Italy in Books reading challenge 2011

Just checking in to say that, having taken up the Italy in Books reading challenge (http://goo.gl/dQWeG), started by BrightonBlogger, my January choice was Sibilla Aleramo’s Diario di una Donna inediti 1945-1960, published by Feltrinelli in 1978. Quite how I got hold of it, when, and why, I do not know. It was in the last year and, since I had never heard of the author — and am allergic to poets, which is what she is — I can only assume I picked it up somewhere for free, or for no more than 2 euro.

Since it runs to 480 pages and has an index so can be used to find out info about other authors, it seemed like a bargain. I reckoned it was at least something to dip into.

As it turns out, it has proved a very interesting read.

Published 18 years after her death, this journal starts when she is 69. Just about getting by, financially, in Rome, she constantly looking to where she can raise money. Friends offer her a place to stay, and she is often invited to speak at conferences. She tries to get her books re-issued, but the publishers are less enthusiastic than she hopes.

Although she is a passionate communist and occasionally gets to see Palmiro Togliatti, the leader of Italy’s communist party from 1927 until his death in 1964, don’t go expecting commentary on contemporary Italy. Her focus is on herself, and her past, an outline of which is provided her at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sibilla_Aleramo.

Married at an early age at a time when an Italian woman stayed married, Sibilla — or Rina Faccio, which was her real name — decided she had had enough at a certain point. She then proceeded to dedicate herself to finding true love. Sadly, it ended in tears, time after time. But she kept going, and her last liasion occurred when she was in her 60s and her lover was in his 20s. It lasted ten years, but then he went off and married someone closer to his own age. So, an interesting person, indeed. Resilient, if nothing else.

While I would not necessarily recommend this book to others, I am a great fan of second-hand bookshops, and love finding books from authors I have never heard of. This book has certainly been worth the money. There must be lots more out there, no?

Looking ahead, what else do I have lined up? Quite a bit, actually. So here, just to remind me, and also perhaps to serve as a Suggestions List for others, is a list.

On my iPod Touch, downoaded from iBooks — and sourced from www.gutenberg.org I have:

New Italian Sketches, by John Addington Symonds (1840 – 1893)

Venetian Life, by William Dean Howells (1837 – 1920)

Italian Journeys, by William Dean Howells

Roman Holidays and Others by William Dean Howells

The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

This selection is explained by my love for the journals of travellers to Italy of earlier centuries. William Dean Howells, who was the founding editor of the Atlantic Monthly magazine, spent considerable time in Florence, and was also a novelist. I enjoyed Indian Summer, which I read a few years ago.

Other non-fiction titles, in book-form, that are waiting for me include:

Andrea Barzini, Una famiglia complicata, Giunti, 1996

Machiavelli Il Principe

Castiglione Il libro del Cortigiano

Manuela Fugenzi il mito del benessere 1981-1990, Storia fotografica della società italiana (Editori Riuniti), 1999

Elio Vittorini, Conversazioni in Sicilia

Michele Giuttari, il mostro: anatomia di un’indagine (Rizzoli), 2006

Giannelli, Giocondo, le Maschere, (Marsilio), 2005

Oriana Fallaci intervista Oriana Fallaci, (Corriere della Sera), 2004

Le assassine: contro figli, mariti, amanti donne a mano armata, vol III, L’Europeo cronaca nera, Corriere della Sera, 2009

as well as Roberto Saviano’s, Gomorra, (Mondadori), 2006, which I find remarkably heavy-going.

In terms of fiction, I am going to look out for more books by Ouida (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ouida), who moved to Florence in 1874 and whose later novels — there are lots of them — had an Italian setting, according to the Notable Names DataBase (www.nndb.com), of which more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NNDB. I have read Santa Barbara and Other Stories (1891), picked up for one euro at that wonderful bookshop opposite the Church of the Béguinage in Brussels.

Other novels that have Italy as their backdrop, and that I would recomend — and might well re-read — include:

Ernest Hemingway, Across the river and into the trees, Granada, 1977

Ernest Hemingway, A farewell to arms, Arrow Books, 2004

Andrea Lee, Lost Hearts in Italy, Harper Perennial, 2007

Lisa Saint Aubin de Teran, The slow train to Milan, Penguin, 1983

Tim Parks, Judge Savage, Vintage, 2004

Patricia Highsmith, The talented Mr. Ripley, Penguin, 1987

Wilkie Collins, The Haunted Hotel

Henry James, Roderick Hudson (1875), Oxford, 1988

Edith Wharton, Roman Fever (1934)

Here are some memoirs about Italy that I have never read in full:

Shirley Hazzard, Greene on Capri, a memoir, Virago, 2001

Stendhal, Chroniques Italiennes, Folio, 1973

Tobias Smollett, Travels through France and Italy (1776), Oxford, 1999

Michel de Montaigne, Journal de Voyage (1580/1), Folio,

Stendhal, Rome, Naples et Florence

A couple of books that are intended as travel guides but which I often find myself reading as if they were memoirs are:

Liesbeth Paardekooper’s, Always Sunday: the best places around Lake Maggiore and Varese,  Machione Editore, 2008, and L’altra Toscana; guida ai luoghi d’arte e natura poco conosciuti, Erio Rosetti&Luca Valenti, Le Lettere, Florence, 2003. The former is in nglish, and the latter — as you may already have guessed — is in Italian.

That said, I may choose something else entirely to read: perhaps it might be Italo Calvino’s Se una notte d’inverno which, for some reason, I have only ever read in English! Or, and this is what I hope is going to be one of the benefts of the Italian Reading Challenge, something that someone else recommends!

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