot of the sculpture in Rome.
AisleSeat is offline  
Mar 30th, 2007, 02:51 PM
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No order hear, angels and demons, agony and ectesy, michelangelo and the popes ceilings, augustus, and any roman histroy
brando is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2007, 10:25 AM
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fca52 is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2007, 10:56 AM
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Mentioned earlier, Pillars of the Earth is by KEN Follett not Tom. Oh, by the way, a must read is the fine print discussing fees for your credit and debit cards!
artlvr is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2007, 05:09 PM
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The Companion Guide to Venice by Hugh Honour and The Companion Guide to Florence by Eve Borsook. They are not fiction, but guidebooks that can be read like literature and very interesting.
Sassafrass is online now  
Apr 3rd, 2007, 09:39 AM
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Bookmarking for the many times I long to be back in Italy.
samsmom1127 is offline  
Apr 7th, 2007, 07:38 AM
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Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling is very good, too (by Ross King who wrote Brunelleschi's Dome). It has a lot of background information about Michelangelo and Raphael in addition to great and fascinating detail about the painting of the Sistine chapel.

My husband and I enjoyed The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr (nonfiction about the search for a missing Caravaggio, mostly "set" in Rome/Italy)

The Mary McCarthy books on Florence and Venice are excellent.

For fiction, I agree with the recommendation to read Robert Graves' I Claudius and Claudius the God. Another option would be to rent the excellent BBC series as a break from all the reading.
Augustus by John Williams is also very good historical fiction. My son, who enjoyed all of these also highly recommends Julian by Gore Vidal.

My mystery recommendations: Michael Dibdin, especially Lost Lagoon set in Venice, Donna Leon (Venice), Magdalen Nabb (Florence, David Hewson (Rome).

I don't think anyone has mentioned Hawthorne's The Marble Faun

Calvin Trillin's Travels with Alice is not exclusively about Italy but at least half of the chapters are about trips there and will get you in the mood for the markets and gelato.

For another very different angle on Italy, I really liked Joe McGinnis's The Miracle of Castel di Sangro about an Italian soccer team. I think it is out of print but maybe you could find it used or at the library.

Vttraveler is offline  
Apr 7th, 2007, 07:52 AM
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There's a new book on Venice, which I very much want to read, and I do not at all recommend that very awful "City of Falling Angels" by J. Berendt, but this is a book by "Miss Manners" Judith Martin-whom I've always enjoyed reading. Apparently she is a "Venetophile" like many of us on this board. The book is called "NO VULGAR HOTEL: THE DESIRE AND PURSUIT OF VENICE-detailing her apparently 50 year passion for this city, she rents palazzos on the Grand Canal and spends a lot of time here-I didn't know that-(I was on the train with her once-NYC-DC). It sounds great, and has gotten good reviews.

The book's title refers to a character in a Henry James novel who refuses to be like a tourist and stay in a hotel while in Venice.

Girlspytravel is offline  
Apr 7th, 2007, 08:04 AM
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Yes, I agree that Ross King’s book on Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling and Jonathan Harr’s The Lost Painting are good reads.

Don’t know if I’ve mentioned Mark Helprin’s novel A Soldier of the Great War. You might want to look that over.

William Murray’s The Last Italian is worthwhile. He contributed to the New Yorker, his ”Letter from Italy” and lived in Rome for years, studying voice and trying to build a career in opera. His mother was Janet Flanner’s lover, and their union helped sparked another memoir of his, which involves Italy a good deal — Janet, My Mother, and Me, which I have yet to read and will shortly.
wanderful is offline  
Apr 7th, 2007, 08:15 AM
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John Grisham's The Broker (2005). Much of it takes place in Bologna.
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