Wherever I travel, both near and far, I read about the area I’m visiting while I’m there. I find it adds depth to the visit. When I read history, art history or current event books there is a direct relationship between where I’m at and what I’m reading. But frequently I read for atmosphere, either by reading an author from the area or reading a novel located in my vacation spot.
This year our family vacation was in Italy. All aspects of the trip were terrific from the anticipation, to the beautiful art everywhere you look, the food, the people, the lifestyle, and the reading. We all read “Italian” books while we were there. Idlewild Books helped pick out many of our reads through their Destination Kit service and others I found on my own. Here’s a snapshot of what we read on the trains, planes, automobiles, and boats:
Portofino: A Novel, by Frank Schaeffer – A novel from the viewpoint of a tweener son of an evangelistic missionary family about their summers in Portofino. My 15 year old son thought it was too over the top. My 12 year old daughter loved it so much she practically has it memorized from re-reading. (I’ve promised her that I will buy her the other two in the trilogy.) I rarely laugh so hard reading a book, in fact I mortified my kids in the Rome airport because I couldn’t breathe and almost fell out of my chair laughing about the Witnessing Walnut. I don’t know if people who aren’t Protestants with a slew of pastors and missionaries in their family will find it so funny. This book was recommended to me by the owner of Between the Covers in Bend, OR and she was spot on.
Room with a View, by E.M. Forster – The quintessential novel of Florence, some people use it as travel guide. I read the book right before arriving in Florence and then re-read the Florence part on the way home. Of course the writing and story is terrific, but it was extra fun visualizing where the characters were walking and visiting. I’ll always associate Santa Croce with the book and Giotto’s frescoes.
Pompeii, by Robert Harris – A perfect read before a day trip to Pompeii, the major historical facts are present along with enough story line and aqueduct information to make it a fun read. Both my husband and I enjoyed it.
Imperium, by Robert Harris – A novel of Cicero and ancient Rome. My husband read this book before we arrived in Rome and was able to tell us some fun facts as we toured the Forum area.
The Agony and the Ecstasy, by Irving Stone – The fictionalized biography of Michelangelo and his struggle to complete the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I read this after I returned from Italy twenty years ago, my son read it as we were traveling to Rome. It’s long, he mentioned that hundreds of times. He also avidly read it and didn’t complain near as much as I thought he would. Between my historical knowledge of Michelangelo and his recent reading of The Agony and the Ecstasy, we had a lot of Michelangelo discussions as we viewed his art.
Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, by Amara Lakhous, Moscardino, by Enrico Pea, and Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi – All of these books were written in Italian, we’ve talked about them in our Translated Tuesday summer series. Reading books by authors from Italy gave a closer view of the culture. I thought of Clash several times in Rome, a villa I visited in the countryside reminded me of the family home in Moscardino and my daughter and I were so glad we read the true Pinocchio when we saw the puppets all over Venice.
La Bella Figura, by Beppe Severgnini – A series of essays on the modern Italian. This was a stretch for my 12 year old daughter, it’s probably her first “adult” read, but she read to me some very funny parts as we sat around waiting (which is always a big part of traveling). My son loved it and laughed over and over again. The parts I read were true but funny. I still don’t understand why having cappuccino after 11AM is such a big deal.
Lives of the Artists, by Giorgio Vasari - The first art history book full of 500 year old gossip that is just as fun to read now as then (although much of it untrue). I’ll be doing a separate review of the book for the Art History Challenge soon.
A Journey Into Michelangelo’s Rome, by Angela K. Nickerson - Nice, brief overviews of the Michelangelo’s work in Rome (there’s more than I thought) that I learned about on A Traveler’s Library. I’ll be doing a separate review of this book for the Art History Challenge soon.
The Stones of Florence, by Mary McCarthy – Observations about Florence and it’s history written about 50 years ago. I enjoyed this book, but the author assumes the reader knows Florence/Medici/Michelangelo history because it isn’t explained, just referenced. I think it’s a book that should be read while you are there or have just left because it references so many sites and it helps to visualize them. This is a bit more serious read but is highly worth it.
The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli – The Renaissance political theory book. We heard Machiavelli referenced so many times that finally my son asked for it. I’m always happy to hunt for a book, even a book in English in an Italian country. He read it very carefully and agreed that it’s a book that should be re-read multiple times to fully understand. It’s one of the two books we bought in Italy; books are far more expensive in Italy than the US.
Manifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de’ Medici, by Miles J. Unger – A recent biography of Lorenzo that I grew impatient with as a I read, but I think most biographies are too long, but very much appreciated when I was in Florence. It gives a solid background in Florentine political intrigue (which makes Washington look like childsplay, in Florence they killed their opponents) along with the literature, religion and art of the time. My first thought when I entered the Duomo was “where was Giuliano killed and through which doors did Lorenzo flee?” This book gives background to understanding the Medici popes who were so importance to Renaissance Art.
The Secrets of Rome, by Corrado Augias – A series of essays about people, places and events that transformed Rome. My husband read this book and then shared with us the upshot of each of the essays from Julius Caesar to Caravaggio. We decided to go see the Caravaggios at Santa Maria del Popolo and asked a cab driver to take us to the church. He said “oh Angels and Demons!” We said “no, Carravagio!” He then proceeded to tell us of the other places to find Caravaggios in Rome. Romans love their city. The essays sound fascinating, I’m looking forward to reading them even though we’re home because while I’m glad we’re home, I really miss Italy, a lot.