Nonfiction November: Be the Expert

Last week Julie of Julz Reads hosted Nonfiction November and this week another favorite blogger of mine, Rennie of What’s Nonfiction has agreed to host. Keeping with tradition, she’s begins with the following invitation:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Last year I discussed prison memoirs. The year before that it was books by or about women who’d forgone religion, be it Christianity, Judaism or Islam. Three year ago I recommended books about Iran by Iranian authors and for 2020 I’ve decided to take a similar approach, but with a slight twist. Instead of focusing on books about a particular country written by citizens or former citizens of that county I’d like to recommend books about a country written by outsiders, be they visitors or foreign residents. Specifically, I’ll be discussing books about Italy by non-Italians. If I had to give my post a tittle I might call it Italy: An Outsider’s Perspective.  

  • The City of Falling Angels by John Barendt – Anyone who’s read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil knows Berendt has a gift for discovering quirky, memorable people and bringing their stories to life. In 1996, after a suspicious fire destroys Venice’s historic La Fenice opera house, Berendt emereses himself among the city’s eccentric and unique characters, many of them expatriates. 
  • The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi – Lots of authors write books about serial killings. But when the local authorities start to suspect the author could be murder, then things get weird. The Monster of Florence is biting expose of Italian society, from its chaotic politics, corrupt and capricious legal system, regional antagonisms and national love of wild conspiracy theories. According to Preston and Spezi, Italy resembles less a modern European democracy and longtime NATO member and more like fractious banana republic
  • La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World by Dianne Hales – Hales adores Italy for the things it’s given the world like opera, cuisine, wine, high fashion, fast cars and cinema.
  • Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law by Katherine Wilson – After graduation, Wilson accepted an internship in Naples where, almost upon arrival she was taken under the wing by a welcoming, supportive Italian family. Falling in love with the family’s son, she would marry, raise a family and over time appreciate the joys of living in Italy.
  • The Italians by John Hooper- Hooper paints Italy in broad yet nevertheless revealing strokes. To him it’s a nation of stark contradictions. Proudly Catholic and home to the Vatican, it’s also fiercely anticlerical. For a nation that fought long and hard to unify itself in the 19th century, the wealthy, industrialized North still can’t stand the impoverished South and visa versa. Organized crime syndicates like the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and Neapolitan Camorra plague the country but also generate 10 percent of Italy’s GDP.
  • The Dark Heart of Italy: An Incisive Portrait of Europe’s Most Beautiful, Most Disconcerting Country by Tobias Jones – Jones, a Brit, taught in Italy and spent over four years traveling around the country trying to understand his new home. Jones weighs in on Italy’s second religion, soccer He also looked at the deep scars stemming from the Years of Lead, a period of far left and far right perpetrated violence lasting from the late 60s into the 80s, as well as country’s suffocating bureaucracy. 

While recommending books about Italy by non-Italians, I’d like to bend the rules a bit and mention two novels, both by the same author that offer up entertaining and insightful insights into life in Italy as seen from an outsider’s perspective. Amara Lakhous, an Algerian, was a radio journalist who fled to Italy after receiving death threats from Islamic terrorists. Fluent in Italian, he’s written several Italian novels focusing on immigrant life. (Published in the USA by Europa Editions and translated by Anna Goldstein, who also translated Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet.) I’ve read two and I feel I’d be doing you a disservice by not mentioning them. They are Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio and Divorce Islamic Style.

18 thoughts on “Nonfiction November: Be the Expert

  1. I like the specificity of your topic! I feel like I may do a little too much reading books by Americans about other countries and should read more by authors from those countries, but I definitely see value in both. An outsider can perhaps more easily tell me what might surprise me about a culture, while someone who is part of a culture can probably give more nuance, accuracy, and depth. The Monster of Florence sounds particularly fascinating, as I’ve gotten more into true crime lately.


  2. I love this idea! I think outsiders can bring a lot of interesting perspective to a place, to what’s unique or different or special or weird or whatever the case may be 🙂 Italy is one of those near-blind spots in my reading knowledge, but I agree with you that The Monster of Florence is such a great one! I have a copy of The City of Falling Angels but still haven’t read it. I think I’m afraid that nothing will live up to the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil for me, but I’m going to have to give it a try 🙂 Fantastic and thoughtful list, thanks for taking part!


    • Thanks! Glad you enjoyed my list. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil until just last year! The City of Falling Angels might not be as good, it’s still a darn fine read.
      Thanks also for hosting!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoy people’s “be the expert” posts as everyone is so inventive with their categories. And now, I want to return to Italy. 🙂


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