Italy Reading and Movies

by Andrea Segura - Friday, March 3, 2017

Literature on Italy

General Italy or multi-region:

  • Moderata Fonte: Women and Life in Sixteenth-Century Venice by Paola Malpezzi Price (co-founder of ExperiencePlus!).
  • The Land Were Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee; The story of Italy and its citrus fruit.
  • A Bell for Adano, a 1945 Pulitzer Prize novel by John Hersey. An American-Italian officer is positioned as administrator of Adano during WWII and helps the town replace its bell that the Fascists melted down for weapons. A great story of intelligence, kindness, and respect.
  • Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone. Looks at fascist Italy.
  • Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi. A portrait of Fascist Italy focusing on the south.
  • The Penguin Book of the Renaissance by J.H.Plumb.
  • The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. Masterpiece of Italian Literature set against the background of the Black Death of 1348.
  • The Agony and The Ecstasy by Irving Stone. A gripping account of Michelangelo.
  • The Lost Battles by Jonathan Jones. Fascinating storytelling of the competition of two great artists, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, and Renaissance art.
  • The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior by Paul Strathern provide a narrative of the history of the intersecting lives of Leonardo da Vinci, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Cesare Borgia.
  • Italian Neighbors and the sequel Italian Education by Tim Parks.
  • The Italians by Luigi Barzini. A book about the events and personalities that shaped the “unique” Italian persona and psyche. A bit outdated in a few parts as it was published in the mid-60s.
  • Attila: King of the Huns – the Man and the Myth by Patrick Howarth. A good monograph to learn about his horsemen and his army that became known as the “scourge of God” in Western Europe.
  • Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby.
  • The Aspern Papers by Henry James.
  • The Words of Bernfrieda, A Chronicle of Hauteville by Gabriella Brooke.
  • Pride of Carthage by David Anthony Durham. A fascinating historical odyssey.
  • Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The author leaves her job and life in New York and spends a year traveling in Italy, India, and Indonesia.
  • The DaVinci Code/ Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. A controversial masterpiece history of the Catholic Church.
  • Galileo’s Daughter: A Drama of Science, Faith and Love by Dava Sobel. The author has woven, in a masterful way, Suor Maria Celeste’s letters to her father within the detailed and often anguished story of his life and vicissitudes.
  • House of Niccoló by Dorothy Dunnet. History of a young apprentice in a Flanders textile merchant’s house, later to become Nicholas de Fleury.
  • Central Italy: The Collected Traveler: Tuscany and Umbria by Barrie Kerper is a guide book that reads more like a story.
  • Up at the Villa Travels with my Husband. Dina Jenkins’s collection of essays, poetry, photography, and recipes wrap around her relationship and off-the-beaten path travels in Italy (and elsewhere) with her husband. Her educational and inspirational writing style provides an easy read.
  • Made in Italy: A Shopper’s Guide to Italy’s Best Artisanal Traditions from Murano Glass to Ceramics, Jewelry, Leather Goods, and More. Author Laura Morelli discusses and the old world traditions and handmade items one can find while travelling throughout Italy.

Emilia Romagna:

  • The Broker by John Grisham. A Grisham thriller that immerses the reader in the culture of Bologna.
  • Playing for Pizza by John Grisham. A story filled with Italian food and wine, and American football being played in Parma.
  • Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant. This time Dunant takes us to Ferrara during the Italian Renaissance.
  • Ravenna in Late Antiquity by Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis. A scholastic approach, including illustrations, to Ravenna’s history, art and architecture.
  • The Art Cities of Emilia Romagna. An e-book that highlights the art cities of the Emilia Romagna region. http://www.blog-ville.com/art-cities-emilia-romagna-ebook/.

Sardinia:

  • D.H.Lawrence and Italy: Twilight in Italy; Sea and Sardinia: Etruscan places by D.H.Lawrence.
  • The Lead Goat Veered Off by Neil Anderson. A bicycling adventure on Sardinia.

