One of the best ways to learn a new language certainly is to read books, watch movies and tv-shows, and listen to music in the language you’re approaching. So, do you want to improve your reading skills in Italian? Then you can do it by enjoying these Italian books to help you not only entertain yourself, but also practice your grammar and vocabulary by seeing the words on the page.
Therefore, here’s a list of twelve best Italian books that are a “must-read” to help you take your Italian skills to the next level. Some of them are advanced and not that easy to read, but don’t worry: you can start from the beginners ones and slow it down, but the journey through Italian literature will be captivating anyways!
1. Le Avventure di Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (Beginner)
This is one of the most famous works of Italian children’s literature. Everyone’s perhaps well-acquainted with Disney’s movie version of the story, but the original is quite different from the one’s we’re used to.
Pinocchio is a wooden puppet who runs away from home. In order to get back to his father Geppetto, he embarks on a series of unpredictable adventures meeting a lot of strange people and creatures. In his journey, he will be aided by a generous fairy and by a talking cricket who gives him advice on what to choose between right and wrong.
Reading with side-by-side English and Italian text is a very helpful way to learn Italian at best: you will just need to look out at the next page to find the corresponding meaning of one word. That’s why this edition would be the most enjoyable way to read the tale.
You can get the book, the audiobook and the movie here:
2. Storie della buonanotte per bambine ribelli: 100 vite di donne straordinarie by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo (Beginner)
Although this book has already been translated into many different languages, the two authors are indeed Italian. This offers you the opportunity to learn, experience and be inspired by the lives of many women who had a great and world-changing impact. From Frida Kahlo to Rita Levi Montalcini, each page is a portrait of a strong female figure that made history.
Moreover, this work is intended for children: they are goodnight stories written in a plain, simple structure that could be very helpful in learning Italian.
You can find it here:
3. Adriano, il Cane di Pompei by Matthew Frederick (Beginner)
This is one of the best italian books to learn Italian. It is very simple: It’s written using plain grammar and basic sentences which will surely help you go through the story of Adriano, a lovable special dog that lives in the ancient city of Pompeii. Among famous ruins and friendly visitors, it follows the adventures of Hadrian that is often fed by the kindness of the tourists.
Even though intended for children, this work is perhaps the best I recommend to improve your language skills, as the Italian text is sided with the English translation on every page. This could be entertaining and a fun tool to also discover more about historical details of the famous classical city, giving you a sneak peek of the past.
In addition, the illustrations drawn by Leo Lätti literally bring Hadrian the Dog to life and guide you through the exciting travel of the ones who visit Pompeii together with the main character. Many are the subjects mentioned and explored: history, archeology and geography above all.
4. Io Non Ho Paura by Niccolò Ammaniti (Beginner)
Meaning “I’m Not Scared”, this book talks about Michele, a 9-year-old child who accidentally discovers a horrible crime while paying penance after a game with his five friends. The story is set in 1978 during the “Years of Lead” – a time of political violence and terrorism in the country – in a fictional rural village in Southern Italy (probably in Basilicata). The plot is quite linear, the vocabulary is basic enough to understand and the narrative is also breathtaking and suspenseful. You will want to read it until the last line, especially if you are into unsettling thrillers.
Besides, when you’re finished you can always watch the movie adaptation released in 2003 by the director Gabriele Salvatores: fine photography and great cast.
Here is the book:
5. Il Barone Rampante by Italo Calvino (Beginner/Intermediate)
Calvino is one of the best Italian authors of all time. His novels should be all listed here, but if I must choose one, Il Barone Rampante is perhaps the most fascinating. Set in 18th-century Italy, the story follows Cosimo, a young noble boy who climbs into a tree and refuses to get down to rebel against his parents. He eventually decides to stick in there and lead his life up in the branches, far away from the bad influence of his family and society. The tale is full of humor and adventurous passages, giving a fantastical shade to the whole trilogy where this book is included.
So, I recommend reading also I Nostri Antenati, a series of three novels which explores the relationship between the self and the society in different historical time periods.
If you prefer to listen to “Il barone rampante”, you can buy the audiobook here:
6. Novecento by Alessandro Baricco (Intermediate)
Novecento means “Nine Hundred”, and is a one-act theatrical monologue. This is one of the best Italian books you can read as intermediate learner. Baricco is an Italian contemporary author who has written one of the best books spreadly read in the country. Novecento tells the story of a young boy abandoned on a cruise ship and later adopted by the sailors. He never leaves this microcosm of the ship and suddenly becomes a genius pianist. The writing is easy to follow, which makes it suitable for an intermediate learner.
Thus, the plot is linear and it’s not that difficult to relate to the characters. After having enjoyed the reading, you can also dive into cinema as a 1998 movie version of the story has been released – directed by the Italian film director Giuseppe Tornatore.
