Literary Sightseeing: Sicily and Rome Edition


Where to begin? There are so many good books set in and about Italy. The list is ever expanding. Travelogue, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and memoir have been written about every region of the country.

Since I’m traveling to Sicily (first time) and Rome (third time) this spring, I thought I’d share the books that I’m reading before this trip.



Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons by Matthew Fort. (2008)

While literally riding around and through Sicily on a Vespa, the author searches out the most authentic food possible in each village and town.  There are recipes at the end of each chapter to try at home. I enjoyed the stories and the education about Sicilian food, with its Arab, Greek, Spanish and French influences. I’m sure I will be able to recognize dishes thanks to this book. I’ve also written down several gelato shops and restaurants mentioned in case the opportunity arises to search them out.

Historical Fiction

The classic book on Sicily is The Leopard(1958)

Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa wrote this novel based in part on his great-grandfather’s personal struggles as political and economic change came to Italy in the 1860s. A good way to gain insight into the Sicilian people and how they have withstood the many changes in their land throughout history.

Contemporary Fiction

 Death In Sicily (2013) is a compendium of the first three novels in Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series.

There are 22 novels in the series to date. The interesting characters, many plots, social and political commentary make these detective novels very readable. Again, more description of the popular Sicilian dishes and insight into the Sicilian sensibility should be helpful while traveling there.



Anthony Doerr’s “Four Seasons in Rome.”(2007) 

This is the story of Mr. Doerr’s fellowship at the American Academy and what it was like to move to Rome with his wife and twin infants. There are funny moments to savor as he struggles to order tomato sauce at the store, only to realize that he was asking for grapefruit sauce. There are also insights into how being a resident is different than being a tourist. I will definitely take in some of the sights in the Academy’s Janiculum Hill and Trastevere neighborhoods. If you’ve read All the Light We Cannot See you’ll recognize that he was actually starting to write this book in Rome.

Historical Fiction

 Ross King’s Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling. (2003)

Mr. King deftly captures the times and personalities involved in the 4 year ordeal to paint the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.This book is great for behind-the-scenes knowledge of a remarkable sight. I am definitely bringing my binoculars to the Sistine Chapel to take in the details of Michelangelo’s work..

Contemporary Fiction

The Dogs of Rome by Conor Fitzgerald. (2011)

We are introduced to Commissario Alec Blume, an American expat who has lived in Rome for 22 years and joined the Rome Police Force. His non-native-yet-nearly-native status gives him extra insight into solving crimes. There are 7 books in the series, most set in Rome. There are definitely interesting streets and piazzas to look for while in Rome.

So many books, so little time! Enjoy your reading and let me know what books you’ve read for your travels to Sicily and Rome.


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