The Italophile’s Reading List

I always seem to be reading books about people living my dream, buying homes in Italy, renovating them, and embracing life in my favorite holiday destination.

I get so caught up in their stories that I often find my way to the towns and villages that they talk about, and get to experience a completely different slice of Italy that would have otherwise been missed.

Two years ago I discovered Sutri via a book that I loved, and it has become one of my absolute favorite places of all time. Another of the books on this list guided me to the Aeolian islands off the coast of Sicily, where I found the bluest sea I have ever seen and met some of the loveliest people. I cannot wait to get back.

I love recognizing shops and restaurants talked about in books I’ve read, I love knowing little things like which highway exit to take or the ideal train stop to get off at because an author led me there. 

If you think you’d like to travel to Italy, but are not quite sure where, diving into a great travel essay is a magnificent place to start!

I actually have a huge library of books set in Italy, but as my office is packed into post-flood boxes right now and I can’t access them, I’m going to tell you about 7 of my favorites, all of which have been read over and over, and have become a living part of the road I’ve traveled.

Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.

My love of Italy was reawakened back in 1996 when this was first published. If you are heading to Tuscany this series is a must read. Mayes guides you through wonderful little towns, gives you some fabulous history and even tells you where to eat. Consider this book and it’s sequels travel bibles.

Don’t be swayed by the movie – both take place in Cortona, the home is called Bramasole, there were Polish workers and the protagonist is indeed called Frances, her husband is Ed. There are no other similarities. This book is a must read.

I go to Cortona every year, always lunch at Cafe Degli Artisti, and swing by Bramasole. Frances Mayes changed my life, set me a new course, and to this day feeds my Tuscan obsession.

outside Bramasole in Cortona with Ed Mayes, September 2014

1000 Days In Venice by Marlena Di Blasi

Can you imagine finding out the man of your dreams spotted you walking through a piazza on your last day in Venice a year ago, that he thought about you every day since, and now, by chance, you walk into the cafe where he is sitting with friends? 
Marlena’s account of her first three years married to Fernando Di Blasi and their life together in Venice is just intoxicating. A chance meeting can result in your life path taking a 90 degree turn you never imagined making. Reading her books leaves you somewhere between wanting to be her and wanting to be her best friend. 

As with Frances Mayes, I have read all of Marlena di Blasi’s books, multiple times. There always seems to be one of them living on my nightstand.

Living in A Foreign Language

Did you watch LA Law? Back in the day it was my favorite show. Actor Michael Tucker (Stuart Markowitz on the show) and his wife Jill Eikenberry also live my Italian dream, theirs in a home they have renovated in Umbria. Tucker is endlessly funny and charming, and his book is delightful.

A House In Sicily by Daphne Phelps

I found this book when I returned home from Sicily and just couldn’t get that bewitching island out of my mind.

Phelps inherited a majestic home on the hill in Taormina, with a view that honestly just takes your breath away.

This the captivating story of her life, leaving dreary old England to go live in this magnificent house, Casa Cuseni. It is the story of the artists and writers who took up residence there over the years, (including Tennessee Williams, Henry Faulkner and Roald Dahl) and of the local characters who populated her world.

Last year I visited Casa Cuseni when I was back in Taormina. I was able to see the Picasso, painted there and then left behind after his stay at Daphne’s home, treasures left behind by writers and artisti, even Daphne’s old passports and papers. It was just fantastic.

at Casa Cuseni in Taormina. Every inch of this house, both inside and out, is just wonderful

Pasquale’s Nose by Michael Rips

Michael is an American lawyer who’s wife is an artist. They moved to a teeny tiny town named Sutri, famous for being the birthplace of Pontius Pilate, where Michael set up shop with his laptop outside one of the cafe’s in the main piazza and observed the locals in all their glory, while his wife worked on her art.

 Rips is absolutely one of the funniest writers ever, and from what the locals told me was great fun to be around.

I went to Sutri a couple of years ago because I was so intrigued with this book and just had to experience this place. We rented a 1000 year old tower renovated by two writers and made into an exquisitely appointed apartment. Writers come live in the tower for 6 to 12 months at a time, penning all manner of important works while taking in the unbelievable views and enjoying the tranquility of a tiny, non touristy town.

prosecco o’clock in the piazza ~ writing in Sutri

Sutri is not on any tourist map, and I think we were the only non Sutrisi there. Pasquale’s Nose hasn’t been translated into Italian, and I was only the second person the locals had met who had read the book. It was particularly wonderful because thanks to Rips I had a town full of instant friends – word gets around tiny places fast! 

Pasquale’s Nose is hilarious and well worth reading.

Halfway To Each Other by Susan Pohlman

This book came to me when the author went to speak and do a signing at my Italian group here in Phoenix. I, of course, was working and missed it, but one of my friends picked me up a copy.

When Pohlman’s marriage was collapsing, she and her husband packed up their kids and their life in Orange County and moved to Liguria for a year. As much a testament to how destructive our manic, fast paced life stateside can be, this book is a wonderful example of how a sidestep into the Italian lifestyle can be healing and calming and put everything back into perspective. The year that the Pohlman’s spend in Italy resets their compass, brings the family back together and breathes life back into a broken marriage.

I loved how tangible this story was. The Pohlman’s now live in Arizona.

An Italian Affair by Laura Fraser

Broken after her husband of one year leaves her for an old high school flame, Fraser travels to Italy to see old friends and get a change of scenery. One of her friends tells her to go to Ischia for a few days, where she meets a Parisian professor an embarks upon an affair that lasts for years and takes place in exotic locales from Ischia to Marrakesh, Lake Maggiore to Catalina Island.

Every female who has ever had so much as a random, fleeting thought about having an affair in Italy will love this book.

If you have read any of these books, please share your thoughts about them in the comments section below! I also want to know any other books set in Italy that you may have read, so please tell me about them in the comments section.