You can find it here:
7. La Solitudine dei Numeri Primi by Paolo Giordano (Intermediate)
Paolo Giordano was the youngest Italian author to get the Strega Prize for literature. That’s why his masterpiece has become a must-read, especially amongst teenagers and young adults. It tells the story of the relationship between Alice and Mattia, who met in the charming city of Turin in northern Italy during their high school times. Mattia is a very brilliant boy who has a twin sister suffering from intellectual disability, while Alice became lame after a skiing injury. Through the years, they eventually grow up experiencing continuous encounters and separations.
Contrary to what one might expect, this is not a simple love story between two people, but the novel explores their lives as two “prime numbers” that won’t ever get closer for real. The movie by Saverio Costanzo stars Luca Marinelli, one of the most talented Italian actors of these days. Worth a watch after finishing the book!
8. Il Nome della Rosa by Umberto Eco (Intermediate)
This Italian novel is by far one of the most popular all over the world. It has been translated into many languages and also adapted for stage, television and cinema – with the movie by Jean-Jacques Annaud starring Sean Connery. The mysterious atmosphere set in the gloomy medieval period within the walls of a monastery in northern Italy brings charm to the reader. The evocative flavor of the descriptions and the narrative of secrets surrounding a murder will surely keep you glued to the pages.
Indeed, Umberto Eco is still one of the most-read Italian authors today. His works are full of classic and ancient references. So if history is your favorite subject, you must give it a shot!
You can buy it here:
9. L’Amica Geniale by Elena Ferrante (Advanced)
Elena Ferrante is actually a pseudonym of this female author, who has given life and light to the Neapolitan outskirts in her coming-of-age novel called My Brilliant Friend. The book is the first of a series of four novels and follows the story of Lila and Lenù, two girls who were born and raised in the poorest boroughs of Naples, through misery and violence. They grow up together page by page from childhood to their 60s, sharing a complex relationship characterized by envy, competition but also a lot of love and support. The setting is really peculiar as the main characters live in a specific region of Italy.
This could be one of the best Italian book for you, because reading this novel could be a challenge in vocabulary – rich in idiomatic expression – to face when your Italian skills are practiced enough to be more advanced. And the two-seasons tv show has been created by Saverio Costanzo – the same director of La Solitudine dei Numeri Primi mentioned above.
You can buy the book “L’amica geniale”, or the four novels together here:
10. Gomorra by Roberto Saviano (Advanced)
This book is intended by Saviano to reveal the plots and the secrets hidden behind the Italian criminal organization that mainly operates in Campania, known as Camorra. The novel will throw you into the discovery of a dark, shady world.
For sure, that was not easy for the author, who has been living under constant security since the release of his work. That’s because he has probably become one target of the organization, whose illicit businesses were obviously exposed.
The work has become a major international bestseller amongst the best Italian books for its groundbreaking perspective and potentially dangerous purpose. They made a movie and a tv series out of it, which also involve a lot of challenging expressions to learn in Neapolitan dialect.
11. La forma dell’Acqua by Andrea Camilleri (Advanced)
It must not be confused with other novels with the same title, but here’s a giallo (thriller) that opened up the famous series of Inspector Montalbano in 1994. Created by Andrea Camilleri, the plot follows the steps of Montalbano as he investigates mysteries in the fictional town of Vigata set in Sicily. The detective born with Camilleri’s pen is an iconic figure, smart and sagacious. Amazing settings and suspense are the most powerful elements of this book, as well as of the other volumes of the saga.
Though written in standard Italian, there are also little sprinkles of Sicilian dialect and grammar that give a regional flavor to all the novels in the series. The tales of Montalbano are very popular in Italy and inspired multiple tv shows and movies.
You can buy “La forma dell’acqua” here:
12. In altre parole by Jhumpa Lahiri (All Levels)
This English-speaking author decided to abandon her native language focusing on narrative writing in Italian because of her boundless love for Italy and its culture. She visited Florence for the first time when she had just graduated from college, experiencing an immediate connection with the Italian language all of a sudden.
She eventually moved to Rome with all her family to start a new life full of enthusiasm and adventures, but also of troubles and estrangement. Jhumpa Lahiri’s work is the most direct witness of a tenacious path in learning Italian and being able to write a whole book with fluency gained throughout the pages.
Therefore, it’s a very precious tool to follow the lines and enter an unexplored territory such as a new language with a fascinating spirit. This is a must whether you’re an advanced Italian learner or not and one of the best Italian books in contemporary times.
You can buy “In altre parole” here:
How to read in Italian
Reading in Italian could be difficult, but here’s a very useful tip to remember: don’t forget to mix up extensive and intensive reading. The first is intended to gain the general meaning of what is going on, without stop reading to check out vocabulary. Instead, intensive reading is meant to focus on each word to understand every single element of the text. Both are a stimulating exercise for your brain.
Read the same book more than once
Furthermore, reading the same book more than once supports you getting into linguistic schemes. Entertain yourself with these titles and once you’re done with them, don’t put them away forever but go back to read them again for a second or even a third time. That’s how you will retain your vocabulary and fix grammar patterns.
So, these are some of the best Italian books to give you a hand in learning and improving your language skills, as well as to have fun while doing it.
Don’t underestimate reading at any level, as it helps you to naturally absorb things like the use of prepositions or the correct order of the sentences.