If 2015 was a busy year, 2016 took the cake on that front. So much so, I probably made myself sick by the year’s end by working too much and ignoring my body’s basic need to just rest therefore it comes to no surprise that up until recently I had a nagging cold that still isn’t completely gone today. However, this past vacation in Mexico taught me to slow down, breathe and most of all dive into something I truly love yet lately have casted aside like a jaded 10 year old tosses away her once-cherished toys. Non va bene.
I’m talking about reading.
To say I love books is a true understatement. For many years they were my best friends. My own figurative brass key or fantasy-ice wardrobe to escapism and a world so far from my own growing up. This is something I cannot let go, though, because it is such a part of me. My friends love to laugh when I brought books to the supermarket to sneak in a page or two as we picked up Sunchips and the latest diet coke flavor. I was “that person” who could read in the car and made the most of road trips as my brothers threw popcorn in my hair and cracked jokes. My books are the one element of my life that needs a true revival. Let’s get real here, Stella have needed to get her groove back, and well, so do I apparently.
“If you can read, you don’t ever have to be lonely.” —Maggie Osborne
Henceforth I have started to put my money where my mouth is and bring reading back to my life just like Justin Timberlake attempted the same with bringing “sexy” back. Below you’ll find a fun list of what I have managed to read in the past year that I think you’d enjoy too. Since I’m always looking for more suggestions, leave me a comment with some of your favorite recent reads. Ps. The cover photo of me at Cibreo reading The Italians was taken by Christine Juette.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer
Book description: “From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.”
As a true World War II buff, I adore dipping into historical fiction novels like this that touch one of the most momentous periods in human history. The stories that interlock are poignant; and give a view of the war and certain events with a refreshing clarity that I haven’t seen much recently in books. A German boy and his short wave radio, a blind girl hiding in the North of France. What struck me after finishing this suspenseful story was that there are probably so many invisible stories during the war that we may never hear. This one you won’t be able to put down.
I Got Laid Off, Traveled and Wrote This Story: Personal-ish essays inspired by a month long journey through Europe by Shari L. Hochberg
Book description: “In her debut collection of real-ish stories, Shari recounts her time spent over the course of a month in France and Italy after a semi-traumatic layoff from her advertising job in San Francisco. Her travels conjure up embarrassing, uncomfortable, and at times absurd tales of the past woven into the present as she roams the streets from Paris to Milan.”
Shari is a beautiful person I have met in Florence who runs some really amazing women-only yoga retreats all around Europe and Africa. She is one of the kindest, most open-hearted people I have ever known and reading this book was like opening up an extra layer to the Shari that I know. Her stories are weaved like personal essays, one embarrassing moment after another as she travels and meets people, all in the era before google maps and plentiful WiFI. I highly recommend this as a fun beach read for anyone who wants to know a witty, interesting person!
Find Yourself In Tuscany by Lisa Condie
The book’s description is as follows “When Lisa Condie’s marriage and a subsequent relationship disintegrated, she traveled to Italy to lick her wounds and implored her angels to help her discover what her next chapter of life might hold.”
Wow, I also have the pleasure of personally knowing Lisa and reading this only exemplified the respect I have for this courageous soul who shares her life story in this book with us. This isn’t your average “Oh my god I love Florence and everything about it and you should too” fluff piece. This is real life. Lisa went through what is probably one of those most difficult life experiences (divorce and a double betrayal) only to actually pick herself up, start writing abutter experience (she was also featured on the Today show!) and eventually make a business in Italy. She puts her feelings into words in a way that would make me recommend this to anyone looking to move to Italy. She manages to remain positive while also being realistic about what this country can offer you. Great job Lisa. You can read more about the book and purchase it here.
Across the Big Blue Sea by Katja Meiers
When I heard that Katja was writing a book about her experience working in an Italian refugee home, I made reading sure that reading it was a priority on our recent Mexico trip. The book’s description is as follows “Thousands of people risk crossing the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean Sea each year. But what happens if they make it to the other side?
On a hot July day, the Italian coast guard rescues five young Nigerian women in a battered boat. At the same time, Katja Meier is put in charge of a small refugee home in the Tuscan countryside. But a quaint hilltop town with an aged population wasn’t exactly where the five young women had hoped to land.”
