Required Reading for your Italian Vacation: 4 Not-to-Miss BooksTravel Books & Movies — By Briana P on January 26, 2011 at 1:04 pm
Over the years, Italian culture and food have seamlessly integrated with the American experience. Many cities across the U.S. even boast a Little Italy area that plays off the Mediterranean country’s magic, responsible for attracting more than 40 million international tourists each year.
Still, no matter how many bowls of pasta you’ve eaten, consider getting to know the real, big Italy before crossing the Atlantic. A multitude of writers and filmmakers have packaged the Peninsula in commercial successes like Eat, Pray, Love and Under the Tuscan Sun, but the reading list for your Italian adventure goes far beyond these well-known titles.
La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind by Beppe Severgnini
In this witty, eye-opening account, one of Italy’s most prominent writers presents his country while making insightful and snarky comparisons to the U.S. and U.K. Beppe Severgnini, a self-proclaimed Anglophile who worked as a journalist in London and Washington, D.C., explains right off the bat, “Your Italy and our Italia are not the same thing.” He goes on to prove this assertion by taking readers trekking across the country, from Milan to Rome to Sardinia. But his stories about different places really serve to paint a portrait of the Italian people and challenge their foreign caricatures. Despite the picturesque tales many authors have penned, Severgnini calls his native land “an offbeat purgatory, full of proud, tormented souls.” He also gives practical advice about nearly everything, including banal topics like the Italian bathroom.
La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language by Dianne Hales
Like many people who have studied or merely listened to Italian, Dianne Hales fell in love. In La Bella Lingua she describes her own trials and successes, even offering up the most blush-inducing mistakes, the kind all language learners make now and again. “At Camponeschi, our favorite restaurant in Rome,” she writes, “the waiters giggled when they overheard me describe the wonderful view from our apartment terrace of the roofs of Rome. Instead of the masculine tetti (roofs, pronounced tet-tee), I had used the feminine slang tette (tits, pronounced tet-tay).” Still, Hales grounds her book in extensive research, and in the end she reveals much more than simple truths about the language. La Bella Lingua leaves readers with a range of historical and cultural knowledge, including the basics of Dante Alighieri’s masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, as well as the origin of the margherita pizza and the real life of infamous lover Casanova.
As an Englishman who married an Italian and has lived in Italy for three decades, Tim Parks knows a thing or two about the country’s people, culture and unspoken social rules. In Italian Neighbors, he effortlessly recounts moments of his life as an expatriate in Verona and beautifully weaves in Italian words, those difficult-to-translate ones that come naturally to any foreigner who has spent significant time on the Peninsula. Throughout the book Parks covers diverse aspects of the Italian existence, including the oh-so-important bar. While discussing his local pasticceria, or pastry shop, he includes advice to help non-natives avoid a big-time faux pas. “In general, if you want to order a cappuccino with brioche you should try to arrive before ten-thirty,” Parks explains. “Of course, you could still order the same things later, but this would be a declaration of your foreignness.”
100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go by Susan Van Allen
A different kind of guidebook, this collection of places and experiences avoids the most well-known sights, but still manages to include something for every kind of traveler, from the adventure seeker to the indulgent shopper. Author Susan Van Allen writes her 100 listings in a conversational, anecdotal way, sharing her own stories as well as those of friends. A great resource, 100 Places also features endless travel tips, suggested reading and loads of ancient history retold in a gossip column-like manner. While describing Botticelli’s famous painting The Birth of Venus, Van Allen explains that the artist used his muse, Simonetta Vespucci, as a model, and eventually presented her to the powerful Lorenzo and Giuliano de Medici. “Since she was married, there’s no record of nooky between Simonetta and Giuliano, though the locals imagined their steamy affair as fervently as the Brangelina romance of our times.”