Books about Europe?
June 23, 2009 10:36 PM   Subscribe

What are some books I can read before my trip to Europe that will help me get in the mood?

I'm going on my first ever trip to Europe in September. I am already very excited, but I'd like to read some books related to the places I am visiting that will help me get even more excited or in the mood. Novels, historical fiction, history, nonfiction; anything is fair game. I'm going to Paris, Rome, some of the smaller towns in central Italy, and Venice. What are your favorite books about/set in/remotely related to these places? (I'm not looking for guide books, I already have that well-covered.)
posted by Dilemma to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Portrait of a Lady!
posted by parkbench at 10:42 PM on June 23, 2009

The Sun Also Rises
posted by aperture_priority at 10:48 PM on June 23, 2009

A Moveable Feast
posted by padraigin at 10:51 PM on June 23, 2009

My husband's friend gave him a copy of Down and Out in Paris and London before his first trip to Paris. I thought it was kind of an odd choice, but it's a great book.
posted by crinklebat at 10:53 PM on June 23, 2009

Oh, oh!: Enchanted April
posted by padraigin at 10:59 PM on June 23, 2009

If a fantasy/historical novel is ok, I'd recommend The Stars Dispose, which is set in Renaissance Florence. (There's also a sequel I haven't read yet - The Stars Compel.)
posted by anthy at 11:03 PM on June 23, 2009

The pervasive depth of history is what I've always found so magical about Italy - thus I would reccomend I, Claudius and its sequel, Claudius the God, particularly if you'll be spending much time wandering round Rome and its ruins.
posted by protorp at 11:56 PM on June 23, 2009

An Architect in Italy is out of print but if you can find it it's full of neat drawings of things in Italy. Sort of a mostly-pictorial travelogue.

France and Italy are the place to eat wondrous food. If you are at all looking forward to your meals there, consider buying one of the millions of books out there focusing on food in these countries. It's really up to what kind of writing appeals to you.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:59 PM on June 23, 2009

The Count of Monte Cristo

I'd also suggest something pedestrian like DaVinci Code. It's cheesy, but dude travels all over Europe, saves the world, and points out a lot of interesting stuff along the way in a quick, easy read. Like, on the plane. :)

Also, it's not cheery, and it's in Amsterdam, but I was amazed to see Anne Frank's house after reading... but it should go without saying anything WWII is relevant throughout the continent, and that there's enough reading there to merit its own sub-question.

So without knowing your tastes, some lists:
Best novels set in Italy
Top 5 Books Set In France
Fun novels set in France
I'm going to Italy next year and I'd love to read some fiction set in Tuscany, or Florence in particular.
posted by hypersloth at 1:29 AM on June 24, 2009

Bill Bryson - Neither Here Nor There
posted by ryanbryan at 1:56 AM on June 24, 2009

If anything is fair game.... here goes.

Goethe's Italian Journey, very exciting if you're into "how things were in the past and yet haven't changed that much" travelogues. The bits describing the italian temperament are quite entertaining too.

That awful mess on Via Merulana by Carlo Emilio Gadda, "the murder mystery seems merely a rich device to expose the Rome of 1927, a society of rich “profiteers” and pompous minor bureaucrats that hid behind Mussolini's bragging rhetoric"; you might want a taste of Gadda first.

Jules Verne's Paris in the twentieth century could be entertaining in a sci-fiesque way.

Zola's The Ladies' Paradise and The Belly of Paris are great for descriptions of 19ct Paris (department stores and the world of consumerism; food markets and food respectively).
posted by lucia__is__dada at 4:09 AM on June 24, 2009

I liked Paris!Paris! by Irwin Shaw so much that I stayed in the arrondissement that he described.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:22 AM on June 24, 2009

I know everyone on MeFi hates Dan Brown, but I think Angels & Demons showcases Rome very well.
posted by Durin's Bane at 5:56 AM on June 24, 2009

I read Edgar Allen Poe in Venice; made a lot more sense somehow, particularly "The Masque of Red Death."

Janet Flanner's Letters from Paris. (Might be able to hustle some up on the New Yorker site; not sure if they're out of print.) She's very good on noting the little rituals of the city, many of which are still in place today (including the metro strike).
posted by Diablevert at 6:15 AM on June 24, 2009

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is about the building of a cathedral in 12th century France following the stone mason and architect and monks involved over the course of a hundred years.
posted by mearls at 6:39 AM on June 24, 2009

I really enjoyed reading Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik's memoir about the five years he spent living in Paris, before I went there.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:03 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Ambassadors
The Wings of the Dove
The Talented Mr Ripley (some of the other Ripley books are good too, but I still like the first the best)
posted by thivaia at 7:06 AM on June 24, 2009

Where Angles Fear to Tread and Room with a View by EM Forster for Italy
posted by smudge at 7:24 AM on June 24, 2009

Upthread Hemingway was mentioned, naturally, A Moveable Feast of course, like The Sun Also Rises, Paris books; but for Venice you might possibly like Across the River and Into the Trees and for Northern Italy in general, A Farewell to Arms.

Bill Bryson? After seeing him perform at a book-signing, I could never read him again; but here's an excellent quote for the European first-timer from his Lost Continent, "Travels in Small-Town America":
    Then one gray Sunday afternoon when I was about ten I was watching TV and there was a documentary on about moviemaking in Europe. One clip showed Anthony Perkins walking along some sloping city street at dusk. I don't remember now if it was Rome or Paris, but the street was cobbled and shiny with rain and Perkins was hunched deep in a trench coat and I thought: "Hey, c'est moi!" I began to read - no, I began to consume - National Geographic, with their pictures of glowing Lapps and mist-shrouded castles and ancient cities of infinite charm. From that moment, I wanted to be a European boy. I wanted to live in an apartment across from a park in the heart of a city ,and from my bedroom window look out on a crowded vista of hills and rooftops. I wanted to ride trams and understand strange languages. I wanted friends named Werner and Marco who wore short pants and played soccer in the street and owned toys made of wood. I cannot for the life of me think why. I wanted my mother to send me out to buy long loaves of bread from a shop with a wooden pretzel hanging above the entrance. I wanted to step outside my front door and be somewhere.

posted by Rash at 9:45 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
Tarr by Wyndham Lewis
Death on the Installment Plan by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Those are all about Paris and, frankly, all kind of downers, but good reads nevertheless.
posted by clockwork at 10:07 AM on June 24, 2009

City of Falling Angels
posted by greta simone at 11:03 AM on June 24, 2009

Highly recommended (by me, at least): Americans In Paris, an outstanding anthology.
posted by DandyRandy at 11:45 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is about the building of a cathedral in 12th century France following the stone mason and architect and monks involved over the course of a hundred years.

The vast majority of this book is set in England, not in Continental Europe, fyi.
posted by Tapioca at 1:21 PM on June 24, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, what a bountiful and exciting list! I can't wait to get started.
posted by Dilemma at 10:22 PM on June 26, 2009

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