Reading it was like entering Katja’s world, the up’s and downs of constantly getting let down by the charity’s own bureaucracy, the stubbornness of the Nigerian girls she was trying to help and how it all effected her home life and relationship. This is a real story, you have to expect the good and the bad: most of all it’s an honest portrayal about a somewhat polarizing topic. She shares the stories of the girls, and does an extensive amount of research on the Nigerian human trafficking rings that have long been a problem in Italy and beyond. I would read this again and again, it’s an important reminder that these situations are not black and white and it takes sharing the human side to truly understand what the world is dealing with at the moment.
If you would like to buy the book (and I totally recommend that you do), here’s the website with all of the details.
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.
“Small Great Things is the most important novel Jodi Picoult has ever written. . . . It will challenge her readers . . . [and] expand our cultural conversation about race and prejudice.”—The Washington Post
A book about racism in America can’t be one that’s easy to tackle, and I appreciate that Jodi took a crack at it as tensions in the USA seem higher than ever. Small Great Things showcases this difficult topic through the perspective of a variety of characters, an older black nurse accused of a terrible crime, a young white supremacist and an unforeseen tragedy, a young lawyer with the biggest case of her life. While I whole-heartedly agree with this NYTimes review of the book and the limitations this book indeed held; it was a though roughly enjoyable and hard-to-put-down read that makes you think quite often of your idiosyncrasies with race that you might not know you have. Get the book here.
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Book description: “Soon to be an HBO series, book one in the New York Times bestselling Neapolitan quartet about two friends growing up in post-war Italy is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted family epic by Italy’s most beloved and acclaimed writer, Elena Ferrante, “one of the great novelists of our time.” (Roxana Robinson, The New York Times)”
I am completely and utterly under Mrs. Ferrante’s spell. Her first book in the Neapolitan My Brilliant Friendis a story of friendship in the tough underbelly of Naples, a place where violence is normalized and only punctuated by the numerous family squabbles that comes from living in a place where quite literally everyone knows your name. I love stories about relationships and these novels also let you into the various cultural stereotypes in Italy. Friendships, lovers, first sex experience, it covers it all. After you finish the first, you will be itching to read the rest as it’s almost impossible to not be emotionally invested in Lila and Elena. I both hated and loved them during various stages in their lives as told through the books. I finished the series when I was in Mexico and almost cried when I finished the last page. That’s when you know this was a damn good book.
The Promise By Lisa Clifford
Book description: “Lisa Clifford was sixteen when she arrived in Florence for the first time, keen to experience life beyond her Australian convent-school and work out what she wanted to do with her future. Falling in love with a local called Paolo was not part of the plan..”
Oh how I loved this book. As someone who has lived in Florence for over ten years now (really!) this story really hit home in a lot of ways since I too was in a relationship with an Italian not dissimilar to Lisa’s experience before marrying my husband. The Promise hits the nail on the head of what it’s really like to fall in love, but that love not always being enough to sustain your life goals and expectations. Her relationship in Paolo has its moments of anguish but also many tender ones as well. Will she go, will she stay? How does Australian life compare to that of Italy? I won’t ruin the plot but I will say you’ll be just as mesmerized as I am on her own personal life story in Tuscany. You can read more about it here.
Death in the Mountains by Lisa Clifford
Book description: “This is the true story of the murder of Artemio Bruni, a peasant farmer in the mountains of Casentino, north-eastern Tuscany, in the winter of 1907. Artemio was my husband’s great-grandfather.”
Imagine the life of farmers or mezzadri (sharecroppers) in the early 20th century in Tuscany, it was hard life and one that was largely determined by the ability to manage that year’s crops. Now imagine the patriarch of the family suddenly being murdered, in this case his name was Artemis Bruni, leaving a family and their futures behind. This is the real story of Lisa’s husband’s ancestors in the area of Casentino in Tuscany. I was instantly enthralled in the day-to-day details descriptions Lisa gave on life during this era in Italy, it must have taken so much incredible research and one that brought about so many emotions considering this family was now part of her own. You can actually read about the process of writing this book in a great article on The Florentine! You can get the book here.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by
Book description: Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison.
I’m a huge fan of Trevor Noah on The Daily Show (which was not at all an easy act to follow after Jon Stewart left). He exhibits a youthful and excited energy that I appreciate. It was quite interesting to read about this fast-paced memoir as the world of apartheid in South Africa is something I admittedly don’t know that much about. His sense of humor as usual, remains constantly at the forefront, with a no-nonsense mom that has to deal with her precocious and “illegal” son as they move through life in a bewildering world.
