The five recommendations below are all on my bookshelf. They are the ones I pick up frequently: the ones bookmarked with color-coded sticky flags, and the ones that I buy again and again as gifts for people.
For any kid about to travel to Italy or interested in the country, the story about Calabrian Strega Nona and her magic pasta pot is a sure hit as a story, and a good way to start chatting with the kids about this boot-shaped country called Italy.
As odd as it may seem, I actually like to curl up on the couch with Fred Plotkin's Italy for the Gourmet Traveler. It's not like reading a list of where to eat in Italy. It's like a friend taking you on a foodie tour of Italy, telling you which towns to visit, and where (and what) to eat there. Note: this is a significant book, with 724 pages (yes, that's seven hundred and twenty four) and the weight to match, so not something you want in your luggage. Buy the book but pack only your notes.
For the Traveler to Rome
I've planned quite a few trips for families going to Rome, so my copy of Rome with Kids is heavily bookmarked, and I tell anyone going to Rome to pick up a copy. Note that I said anyone – not just anyone with kids. If you read the reviews of this book, you'll hear people comment again and again that adults get just as much out of the interesting historical tidbits as kids. I was lucky to spend a couple hours over coffee with the author, JM Pasquesi, and thoroughly enjoyed talking to her and hearing about the care she puts into updating each edition of the book (and the mapmaker she hired so the maps would be accurate!)
For the Shopper
Made in Italy is not for the person looking to buy designer fashions, but is for someone who wants to know where to buy ceramics in Faenza or Deruta, or which Parmesan cheese factory to visit, or just what to buy in a specific region. I've also found that many places listed in the book are difficult to find online, so the addresses and telephone numbers provided by the author have been invaluable.
For the well traveled Italophile
Even your Italophile friend who has been to Italy exploring every year for 35 years hasn't seen every place featured in the magazine Bell'Italia. This magazine is the National Geographic equivalent for Italy, and I know it's technically not a book, but it makes this list because every issue is a great read with incredible photos. It's not easy to find in newsstands in North America, but you can buy a subscription. Note that the magazine is only in Italian.
And I haven't even gotten to novels or cookbooks! If you love to read mostly fiction about Italy, you may be interested in joining the Italy in Books 2011 Challenge.
Note: clicking on the links will take you to Amazon (with the exception of Rome for Kids – buy it from JM's site) where you can buy these books but I don't get any commission or benefit from a purchase.
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