Seven books that conjure up the heart and soul of Venice

According to Saint Augustine “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” But sometimes it’s not possible to travel physically. There is a solution, however. The quickest, cheapest and easiest way to fire up those braincells full of wanderlust is to read a book, to let it transport you and to travel via your imagination. So sit back, settle down and welcome to the literary world of gondole, canals and Casanova.

A suggested reading list for lovers of Venice

A suggested reading list for lovers of Venice

In honour of the six sestiere, or districts of Venice, I’ve chosen six of my favourite books, plus one extra one just for good luck, to conjure up the magic, mystery and mayhem of the serene city, La Serenissima . Some are by well-known authors, others less well-known, but each paints a vivid picture of life in the city at a certain point in her history. Pronto? Ready?

Miss Garnet’s Angel by Sally Vickers

This lovely word-of-mouth bestseller came, appropriately, recommended by a friend as I set out to move to Venice this summer and it’s a wonderful introduction to the magic of the city.

A beautiful gem of a book

A beautiful gem of a book

As schoolteacher Miss Julia Garnet grieves her close friend’s death she makes a life-changing decision to take a 6-month break in Venice. Once in Italy Miss Garnet starts to explore, becoming interested in the paintings of Gianantonio Guardi in the Church of the Angel Raffaele. As she researches the paintings of the old-testament story of Tobias’s journey to Medea, Miss Garnet’s conservative, with a small c, lifestyle is challenged by a host of encounters. And as the two stories weave together the stuffy Miss Garnet is slowly prised out of her shell.

The story might sound a little sedate but, together with a few amusing interludes, it is a poignant reminder to the initially prickly Miss Garnet, and to us, that things are not always as they seem and to open our minds to new possibilities. The book beautifully evokes Venice and her enchanting, labyrinthine streets and watery canals. So if you’ve not been to Venice before you read this, you will definitely want to book flights once you finish it! It’s a gem!

Find out more via Sally Vickers’ official website here or buy it here

The Commissario Brunetti crime series by Donna Leon 

Set in Venice, Donna Leon’s books combine the shrewdness and quick wit of Commissario (Inspector) Guido Brunetti with a mysterious, shadowy Venice that tourists rarely see. She writes intelligent crime stories confronting the seedier side of the glorious city and although her best selling books are translated into several languages, they are specifically not translated into Italian at the author’s request.

Donna Leon conjures up the criminal side of Venice

Donna Leon conjures up the criminal side of Venice

There are currently 24 books to choose from – starting with Death at La Fenice – with another one due to be released in 2016 and each stands on its on so you can dive in anywhere in the series. If you like a good crime read and Venice, Donna Leon is definitely for you.

Find out more via Donna Leon’s official website here

The Politics of Washing, Real Life in Venice by Polly Coles

The Politics of Washing isn’t about politics at all, at least not the government type. It follows the real lives of a British-Italian family newly arrived in Venice as they navigate the education system, cope with the culture shock and settle into Venetian life. Giving an honest account of what its really like to live through acqua alta high water (including the dead rats), a rigid school curriculum that still includes Latin and the foibles of their neighbours this book describes the trials and tribulations of being an expat in Venice. For example, there is apparently a right and a wrong way of hanging out the washing – the politics of the title. Get it wrong and you’re forever marked out as an interloper, get it right and you might just be accepted!

A light-hearted, truthful look at life as an expat in Venice

A light-hearted, truthful look at life as an expat in Venice

Written with a light, witty touch, Polly Coles brilliantly captures the ancient city and her residents as they struggle to maintain centuries old traditions under the ever-increasing deluge of tourists. This book doesn’t sugar-coat the expat life and is a must-read for any Venice-philes (if that’s a word?!) thinking of relocating.

Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno is the fourth in Dan Brown’s series of books featuring Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon and once again we find ourselves in Italy. The book opens as Langdon awakes in a Florentine hospital, with no recollection of how he got there or why he’s even in Italy. Inferno includes Brown’s characteristic breakneck car chases, ancient riddles and mysterious legends that lead the professor from city to city to find the answers to a puzzle. And once again, the clock is ticking. Langdon has just 24 hours to save the world from a terrifying threat….and whilst I can tell you that his journey does involve Venice, if I told you anymore, it would spoil the book!

Robert Langdon has 24 hours to save the world!

Robert Langdon has 24 hours to save the world!

