If you want to prepare yourself for Italy but are bored of endlessly searching on the Internet, why not try and learn about this beautiful country in another way? Reading can take you faraway places without even having to leave your favourite armchair. So, get down to the bookshop or download a few of these to your Kindle – the best 10 books to read before a trip to Italy!
We listed here some of the books set in Italy which, besides their great plots, also convey the beauty of Italian location and the authentic Italian soul.
If you get so inspired by these books that you wish to visit some of the mentioned locations, fill out our custom form and we will design a tailored itinerary for you!
1. A room with a view (E. M. Forster)
Foster’s Florentine romance dates all the way back to 1908, where we meet the character of Lucy. She has to decide between the repressed moral code of Edwardian England or a slightly more exciting life in Italy (I know what I’d choose).
She’s introduced to a plethora of unusual characters who are way more intriguing than her uptight cousin Charlotte at the Pension Bertolini, in Florence, including Eleanor Lavish – a flamboyant author of romance novels, and the passionate son of Mr. Emerson – George.
The romance often catches the deep meaning of being Italian: "One doesn't come to Italy for niceness, one comes for life. Buon giorno! Buon giorno!"
2. My Brilliant friend (E. Ferrante)
The first in Elena Ferrante’s 4-part series of Neapolitan Novels, My Brilliant Friend gives a delightful, rich, and intense insight into a friendship set in Italy’s 4th largest city, Naples. Elena and Lila grow up in a poor neighbourhood outside of Naples, where they learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone else, as they go on a journey of self-discovery through their friendship. You’ll see the transformation not only of the city of Naples, but the girls’ friendship too.
It has been made into TV series lately within an international production.
To discover more about Naples, check out our private walking tour of the city: our guide will take you and explain everything you wish to know!
3. The Shape of Water (A. Camilleri)
Our first introduction to one of Italy’s most beloved contemporary detectives, The Shape of Water sees Inspector Montalbano pick his way through Sicilian corruption to solve the death of a local engineer, while enjoying some delicious dishes along the way.
Montalbano’s series of novels, of which there are now 23 installments, offer a refreshing and hilarious look into Sicilian life and crime. Although you’re unlikely to recognise the names of the towns in the books, the city Vigata is an imaginary mix of towns and villages between Ragusa and Agrigento. The author Camilleri only became famous in his 70s, and is still churning out books at 93! "Inspector Montalbano" is also a very popular tv series since 1999, based on Camilleri's books.
Discover Sicily on our escorted tours to explore the best cities!
4. The Talented Mr. Ripley (P. Highsmith)
One of modern literature’s most tantalising, controversial, and influential sociopaths, Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley made his debut in 1955 set against the backdrop of a grand euro trip to the Amalfi Coast, while culminating in some bad news for his reluctant hosts.
When Dickie Greenleaf’s parents send Tom to Italy to bring their son back to the United States, they can’t possibly predict how bad an idea that is! Murder, identity fraud, countless lies and schmoozing see Tom assume Dickie’s identity and use his fortune not only to live the high life in this book, but for the following novels in the series. It’s a great read and will have you dreaming of visiting the Italian Riviera.
5. La Bella Figura: A field guide to the Italian mind (B. Severgnini)
La Bella Figura is the philosophy Italians live by to give the perfect outward image. La Bella Figura extends to appearance, personality, the home, food, whatever you can think of.
Journalist Beppe Severgnini delves into what it means and tries to help us outsiders understand La Bella Figura, with this hilarious comedic sideways look at every aspect of Italian life. Rather than the tourist destinations Italy’s known for, Severgnini whisks us to the place where his countrymen are at their most Italian and authentic – the airport, the highway, and the small town.
6. Italian Journey (J.W. Goethe)
History lovers will be intrigued by Goethe’s Italian Journey, written all the way back in 1786.
He embarked on a journey to some of the great Italian cities, including Venice, Rome, Naples, and the island of Sicily not only to fill his own personal and artistic quest, but to get some relief from the agony of unrequited love. This fascinating journal is an account of Goethe moving through a psychological crisis while observing every aspect of his Italian experience.
At the end of the day, he says, "We are all pilgrims who seek Italy".
7. Rome Tales (H.Constantine)
Whatever your favourite literary style is, you’re bound to find it in this varied collection of tales about Rome, the Eternal City.
Within 20 short stories, you’ll find drama, comedy, and tragedy spanning over 700 years and including the works of great authors including Boccaccio and Pasolini.
If that’s not enough, the stories are accompanied by beautiful black and white photography, giving you an idea of what to expect when you arrive in the Italian capital, from famous squares such Piazza Navona or Spanish Steps, to the unkwnown beautiful corners.
8. Italian hours (H. James)
This collection of essays written in the late 19th and early 20th century is a fantastic way to understand the culture and landscape of Italy at the turn of last century.
Henry James takes the reader through the art and religion, cultural revolutions, and political shifts, all in the name of getting to the heart of what travel is all about.
During his trip, he explores Naples, Venice, and Rome, giving a vibrant picture of 3 of Italy’s great cities: "here [in Rome] was history in the stones of the street and the atoms of the sunshine."
9. A farewell to arms (E. Hemingway)
Hemingway famously re-wrote the ending to this 1929 semi-autobiographical novel 39 times just to make sure he had the right words to tie up the haunting love story between an American Ambulance driver and an English nurse on the Italian Front during World War 1.
Set in first person, you’ll see Milan and Lake Maggiore through the protagonists’ eyes, and really feel the rollercoaster of emotions felt by Frederic, especially his unwavering love for Catherine. It has since been made into TV programs and films countless times.
10. The Oxford Companion to Italian Food (G. Riley)
We almost got to the end of an article about Italy without mentioning food! But we couldn’t quite do it…
A real gem for any gastronomy lover, this book will teach the history of this great country’s mouth-watering cuisine, local specialities, and there are even a few recipes in there so you can prepare yourself for what you’ll be eating on your holidays.
Gillian Riley’s essential companion to Italy’s gastronomy leaves no stone unturned in the quest to find out everything about food from every social class dating back to the Middle Ages to the present day, from many regions of Italy: from Piedmont to Apulia! An ideal gift for the foodie in your life!