Something happens to me while on holiday in my country. I’ve been lucky enough to relax on beaches and by pools in the United States, Australia, Bali, Singapore… but nothing is quite like lying on a beach in my homeland of Sardinia, Italy. Here, the vibe (and the fact that my mother hardly lets me lift a finger) allow me to get through more books than I can normally read in a year. So, just in time for Ferragosto, Italy’s most important summer bank holiday, here’s my list of books I was lucky enough to read in this idyllic setting.
1 Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen, Simon and Schuster
I’m not big into biographies but this one takes the amazing Life by Keith Richards to a whole next level. If you love music, writing and are determined to enjoy this life whatever shit it throws at you – or if you want to read something fun, inspiring, engaging, an on-the-road tale by a small town king – this is your book. My favourite parts are without doubt those about The Boss’s struggles with depression and anxiety, a reminder you can be a God and still bleed.
- Favourite quote: “In all psychological wars, it’s never over, there’s just this day, this time and a hesitant belief in your own ability to change. […] There are no permanent victories. It is about a living change, filled with the insecurities, the chaos, of our own personalities, and is always one step up, two steps back.”
- Find it here: Around £17 from Amazon
2 L’Imperfetta Meraviglia by Andrea De Carlo, Giunti
So this one hasn’t been translated to English yet, but it will probably happen and you better wait for it because it’s really worth it. Set in Provence, the story follows two quirky characters: Milena, an Italian gelato maker who has given up on men to live with her partner Viviane, and Nick Cruickshank, an English rockstar that I imagine as a bit of a mix between Pete Doherty and Russel Brand with a bit of the Love Actually Bill Nighy flare. Milena owns a little gelateria called ‘The Imperfect Wonder’ and is dreading having to follow her partner’s plan of having a child through IVF; Nick is disillusioned by the whole rockstar thing and is about to get married to the inspiring but controlling Aileen. But not all is lost: Milena and Nick will meet and interesting things will happen.
This book should really become a cute little English comedy: it’s a funny, endearing page-turner that is never banal. It will make you smile, crave gelato and possibly want to become a gelatier.
- Favourite quote: “What if choosing her own life was the solution, before even choosing whom she should spend it with?”
- Find it here: Available online for around £15
3 Accabadora by Michela Murgia, Einaudi
Sardinia is often thought of as the ultimate, dreamy holiday location. That it is, but it’s also a magical, mystical land with centuries old tradition, an island that has been invaded by everyone from the Phoenicians to the Romans, from the Arabs to the Spanish. Our dialect, which is recognised as a language by Italian law, and our traditions reflect that. Michela Murgia’s Accabadora is a sneak peek into Sardinian traditions, closer to the island’s hinterland and further away from the beach.
Set in the 1950s, Accabadora follows the story of Maria, a six-year-old girl who’s just become Bonaria Urrai’s “soul daughter” in a sort of unofficial adoption orchestrated by large, poor families of the area. This is an unspoken deal which makes Maria Bonaria’s heir, if she will agree to care for her once she gets old. Initially, Maria believes Bonaria to be a tailor, but slowly understands that she is an “accabadora”, a sort of midwife to the dying, a feared and revered woman who eases their suffering and sometimes ends it.
Accabadora explores Sardinia’s contradictions and traditions, and its blending of Catholic faith with a way older form of religion and spirituality.
Find it here: You can buy it (translated) on Amazon for about £7.
4 & 5 The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair and The Baltimore Boys by Joël Dicker, MacLehose Press
Both novels follow restless writer Marcus Goldman, a small-town New Jersey lad scarred by a family tragedy, with a penchant for describing the contradictions of well-off America. The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair introduces the saga’s main character, Goldman, as a young author suffering from writer’s block, who goes to rural New Hampshire to reconnect with his college mentor and professor Harry Quebert. Soon after his arrival, the body of a 15-year-old girl who disappeared years earlier is found on Quebert’s property, together with a manuscript of Quebert’s bestseller The Origin of Evil. Marcus sets out to clear his name.
The Baltimore Boys is the former novel’s sequel and follows Marcus on his journey to write his third book, as he battles with memories of a family tragedy, of young love and his own feelings of inadequacy while growing up. The book turns into a mystery surrounding the events of his teenage years, telling the tale of his deep friendship/rivalry with his better off Goldman cousins in Baltimore.
