Archived Reading Room

A traveler’s library; books read and unread

bookAs some readers of this column may know, I have spent the past six weeks in Europe, specifically the British Isles and Italy. Below is an accounting, by way of lists and some short reviews, of books carried here, bought here, read here, and left here.

Books carried to Europe

• Berlitz Italian: Phrase Book & Dictionary: A waste of space. Everyone in Rome has some knowledge of English — even tourists from places like China communicate with the Italians in English — and I felt like an idiot trying to speak Italian to a waiter or shopkeeper, only to be answered in English.

• How To Blog A Book: What was I thinking? I’ll use this guide at home, but never once cracked open the book on this trip. 

• Oscar William’s A Treasury of Great Poetry: I read from this book almost daily, and for the first time I realized how much Williams had lifted from the works of Shakespeare and Donne. Treasury has now taken up residence in the Hotel Due Torri; the shelves in the lounge needed some poetry.

• Rick Steve’s Europe 101: History & Art for the Traveler: I am teaching this book in the fall, but should have left it at home.

• Knopf Guide to Rome, 1994 Edition: Excellent resource. This book saw frequent usage with its fine maps and more than adequate explanations of sites from the Vatican to the Catacombs. Definitely worth the haul.

Related Items

• Charles Murray’s By The People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission: Like the Berlitz Guide to Italian, I’ll be leaving this one behind, but I did read and learn from Murray’s latest look at our culture and politics. By The People should appeal to conservatives, libertarians, and many liberals, anyone, in short, who thinks our government and justice system are broken and increasingly lawless. Murray’s thesis: Our government, the Supreme Court, and our regulatory agencies are out of control. The Constitution seems beyond hope of repair.

Murray’s remedy: Fight the government with civil disobedience by engaging in legal battles against these agencies. As Murray points out, the Federal Code of Regulations is now 180,000 pages long. We can fight the regulators by first disobeying the laws that deserve disobedience and then battling the government in court if caught. Murray explains how possible means of financing and carrying out that war. An idea worthy of consideration.

• Christendom College Rome Program Handbook Spring 2014: Recommended by my son Jeremy and his wife Mary, who recently married and who spent the fall semester in Rome. An invaluable guide to churches and transportation. 

Books bought and read in Europe

• Shakespeare: Here Anthony Burgess of A Clockwork Orange fame — my own favorite Burgess novel is his last, Earthly Powers – gives us a speculative biography of Shakespeare. I had long ago read his novel Nothing Like The Sun, also about Shakespeare, and can remember being word drunk for a week. Here Burgess gives us an account of the poet-dramatist and his time, often making some controversial points. I particularly liked that Burgess stuck up for Shakespeare as being the author of the plays rather than serving as another man’s patsy. For reasons of space, this book stays here as well in the hotel library.

• Dominic Dromgoole’s Will & Me: How Shakespeare Took Over My Life: Like the Burgess biography, I bought this book in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown. These sorts of guidebooks — how reading Proust, Dante, Hemingway, and others can change our lives — are popular right now, and I thought I’d give this one a shot. Besides, who could resist buying a book by an author with the name of Dominic Dromgoole? 

Will & Me was an uneven account, with some eccentric political opinions, but I did enjoy the stories about Peter O’Toole and the account of the days-long walk by Dromgoole from Stratford to London. Entertaining, but even if I had the space, I wouldn’t bring Will & Me. It’s a one-read book, so it stays with the Hotel Due Torri.

• Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop: The best novel I have read in months. It’s about love, death, books, poetry, and life. A keeper and a book deserving its own review.

Books partially read in Europe 

• Alain de Botton’s Essays in Love: I’m 32 pages in and am saving the rest of this eccentric book for the 10-hour flight home. In short: a male protagonist meets a woman the reader views as ordinary, maybe even a little detestable, and explains why he falls in love with her.

Books bought in Europe but not read

• Barron’s Painless Italian: Purchased in a fit of enthusiasm, opened twice. I’ll carry it home and see what happens.

• Precious Sculptures: A guide to a museum display of gold and silver religious objects from the 13th to the 18th century that stunned me. I bumbled into this gallery, a temporary exhibit offered by the Vatican Museums, and was so blown away that I bought the book. A keeper.

• Harry Mount’s Amo, Amas, Amat … And All That: How to Become a Latin Lover: This amusing book caught my eye at the bookshop below the Ara Pacis Augustae, the Arch of Peace. Within two minutes, Mount had me chuckling. He starts his lessons in Latin by examining the tattoos of soccer star David Beckham, several of which are written in this ancient language. Back-up reading for the flight home.

• William Linney’s Getting Started with Latin: Beginning Latin for Homeschoolers and for Self-Taught Students of Any Age: Since I teach Latin, and since I am teaching Latin this fall to elementary school students for the first time in a number of years, this book caught my eye. Useful exercises for young students. I might have ordered it on Amazon, but would probably have written down the title and then promptly lost it. 

One final note: There are several excellent bookshops for English speakers in Rome. Two that I visited were La Feltrinelli, Rome’s chain bookstore. The central store just off Piazza della Republica has an enormous collection of books in English, and the staff is very helpful. Almost Corner Bookshop in Trastevere is an independently owned store. The Almost Corner Bookshop has operated here over 20 years, and the man behind the desk — he was, I believe, from Australia — was pleasant and engaging.

(Jeff Minick is a teacher and writer. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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