That’s why I was so excited to see Donna Leon’s book of essays about life in Venice. She has lived in Venice for thirty years. This would truly be an insider’s view of life in a unique city. And it was. I thoroughly enjoyed each of her essays on Venice, dealing with everything from noisy neighbors to trying to renovate her house. The problem was that the book is titled My Venice and Other Essays. The Venice essays only took up about a quarter of the book. Then there were essays on opera and animals and writing crime novels. Leon is a witty essay writer. I just didn’t really care about those other topics.
If you are someone who typically enjoys reading essays, then you would probably enjoy reading this book. Leon is a good writer, who sees clearly and describes acerbically. If you’re looking for a book about Venice, though (as I was), there are probably better options.
Language has always fascinated me. One of my favorite classes in college was a class about the history of the English language. So La Bella Lingua was right up my alley. Even if the history of languages isn’t your thing, you will still enjoy this book. Hales describes complicated evolutions of words and keeps track of various historical personages with ease. And humor. Who knew a book about a language would have you laughing out loud?
Hales touches on everything from food to literature to movies. The language we speak enters every part of our lives, so a book on a language is a comprehensive look at what it means to be Italian, in this case. La Bella Lingua is well worth a read if you’ve ever wanted to visit Italy, if you’ve ever wanted to learn Italian, or even if you’ve ever eaten spaghetti.
He portrays his acclimation into Italian living with humility and humor. It wasn’t always easy (putting gas into a diesel car doesn’t work so well), but he embraced his successes and failures with grace. He describes the food so amazingly that things I would never even think of eating sound delicious. And he gathers around himself a cast of friends, both Italians and ex-patriates, who are fun to get to know in their own right.
Continue dreaming of living in Italy. And to make your dream seem even more real, read Living in a Foreign Language.