Suffice to say Brown has done his research, although he does take a few liberties with some Venetian locations and history, but we’ll forgive him as the book is jam-packed with energy, pace and will have you guessing right till the end. If you liked The Da Vinci Code, you’ll like this.

Venetian Legends and Ghost Stories by Alberto Toso Fei

Journalist Alberto Toso Fei, a fiercely proud Venetian, comes from an ancient family of Murano glass masters and is an expert on local history. His books capture stories passed down through the generations via old oral traditions and focus on local legends, murders and mysteries. His first book Venetian Legends and Ghost Stories conjures up witches and warlocks, mermaids and money-lenders and is a great read. It now also forms the basis for an exclusive ghost tour that is an excellent way to see an alternative side to the city.

Alberto Toso Fei is a fountain of local knowledge

Alberto Toso Fei is a fountain of local knowledge

Toso Fei has written a total of 10 books on his birthplace so far and is a keen protector of Venice’s history, tradition and architecture. He was the founder of  the 2014 Unlock your Love campaign to dissuade tourists from leaving damaging lovelocks on the historic bridges of Venice and continues to push for greater investment in the city’s heritage. His books are not for the faint-hearted as he tells of gruesome murders and infamous ghouls but they do give a fabulous insight into some of the most secret, strange and shadowy goings on across the city and its lagoon. Give them a go, if you’re brave enough!

Find out more via Alberto Toso Fei’s official website here

Free Gondola Ride by Kathy Ann González

Fascinated by Venice’s gondoliers Kathy Ann González sets out to spend a summer with the city’s stripe-shirted men to discover whether the clichés are true. Are they the smooth, flirty philanderers people assume, or is there more depth to them? How much does a gondola cost and why are they all black? What is the life of a gondolier really like and is the tradition strong enough to withstand the tourist onslaught without becoming a caricature of itself?

Skinny dipping, break-time banter and nicknames

Skinny dipping, break-time banter and nicknames

Kathy’s summer memoir Free Gondola Ride tells of midnight skinning dipping, break-time banter and the ruthless nicknames gondoliers give each other. Its a fascinating insight into the predominantly male world and if you like this, you could also try Kathy’s book of walks – Seductive Venice : In Casanova’s Steps – taking in Casanova’s various homes and hang-outs. Or what about her new book A Beautiful Woman in Venice that tracks the lives of 12 Venetian ladies down through the ages.

Find out more via Kathy’s official website here

The History of My Life by Giacomo Casanova

And finally we come to possibly the best chronicler of Venice, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova, adventurer, occultist, priest, diarist and infamous womaniser. Known worldwide for his love of women, his name is synonymous with sex and adultery. But, in fact, Casanova was also a fantastic observer of human nature and his autobiography is one of the most detailed accounts ever of life in the 18th century describing the food, clothes, customs and domestic habits of European society.

Giacomo Casanova's exquisite memoirs of life in 18th century Venice

Giacomo Casanova’s exquisite memoirs of life in 18th century Venice

His memoirs paint an exquisite picture of Venice at the height of her debauchery as Casanova gambles to excess in the casinos, woos nuns at the monasteries and beds ladies around the city and beyond. His ultimate conviction for occultism, escape from prison and exile lead on to his European travels, taking in life in the royal courts of France and Russia. His attention to detail and conversational tone make for a fascinating read and although some editions of his memoirs run to over 1000 pages this is one book that is essential to lovers of Venice.

So those are my favourites, I hope you enjoy them, but what’s the one book that transports you to Venice? Leave me a comment with your recommendations and we can compare notes! Happy travels!

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2 Responses to Seven books that conjure up the heart and soul of Venice

  1. tripfiction says:

    Really pleased to discover Free Gondola Ride and The Politics of Washing. Read books set in location is just SUCH a superb way to get a good feel for locale. Thanks for bringing the books together! ooh, and noticed The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy on your blog. Terrific cover and great for getting to know Milan! And thank you so much for the mention on that post! btw we are .com 🙂 Look forward to your next review!

    • lizbert1 says:

      Thanks for popping over! The Divorced Lady review was done for you guys 18 months ago and I always keep an eye on what you’ve got on your site for Italy as I like nothing more than reading about il bel paese, the beautiful country of Italy!! Keep up the great work publicising books about travel and places!! :o) PS I’ve amended the link to your website with huge apologies!

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