Thanks to Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge it’s pretty much a given every year I’ll be reading a book about or set in Italy. So far in 2020 I’ve read four, motivated I’m sure in no small part by my minor to moderate life-long fascination with the country. The fourth book, Dianne Hales’s 2019 La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World intrigued me for well over a year as I kept walking past it at the public library. Then, not long ago my curiosity finally got the better of me and I borrowed it. After a quick start, I put La Passione aside for a few weeks as I read other stuff only restart it in hopes of finishing it before I had to return the book to the library. While I found the middle portion kind of OK, I’m happy to day La Passione finished strong as I enjoyed the last third of the book. And just other books I’ve read in past years, an outsider gave me an insightful perspective on life in Italy.
Much like Katherine Wilson’s 2016 memoir Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law La Passione dishes up what I would call the softer side of Italy. Whereas Tobias Jones, a Brit, in his The Dark Heart of Italy: An Incisive Portrait of Europe’s Most Beautiful, Most Disconcerting Country explained Italy through lens of political scandals, violence, and organized crime Hales prefers to look at it’s sensual and artistic aspects. She adores Italy for the things it’s given the world. Who doesn’t love the nation’s opera, cuisine, wine, high fashion, fast cars and cinema? As uncultured as I am, I had fun reading about the finer things of Italian life. Even being a dude, her chapter on Italian fashion made for pretty good reading. While I’m not a car guy by any stretch, much to my surprise her history of Italian car racing was one of my favorite parts of the book. (I had no idea the sport, at least during its golden age of the 60s was so dangerous and was shocked to learn how only a handful of professional drivers, like the gladiators of old lived to retire.)
With only a few months left of 2020, it’s doubtful I’ll be reading more books about Italy before year’s end. But come 2021 I can assure you I’ll be reading more books like La Passione or Dark Heart of Italy. For some strange reason, even though I’ve never visited Italy, I too have a love for this place.