italian 20th century reading project

January 18th, 2012

I was able to reach an intermediate level in Italian after 6 months of study, which was very satisfying. But then the question was what to do next and I didn't have much of a plan. I had read a couple of books by then and enjoyed the experience, but they were spy novels, because that was easy for me to read.

20th century track

It was around this time I was in the library one day and I stumbled upon Introduction to Twentieth Century Italian Literature by Robert Gordon. It hadn't been my goal in learning Italian to use it for literature, but here was a very practical guide that gives you a great overview of the most important works. I recommend the book; it has a thematic presentation so if you want to read about war, there's a chapter on books about that, if you want gender issues there's one for that etc.

Inspired, I read Gordon's guide making a note of every book that seemed interesting. It was clear that it was going to take quite a while to read all those books, but I wasn't in a hurry. And I thought what better way to learn about the Italian identity while simultaneously expanding my knowledge of the language.

It turned out to be a worthwhile pursuit, both culturally and linguistically. These books basically cover the 20th century canon (if it isn't too early to use a big word like that). I've added a couple of my own, but for the most part they are from the guide.

1904 Il fu Mattia Pascal ~ Luigi Pirandello
1913 La persuasione e la rettorica ~ Carlo Michelstaedter
1922 Enrico IV ~ Luigi Pirandello
1923 La coscienza di Zeno ~ Italo Svevo
1929 Gli indifferenti ~ Alberto Moravia
1933 Fontamara ~ Ignazio Silone
1940 Il deserto dei Tartari ~ Dino Buzzati
1941 Conversazione in Sicilia ~ Elio Vittorini
1945 Cristo si è fermato a Eboli ~ Carlo Levi
1947 Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno ~ Italo Calvino
1947 Se questo è un uomo ~ Primo Levi
1948 La casa in collina ~ Cesare Pavese
1951 Il conformista ~ Alberto Moravia
1953 Il mare non bagna Napoli ~ Anna Maria Ortese
1957 Il barone rampante ~ Italo Calvino
1958 Il Gattopardo ~ Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
1961 Il giorno della civetta ~ Leonardo Sciascia
1963 Lessico famigliare ~ Natalia Ginzburg
1963 Il consiglio d'Egitto ~ Leonardo Sciascia
1963 La speculazione edilizia ~ Italo Calvino
1964 Apocalittici e integrati ~ Umberto Eco
1964 Morte dell'inquisitore ~ Leonardo Sciascia
1965 Le cosmicomiche ~ Italo Calvino
1965 Lettera a una professoressa ~ Lorenzo Milani
1968 L'avventura di un povero cristiano ~ Ignazio Silone
1971 Il contesto ~ Leonardo Sciascia
1972 Le città invisibili ~ Italo Calvino
1974 Todo modo ~ Leonardo Sciascia
1975 Il sistema periodico ~ Primo Levi
1975 Lettera a un bambino mai nato ~ Oriana Fallaci
1978 L'affaire Moro ~ Leonardo Sciascia
1979 Centuria ~ Giorgio Manganelli
1979 Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore ~ Italo Calvino
1980 Il nome della rosa ~ Umberto Eco
1987 Gli invisibili ~ Nanni Balestrini
1989 Due di due ~ Andrea De Carlo
1989 Una storia semplice ~ Leonardo Sciascia
1991 Cose di Cosa Nostra ~ Giovanni Falcone
1993 Oceano Mare ~ Alessandro Baricco
1996 Seta ~ Alessandro Baricco
2001 Io non ho paura ~ Niccolò Ammaniti
2002 Montedidio ~ Erri De Luca

Reading all these books is well and good, but how would I know if it's "working"? Well, for one thing, reading books by many different authors, on various topics, and from different periods, ought to make it plain that I have certain blind spots if I have them.

Historical track

But I wanted to raise the bar and read some older works too, going right back to Dante, basically the gold standard of Italian literature. This would truly validate my strategy and answer the question of whether the 20th century reading was teaching me enough. It would also make my reading more well rounded.

1293 Vita Nuova ~ Dante Alighieri
1304 Divina Commedia ~ Dante Alighieri
1513 Il principe ~ Niccolò Machiavelli
1531 Discorsi sulla prima deca di Tito Livio ~ Niccolò Machiavelli
1827 I promessi sposi ~ Alessandro Manzoni
1881 I Malavoglia ~ Giovanni Verga
1881 Le avventure di Pinocchio ~ Carlo Collodi
1889 Il piacere ~ Gabriele d'Annunzio
1894 I viceré ~ Federico De Roberto

My selection here is less deliberate, because I didn't research the topic as much. I suppose I could do the same here, starting with the well known Storia della letteratura italiana by Francesco De Sanctis to get an overview of what there is to read and then make a selection. But since I'm more motivated by language than literature I was more curious to see how far back in time I could go and still read the books and I'm fairly satisfied with what I've covered. Besides, much of the influential early literature in Italian is poetry (eg. Petrarca), and I don't particularly care for that.


So there you have it, a successful strategy and a nice way to spend the time. It took me about two years and while not every book was a hit, doing a broad survey like this put me onto many authors I would otherwise have dismissed because they didn't seem like my thing. And if you are picking from a guide like this, even blindly, you can be reasonably confident that a certain amount of effort went into producing it, so you're unlikely to encounter complete garbage.

:: random entries in this category ::

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