Frances Mayes

Transporting novels selected by the memoirist.

Frances Mayes’s bestselling memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun, recounted her decision to buy, renovate, and live in an abandoned villa in the Italian region of Tuscany. In her new book, The Tuscan Sun Cookbook, Mayes and her husband, Ed, share recipes that capture the robust flavors and simple pleasures they’ve enjoyed over the years as honorary Tuscans. When we asked her to pick three favorites, the author responded: “My first list named twenty-two books. Since the list was impossible to cut, I am choosing three that I not only loved but that moved me from the space I occupied at the time to the next larger space.” Enjoy!

Books by Frances Mayes

One Hundred Years of Solitude

By Gabriel García Márquez

“‘When he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.’ From the first sentence I was mesmerized by the slippery new prose I was discovering. No one had heard of ‘magic realism’ when this book was published, but I recognized Márquez’s truth-under-the-truth as very close to the reality of growing up in the American South. Octavio Paz claimed that in Mexico, surrealism ran in the streets. That was the familiar world to me as well. I’d never seen anyone get at my inner sense of the place I sprang from. I already worshiped at the shrines of Faulkner, O’Connor, Agee, and Wolfe (there, I got to mention several on my original short list), but this Márquez named it, nailed it, flew with it.”

The Optimist’s Daughter

By Eudora Welty

“I reread this book every few years for the purity of the elegiac tone, and for the acute awareness of what place means as Welty narrates Laurel’s return to the South for her father’s funeral. The novel is compressed, lyrical, intense. You can go home again — and then you can leave once more. This sits on my shelf beside its sister volumes La Naissance du Jour (Break of Day) by Colette and Journey Around My Room by Louise Bogan. The poet Muriel Rukeyser said that if one woman told the truth about her life, the world would split open. The voices in these books come close to that belief. Eudora Welty stayed home in Mississippi. We are so much the richer for that. She surpasses over and over, with her huge humanity, many writers who’ve had far more attention. I read her for her humor, her deep privacy, and for her fabulous grasp of the image.”


By W. G. Sebald

Austerlitz begins with a riff on the meaning of the architecture of the Antwerp train station. A narrator is repeating the monologues of a man named Austerlitz whose voice is almost seamless with the narrator’s own. No paragraphs, no quotation marks, no chapter breaks, only curious black-and-white photographs and a few diagrams interrupt the meditative, shifting voice. Soon you’re in a current that loops and meanders like an old river. The author, meanwhile, stands on some shore. No other writer approaches his grasp of the emotional, cultural, and historic reverberations of the resettlement of people all over the globe after World War II. Elusive, connective, evocative — his territory is the diaspora, that break in homeland connectivity, and the strivings to reinvent a world that makes sense. Plus, the writing scratches at the heart. Frequently, I stop and think did I really just read that? His books (The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo) are rich in astonishing perceptions and associations. He widened my understanding of memory’s packed layers — that is, personal and cultural memory — and of the old world that scrambled during World War II and never refocused. Austerlitz proceeds as one long breath.”