Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Italian Reading List - Part I

I've been dabbling on Facebook the last couple of months.  I was reluctant, being the techno curmudgeon that I am, but I admit that it is kind of fun to zap one-liners and zingers on friends' pages, and post little notes that wouldn't constitute a blog post.  When I wrote about a novel that I was reading that made some Italian errors, several people responded that they would like an Italy-related reading list. 

I have read a great number of them, some better than others (and some really dismal!)  I gave it a lot of thought and shuffled through my memory bank to compile a list of the memoirs, guides, cookbooks and novels that focus on the theme of Italy that I enjoyed (along with a mention of those that I didn't like, too.)

First up - Memoirs.

Memoirs and Narratives Set in Italy

Dances with Luigi: A Grandson's Search for His Italian Roots by Paul Paolicelli
Interesting, insightful and touching memoir of an Italian-American in search of his family heritage.  I could relate just a tad.

Seasons in Basilicata: A Year in a Southern Italian Hill Village by David Yeadon
Finally a book focusing on my Motherland!  Based primarily on the premise of seeing the region through Carlo Levi's book, Yeadon fades out the copious quotes of that writer and turns to his own voice to show the unique landscape and complex characters who live in the ancient town of Aliano.

Love & War in the Apennines (Travel Literature) by Eric Newby
Get past the first two somewhat dry "background" chapters and you’ll enjoy this wonderful memoir about Newby’s experiences as an escaped prisoner in Italy during WWII, and the wonderful people who risked their lives to help him avoid capture, including his future wife.

A Small Place in Italy (Travel Literature) by Eric Newby
A couple decades after WWII, Eric Newby and his wife return to buy a ramshackle little house in a village. This should be the first book you read if you’re contemplating the pretty vision of buying property in Italy.

The Hills of Tuscany by Ferenc Mate
Nicely written narrative of a rather nomadic couple who settle down in Tuscany. They are very likeable, and draw us in to their new way of life.

Extra Virgin: A Young Woman Discovers the Italian Riviera by Annie Hawes
A pair of British sisters find themselves in a traditional village where they buy a rustico in the hills of Liguria and learn about olive growing. Engaging and witty, with a nice progression as the author comes to understand, adapt to, and then embrace the culture. (Her follow-up, Ripe For The Picking, is enjoyable, as well, though a little less focused.)

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena di Blasi
Could have been clich√© and hokey, but di Blasi’s sumptuous writing and honesty made me really enjoy this book.

The Reluctant Tuscan: How I Discovered My Inner Italian by Phil Doran
Funny memoir about a Hollywood writer who moves to Tuscany unwillingly when his wife buys a run-down property there. I enjoyed it even though it read too much like a Hollywood script and I questioned the truth of some of the occurrences.

A Vineyard in Tuscany: A Wine Lover's Dream by Ferenc Mate
If you’ve ever been tempted to start a vineyard, this is the book for you. Mate’s fun tone comes through as he details the making of a new vineyard from the ground up.

Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks
A witty and honest look at the quirks and incongruities of everyday life in Verona. Not your average “bought a house in Tuscany” memoir.

Too Much Tuscan Sun by Dario Castagno
Funny account of a Tuscan tour guide about some of the quirky and strange people he encountered through the years.  Irreverent with a somewhat disjointed layout, but I enjoyed it nonetheless and even laughed out loud a couple of times.

Memoirs I Found Annoying: Under The Tuscan Sun, Pasquale’s Nose, Journey to the South, Botticelli Blue Skies, and Four Seasons in Rome.

Next time around...Nonfiction.  Happy Reading!

Related Posts:

Italian Reading List, Part II - Guides and Nonfiction

Italian Reading List, Part III - Fiction


Italianissima said...

Great list! I have only read Tim Parks' books so I am looking forward to reading some of these. Grazie mille!

Barbara Snow said...

You may want to check out Iris Origo - she wrote an amazing book about WWII - War in the Val D'Orcia. American born, married an Italian and created one of the great estates in Val D'Orcia - La Foce.

