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Are you planning a trip to Italy and cannot wait? Or, you’re not, but really wish you were? Whatever the case, dive into these 10 beautiful books about Italy and let your mind travel for you right now.
This reading list includes travel memoirs, historical-themed novels, plus masterpieces of Italian authors that were translated to English for the whole world to appreciate. Whatever floats your boat, all these books set in Italy will have you learning about Italian culture, architecture, food, and all that good stuff, without ever leaving your home. Trust me, I’m actually Italian myself! *makes the pinecone hand gesture*.
So, without further ado, here’s a list of the 10 best books about Italy you absolutely must read:
1. “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Maye
📍Location: Cortona, Tuscany
Frances Mayes personal memoir is a must-read for anyone traveling to Italy, and especially for those that are visiting Tuscany. Moreover, it was a New York Times bestseller for more than two years and was even adapted into a beautiful film of the same name.
The book recounts the story of a writer who travels to Italy to begin a fresh chapter in her life. She falls in love with an old abandoned villa in the Tuscan countryside, specifically in the town of Cortona, and decides to buy the property to restore it. Mayes is great at conveying the simplicity of small-town life in Italy, the traditions, human relationships, and even comic misunderstandings.
The best part of the book is that you’ll discover secreted historical attractions that you can actually visit (like Bramasole), some wonderful restaurants you can try while visiting the area and plenty of traditional dishes you can have fun cooking to discover the famous Italian food culture.
2.”My Brilliant Friend” by Elena Ferrante
A modern masterpiece written by one of Italy’s most celebrated writers, My Brilliant Friend’s is the first book of a set of four called the “Neapolitan Novels”. The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but lively neighborhood in Naples, and recounts the friendship of two women, Elena and Lila, from youth to adulthood.
Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a city, a region and a country as it changes in ways that, in turn, also change the relationship between the protagonists. Incredibly addicting and deeply moving, with “My Brilliant Friend” Ferrante was able to deliver a vivid picture of what communal life was like in Naples after the war.
3.”The Agony and the Ecstasy” by Irving Stone
The Agony and the Ecstasy is a fictionalized biography of Michelangelo Buonarroti, one of the most celebrated Italian giants of art who produced masterpieces such as the famous David sculpture in Florence, the Pietà of St. Peter’s Basilica and Cappella Sistina’s frescoes.
Stone’s masterpiece follows the famous artists throughout almost his entire life, and brings him and those times to life so vividly that you almost feel like you were there. And were the events and achievements of Michelangelo’s life not mind-blowing or captivating enough on their own, Stone has also provided us with a detailed portrait of the immensely complex background of Renaissance Italy.
With this book in mind, I’m sure you’ll see both Florence and Rome with a different eye.
4. “La Bella Figura” by Beppe Severgnini
If you’re looking for a light and fun look at Italian culture through the eyes of an actual local, then pick up asap “La Bella Figura” written by the Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini.
With a smart-ass wit and sense of humor, Severgnini skips all the idealistic notions and romantic dreaminess of the usual books about Italy and gets real, providing a fascinating and hilarious glimpse into the Italian psyche, plus practical advice.
Ordering a cappuccino in Italy after 12am? I’m not sure you’ll ever dare to do that thing again after reading “La Bella Figura”.
5. “Four Seasons In Rome” by Anthony Doerr
On the exact day his twin sons are born, Anthony Doerr receives a letter informing him that he has won the prestigious Rome Prize and has therefore been offered a paid year in Rome to work on a new book. Six months later, Doerr and his wife officially move in the beautiful Roman neighborhood called Trastevere with their newborn twins. Lucky them, am I right?
In poetic prose that vividly brings the Eternal city to life, Four Seasons takes the reader step by step through that expat year, blending the wonders of Rome with the thrill of being a new parent. The book is filled with all sorts of snippets of the history of Rome and you’ll find yourself often googling places and buildings to add to your bucket list.
6. “Italian Folktales” by Italo Calvino
📍Location: all over the place!
No selection of books about Italy can be complete without mentioning Italo Calvino.
As the title suggests, The Italian Folk Tales includes 200 traditional local stories from all over the Italian peninsula that have been relevant to Italian culture for generations. Italio Calvino, a national treasure, personally collected all the stories that were passed down from generation to generation in an oral tradition.
Reading this book is quite easy and fun – the stories can be chosen at random, and each one gives a glimpse into the culture of a different region.
If you want to learn more about Italian local traditions and read unfiltered stories impossible to find in regular books about Italy, dive straight into this collection of tales from the Italian folklore.
7. “Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year” by Carlo Levi
📍Location: Eboli, Basilicata
Carlo Levi was an Italian doctor, artist, philosopher and outspoken anti-fascist that in 1935 from Turin was sentenced by Mussolini to internal exile in the forsaken town of Eboli, in the southern region on Basilicata.
In Christ Stopped at Eboli, Levi describes this land, forgotten by time and progress, a land so sad, poor and desolate that legend says even Jesus Christ abandoned it, hence the peculiar title.
Levi illustrates the isolation of this region and of its residents with heartbreaking descriptions of the insufficiency of their homes and belongings, along with the utter desolation of the near countryside. Equal part memoir, documentary and travelogue, Levi’s masterpiece paints a captivating and thought-provoking image of an Italy unknown to many outsiders and even Italians themselves.
8. “The Stone Boudoir: Travels Through the Hidden Villages of Sicily” by Theresa Maggio
In this beautiful travel memoir, Theresa Maggio takes us on a journey in search of Sicily’s most secluded and off-the-beaten-track mountain towns. Maggio’s journey starts in Santa Margherita Belice, her granparents’ ancentral village, and from there she’ll explore the charming villages nestled in the Madonie Mountains, the small towns at the foot of Mount Etna and all the beautiful volcanic islands of the Aeolian Sea.
Her descriptions of the black volcanic rocks are incredibly vivid, and so is her writing about the pleasures of Sicilian food and the ancient traditions and superstitions. In The Stone Boudoir, Maggio perfectly succeeds in transporting readers to a wholly unfamiliar side of Italy, and to a hidden land of magical extremes.
9. “An Italian Education” by Tim Parks
An Italian Education is a charming account of Italian childhood and an absolutely phenomenal portrayal of the Italian lifestyle, all from an Englishman’s perspective.
Tim Parks is English, but all his children were born and raised in Verona where he lives with his Italian wife. With the wonderful eye for characters that has brought him praise as a novelist, Parks creates a charming portrait of Italian society, and walks us through his family life at home and in the countryside.
Parks watches as his children grow up to be Italian, and writes down the most interesting differences in the family development – for example, the fact that the kids seem to have already an intuitive sense of how things work in Italy that Parks himself doesn’t have. It’s also really fun to read his out-take and literal translation of Italian proverbs, rhymes and swear words.
10.”The City of Falling Angels” by John Berendt
The City of Falling Angels is a thrilling nonfiction book that portrays life in Venice in the years following the dramatic fire that destroyed the Fenice Opera House in 1996. The loss of the Fenice was a real tragedy for Venetians, and was the cause of the fire is considered negligence by some and a crime of the Mafia by others. Anyhow, the book is less about the investigations surrounding the accident as it is about Venice itself, its years of history, art, architecture, and more importantly about the people who inhabit the island. Berendt – who arrives in Venice three days after the fire – is a clever observer, and he’s able to describe people and places with just the right amount of drama and humour. A must-read for anyone contemplating a visit to this remarkable museum-city.
Well, that’s it! These are our best 10 books set in Italy that will take you on a memorable journey without even leaving your couch. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did!