The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah
Book description: “Acclaimed English travel writer Tahir Shah shares a highly entertaining account of making an exotic dream come true. By turns hilarious and harrowing, here is the story of his family’s move from the gray skies of London to the sun-drenched city of Casablanca”
I love reading a person’s first-hand account of moving abroad. My jaded self of just a few years ago no longer dismisses emotions as fluff which is why I am not able to enjoy these sorts of reads. Tahir’s journey through the purchase, and renovation of this magnificent– yet rundown home in Casablanca comes with every problem a person could imagine, not lease of all jinns, invisible spirits unique to the Islamic world.
La Cucina dei Mercato in Toscana by Giulia Scarpaleggia
Book description (In Italian): “Giulia racconta con foto, parole e ricette i mercati storici, come San Lorenzo e Sant’Ambrogio a Firenze, i mercati settimanali, appuntamenti fissi attesi da tutti nei piccoli borghi della regione, e i mercati biologici dei produttori locali. Non mancano i mercati del pesce della costa e i casottini di frutta e verdura che si incontrano lungo la strada in Maremma.”
I left the description in Italian because for the moment, the book is only in Italian, but considering this is a cookbook, I think people with even a rudimentary comprehension of Italian would enjoy this read. Giulia shares her beautiful photography and recipes from historical markets all over Tuscany including one of my favorites, Sant’Ambrogio. If you have yet to read her beautiful blog, I highly suggest bookmarking it as almost every recipe I’ve made from it turns out well (which means she recipe tests!) and as a local, she offers a Tuscany I might ever be able to see if not through her eyes. Already I’ve made her recipes for pasta e fagioli (pasta and pureed bean soup) and passata di zucca e ceci (a pureed soup of pumpkin and chickpeas) and Nico approves!
What I am looking forward to reading this Spring/Summer
- The New Paris by writer and blogger Lindsey Tramuta aka “Lost in Cheeseland.” I have been following her work for a few year’s now, she brings about an air to Paris that I haven’t seen elsewhere. Being that I also like to showcase how Florence isn’t stuck in its Renaissance past, I can see that she does the same. And… It helps that Lindsey is a fellow lover of the decadent dessert eclair (and isn’t shy to share her favorite places). Her book “The New Paris” has just been published and I’m apt for a copy to get an insider’s glimpse at her beautiful world as she shares her best finds and most important, the stories behind the places.
- Aquacotta by food writer and blogger Emiko Davies. It’s safe to say that everyone here in Tuscany that knows Emiko is thrilled that this book is out; the recipes are based on the traditional delights from a smaller corner of the region that most people miss. For those shy at preparing fish at home, this will be a godsend for people like me who need a little variety in their meat and fish recipes. While I am waiting for my copy to arrive at my house, I have looked at the book and already had that mesmerizing “wow” moment thumbing through each, beautiful page. She not only talks about food but also dives into the intricate details of the location itself as only Emiko can. This is something I cherished about her first cookbook as well. I highly recommend getting a “taste” of what to expect with a few of her recipes from the cookbook in Good Food Australia! Stay tuned for a post on this soon!
- In the Name of the Family: A Novel: A Story of Machiavelli & The Borgias by Sarah Dunant. I have long been a fan of Sarah’s fascinating historical fiction novels, having hungrily gobbled up her books The Birth of Venus and In The Company of A Courtesan. Her latest book follows one of the most notorious families in Italy, the formidable Borgias, as witnessed by another interesting character in history Machiavelli. I just picked up the book at a book presentation by Sarah at the British Institute so this Spring’s reading list just got more interesting. Check out this Guardian review on the book.
- I doni di Irene by Irene Berni. Book description (in Italian) “Ogni valore imparato a suon di matterello, di lunghe attese a sbirciare una torta che cuoce in forno o a impacchettare biscotti, si traduce in qualcosa di buono, da regalare e condividere.. Ogni gesto, ogni ricetta o nastro utilizzato per confezionare un pacchetto parla della nostra cura verso le persone che amiamo.. A volte un piccolo dono è un racconto che non ha bisogno di troppe parole per essere compress.” “Irene’s gifts” are exactly that, a collection of sweet recipes that I am dying to check out this year as we dive ever more into the world of baking at home. I am an avid follower of her on instagram (she has a great B&B outside of Florence here!) and she absolutely has a knack for sweets as I recently found out after spending a day with her and our friend Giulia cooking up an array of deliciousness in the heart of the Tuscan countryside.
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