Sunday, July 14, 2013

Best Books About Italy (In My Opinion, Anyway...)

When we first moved here, I read darn near everything there was to read on Italy.

*Travel guides about Italy

*Learn to speak it in Italy

*Nonfiction accounts on living in Italy

*Fiction that just happened to take place in Italy

*Children's books about Italy (both fiction and non fiction)

*Cooking like an Italian--this was one I was certain I would learn to muster is mere days, if not hours after soaking up the Italian Nona "vibe" from my neighbor, Anna Maria

I also watched a ton of movies which were set in Italy...but this post is about the books. The movies we'll get to later

It really didn't take me long to figure out that for a while now, anything with "Italy" as a subject would sell books in America.  I like to refer to it as the "Eat, Pray, Love Under the Tuscan Sun"or "Vespa" Revolution.  And that most of what came out of that "Vespa" revolution was crap.

Instead of telling you a lot about the books that I don't like, let's stick with the positive, shall we?

It's important to start with a few non-fiction accounts

(this is really a picture of her house....not as crappy as they made it out to be in the movie, huh!)

and Under the Tuscan Sun is the Bible of this because like most people....reading this book and watching the movie made me fall in love with Italy.  I was ready to move to Tuscany...immediately, meet some gloriously handsome descendants of Roman Gods who would find me my dream house and then  repair it to its intended perfection and would eventually hand me my odd set of antique skeleton house keys... Although this didn't happen, (well, the skeleton keys part did, but not the Roman Gods part) I still enjoyed many of the anecdotes that she describes about living in Italy as an American (although a wealthy one).

The City of Fallen Angels is a somewhat true account of the city of Venice and the days surrounding the actual burning of the Fenice, the famed Venetian opera house that was destroyed in 1996.  Its author is John Berendt, of The Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fame.  Although there are passages which are certainly boring and tedious, the cast of characters reads like a who's who of high class Venetian society.   This book is just as good as his original, with a damp and smokey atmosphere filled with an eccentric cast of wealthy characters who I still look for each time I visit the city.  Read the good parts and skim the rest. 

 Halfway to Each Other: How a Year In Italy Brought Our Family Home was a surprise.  I had pretty low expectations for this one but picked it up because of the reviews.  It's the true life story of a married couple and their children who, on the brink of divorce, decide to give up everything and stay in Italy (where they just happened to be vacationing at the time).  I loved it because Pohlman doesn't sugar coat anything...what drives her CRAZY about Italy is what drives any American who lives here crazy...It's a bit more "real life" than Tuscan Sun.

Head Over Heel: Seduced by Southern Italy is one of those laugh out loud books that you can't put down.  Seriously, I laughed my ass off with this one.  It's without a doubt my favorite nonfiction book written about Italy.  They should make a movie of this one (and the kindle version is Super cheap!!)  If you only buy one of these nonfiction books I'm suggesting--this is The One...

And there are some good fiction books about Italy too, so many in fact, that I'm only going to tell you about a couple of my favs...

Yep, it's true...John Grisham (the same guy who wrote The Firm and A Time to Kill) actually wrote a book about an American football player who moved to Italy to play for an Italian football team...not soccer football.  I read this one before we moved to Italy and had no idea there was actually an American-style football league in Italy. They do and it's actually quite popular.  I am dying to go to a game. 

This one scared me to death.  It's the first in a series and I haven't gotten brave enough to read the next one.  But I really liked it...  This one takes place in Perugia (of Amanda Knox fame) and the author has great descriptions of places around Italy.  I found myself jotting down a list of Italy Must-Sees while I was reading it.  

I love telling the story of how I found Beautiful Ruins...we were in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris and I was looking to by a copy of Leaves of Grass (by Walt Whitman, who I am related to, by the way--Tory's middle name is Whitman) and this book was actually misplaced on the shelf in the Whitman section...I picked it up and knew I had to buy it because the cover photo is of one of the Cinque Terre towns AND I HAVE BEEN THERE (read all about that HERE).  I immediately took all of this as a sign and bought it, along with Leaves of Grass, without even reading the blurb about it.  It was AMAZING and I missed it when it was over.  This one is my me on this one.