Both books want to be mysteries but turn out to be much more: an investigation into the meaning of fame, money, love, pride and family. They’re both massive – over 500 pages – but I finished both in a couple of days.
- Favourite quote: “What matters is to love, to be loved and to be able to forgive. Everything else is just wasting time.”
- Find them here: The Baltimore Boys by Joel Dicker (translated by Alison Anderson) is published by MacLehose Press (£20). To order a copy for £17 go to bookshop.theguardian.com
6 & 7 The Widow and The Child by Fiona Barton, Penguin
A former Daily Mail journalist, Fiona Barton made the media geek in me very happy by writing up engaging thrillers which reflects the politics of changing newsrooms really well. One of the recurring main characters, journalist Kate Waters, has to deal with shrinking newspaper budgets and online speed-writing while trying to find out the truth about a kidnapping (The Widow) and about a dead toddler (The Child).
Find them here: Both on Amazon from £6 to £12.
8 Nessuno Può Fermarmi by Caterina Soffici, Feltrinelli
This heartbreaking novel is set in the first London neighbourhood I called home: Farringdon/Clerkenwell, which hosted my university halls of residence as well as Little Italy before and during the Second World War. Written by Italian journalist Caterina Soffici, it follows Bartolomeo’s search for his dead grandfather, who was “Missing, assumed drowned” in the shipwreck of the Arandora Star, a former cruise ship loaded with Italian internees torpedoed by a German submarine during WW2.
Although the story of Bart’s grandfather, his friends and family is fictional, the shipwreck of 2nd July 1940 was real and cost 446 people their lives – mostly Italian civilians who were deported after Mussolini’s declaration of war to England, innocent victims of suspect and xenophobia. It’s one of those novels where reading makes you wonder how the human race could have become so evil, but it’s also fun, sweet and evocative.
Find it here: It’s on Amazon, but it hasn’t been translated yet.
9 Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg, Penguin
This book isn’t super new but it’s a fantastic holiday read, especially if you’re not used to the serial dating culture. Growing up in Italy, I have always found it hard to “commodify” dating and love. Of course, I’m demanding and want the best from my relationship, but I got used to falling in love out of shared hobbies, growing up together and hanging out rather than as a job interview between two candidates for the perfect relationship. As Annalisa Merelli writes on Quartz in her comment piece about Master of None‘s second season, in Italy:
Typically, you meet someone through friends, or school, or some other way, and get to know them over time, without the immediate pressure of deciding whether or not you’re meant to be a couple. There are no rules about what’s too much or too little texting, and not as much urgency to define a relationship. If someone is romantic with you, the expectation is that they are romantic only with you—no need to have the talk about whether to be exclusive. The emphasis is more about looking for love and less about looking to be in a relationship, which means that people are generally more open with each other and less concerned about having options on the side.
This is one of the main topics discussed in Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, where the comedian teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg for a massive research project that produced an engaging, enlightening book rather than a dumb comedy one. So what’s the difference between dating in 2017 and in 1960? Or dating in France and in the US? And what picture should you choose for your Tinder profile? All answers are in the book.
There are few people who explain the pros and cons of modern dating with such depth, ease and wit as American comedian Aziz Ansari, who discusses how technology, globalisation and much more have changed our love lives. For instance, while before people would marry someone from their neighbourhood quite early, often to reach independence from their family, today people marry much later and go on countless dates to find the perfect match. This and many more interesting facts about modern romance are the core of the book.
Find it here: On Amazon for about £12.
10 A Sardinian Cookbook by Giovanni Pilu
This one’s not very new either, but as I spend my holidays in my homeland I couldn’t help but include this fantastic showcase of Sardinia’s cuisine, written by chef Giovanni Pilu. I had the pleasure to meet Giovanni at his restaurant in Freshwater, Sydney, only to find out that he used to play football in the same team as my dad’s (in Padru, a small town not far from Olbia, in the north of our island).
With innovative twists on Sardinian classics, Giovanni uses fresh produce that is simply prepared, allowing the full flavour of the ingredients to shine. His fine dining restaurant is one of Sydney’s favourites and definitely a great example of the best Sardinian cuisine both in and outside the island.
Find it here: On Amazon for about £8.
Pictures: Carolina Are