My February TBR Challenge book was Desiring Italy, edited by Susan Cahill. The book is a collection of writing from some pretty famous women (and only women) about Italy. The point is that the historical women write about Italy in a different way than men historically have. I can't remember exactly how the editor describes it, but she's sold me on it--something about women's passion for it and their finding sensuality in Italy. The Overtures section has some snippets of writing from authors like Erica Jong and Virgina Woolf who talk about Italy.
Would you like to hear the story behind this book and why it's on my TBR Challenge list? I bought this book a few years ago because I saw it in an airport bookstore while waiting for a plane (this might be a recurring theme for the books in this list, because I used to travel for work a bit and would always pass time in bookstores if there were any in the airport). It had been sitting on my shelf to be read for really no reason, but there are reasons I was drawn to it and bought it.
First, you all must know how much I love Italy. Being of Italian decent, I have always felt a bond for the country and its people. In college, I took italian for 2.5 years, including a semester abroad in Florence. I haven't been back since that semester, over ten years ago, and that makes me want to cry. Londo and I have kicked around the idea of going there on a vacation, and we are currently saving up to attempt this hopefully before we have any more kiddies. When you haven't seen Florence in a while, you get what they call "Duomo-sickness"** like home-sickness except for Florence's Duomo (the dome of the cathedral). I've had it bad for a while.
Second, for a while, I thought I would become a travel writer. I studied Journalism and Mass Communication in grad school, and I truly thought I wanted to work for a travel magazine. That plan didn't work out, and I'm glad it didn't. I couldn't imagine a job that took me away from my husband, baby and home on a regular basis. Travel for work used to sound (and be) so much fun, but now I'm so happy being home that I'm glad my current project doesn't require much traveling. But I still have always loved to read travel articles and books and stories.
Third, I have a high appreciation for women writers. I studied English as an undergrad, and took a few gender studies/literature courses. I like reading things from a woman's perspective. I guess it's cause I can relate. But I especially like to read historical literature by women, because it really gives me an insight into a time period from a woman's perspective, which is too often overlooked by historical books and literature as they are usually written by men from a man's perspective. Oh yeah, and I'm bit of a feminist.
So this book combines all those things that I enjoy. I think I hadn't read it because I ache to go back, and reading about Italy makes the ache much greater. But since Londo and I have really been talking about going (he's never been), I decided to read this book and another book I have on Italy this year to help inspire me to plan the trip. Hopefully this fall.
As a side note about the book, I actually bought a copy and gave it to my italian Grandma for Christmas this year. She is now 93 and unable to travel all the way over there. She did go just a few years ago with my mom and uncle, but it was hard on her. I hope she is enjoying the book.
Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy very much. It's a shame, because I was really looking forward to it, but either my expectations were off or the book itself could have been better. Probably both. I thought that a book with well-known female writers writing about how they love Italy would include interesting stories of their time in that country. I was expecting stories like I've read in the Travelers' Tales series (excellent books!), like A Woman's World, or stories reminiscent of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemmingway about his time in Paris.
This book was a collection of stories by women writers, yes. Some stories were true, autobiographic stories and some were fiction taking place in Italy. But they were really all over the place, and I don't mean geographically. For example, Mary Shelley's piece read like a Fodor's guide to what to see or a walking tour of sites in Venice, while George Eliot's selection was parts of Middlemarch that take place in Rome but didn't really speak much about the details of Rome. It just didn't feel cohesive to me.
That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it at all. The short story by Edith Wharton (I can't remember the name) which took place in Rome was absolutely perfect. There was plenty of scenery which set the mood, the writing was excellent and the story itself was brilliant. I also discovered some fascinating women writers who I did not know before, and my next amazon order will include non-fiction and fiction books by Mary Wortley Montagu, Elizabeth Von Arnim and Iris Origo.
But it will also include Travelers' Tales Italy: True Stories, because those are the kinds of stories that I love to read about people's travels. It will also include a couple other Traverlers' Tales books, because looking up the links above brought some new books to my attention, such as A Mother's World: Journeys of the Heart and Family Travel: The Farther You Go, the Closer You Get. If any of you internetters enjoy travel writing, I highly recommend this series.
*That's right, morning. When the baby nurses for 45 minutes or longer at 6 AM, I actually have time to read in the mornings. It's kind of nice--a relaxing way to start the day and wake up slowly. I get to read while she nurses and plays with my hair.
**There is an italian phrase for this, which I can never remember.
(Combined and edited from two posts originally on Cara Mama.)