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 for your amazing Italian adventure.
Be Captivated by the Beauty of Cinque Terre in 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 its center is a fight between the glamorous and the mundane, with the mundane coming out ahead more often than not. This novel is fantastic.
For a trip to Siena, Grab If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
Italo Calvino was one of Italy’s most important authors of the twentieth century. If you’re headed to Siena, pick up If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, paying homage to this Italian great in the city that was his last home.
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 about 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.
Interested in the Magic of Venice? Try 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.
For a Trip to Rome, pick up Daisy Miller by Henry James
This is the only novel on this list that I was assigned to read (Thanks to 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.
Dreaming of Naples? Read 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.
More Italy Travel Resources
- 5 Historic Churches in Milan Hiding the Weird & Wonderful
- Rick Steves Over Brunch: Venice, City of Dreams (Podcast Episode)
- The Roman Forum (Podcast Episode)
What Books about Italy Would You Add to this Reading List?
Pin This for Your Trip to Italy