Wednesday, 13 June 2007

What we've been reading in Italy

At some point I decided the key factor when buying books was their pages-per-euro ratio, so I was very happy with myself when I found some Penguin Popular Classics books for €3.60 each. I got Dubliners by James Joyce and Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, only to find one reason they are so cheap is that these are kind of the B-grade books by these writers. Still at least now I can say I've read some James Joyce, and that I definitely preferred The Great Gatsby over F. Scott Fitzgeralds 'other works'.

This had to come to a stop at some point, and Linda finally put her foot down when I found a copy of War and Peace for only €10; a fantastic pages-per-euro ratio!

Anyway, I decided if I was in Italy I should try to learn about the country that was, for a time at least, my home. Therefore, it was on the advice of the Polish girl studying German in England and learning Italian at our school during her holiday break, that I bought The Dark Heart of Italy by Tobias Jones. This is a very interesting read, covering corruption, the mafia, politics, bad TV, and soccer in Italy, and how they all seem to be inexorably linked. Linda didn't much like this book because it was a very cynical look at Italy, and the author basically admits as much, but I found it very interesting.

Next up was something a lot lighter, written by an American being dragged over to Italy by his wife to escape the pressures of the (apparently very stressful) world of TV script writing. The book, The Reluctant Tuscan by Phil Doran, is definitely amusing but I've got to say the writer may have burned many bridges in his little village-home by laying bare the details of some (actually quite nasty) plots on their behalf to secure their dream home. He changed the names, but I doubt the people in the village would have any trouble recognising the characters if they took the time to read the book.

Most recently I read La Bella Figura by Beppe Severgnini, an Italian who worked in the UK for many years as a journalist before returning to Italy. This book I really enjoyed, not only because it was a book about Italy actually written by an Italian, but also because he details the many ways in which Italy differs from outside expectations and interpretations. I also liked it because, although he seemed a little depressed by Italy's recent history, he sees so much potential and goodness in the Italian people and their way of life, which was pleasantly optimistic after Dark Heart of Italy.

Aside from this we have, of course, been reading guidebooks like the Lonely Planet Italy and Florence books, and The Rough Guide to Italy. Most recently we happened upon Rick Steves' Florence & Tuscany book which I had previously written off as American-centric rubbish but actually turns out to be a very good guide), if a little hand-holdish in places.

[Linda: Given what we have seen of some tourists so far (see the photo of the headphone-clad tour group that I shot outside the Uffizi one lunch time), they need as much hand-holding as they can get... ]

Lastly, at some point I bought a children's book for 8 year-olds, L'invasione delle Patate Giganti by David Baldacci (which I think is actually a translation of this), thinking maybe I could use it to improve my Italian, but it remains depressingly beyond my abilities.

So now I am out of books and am thinking of reading about Dante or more about the Medici. I guess it all depends on the pages-per-euro ratio!

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