For armchair travel, always a pleasure in my book (pun, ha! not intended!), you might enjoy Dianne Hales' La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language, particularly if you're interested in language-learning in general, in Italy and its language(s) in particular, and even more, if you find the history of a language fascinating, as I do. Hales' book wraps the history and culture of the Italian language up in a delightful memoir, although if you're looking for more personal anecdotes and fewer facts about opera or Italian literature, it might not be the travel memoir for you. But if you're looking for a fairly erudite, yet entertaining, visit to Italy with a sustained look at its history and culture, she throws in enough romance and gossip to make learning fun.
I know that many of you like to do your armchair-travelling via the mystery genre, and since we've already flown to Italy with Ms. Hales. . . . I borrowed Michael Dibdin's Vendetta from the bookshelves of the home we're renting in Bordeaux, and as soon as I was a chapter or two in, I wondered why I hadn't gobbled up all the Aurelio Zen mysteries back when I first came across them. I've read one or two, but I'm thinking now that I'll work my way through the backlist once I get home. The library is sure to have copies. Interesting, reading this title, first published in 1990, and noticing how quickly we've come to expect our fictional detectives to use a cellphone. Poor Aurelio gets himself into a situation which requires rescue, and he desperately needs a phone booth. . . That plot device wouldn't work anymore to generate tension, would it?
Zen is an intriguing character -- a bachelor at this point in the series, although that could change, he otherwise shares some traits with Donna Leon's Brunetti, and if he ever takes the train from Rome up to Venice, perhaps they might meet. I think they'd approve of each other.
I'd recommend this one, not only for the writing quality, the likeable character, and the entertaining plot, but also -- especially? -- because I loved walking the streets of Rome again with AZ.
And I still haven't made it to Venice, but I'm currently walking its streets with Commissario Brunetti, my hold on the series' seventh title, Noble Radiance, having come available at the Vancouver Public Library and technology miraculously delivering it to my iPad here in Bordeaux. Just getting started on this one. . .
Before that, my Hold on Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies worked its way to the top of the VPL list, and I downloaded and read that over several very pleasurable, lazy hours this past weekend. I'm recommending this one quite highly -- it's engaging and entertaining at the level of what we used to consider bedside-table reading. But it's also very clever, flipping itself inside out at a certain point to reveal something very surprising about (a) marriage. And stylistically, it's a delight, full of surprises at so many levels, with brilliant imagery and sharp metaphors. Mostly, I love what it does to/with the notion of a conventional long-term marriage, lulling you into thinking one thing and then. . . But no, the second half of the book deserves to be approached without preconceptions. No spoilers. Let me know if you read it or if you've read it. This would be such a great Book Club choice -- I can imagine long, wine-fuelled discussions.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm heading back to Venice with a certain uxorious Commissioner (whom I've only just discovered has a beloved older brother). . . it's the only way I'm going to be able to ignore the loud growls from my tummy, being incited into howls by the kitchen fragrances of Pater's Boeuf Bourgignon, apparently not ready for another half hour . . .
Have you read any of these titles? Or could you recommend other related ones -- in the spirit of those bookstore signs that read "If you liked____________, you might also like____________"? Or perhaps just catch us up with what you've been reading since we last chatted.