Sicily:

  • On Persephone’s Island: A Sicilian Journal by Mary Taylor Simeti. A woman from the states visits Sicily and falls in love and marries a Sicilian and recounts their time spent living in Palermo and eastern Sicily.
  • The Leopard (il Gattopardo) by Guiseppe di Lampedusa. A classic read set in the 1860’s about a Sicilian nobleman and the threats to aristocracy due to the revolution, unification and democracy forces occurring in Italy.
  • Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and la Cosa Nosa by Peter Robb describes the mix of people, culture, traditions, food and politics of southern Italy and Sicily.
  • The Stone Boudoir: Travels through the Hidden Villages of Sicily by Theresa Maggio provides her essays on her insights on travels to numerous Sicilian towns considered to be the pulse of Sicily.
  • Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History by Sandra Benjamin. This interesting and in-depth history demonstrates how the geographic location of Sicily played a role in its conquests by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans and continues through the unification of Italy.
  • Sicily: An Illustrated History by Joseph F. Privitera provides a concise discussion on the complex history of the island of Sicily.
  • Little Novels of Sicily by Giovanni Verga. A collection of short stories that portray every day Sicilian life.
  • All of the Neapolitan series written by celebrated Naples born Italian novelist Elena Ferrante.
  • History on the Road, The Painted Carts of Sicily by Marcella Croce and Moira F. Harris. An interesting presentation of the Sicilian carretto, along with the history and culture of the mountainous island.

Tuscany/Florence:

  • Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King. An enchanting tale for anyone with an admiration for brilliant architecture, historical drama, or the breathtaking beauty of Florence. All titles by Ross King are worth a read: Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling; Machiavelli.
  • The Stones of Florence by Mary McCarthy. Available in Harcourt Brace Jovanovich paperbacks.
  • D.H. Lawrence’s ramblings in Tuscany with Sketches of Etruscan Places, or others like Aaron’s Rod.
  • The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall by Christopher Herbert provides the history of the famous Medici’s line. A good read especially for those interested in the history and culture of Florence.
  • A Tuscan Childhood by Kinda Beevor.
  • Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy by Frances Mayes. Published in 1997, the Tuscan version of Peter Mayle’s A year in Provence. A description of the author’s adventures buying and remodeling a villa in the Tuscan countryside, interspersed with stories and recipes about Italian food. Also a movie.
  • Bella Tuscany and Every Day in Tuscany: Season of an Italian Life. Frances Mayes’s sequels following her success with Under the Tuscan Sun.
  • April Blood by Lauro Martines. A look at Renaissance Florence when on a Sunday in April 1487 assassins kill a Medici family member and wound his brother while they attend Mass in a cathedral in Florence.
  • Within Tuscany: Reflections on a time and place by Matthew Spender.
  • Fortune is a River by Roger D. Masters. Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo’ Macchiavelli’s magnificent dream to change the course of Florentine history.
  • The Merchant of Prato by Iris Origo. Daily life in Medieval Italian City.
  • Home to Italy by Peter Pezzelli. A delightful tale of loss and grieving, of personal tragedy and of rebirth.
  • Too Much Tuscan Sun (Confessions of a Chianti Tour Guide) by Dario Castagno. A mix of anecdotes about those tourists you hope you’ll never encounter, natural history, and historical and cultural vignettes.
  • The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant. Recounts in detail the four years (1494-1498) of Savonarola’s ruling of Florence, Italy.
  • War in Val d’Orcia: An Italian War Diary 1943-1944 by Iris Origo. World War II diary written by a woman who witnessed life behind the battle lines and cared for refugee children in her estate in Southern Tuscany.
  • The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian. An epic love story and suspense novel that weaves two stories. One set in Tuscany at the end of WWII of the noble-lineage Rosartis family, and the other of a Florence police investigator in 1955 that is assigned the case to find the serial killer determined to murder members of the Rosartis family. The Crete Senesi region where most of the book takes place is one of the author’s favorite areas to bicycle. Those of you that have cycled our Best of Southern Tuscany trips may especially enjoy this.

Umbria:

  • A Valley in Italy by Lisa St. Aubin de Terán. John Mortimer, in the Mail on Sunday writes: “immensely enjoyable. Captures the true, immensely practical, magic of Italy.”
  • Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught an American Girl about Love by Justine van der Leun

Veneto/Venice:

  • Across the River and into the Trees and A Farewell to Arms. (The latter is set a little to the north and east of Venice) by Ernest Hemingway.
  • In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant based in 16th century Venice. Reflects on the meaning of life, the difficult balance between the pleasures of the flesh and the demands of the heart, human greed for wealth and the longing for love.
  • Venice for Pleasure by J.G Links. Essentially four walking tours told in a charmingly conversational style by an author who is clearly in love with Venice.
  • Vidal in Venice by Gore Vidal. An engaging story of the history of Venice, complete with photos, by an award winning author.
  • A History of Venice by John Julius Norwich, one of the most comprehensive books of the history of Venice.
  • The Gondola Maker. A highly researched compelling historical novel that takes place in 16th century Venice about the gondola making craft and the willingness or unwillingness of the heir to take on the trade.
  • The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan. As their holiday unfolds, Colin and Maria are locked into their own intimacy. They groom themselves meticulously, as though there waits someone who cares deeply about how they appear. Then they meet a man with a disturbing story to tell and become drawn into a fantasy of violence and obsession. From this novel also the movie by Paul Schrader.

