I’ve been obsessed with Italy for as long as I can remember, but international travel certainly wasn’t part of my childhood the way it is for Lumina. In fact, I didn’t make it to Italy until I was twenty-seven—before that, I simply didn’t have the resources to travel. In the decades since that first trip, I’ve made some outrageous sacrifices to be able to afford my fairly regular return visits. Pre-pandemic, the longest stretch I’d ever gone without getting to Italy was 21 months, and that was partly because I spent time in France when Lumina was born. Since I was also a full-time student, even if I had been able to tear myself away from my new granddaughter (I couldn’t), my budget wouldn’t have stretched to include Italy at that time. (My last visit: August 2019. Lumina and I had a trip to Rome and Sicily scheduled for April 2020, but . . . I think you can guess what happened to those plans. Believe me, I’ll update this page as soon as our feet finally hit those sampietrini again!)
Yet between trips—and even before I was able to start traveling—I’ve never felt terribly distanced from Italy. A connection with Italy has always been as close as my bookshelf or the public library.
A few—and only a few—of my many, many books about (or set in) Italy.
A picture book about ancient Rome started my obsession when I was six years old; dozens upon dozens of books and films about Italy have educated, entertained, and sustained me since then.
I read so much about Italy between the ages of six and twenty-seven that when I finally got there in real life, I experienced an overwhelming sensation of nostos, or homecoming. Small example: I have a notoriously poor sense of direction, yet as soon as my feet touched Roman soil, I intuitively had my bearings. I still get disoriented navigating my way around Toronto, the city I’ve lived in for decades, but I’ve never been lost in the Eternal City. Perhaps this is not so surprising in a city like Rome, bursting as it is with one-of-a-kind architectural and archaeological landmarks. But you still have to familiarize yourself with those landmarks and their historical as well as spatial relation to one another—and the more familiar these are, the more enjoyable your trip will be.
Even more important than the ability to mentally map out a city and its history, however, is the ability to approach a new culture with some understanding of how it works. Immersing yourself in books (and films) about Italy provides a cultural foundation to build upon when you visit the bel paese. Do you really want to spend huge amounts of time and money traveling to Italy in order to take a few selfies and go shopping at stores you can find at your local mall? I didn’t think so.
Reading about Italy is not the same as being there, of course. But I propose that in some key ways, it can actually be better. After all, exploring Italy from the comfort of a favourite reading chair is accessible to anyone at any time, with no impediments related to bank balance, health status, mobility issues, pandemics, or time constraints due to family and work responsibilities.
I really think that Emily Dickinson said it best:
There is no Frigate like a Book/ To take us Lands Away/ Nor any Coursers like a Page/ Of prancing Poetry—/ This Traverse may the poorest take/ Without oppress of Toll—/How frugal is the Chariot/ That bears the Human Soul—
Travelling “lands away” without “oppress of toll”? Sounds good to me! The deal is made even sweeter by the fact that this “frugal chariot” is zero-carbon.
Sweeter still: if and when traveling to Italy in real life becomes possible, your reading investment will pay dividends in the form of a more deeply nuanced and rewarding visit to the most beautiful country in the world. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to spend money and burn fossil fuels in order to travel abroad, I feel obligated to make my trips as meaningful as possible.
I also want my trips to be as memorable as possible, and reading more about Italy when I return home enlivens and extends the pleasure of reminiscing. (To this end, books are often the only thing I bring back from Italy as souvenirs.)
On this page, you will find reviews of books (and occasionally films) about Italy and/or by Italian authors. While you may find some of my reviews more glowing than others, I don’t bother writing at all about media I don’t recommend. (In other words, you won’t really find negative reviews on this site). Feel free to add your own comments and feedback about the media recommended here. I and other readers would love to know what you think!
Buona lettura a tutti!