Five Books to Read on Your Vacation to Italy (or Inspire You to Take One)

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If you read more on the road than at home–or even if you don’t–here are five fantastic novels to take with you on your vacation to Italy.  Or a great way to visit Italy from your bed whilst you save up the dough.

Vineyard at Pompeii
Vineyard at Pompeii

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter  

     The cover is the Cinque Terre–enough said, right?  This novel strings together the lives of an Italian hotelier, a failed musician, an American actress, Liz Taylor, a reality television mogul, and a World War II vet, among others.  The characters are rich and sad, the landscapes are dripping with Italian culture, and Richard Burton is almost always drunk.  At it’s center is a fight between the glamorous and the mundane, with the mundane coming out ahead more often than not.  This novel is fantastic.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
 This novel is crazy.  You will get dizzy.  You will want to know the answer to questions that Italo Calvino refuses to answer.  You will dive into novels within novels.  You will have moments when you think that he has described the world as it really is, that you have awoken from a stupor and finally in front of your eyes someone has laid out all the world’s truth.  And then you will think that’s silly.  And then you will think it again.  And then there’s the way he describes the art of traveling itself:

“To fly is the opposite of traveling: you cross a gap in space, you vanish into the void, you accept not being in a place for a duration that is itself a kind of void in time; then you reappear, in a place and in a moment with no relation to the where and when in which you vanished.”

There are characters.  There’s a plot.  But this is more about the art of reading and the art of traveling in novel form–beautiful and challenging.  And the parts that take place in Italy are a different Italy–dark and mysterious.  Ah, I think I need to re-read this one folks.

The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman 

   Let’s say you get to go to Hogwarts.  But you’re not a cute little kid.  Instead you’re an eighteen-year-old, hormone-crazed overachieving little asshole.  And when you’re done with Hogwarts, you get to graduate and go to Narnia.  And you’re still an asshole.  And there’s alcohol everywhere.  That’s basically the premise of The Magicians Trilogy.   And it’s exactly as much fun as it sounds.

Now what does that have to do with Italy?  Well there are some amazing scenes in a Venetian palazzo.  And there’s a Venetian dragon.  You’ll also really, really want to take a vacation to Narnia  Fillory.  And the south of France.  And Brooklyn.  And Connecticut.  And a really cool spa out West.  And the English countryside.  And the South Pole.  And you’ll wish you could fly there with your own wings and then be transformed into a fox.

Daisy Miller by Henry James 

  This is the only novel on this list that I was assigned to read (Thanks Professor Sullivan!) , but ten years later it’s still with me.  I love a novel about a ruined woman (see also Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth for this wonderful sub-genre).  Especially one that takes place in Rome.  The scenes in the Coliseum are beautiful and damning.  It’s a Taylor Swift song as high literature.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

 Like Beautiful Ruins, this is a novel with many narratives connected across decades and geographies.  Characters that individually run towards the shallow build upon each other to create a great, entangled web of lives and choices that are beautiful when taken as a whole.  While the bulk of the stories take place in New York and LA, Sasha’s time in Naples introduces a modern Italian city that is sweaty and dangerous, full of crevices and the thieves who hide in them.  This is not an Italy of food and wine, it’s one of lost souls and starving pickpockets.

That’s my five.  What would you add to this list?

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One Comment

  1. I’d add Elizabeth von Arnim’s Enchanted April, in winter, while the rains shower down…

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