Upcoming Reading Plans: Milan Trip and Summer Books

“Centre of fashion, business and finance,” “muggy and mosquito-ridden in summer” – from the guidebook descriptions it could hardly sound less like our kind of place, and yet Milan is where we’re off to tomorrow. While it wouldn’t be our first-choice destination, my husband is attending a landscape ecology conference there and presenting a paper; I’m going along for the week to have a holiday. It’s Italy. Why not?! I doubt the northern plain will be as much to our taste as Tuscany, which we explored on a wonderfully memorable trip in April 2014 (on which I first drank coffee), but there will still be history and culture around every corner, and we plan on eating very well and getting out of the city to see some of the Lakes region, too.

We’re traveling the slow way: a train to London; the Eurostar to Paris, where we’ll stay for one night; and a seven-hour train ride to Milan the following day. If the weather remains as hot as it has been in Continental Europe (e.g. 40°C / 105°F in Paris this week – ugh!), I’m not sure I’ll be up for a lot of solo sightseeing. I’ll put in a much-reduced work load for the week, but for much of the rest of the time when my husband is at the conference I may just lounge around our Airbnb, with a stack of print books, in front of the USB-powered fan I’ve ordered.

So of course I’ve been having great fun thinking about what reading material I might pack. I’ve assembled a main stack, and a subsidiary stack, of books that seem appropriate for one or more reasons.


Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell – To read on the Eurostar between London and Paris. Orwell’s first book and my first try with his nonfiction: an account of the living conditions of the poor in two world cities.

Bonus goal it fulfills: Classic of the month


Vintage 1954, Antoine Laurain – For a Nudge review; to read en route to and in Paris. Drinking a 1954 Beaujolais transports a Parisian and his neighbors – including an Airbnb guest – back to the 1950s. Sounds like good fun.

Bonus goal it fulfills: Lit in translation


The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux – To read on the long train ride to Milan. Theroux travels from London to Tokyo on trains, then returns via the Trans-Siberian Express. I’ve always meant to try his work.

Bonus goal it fulfills: Travel classics


Journey by Moonlight, Antal Szerb – A Hungarian novel set on an Italian honeymoon. Try to resist these first lines: “On the train everything seemed fine. The trouble began in Venice, with the back-alleys.”

Bonus goals it fulfills: Lit in translation; 20 Books of Summer substitute (horse on the cover)


The Awakening of Miss Prim, Natalia Sanmarin Fenollera – Promises to be a cozy, fluffy novel about what happens when librarian Prudencia Prim arrives in a small village. I had the feeling it was set in Italy, but maybe it’s actually Spain? I’ll find out.

Bonus goal it fulfills: Lit in translation


The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante – I’ve tried two Ferrante novels and not been too impressed, yet still I keep trying. This one’s set during a heat wave. Maybe I’ll get on with it better than I did with My Brilliant Friend or The Lost Daughter?

Bonus goal it fulfills: Lit in translation


The extra stack:

Heat Wave, Penelope Lively – The title says it all.

Bonus goal it fulfills: Reading with the seasons


Barnacle Love, Anthony De Sa – An extra animal book for 20 Books of Summer.


Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell – A novel I’ve meant to read for years. I’ve earmarked it for our super-long day of travel back to the UK.

Bonus goal it fulfills: Doorstopper of the Month



Considering getting from the library:

The Last Supper, Rachel Cusk – I’ve only made it through one of the three Cusk books I’ve attempted, but perhaps a travel memoir is a more surefire selection?


On my Kindle:

The Fourth Shore, Virginia Baily – There’s an Italian flavor to this WWII novel, as there was to Baily’s previous one, Early One Morning. However, I’ve heard that this is mostly set in Tripoli, so I won’t make it a priority.

From Scratch, Tembi Locke – An actress’s memoir of falling in love with an Italian chef and her trips to his family home in Sicily with their adopted daughter. (Foodie and bereavement themes!)


I’ll read the first few pages of lots of these to make sure they ‘take’ and will try to pack a sensible number. (Which probably means all but one or two!) We’ll be packing light in general, since there’s only so many clothes one can wear in such heat, so I don’t mind carrying a backpack full of books – I’m used to it from weekly treks to the library and flights to America, and I know that I don’t find reading on Kindle as satisfying, though it certainly is convenient for when you’re on the go.

If you’d like to put in a good word for any of the above options, or want to dissuade me from a book I might not find worthwhile, let me know.


Meanwhile, I’ve been slow out of the gate with my 20 Books of Summer, but I finally have a first set of mini-reviews coming up tomorrow.

Other summer-themed books that I have on hand or will get from the library soon include One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson, The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley, The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton, The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, and Sunburn by Laura Lippman.


