15 Books To Read Before Your Vacation In Italy

Are you planning a trip to Italy? Can you not wait? Get psyched before you leave by digging into these Italian-themed books.

Alternatively, are you not planning a trip to Italy? But you wish you were? Then dive into these books and let your mind travel for you. Reading these books is the next best thing.

Where Angels Fear To Tread, by E.M. Forster

How many people dream of going to Italy and finding love? Life-changing love? In this story of romance vs. reality, Italian and British culture collide when an English widow goes to Italy and marries an Italian and becomes pregnant with his child. (This reminds me of an off-color comment my great-grandmother made to my mother when she decided she was going to marry an Italian. I won’t repeat it now, but forgive my great-grandmother, nevertheless–she was old.) That’s not the end of the story, though. When the widow’s in-laws go to Italy to try to bring the widow home, the woman dies in childbirth, leaving the family with no choice other than to wrench the baby from his father’s hands, and bring the infant to England.  I promise you: silliness and absurdity abound.

The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim

In The Enchanted April, four women, all with different backgrounds and issues (but who could actually be four different moods of the same woman) come together in a medieval castle on the Italian Riviera to rediscover themselves–which is exactly what sitting by the sea, surrounding yourself with beauty and peace with your girlfriends will do to you. Even if you’re not in Italy while you read this book, you’ll feel like you have taken a vacation.

Italian For The Gourmet Traveler, by Fred Plotkin

Art, wine, blah blah blah. Let’s admit the real reason you’re going to Italy–the food. Get to know the cuisine region by region so you’ll be totally prepared to order the best the land has to offer. Discover country markets, wineries, cooking schools, and the restaurants the locals love. It might be hard to come back to America, a place where you could be expected to eat at the Olive Garden at any moment. But please be an educated traveler make the most of the food while you’re there.

 City Of Fortune: How Venice Ruled The Seas, by Roger Crowley

Crowley’s history will have you spouting off facts about the City Of Masks during your entire vacation. I don’t know firsthand–I haven’t read the book. But I vacationed in Venice with my father after he was done reading it and–fact spoutin’, left and right. His stories and tidbits about the business interests in Venice and the colorful Venetians intrigued me to pick this book to read before my next trip to Venice in August.

Angels And Demons, by Dan Brown

Maybe Dan Brown’s books aren’t your cup of tea, but he has written page-turners that have created readers from non-readers, and have sparked passion and interest in history and art. Read Angels And Demons and then travel to Rome—you can visit the places in the book in real life, which make them all the more exciting.

Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System, by Roberto Saviano

This true story about the underground economy of Naples is impossible to put down–you’ll get a stark look at the place with the highest murder rate in all of Europe. Gomorrah is bold, heroic–and true. To prove his point about the immoral, toxic environment in Naples, Saviano becomes an assistant at a Chinese textile manufacturer, a waiter at a Camorra wedding, and a worker on a construction site, bringing you the shady underbelly in Naples you might have pictured in your wildest imagination, but have never seen.

 Brunelleschi’s Dome: How A Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, by Ross King

On August 19, 1418, Florentine villagers submitted their plans for designing the main Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in a city-wide contest. One entry stood out—that of goldsmith and clockmaker Filippo Brunelleschi, who would go on to spend twenty-eight years figuring out how to construct his dream. The dome still stands today, and it looks even more magnificent once you know its history. The first time I went to Florence with a friend, I dreamed about a book I wanted to write about two girls being stalked by the Duomo, which follows them everywhere from their dreams to Fiesole. Because that’s the power of the Duomo in Florence–still, to this day.

The City Of Fallen Angels, by John Berendt

When John Berendt, author of Midnight in The Garden Of Good And Evil, arrived in Venice, the theater La Venice almost immediately burned down. Because this is a mysterious town, there’s always more than meets the eye. Berendt immersed himself in the lifestyles and proclivities of the Venetians, only to find that the city is bursting with mazes of mystery and murder. The result will haunt you. Berendt was inspired to name his book after a sign that said “Caution: Falling Angels,” warning passers-by to beware the crumbling statues from a towering church. Beautiful, right? And kind of eerie.

La Bella Figura: A Field Guide To The Italian Mind, by Beppe Severgnini

“Your Italy and our Italia are not the same thing,” promises Beppe Severgnini, who can offer you practical advice on everything in his country from the people to the bathrooms–that’s practical stuff. Other books about Italy offer idealistic dreaminess, fueling your romantic notions of the place. But in this book, Severgnini gets real.

The Monster Of Florence, by Douglas Preston

If you’re still jonsesing for something murder-y, look no further than this true story written by Douglas Preston, who found out that the olive grove in the front yard of his new Italian home was the site of one of the most infamous double-murders in Italian history, committed by The Monster Of Florence, one of Italy’s most notorious serial killers. The book explores Preston’s quest for the truth—a journey that makes him the target of a police investigation. Lesson for Italian travelers: if you stumble upon a suspicious olive grove, just smile and keep walking.

The House Of Medici: Its Rise And Fall, by Christopher Hibbert

The Medici family was famous for controlling much of the wealth and power in Italy in the 1500s. The Medici Palace became the center of global power, but then they lost it all. OMG aren’t you dying to know how? This book explains how the powerful clan fell.

Daisy Miller, by Henry James

Daisy Miller presents us the theme of the original “loose” woman (according to societal standards), and explores her psyche through her relationship with Winterbourne, a Europeanized American man she spends time with in Rome (while she’s not passing the nights in the shadow of the Colloseum with other Italian men). This is the kind of book nervous parents would force upon their young daughters traveling to Italy. Because for Daisy, the results of consorting with young men abroad are dire.

Italian Neighbors, by Tim Parks

This book explores the Italian lifestyle through the observance of a neighborhood on Via Columbre, the main street in a village just outside Verona. Tim Parks is an Englishman who married an Italian and has lived in Italy for thirty years, so he has an insider-outsider perspective on what he sees, which allows him to offer tips on how to not seem like a foreigner.

Streetwise Italian Dictionary, by Nicholas Albanese, Giovanni Spani, Philip Balma, and Ermanno Conti

Let’s be honest–if you’re going to Italy for vacation, you’re not going to master grammar or even memorize all of the phrases you’ll need. What you need is this book: a practical, usable guide of idioms and slang that provides you with the essentials you actually need.

A Room With A View, by E.M. Forster

This coming of age story is hilarious, poignant, and emotional. In it, Lucy is wooed by both George Emerson and Cecil Vyse on her Italian vacation, and though she eventually accepts Cecil’s marriage proposal (because it’s socially acceptable), she realizes she loves George. Romantic, progressive, and classic with a feminist slant, this book won’t inform you una lira of Italian culture or life, because it’s all about Lucy’s love conundrum. But then again, isn’t that how young love goes?

Anybody planning a trip to Italy? What book would you suggest?

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