Valerie said...

Italianissima - I read Parks' other book, An Italian Education, and liked that one, too. Should add that to the list.

Barbara - I started Iris Origo's book but never finished it. For some reason it didn't grab and hold my attention. Will need to give it another chance. Maybe I should also include a listing at the end of each section of books I read that I neither loved nor hated. There were several in that category, too.

J.Doe said...

I read the memoir 'Under A Tuscan Sun' and found it to be quite boring, although I suppose if some American with a few millions of dollars to spare bought a property in Italy his or her life would be somewhat like that. What I found really annoying about this book is how so many Americans pictured this lifestyle to be the norm for ALL American expats and Italians. It's not. I mean do all Americans live like Donald Trump? No.
I have not read any of the other memoirs you mention, but I thought 'The Dark Heart of Italy' was good.

Nellie said...

Terrific lists of books were to start , what work to leave as one wafts thru pages of life in a country that appears in my dreams.
The only redeeming thing about Under the Tuscan sun, was that I asked my mom for recipes I'd forgotten that she cooked a lot of when I was young, as the book featured recipes or meals that they ate .

Valerie said...

J.- I thought the same thing...lots of money made that possible. Unfortunately a lot of people think that is how all Italians live, when very few have that lifestyle, but it certainly increased the real estate market for old villas and foreign buyers.
Bryan read the Dark Heart of Italy; I started it but it was too calcio oriented for me ;)

Nellie - hope you find the list helpful. There will be list of cookbooks, too, so stay tuned!

NOTE: Sorry about the link trouble. Amazon went a little berserk on me. I think all the links are fixed now.

janie said...

Thanks Valerie-I've read a lot of them, but not all so I'm heading over to Amazon!

Valerie said...

Janie - Enjoy! When it comes to the cookbook installment, you could probably write it better than me! :)

Larraine said...

I read the book about Basilicata and loved it! My father's family came from Basilicata. Their surname is very unique to that area. It was such an interesting read - not romanticized at all. You'll laugh, but one of the things I remember was the author talking about the pasta sauce with both beef and pork in it. My father who was an old fashioned Italian cook made his pasta sauce (or gravy as we call it in Philly) with beef, pork, meatballs and sausage. That drove my mother nuts. She considered it wasteful. (Cooking apparently ran in the family. His father and his grandfather were both accomplished cooks. My son likes to cook too. Think there's a gene there?)I thought it was interesting that this particular style is a Basilicata tradition. Anyway, it's a great book!

leslie said...

thank you soooo much for this list! i actually have a few of these in a stack waiting to be read and i will check out the ones i dont have as well. i actually loved tuscan sun, more for her writing style than the actual facts. it is more of a fantasy memoir (meaning, most of us could never do this) and to me, she could have written more details in the beginning about her sorrows and life to make us care more about her wanting to go in the first place, if that makes sense. i have been hooked on the olive farm books, by carol drinkwater (a fabulous writer) but my passion is italy so i always go back to italian memoirs, no matter where i stray, it's always back to italy!

thanks for this great list!!

Melanie said...

Ciao, Valerie! Just found your site via Bleeding Espresso. Love these book lists, and I think you're right on about your likes and dislikes. I didn't find "Four Seasons in Rome" annoying. Though I read it shortly after returning from Rome and was still drunk on the experience!
I subscribed to your blog and am looking forward to reading more. :-)

Valerie said...

Larraine - We're paesani, eh? ;) I was so glad to see a book set in Basilicata instead of Tuscany for a change. The multi-meat sauce was actually born of necessity - they threw in the little bits and scraps of meat they had on hand to flavor the sauce. I think most Italians do inherit a cooking gene!

Leslie - You're so welcome, glad you're enjoying it. Olive theme, eh? If you ever get yourself an olive grove let me know and I'll come help with the harvest!

Melanie - Welcome...and thanks! Glad you find it helpful. Keep reading!