Literature about Italian Food & Wine:

  • Buy and carry with you The Marling Menu-Master for Italy. This excellent pocket aid by William E. and Clare F. Marling will guide you deep into the heart of Italian food while leading you through a typical menu.
  • Slow Food Revolution: A New Culture for Eating and Living by Carlo Petrini. A discussion of the philosophy of the Slow Food movement.
  • Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves (An American Naturalist in Italy) Gary Nabhan. Points out everything in the Italian countryside, from sunflowers to tomatoes to prickly pears, that explorers like Columbus brought back to Italy and Europe. Some of these plants have contributed significantly to modern Italian landscape.
  • Venice and Food by Sally Spector. Examines Venice and food from historical, social, cultural, and artistic points of view.
  • Eating in Italy (A Traveler’s Guide to the Gastronomic Pleasures of Northern Italy) by Faith Heller Willinger. Includes brief vignettes on such distinctly Italian delights as: pasta and risotto, olive oil, truffles, pizza and other flatbreads, gelato, herbs and spices, digestives and apéritifs.
  • A Passion for Piedmont: Italy’s Most Glorious Regional Table by Matt Kramer. Discovers Italy’s most glorious regional table.
  • The Culture of the Fork by Giovanni Rebora. A brief history of food in Europe.
  • Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History by Alberto Capatti and Massimo Montanari.
  • Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food by Silvano Serventi and Françoise Sabban.
  • The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro: A Tale of Passion and Folly in the Heart of Italy by Joe McGinniss.
  • Italian Slow and Savory by Joyce Goldstein presents the diversity of Italy’s cuisine with home-cooked recipes from numerous regions of Italy.
  • The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto and Milo Miloradovich – an excellent cookbook reported to be passed down through generations of family members of some of our favorite travelers.

