Top 6 (or 14) Italian books you should read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for the list lovers among book bloggers, created and hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s theme is “Top Ten Books I’d Recommend To Someone Who Doesn’t Read X” (for example, if you are a YA blogger you might pick 10 YA books for ppl who don’t read YA or if you read classics maybe 10 classics that those who don’t typically read classics might read! Or you could get more specific).

I struggled a bit to decide what to write about: what defines me as a reader? What would I know about better than the next blogger? I am not a specialty reader, so there’s no genre I felt comfortable suggesting titles for. Then it struck me: most bloggers don’t read a lot of Italian authors… So here goes, top books by Italian authors that everyone should read (or everyone who is interested in Italian culture/literature… DISCLAIMER: this is not a list of titles devised for those who are learning Italian; some of these books may be quite complicated to read; that’s why I chose books with an existing English translation, so that anyone can enjoy them!):

  1. Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed: I know the Divine Comedy is usually heralded as the apex and starting point of Italian literature, but it is also a sure way to abandon all Italian literature if you are not ready for it. The Betrothed, on the other hand, is the real touchstone for modern narrative, and a fascinating reading too.
  2. Italo Calvino, Our Ancestors: I was in doubt as to which Calvino book to suggest. This is a good place to start, because you can see the imagination working and the clear language, while still not being so complicated as other works. But if you are game, go on and read Invisible Cities, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller (of course) and the one I love best: Cosmicomics.
  3. Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose: I don’t think this needs any presentation. Just one tip: don’t worry if you don’t get all the references, just read it like a detective story, and enjoy!
  4. Emilio Salgari, Sandokan: The Pirates of Malaysia: now this is a title that you probably have not heard about. And I agree that it may not be the best book ever, but it is important to understand many Italian inside jokes. Salgari was our own Dumas, and many generations grew up by reading his adventure novels. This is the first of the Sandokan series (the first he wrote, although not the first from the point of view of the story). If you want more, try and read the back story in its two companion books: The Mystery of the Black Jungle and Sandokan: The Tigers of Mompracem.
  5. Edmondo de Amicis, Cuore (Heart): An Italian Schoolboy’s Journal: another book that many Italians grew up with, and one of the sweetest books I read as a child. But be careful, this is not your regular children literature! Have a look at this presentation. Now, if you ask my opinion, the best Italian children book ever is another one, again only available in Italian: Streghetta mia by Bianca Pitzorno. And of course you already know that Collodi’s Pinocchio had nothing to do with his Disney alter ego, right?
  6. Carlo Sgorlon, The Wooden Throne: poor Sgorlon is little known in Italy and completely unknown abroad, but he was one of the authors I loved best. Apparently, only two of his novels have ever been translated in English. But if you do read Italian, don’t miss the one that in my view was his masterpiece, Il patriarcato della luna.
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5 comments on “Top 6 (or 14) Italian books you should read

  1. Thanks for these recommendations! The only one I’ve read is “The Name of the Rose”; the others are going on my TBR list.

  2. I had you in mind when I wrote that comment about people learning Italian. Of all these, I suggest you start with Calvino. He was particular about using simple language, so that should help too. And Cuore, if you are in the mood.

  3. I think the only Italian author I have read is Elena Ferrante. I do know of Eco and Calvino, though. I don’t think I realized The Name of the Rose was a detective story – only know it as being a famous book. 🙂

  4. I’m finally reading a second Eco this year (The Island of the Day Before was my 1st), but it will be Foucault’s Pendulum.

    I definitely want to try Sandokan and will read Invisible Cities although I had such a hard time with If on a Winter’s Night.

    Other Italian favorites: Rafael Sabatini’s Scaramouch and Captain Blood and Tabucchi’s Afrima Pereira.

  5. @ Care: you know, I’ve only ever heard of Elena Ferrante from non-Italian people! I checked around, and I guess she is known, but not so much… And about the Name of the Rose… I didn’t mean to say it’s just a detective story. It is, but it’s much more beside (and behind) that. The thing is, this book scares off so many people because it’s full of extremely well educated references, and people abandon it because of that. Now, the references are there, and if you can get them and enjoy them, good for you! But I suggest that people read this novel as a detective story, so that the story is what keeps them going. They may miss some of the references, but some they will understand, and enjoy. Hope this makes sense!

    @ Alex: You actually chose the two Eco’s that I liked the least! And why is it that you had a hard time with Calvino? (I know several people do, but I can’t understand why. I may have to try and read the translation myself someday…) As for Sostiene Pereira, another of my favorites, I was in doubt whether to add it to the list or not. I decided not to, because… well, the average Italian is not too aware of Portugal, so this book is not really representative of Italian literature. Sad, I know. But you’re right, it’s another jewel! (and @Eibhlin, you may want to check that one out, in Italian)

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