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Non-fiction

The non-fiction may seem a little heterogeneous, but it ain’t, just different masks for the same vision. Which pretty much goes for all my work, though of course everything shifts when you put it in a different form.

Italian Ways, on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo was a huge pleasure to write: an attempt to grasp the whole Italian Way of doing things through a reflection of my thirty years of rail travel in this country. Endless two-hour commutes from Verona to Milan on the Train of the Living Dead. Curating a show in Florence, back and forth on the Frecciarossa, all kinds of trips into the mountains and the lakes, and then a long trip down to Palermo and round the south coast of Italy, Reggio, Crotone, Taranto, Lecce, Otranto. What a treat, what discoveries. It’s as if I’d been saving up this part of Italy to cheer myself up with it thirty years on.

Teach Us to Sit Still is no doubt the most personal and in many ways the most exciting non-fiction I’ve written. It’s an account of a profound transformation of lifestyle brought on by illness and chronic pain. What looked at first like a nightmare descent into permanent discomfort became the catalyst for a deep examination of everything I do and ultimately an exciting and therapeutic change in direction.

The Fighter is a collection of essays and articles written between 2001 and 2007. The subject matter ranges from World Cup Football to D.H. Lawrence, hypertext narrative and Italian politics, but a theme of struggle and conflict hopefully ties the pieces together.

Medici Money is perhaps best summarized by its subtitle, Banking, Metaphysics and Art in Fifteenth-century Florence and is my first and quite probably my last foray into the writing of history. Above all the book focuses on the relationship between value that is countable, or monetary, and value, moral or aestetic, that isn’t. How do we keep the two in balance? Curiously, as a result of writing this book, I have been invited to be curator of an exhibition on banking in fifteenth century Florence which will be held at Palazzo Strozzi in 2010. It will be an exciting challenge to turn narrative and ideas into something visual.

A Season with Verona is hard for me to characterize. It’s the (nail-biting) story of a football season, it’s a (crazy) series of travels around Italy, and most of all it’s an attempt to explore that vast mental space that people devote to football today. About football and Italy, then, but not exclusively for enthusiasts of football and Italy, let alone Italian football.


Hell and Back is a collection of essays, most of which were published in the New York Review of Books, though all were written with the idea of a book in mind. The project was to exploit invitations to write about other authors to put together a more or less coherent vision of how I see the writing enterprise.

Translating Style looks at the way you can get close to an author’s vision by looking at what happens when you translate him. Or maybe it was just an excuse to write about some of my favourite writers, Lawrence, Henry Green, Samuel Beckett. There are also chapters on Woolf, Joyce and Barbara Pym.


Adultery and Other Diversions was an attempt to fuse together essays and narrative in a form that would be both engaging and reflective. I suppose I wanted to find some way of getting all I’d been thinking and reading into some kind of coherent and readable form. I often think of this as my best book.

A couple of years later, I put together An Italian Education which tackled the conundrum of national character through a light-hearted look at the way our kids are growing up here in Italy. I suppose this was the nearest I ever got to sentimentality. Not very close I’m told.

Around 1990 someone asked me to write a book on Italy then turned down the opening chapters I sent – not of the kind to encourage the English to dream of Tuscany, I was told. I published the book anyway; it had turned into an attempt to say and savour everything I’d learned in ten years in Italy by way of an account of our life with the neighbours in our small palazzo. That was Italian Neighbours.