I am usually not a lover of "foodie fiction" but the characters in Georgia's Kitchen won me over.  This is another one that I read before moving to Italy and now I'm looking forward to rereading it.  It reminded me a bit of Tuscan Sun in that the protagonist, Georgia, is jilted by a man and runs off to "find herself"in Tuscany. I liked it anyways.  Even though it made me consider taking up cooking...

We own no fewer than 19 Italian language books--and that's just how many I could find in the five minutes that I spent looking for them to count for this post.  I am ashamed to reveal this...apparently we thought that buying more books would make us learn the language faster (but we forgot the actual "reading" of the books)

This one is my favorite.  Seriously, it cracked me up.  I'm not sure how much of a survival guide it was but it covered the basics and had a section on cuss words.  I enjoyed that part immensely. 

In a nutshell, you can never go wrong with Rick Steves...This is a nice collection of important phrases to know when you're first getting to Italy.  It's a nice way to start off your Italian language experience but it doesn't have a huge vocabulary...And it's small enough to fit in your pocket, but not as small as...

The Berlitz Italian Pocket Dictionary is just that...a POCKET dictionary.  It is literally the size of the palm of my hand and the print is TINY but it's our "go to" dictionary.  We try to take it everywhere, especially when we first moved here and knew about five words.  

We also have practically every children's book ever published on Italy--fiction and nonfiction. The kids picked these as their favorites...

I have to agree that this This is... series by M. Sasek is totally awesome, even for adults.  The books are long but they cover almost every major sight in the city. I read them to the kids before we went to Venice, Paris, Rome, etc and the kids recognized places from the books! 

We are big fans of Olivia around Via Fontanelle and so my kids (and their mother) were ecstatic to discover she had to been to Venice, too.  The pictures are pretty cool also. Ignore the reviews on Amazon that complain about the TSA parts in the book...

Mrs. Tramm read this to Jackson the first Christmas we were here and then he came home and told me about it and I bought Old Befana for him from Amazon.  This was a good thing because it explained why there were so many ladies dressed like witches walking around our town during the first week on January.  Read about that HERE

Jackson enjoyed it when I read Geronimo Stilton and The Magic Tree House books about Venice.  Geronimo Stilton was a solid favorite of mine. I like the pictures, I can't help it...

Sadly, these A Kid's Guide to...books by Lapis must only be available over here in Europe.  I've found a couple of them in museums here and my kids get a kick out of them.  They each have little games inside and you can play hide and seek to find the famous sights as you're touring the cities with your brats kids.  Plus, they're just a nice way to break it all down when it comes to sightseeing.  

Travel guides are another type of book that we've become hoarders of.  We currently own 33 and I'm sure I'll buy a couple more before the week's out.  Our favorites are anything by Rick Steves.  Seriously, you cannot go wrong with one of his books. And he has a TV show too (and it's available on DVD, Hulu, and Netflix). Check out his website, too. 

And finally...the cookbooks.  I would like to say that living in Italy has made me a better cook.  Let's pretend that this is true, ok?  If nothing else, living in Italy has made me buy some very pretty cookbooks that I'm sure if I actually used, would inspire me to produce fabulous meals.  Here are my favorites:

This one is fabulous and I actually have used it. I mean, COME ON--Italian food meets crockpot=total score, right?

This one is very pretty and I promised myself when I bought it that I would prepare the gnocchi, eggplant parmesan, and panna cotta with cherry marmalade.  I'm just a little slow getting started... The pictures inside are amazing.  

This one is my favorite and it has nothing to do with the fact that on pages 62-63 there is a photo with the caption "Nuns on the streets of Bra".  This one is total cookbook meets travel journal, complete with awesome photos.  I want these grandma's to come to my house and cook. 

Now I'm curious...what are some other awesome books about Italy?  Leave me a comment with your 

And I sure would LOVE your vote!


  1. Hi Amy, love your blog. The pics are stunning and your kiddies are adorable.
    I cannot wait to visit Italy, I'll definitely be using you as a guide. Lol
    Thanks for following!

  2. Great list! I will be using it to select reading materials. I also like Donna Leon's mystery series with Inspector Brunetti. Leon is an American who has lived in Venice for many years. She gives you a great flavor for the city. In the second of her series, the inspector visits Caserma Ederle!

  3. Wow! What a list! Have you read the Tim Parks books?


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