Summer is definitely a great time for reading.
You probably are going on holiday for a few days and have more free time than usual. There might be long days at the beach or some time spent in a cabin in the woods. Even if you are staying at home, this summer, I am sure that everything will be a tad more relaxed and you’ll be looking for some good books to read.
Well, what a great chance to know more about Italian culture!
Books are just a perfect way to dive deep into the culture of a certain country. That’s why I selected ten great contemporary Italian novels, which will give you the opportunity of getting to know more about us Italians, keeping you entertained and hooked at the same time.
I decided to include only Italian books translated into English and this made things quite difficult – or pretty easy, depending on how you look at it – because there aren’t many contemporary novels who have an English version as well. The choice is quite limited, but the selection is worthy nonetheless.
Elena Ferrante – The Neapolitan Novels
Let’s start not with just one book, but with actually four. The Neapolitan Novels are a series of four titles (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child) which tell the story of two smart girls, Elena (Lenù) and Raffaella (Lila), who grow up in a poor neighborhood just outside Naples.
I have already written a post about the first book of the series, which I really loved. Elena Ferrante, whose identity is actually unknown, is an amazing writer and has been able to create a saga which hooks you from the very beginning, telling the story of a friendship and depicting fifty years of Italian history at the same time.
Nicolò Ammaniti – I’m Not Scared
First published in 2001, I’m Not Scared is probably the most famous book by Ammaniti. It tells the story of Michele Amitrano, a nine-year-old boy who, on a hot summer day in the south of Italy, stumbles upon a terrible secret – which will eventually become even more terrible as the story unfolds.
The book, which has been made into a great movie by Academy Award winner director Gabriele Salvatores, is both a mystery and a coming of age story and is certainly a book about innocence, childhood, and adulthood. One of my favorite books of all time.
Stefano Benni – Timeskipper
Stefano Benni is a very prolific writer, but just a few of his books have been translated into English. This is one of them, the story of a young man who has an amazing gift: he can see into the future. With such gift, he can foresee – and live at the same time – some crucial events of Italian history.
The book is a strange tale that describes the transformation of Italy and its society in the 50s and 60. Stefano Benni’s prose is quite weird and causes mixed reactions: you basically either love it or hate it. However, he is one of Italy’s most important satirist, definitely worth reading if you want to know more about our literature.
Margaret Mazzantini – Don’t Move
On a rainy day, teenage Angela falls from her scooter and has an accident. While she is in a coma, her father Timoteo is forced to come to terms with its past. While he waits for her awakening, he confesses his deepest secrets both to his daughter and to himself.
This is not exactly my kind of novel, way too passionate and full of drama, but it’s been one of the most popular novels in Italy these last years, winner of a number of prizes and made into a movie as well, which I thought made it worth including in this selection.
Fabio Volo – One More Day
Fabio Volo, who first started his career as a comedian and TV star, is a writer who causes a lot of controversies, here in Italy. Many people believe that he is not good at writing and basically say that all his books are not more than trash. However, he is very popular as a writer and keeps publishing one bestseller after another.
He mainly writes romantic comedies, which are not my kind of books, but I believe that he should be respected for his success. Moreover, the stories in his books are quite simple, making them a great tool for improving your reading skills – if you want to try reading them in Italian. This book I’ve chosen tells the story of a guy who has a lot of success with women and eventually falls in love for the first time.
Giorgio Faletti – I Kill
Another comedian turned writer, Giorgio Faletti caught everybody by surprise when his first book was published. He showed amazing talent as a writer, crafting a suspenseful thriller with a plot that keeps you hooked from beginning to end.
Set in Monte Carlo, the book tells the story of a detective and an FBI agent who have to catch a serial killer who announces his acts in advance with a phone call.
Giancarlo De Cataldo – Romanzo Criminale
The book, written by judge Giancarlo De Cataldo, tells the story of a group of gangsters in 1970s Italy. Inspired by the true story of the banda della Magliana, which was sadly famous in Rome at that time, the book describes the relationship between gangsters and state government and depicts the anni di piombo (the years of lead), one of the darkest pages of Italian history.
Deeply enthralling, Romanzo Criminale is a great gangster story but it is also useful to learn more about an important period of Italian life. It has been made into a great movie and a TV series as well – which I absolutely recommend you, if you get the chance to see them.
Paolo Giordano – The Solitude of Prime Numbers
Paolo Giordano, a physician with a PhD in theoretical particle physics, had an amazing success with this book, which was his debut as a writer. I have read it a long time ago, but I still very clearly remember how much I loved it so I have no doubts recommending it.
The title of the book comes from the fact that prime numbers can only be divided by themselves or by one – so they do not truly fit with others. Alice and Mattia, the main characters of the book, are both “prime numbers” as they are some kind of misfits who are destined to be alone. But this will make them be really close to each other.
Roberto Saviano – Gomorrah
I am quite sure you have already heard about this book. A nonfiction account of Naples’ camorra, it is by far the most famous Italian book of the time and, even if it’s been written a while ago, it still is tremendously – and sadly – up-to-date.
When the book came out, in 2006, it caused a real shock in most of Italy – everywhere but Naples, I’d say – as it told the shocking reality of camorra, an organized crime network that is based in Naples but has connections with the whole world. It was shocking because the tales told by Saviano seemed to come directly from a gangster movie, yet they were a sad reality. What is even sadder is that nowadays things probably haven’t changed, we just got used to them.
Carlo Lucarelli – Almost Blue
The last book I selected is by one of my favorite writers, Carlo Lucarelli, one of the best Italian crime novelists. The book is a noir that tells the story of Simone, who is blind and spends much of his time listening to radio scanners. By doing so, he hears everything from police radio calls to telephone conversations. There have been a series of murders of students in Bologna, Simone overhears the voice of the murderer and eventually becomes a vital part of the police investigation – but because he’s blind he can only identify the murderer by his voice.
I hope you’ll find this selection interesting, I tried to include a variety of genres so that you can have an idea of contemporary Italian books. There are undoubtedly many more valuable books, which unfortunately haven’t been translated into English so far.
I’ll write another post in the future, including some of my favorite Italian books even if they have no English version. Maybe they can be a good exercise for those of you who can master the language.
But tell me, have you read some of the books I listed? What’s your opinion about them? I’d love to know!
If you are interested in learning more about Italian culture and lifestyle, I’d suggest you jump on my digital Vespa and join Be Italian For A Month, your 30-day virtual journey to Italy.
You will also learn some Italian words, you’ll receive some typical Italian recipes – ready to be cooked and enjoyed, you’ll get to tour around Italy, and learn about Italian traditions, proverbs, stereotypes, you name it. Plus, some cute surprises along the way!