Movies about or set in Italy 

  • Ciao Professore. A heartwarming story about a teacher and students in Naples.
  • Johnny Stecchino. a hilarious movie with Roberto Benigni and Nicoletta Braschi, about the Italian mafia.
  • Bicycle Thief. a classic tale of family life in Rome after WWII, harder to find, but worth the effort!
  • Icicle Thief. a modern spoof on the older movie (Bicycle Thief) highlighting modern Italian materialist society.
  • Big Night. The hilarious tale of two brothers and their Italian restaurant in the US. A feast for the eyes and soul! Learn how to eat Italian style.
  • Life is Beautiful. With Nicoletta Braschi and Roberto Benigni, dubbed or subtitled in English. A controversial but very worthwhile film about an Italian Jewish family in the holocaust.
  • The Best of Youth. A movie that spans Italy’s recent history from 1966 to 2000 through the eyes of two brothers.
  • Any Fellini movie—classic historical movies on Italy (such as La Dolce Vita, Nights of Cabiria, 8 ½, Amarcord)
  • Divorce-Italian Style starring Marcello Mastroianni. A quirky pro-divorce 1960s film before divorce was legalized in 1974, featuring murders and honor as the only way to “divorce” in Italy.
  • Eat Pray Love. Based upon the book by Elizabeth Gilbert and starring Julie Roberts. She leaves her job and life in New York and spends a year traveling in Italy, India, and Indonesia. While the movie gets poor reviews there are scenes of Rome and Naples.
  • Tea With Mussolini, featuring Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, Lilly Tomlin, and Cher. The story of a group of British ex-patriots, set in Florence in the 1920s and 30s. Great scenes of Florence, San Gimignano and Central Tuscany.
  • A Room With a View. Based on the novel by E.M. Forster. A film about British travelers in Florence at the turn of the century. Includes beautiful scenery of the countryside.
  • Much Ado About Nothing. Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. A Shakespearean romantic comedy set in the Chianti (Tuscany) region of Italy.
  • Portrait of a Lady. With Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich. The Henry James classic about the diffident American woman, parts of this movie were shot in Lucca and Florence.
  • Letters to Juliet. While visiting the Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s house) in Verona–the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a woman finds a decades-old letter and sets out to find its author. Beautiful scenes of Tuscany and parts of northern Italy.
  • The English Patient. Written and directed by Anthony Minghella. This epic WWII love story was filmed in Pienza, the Orcia Valley and the Monastery of Sant’Anna in Camprena. Beautiful scenery of Umbria and Tuscany.
  • My House in Umbria. Maggie Smith plays a British romance novelist that invites several survivors of a terrorist attack to recuperate at her Italian villa. Scenes of Umbria.
  • The Tourist. Venice is the setting for an espionage thriller starring Johnny Depp as a tourist that meets Interpol agent Angelina Jolie.
  • Pane e Tulipani (Bread and Tulips). A cute movie about a southern Italian housewife who spends a “singles” year in Venice.
  • The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) 1963. Based upon the book by the same name the movie stars Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, and Caludia Cardinale, a story about a Sicilian nobleman and the threats to aristocracy due to the revolution, unification and democracy forces occurring in Italy.
  • Nuovo Cinema Paradiso. An Italian classic memoir about childhood and movies in a small Sicilian town.
  • The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza). An Italian film directed by Paolo Sorrentino about journalist Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) who, after the success of his one and only novel has been a large part of Rome’s literary and social circles and its seductive nightlife, finds himself facing a shock from his past as he turns sixty-five. His change in lifestyle has him looking at the beautiful city with an entirely new perspective.
  • Langhe Doc. An award-winning documentary on food and wine production in Italy and the threats to tradition, culture, and lifestyle that are presented with development and urbanization of a region.
  • La mafia colpisce solo d’estate “The Mafia Kills Only In Summer” by Pierfrancesco Diliberto (Pif), awarded as Best New Director at the David Di Donatello 2014, Nastri D’Argento Awards 2014: Winner Best Original Story, Best New Director Golden Globes Italy 2014: Best Screenplay. Referred to as the best film work on Mafia ever made. The author makes a “remarkable job negotiating the delicate balance between humor and heartrending emotion in his terrific directorial feature debut with a powerful message”
  • La donna della domenica by Luigi Comencini (1975). Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Louis Trintignant. Police commissioner Santamaria is investigating the murdering of the ambiguous architect Mr. Garrone. The investigations soon drive him into the Torino’s high society. Santamaria suspect Anna Carla and at the same time falls in love for her. Lello is the lover of Massimo, a homosexual platonic friend of Anna Carla. He is following another direction in order to find out the truth, and his results are confusing the Policeman. But another murdering happens… This Italian movie gives a an intriguing picture of the northern Italy in the 70’s.
  • Basilicata Coast to Coast by Rocco Papaleo.(Winner of 2 Nastri D’argento awards) “The journey is the reward” and that’s been the subject of the movie when four guys who play in a band together decide to go on foot to a music festival, the proverb becomes their reality. It’s decided that they should cross Basilicata from one coast to another with only a wagon and horse to carry their equipment, and an unenthusiastic young woman played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno (La Bestia Nel Cuore). It talks about the region of Basilicata, the area of Italy bordering on Campania to the west, Puglia to the north and east, and Calabria to the south, and that’s part of the group’s dilemma. Basilicata is sort of “Nowhereland” (where there is nothing to envy, says the opening song – they don’t even have the mafia) and the characters feel that they are going nowhere in it. It’s a beautiful movie, because Basilcata is beautiful with its arid, mountainous terrain and resembling a little sparsely populated Colorado.
  • The Comfort of Strangers by Paul Schrader. The movie is about decadence in Venice, a place of long golden afternoons, steamy nights, grand palazzos, dark alleys, incredible beauty, unrecognized malignancies and, finally, death. “The Comfort of Strangers” is too much, which is just about right for a horror film so romantic that its true nature is only revealed at the very end, when escape is no longer possible. Harold Pinter, who adapted the screenplay from Ian McEwan’s novel, has never written a film as alarmingly ghoulish as this tale of terminal love. “The Comfort of Strangers” is a Grand Guignol variation on the kind of scary Pinter play in which the menace remains discreet. Not here. Two couples meet, it seems, by chance…

Awards, Memberships and Reviews