How’s your summer reading going?

Will you do any reading ‘on location’ this year?

23 responses

  1. I’d certainly have the Laurain on my list as a holiday read. Like you, I’ve not got on well with Ferrante. And Cloud Atlas has ben on my bookshelf for a shameful number of years without my quite having discovered the motivation actually to pick it up and read it. I await your verdict.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I’ve put the Mitchell to one side for now — but only because I’ve realized the new Elizabeth Gilbert novel has two library holds after me, so I’d better pack it for Milan after all. I’ll start Cloud Atlas as soon as we’re back. And the Ferrante I’ll put off until Women in Translation month (August) and see if I’m inspired to pick it up then.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Have a wonderful time. I love Italy and we were there this time last year. Have to admit Lake Como was our biggest disappointment of the holiday (beautiful scenery, ‘orrible town).
    I can’t get on with David Mitchell, and Cloud Atlas was another DNF by him. Just can’t see what the fuss is about.
    Currently on holiday in Northern Ireland, first time here but have always wanted to visit. Not reading anything particularly local, but listening to a lot of Van Morrison!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm, we were thinking of doing a day trip to Lake Como. Which town would you say to avoid? Varenna and Bellagio are options we’re considering. And then we might go to Stresa on Lake Maggiore.

      I spent a few days in Belfast, but nearly a decade ago now. We didn’t make it out into any of the surrounding area.


      1. We were on a road trip home (early May) and stayed in Como itself – dirty, dusty, overcrowded place, nothing like I’d imagined. We both vowed never to return!


  3. This is only tangentially related (though I hope you have a lovely trip!), but: I’ve just read Claire Fuller’s Bitter Orange and it’s a fantastic summer book, highly recommended as a seasonal read (you probably don’t need more!) Also, I’ve just adopted the “read a few opening pages” trick to decide what to read next, and it works SO well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I reviewed Bitter Orange last summer when it first came out and loved it. A perfectly sultry summer read, I agree. Anyone who hasn’t already read it should go get the paperback at once!

      I’m going to set aside half an hour this evening to read the first few pages of lots of these, make sure I think they’ll work, choose appropriate bookmarks, etc. It’ll be great fun 🙂


      1. I should have known you’d already have read it! It’s an absolute corker. Goes well with House of Glass.

        Is there anything better than half an hour of fussing with one’s book stack for an upcoming holiday? No there is not.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I love how you plan your reads for your vacation. I’m off to Haida Gwaii (commonly known as Queen Charlotte Islands) and then Vancouver Island. I plan on reading some more Emily Carr, a Canadian Painter and Writer. She lived on Vancouver Island and spent time painting totem poles in First Nations Communities on Haida Gwaii. I’ve recently finished Klee Wyck and I’m planning on reading The Heart of a Peacock. Enjoy your trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Getting out of Milan is a great idea. Admittedly I didn’t see it at its best (torrential rain one day, grey skies the other) but I just didn’t find it that interesting in the centre. The Pinacoteca Di Brera is well worth visiting if you like old masters.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m almost wishing I wasn’t going at the moment! Though I’d still be in for hot weather back in the UK this weekend…


  6. You have some brilliant seasonal titles here (which I am busily adding to my list) I tried the first few pages technique with Lively’s Heat Wave (during last summer’s scorcher) and it didn’t gel with me at all. I’ll be interested in how it fares with you. Bon voyage, keep cool!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wasn’t inspired to start it right away, but I’ll keep it around for later in the summer, perhaps.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Have a wonderful time. I thoroughly enjoyed Days of Abandonment, so I hope you do too.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I want to read From Scratch as well although I generally avoid bereavement stuff… but this one looks good. I hope you don’t swelter too much, and get to do a little exploring. Have a safe trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read the first 30% on our travels already and it is really good, though sad — it had me tearing up on a train yesterday.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve read Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell, which was hard going but interesting. I loved Cloud Atlas. I didn’t get on with the Neopolitan novels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m enjoying the Orwell, though I think it will be a slow read that I take just a few pages at a time. The mini-essay about being on the brink of poverty (Ch. 3), written largely in the second person, is excellent.


  10. Have a fun trip! I’ve only been through the Milan train station but the Lake Como area is lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I always like Theroux for travelling so a big upvote for him. We had a lovely week in Como and it’s worth the trip there if you can. A bit cooler by the water, too, or on a boat, even. Have fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We had a wonderful trip to Varenna (by train) and Bellagio (by ferry) on Lake Como yesterday. Currently planning an escape to the mountains for Saturday.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh fabulous, I love Bellagio. We went there ages ago and I loved reading Madame Solario a few years later!


    2. I hadn’t heard of that. Neat!


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