Florence Recommended Reading
An Italian Education, Tim Park, 1995 — A portrait of Italian family life, at school, at home, in church, and in the countryside by a British-born writer, married to an Italian wife and living outside Verona.
Desiring Italy, edited by Susan Cahill, 1997 — Twenty-eight women writers’ anthology (such as Kate Simon, Elizabeth Spencer, Shirley Hazzard, etc.) about their stories in Italy, and what makes the country so seductive to women. The stories (some are fiction, others memoirs, and others essays) are organized geographically –from northern Italy to Rome and on to the south.
D. H. Lawrence and Italy, D. H. Lawrence, 1932 — Three travel books: Twilight in Italy, Sea and Sardinia, and Etruscan Places.
Italian Journey, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1786-1788 — The famed German writer’s letters and journals from his 37th year, spent in Italy, a period abroad that saw him writing about literature and art and turning town classicism in his own artistic development.
The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain, 1869 — A satiric look at a citizen of the New World encountering the old, this travel journal — originally published as newspaper dispatches — documents Twain’s cruise on the Quaker City to Europe and the Holy Land among religious pilgrims.
Italian Hours, Henry James, 1909 — Spanning nearly forty years, these charming, appreciative, insightful collected essays contain the noted author’s views on Italy, with two new essays and an introduction added for this anthology.
Italian Days, Barbara Grizutti Harrison, 1985 — Divided into 8 chapters, covering Milan to Sicily, the essayist’s critical, detailed, richly observed travel book is comprehensive, revealing and lyrical.
The Italians, Luigi Barzini, 1964 — Called an “invaluable and astringent guidebook,” by The New Yorker, this book by the bestselling Italian author, publisher and politician tries to get a handle on the national character and dissect the myths of Italian charm and living la dolce vita.
La Bella Figure: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind, Beppe Severgnini, 2006 — The Italian newspaper columnist presents an episodic, often hilarious, look at his fellow countrymen – including a chapter on entire chapter on car sex in Naples!
Both Traveler’s Tales Italy: True Stories, edited by Anne Calgagno and Italy in Mind: An Anthology, by Alice Leccese Powers, 1997, contain choice excerpts.
Special Guidebooks: Architect Robert Kahn’s City Secrets Rome and City Secrets Florence, Venice and the Towns of Italy.
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway, 1929 — The bracing, semi-autobiographical novel is about a young ambulance driver in WWI, Lt. Frederic Henry, who falls in love with a British voluntary aid, with tragic consequences.
A Room with a View. E.M. Forster, 1908 — A repressed Edwardian young pianist, Lucy Honeychurch, unlaces her corset once she travels to Florence chaperoned by her cousin and falls in love with George Emerson, with whom she elopes.
A Soldier of the Great War, Mark Helprin, 1990 — The intense moral fable charts the turbulent life and times of fictional Roman scion Alessandro Giuliani, whose life was irrevocably altered by WWI.
Casa Rossa, Francesca Marciano, 2002 — A tumble-down Puglia family farmhouse is the site for sexual intrigue and betrayal of three generations of Italian women in this lush, believable and complex page-turner.
Daisy Miller, Henry James, 1878 — The vivacious American abroad meets a tragic end – she catches Roman fever—in this early James novella.
The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales, Elizabeth Spencer, 1960 — The Mississippi-born author writes beguiling, enigmatic stories about intense Southern women visiting Italy who manipulate their situation with charm as they struggle to control their own fates – and sexuality – in the repressive 1950’s. The title novella inspired the Tony-Award-winning play.
Portrait of a Lady, Henry James, 1881 — New York heiress Isabel Arches travels to Italy, and succumbs to a plot by a pair of Machiavellian ex-pats.
Capri and No Longer Capri, Raffaele La Capria, 1991 — A frank look at the tourist isle’s underbelly, including its reputation as a sybaritic retreat.
Greene on Capri: A Memoir, Shirley Hazzard, 2000 — The author met Graham Greene on Capri when he sat down at the next table and their friendship grew and ultimately inspired Hazzard’s book, a portrait of a literary legend and a beautiful backdrop for their encounter.
Florence and Tuscany
“It was pleasant to wake up in Florence…It was pleasant, too, to fling wide the windows, pinching the fingers in unfamiliar fastenings, to lean out into sunshine with beautiful hills and trees and marble churches opposite, and close below, the Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road.” ~ E.M. Forster, A Room with a View
Bella Tuscany, Frances Mayes, 2000 — California poet does the Tuscan fixer-upper narrative with great charm and grace – and tucks in to such repasts as pasta with wild boar sauce—in her follow-up to Under the Tuscan Sun.
Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, Ross King, 2000 — Exceeding London’s St. Paul’s and Rome’s St. Peter’s, Brunelleschi’s dome with its 140 feet span at the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiori is an architectural achievement, and the story of its 15th century creation is equally fascinating.
Oriana Fallaci: The Woman and the Myth, Santo L’Arico, 1998 — A biography of the famed anti-fascist Florentine journalist.
The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli, 1513 — The essential political treatise by Florence’s native son—and early international pundit – which he wrote after Lorenzo de’ Medici fired him from government service.
The Stones of Florence, Mary McCarthy, 1954 — American prose stylist McCarthy’s affectionate tribute to one of her favorite cities includes descriptions of art, famous locals from Dante to Donatello and historical background.
Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes, 1996 — A woman’s enchanting account of her love affair with Italy and the home that changes her life.
The Birth of Venus, Sarah Dunant, 2003 — Dunant’s intoxicating historical novel of 15th century Florence captures the sweep of the Medici’s decadent rule, and the individual coming-of-age of a fourteen-year-old girl, Alessandra Cecchi.
Death of an Englishman: A Marshall Guarnaccia Investigation, Magdalen Nabb, 2001 — An elegant, stylish, character-driven police procedural from the series that makes the city of Florence come alive with Nabb’s description; a Tuscan Maigret.
“The Alps make you feel all starched and clean as you fly into Milan—they punctuate the long transatlantic sleep of a nighttime flight; groaning bodies stir and strengthen and come to morning life as the mountains exert their rosy magnetic pull that won’t allow you not to pay them compliment of being crisply awake.” Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, Italian Days, 1985
Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco, 1997 — Conspiracy novel set in Milan. As events progress, the book becomes a study in how fiction can influence reality.
The Betrothed, Alessandro Manzoni, 1984 — Story of star-crossed lovers in 17th-century Lombardy. It remains hugely popular in Italy, where it has been made into several films and even a stage musical. Better known as “I Promessi Sposi” in its original Italian.
Rome, Umbria and Calabria
“O Rome! my country! city of the soul!” ~Lord Byron
A Valley in Italy: The Many Seasons of a Villa in Umbria, Lisa St. Aubin de Teran, 1994 — Valley provides yet another vivid narrative of an English writer renovating her dream house – in this case the decrepit Umbrian Villa Orsola – and getting her groove, and walnut liqueur, along the way. How do you say money pit in Italian?
The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone, 1961 — Fantastically readable biography of Michelangelo that renders the Medici era into a veritable soap opera.
City of the Soul, William Murray, 2002 — Informal and personal reflection on Rome: the places, the people who live there, the attractions, etc.
The Genius in the Design: Bernini, Boromini and the Rivalry that Transformed Rome, Jake Morrissey, 2005 — Two of the greatest architects of the Renaissance, who together shaped Rome’s most significant buildings, were archrivals. This is the gripping story of their enmity and how it fueled their works.
The Seasons of Rome: A Journal, Paul Hoffman, 1997 — Points of daily life in Rome.
Stolen Figs and Other Adventures in Calabria, Mark Rotella, 2003 — The boot’s toe – drought-ridden, cracked by earthquakes, plundered by royals, riddled by the Mafia – is a lively central character in this funny, romantic and affectionate travelogue.
The Marble Faun, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1860 — Old and new world collide in a symbol-laden romantic tragedy set among ex-pats in Italy, which includes Hawthorne’s notes on classic sites that still stand today.
The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith, 1955 — Tom Ripley, an amoral American social climber, assumes the identity of a rich college friend to live the high life in Italy in this deft psychological mystery.
On Persephone’s Island: A Sicilian Journal, Mary Taylor Simeti, 1986 — Radcliffe College grad Simeti hit Sicily in 1962, fell in love and married a local. This book tells the story of her 42nd year, 1983, and the life she struggles to make work in Palermo and remote Eastern Sicily, where she manages her husband’s farm, with the image of the goddess Persephone standing as a symbol of the author’s split between two worlds.
The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa, 1957 — On the eve of Italian unification, Sicilian prince Don Fabrizio confronts change and constancy in his native land, a lonely, sensual observer.
See also Library for Venice
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