Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Libri of Winter

Our quiet winter of infrequent trips and get-togethers is about to end as visitors return with the good weather and our thoughts go to getting outdoors! However, if you are living in a northern clime, you still have a lot of reading time! I include here books about Italy (not including travel books, straight history books, cookbooks, or language books) I have read in the last three years. The opinions and mistakes are my own.

Good Writing and Editing 
Marlena di Blasi
A Thousand Days in Venice
A Thousand Days in Tuscany
The Lady in the Palazzo
That Summer in Sicily

Marlena is my favorite writer about life in Italy. I have to own up here to a bias for lyric prose and honest emotion. She combines these two into wonderful books that are especially pleasant to read. She also manages to avoid the patrician attitude prevalent in Frances Mayes’ writing. That said, nobody’s perfect and she admits herself that her second book (about her move to Tuscany after her marriage to a Venetian with a dream of getting the heck out of Venice) has a dumb title meant to sell books (it wasn’t a thousand days spent there). She does tend to romanticize Italian life a bit but not to the extent of a Frances Mayes. I think she is just a romantic, lyric type of person.
The Lady in the Palazzo is all about their final home. The “Sicily” book is a fine mix of present day life and historical fiction. She is a great cook and her American past was as a food writer. She also has written cookbooks.

Head over Heel-Seduced by Southern Italy-Chris Harrison
Doug and I both liked the honest evaluation of the Italian North-South split described with a sense of humor in this book.  Chris falls for an Italian woman from the south of Italy and they return together to her home in Puglia. The book blurb says it’s a “hilarious and captivating story”-I’d say it is captivating and witty. Hilarious is a strong word.

There are two well-written books by men who went to find their Italian roots in Southern Italy and a woman who took her northern Italian friends to find their roots in the south.
Dances with Luigi-Paul Paolicelli
Stolen Figs-Mark Rotella
Journey to the South-Annie Hawes

War in Val D’Orcia-Iris Origo
This is a truly elegant and fascinating diary of life near the end of WWII in Tuscany. An English woman married to an Italian man own a vast estate with many small farms managed by tenant contadini in the old Italian manner. They dodge Italian Fascists, Allied bombings, and the Gestapo while helping anyone who needed them--risking their own lives and survival.

Mediterranean Summer-Erol Munuz and David Shalleck
This book is about a chef who is hired by very rich Italians to cook for them aboard their huge yacht. It’s a surprisingly entertaining look into affluent Italian life.

Frances Mayes
Under the Tuscan Sun
Bella Tuscany

I enjoyed reading these books.  I had a dream of moving to Italy and Frances had already done it. If you have seen the film Under the Tuscan Sun, it is nothing at all like the book.  It’s better. The book is about a rich couple from San Francisco who throw a great deal of money at a villa in Tuscany.  Ditto Bella Tuscany. Ms. Mayes is a good writer and I suppose she can’t help being rich.

Famous Authors, Good Writing
Twilight in Italy-D.H. Lawrence
Old D.H. can really set a scene. That’s about ALL he does, however. I never got drawn in.  I have to admit I ended up skimming this.  I blame myself.  It’s plainly high quality stuff but I don’t like it.

A Room with a View-E.M. Forster
I admit I have seen the movie, twice, which makes me disposed in favor of the book. It’s not a great book about Italy because it’s mostly a study of the character of a group of English people who meet while on holiday in Italy. An Austen-like tale of old-fashioned manners.

Pictures from Italy-Charles Dickens
Mr. Dickens travels through France and the Italian Rivera at Genova. Reminds me of Mark Twain--funny, witty observations.  It’s especially fun to see what has and has not changed over the years.

Not about the Writing (Mostly Kindle self-published with vast editing lapses)
Most of the books below were found on Kindle.  I’m not sure if they are available via hard cover. These books depict in one form or another the experience of expatriate living in Italy—mostly in the south. They were entertaining for me because I mentally compared my experience to theirs but the writing is definitely sub-par. It’s too bad—I’m sure good editing could have improved many of these:

Scratching the Toe of Italy-Niall Allsop
All about making a life in southern Italy after retirement.

Pan’ e Pomodor-My passage to Puglia- Ian R McEwan
The Return of the Changling-From Puglia and Back-Marghaux Maye (these two Puglia books were written separately by a husband and wife. The husband writes better--both disappointed us with too many pictures of pets and not enough of their home restoration)

Coins in the Fountain-Judith Works
Life as expatriates in Rome.

Chasing la Bella Vita-Chris Ellis-Sobolev
(This one takes place in Santa Domenica Talao and Scalea).

Making Limonata-Lean and Peter Horrocks
I’m a bit sour on this, but it’s interesting enough I guess.

Too Much Tuscan Sun: Confessions of a Chianti Tour Guide-Dario Castagno
We read this hardcopy. We liked it for the funny anecdotes about his English-speaking clients and his involvement with a team competing in the famous Palio horse race in Siena where we have visited. His second book we both disliked.

Not my Cup of Espresso
Incontinent on the Continent-Jane Christmas
This is a story about a woman who brought her disabled mother on an ill-advised trip to Italy then did nothing but complain about the results. It’s supposed to be funny, but really…

One night in Rome-Michelle Merritt
This is a badly written book about a woman who falls in love in Rome—how original!

Happy reading!


  1. I think I'll bookmark this post for when I return to Europe/Italy :)

    Glad spring has arrived down there.

  2. Va Bene Sue,
    Good to hear from you.

  3. I have read quite a few of these with varying degrees of enjoyment,thanks for sharing the list.

  4. Hi LLM,
    Yes, a good way to say it, varying degrees of enjoyment.

  5. I love this post--my own Di's Book Review!

  6. A list of great books, without any doubt. Good recommendations!



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