Italy by Gray Malin (Abrams Books)
Malin’s Italy is a wonder inspired by his bestselling photographic series ‘La Dolce Vita,’ which captures enigmatic moments from the Italian Riviera. I’ve realised that I find the aspiration of achieving something like going to Italy more thrilling than actually achieving it. Aspiring to go to Italy is full of imagination and hope, whereas being in Italy, or anywhere luxurious, presents the harsh fact that the thinner, time-rich, tanned and more sociable version of myself I’d imagined on holiday doesn’t exist. As modern-day philosopher Alain de Botton says in The Art of Travel, having dreamt of a sunset, a beach-front bungalow, and an azure sky on his holiday to the Caribbean, he was to “discover an unexpected continuity between the melancholic self I had been at home and the person I was to be on the island”. He was disappointed. Rather than travelling to Italy like Murray, save yourself from disappointment and put yourself in Gray Malin’s Italy instead, which is drenched in hues of unattainable joy and invites you to aspire to that Mediterranean life. You can sit and stare at the page starring the Bond-esque boat in Lake Como and imagine yourself on it; you’ll likely smile at the thought.
To Italy, With Love by Nicky Pellegrino (Hachette)
Wait! Don’t go. You’re thinking this book cover is not for you - and you’re right. Nicky Pellegrino, Aotearoa’s finest for holiday romance novels, is my go-to recommendation for he who enters the bookshop in search of a feel-good easy read for the woman in his life. Whether it be his partner, daughter, or mum, Pellegrino’s novels are akin to the gift of alone time. And who doesn’t want that? Set at the pace of a slow slurp of limoncello and a happy stroll, To Italy, With Love is a comforting meditation through a fictitious mountain town doused in romance. Like meditation, if the mind wonders and you find yourself criticising the stereotyped British damsel who’s car breaks down and the muscular Italian mechanic who’s on hand to fix it, flick that negativity away. Enjoy the simplicity of it all, from the smells of aglio and the taste of olio d’oliva in the spaghetti to the late night walks through cobbled streets and anticipation of will they or won’t they. In the darkness of our world, as it implodes on itself, Pellegrino offers a harmless escape somewhere, seduction runs riot and nice people want to fall in love. The woman in your life will thank you for it, and if she doesn’t she can exchange it.
The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Atltee (Penguin)
On my pilgrimage to find a book on historical Italy I came across some exceptionally dry tomes - so much so I almost gave up. There’s a reader out there who’ll thrive off that scrutinising detail but I’d prefer, and I think you would too, to be taken on a historical tour that combines travel writing with recipes, horticulture, and art in an anecdotal rather than academic tone. Those four subjects in themselves evoke a sense of enthusiasm for learning about Italy’s past, don’t they? Helena Attlee, who’s lived in Italy for over 30 years and has written four books on Italian gardens, is the funniest, sweetest guide. She peels back the layers of the citrus fruit across all the Italian regions, squeezing out the juices of their labor in sensual detail. From a garden once owned by the Medici family with trees that are 300 years old, to the slopes of Mount Etna, where the garnet-red blood oranges grow, there’s no citrus tree or patch of fertile land left unturned in this zesty story into Italy’s past. It includes recipes too, perfect if you’ve ever wondered how to make a marmalade.
Pasta by Missy Robbins and Talia Baiocchi (Penguin)
Before reading Pasta, I merely saw the humble mixing together of durum wheat and water as a nutritious and affordable packaged food I could rely on to get a small applause after an effortless dinner. Especially when the pasta is drizzled in nothing but olive oil and a whole bulb of crushed garlic. I’m salivating thinking about it. Missy Robbins has dedicated 25 years of her life to making pasta experimenting with flavours, colours, and shapes, and she’s transformed her pasta into something of an art form which she sells at her two New York City restaurants. There are 45 pasta shapes in Pasta even though, as she says, there are thousands out there (for fun, see how many pasta shapes you can think of. I’m at five). Robbins stresses not to put oil in the water when boiling and don’t drain the water after either; it’s ladened in starch and that’s a key ingredient in any sauce. Seeing how many possibilities there are with pasta makes me feel ashamed of how simple a pasta life I’ve been living. Pasta will leave you feeling invigorated, like you are ready to get experimental with a spiral. Impress your friends. Buy Pasta. And if you’re in want of a drinking game, read this review out loud and every time the reader says pasta, have a drink! Saluti.