Liam Callahan’s 6 favorite books set in Rome

In Liam Callahan’s new novel, When in Rome, an American weighs taking up with an old flame versus joining an Italian convent. Below the author of the bestseller Paris by the book recommends six other books set in Italy’s Eternal City.

Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark (1950)

Eleanor Clark went to Rome to write a novel and came back with this ethereal book instead. It is part travelogue, part history, part memoir, and altogether wonderful. When you’re in Rome, she writes, “you walk close to your dreams”—a line I found so resonant of my own experience that I used it for the epigraph of my new novel. Buy it here.

Four Seasons in Rome: About Twins, Insomnia, and the Greatest Funeral in World History by Anthony Doerr (2007)

Doerr also went to Rome to write a novel—which turned out to be his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2014 All the light we can’t see. He also returned with this charming account of navigating the Eternal City with his wife and their months-old twin bambini. Buy it here.

Lost Hearts in Italy by Andrea Lee (2006)

As it begins, Andrea Lee’s novel finds heroine Mira “in the dangerous company of words,” sifting through memories of an affair that confused her when she first moved to Italy with her now ex-husband. The story is a careless examination of race, class, gender and Italian society. Buy it here.

The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories edited by Jhumpa Lahiri (2019)

A collection of greats, far too many of which are too little known outside of Italy. Don’t miss Ennio Flaiano’s “A Martian in Rome,” which pokes as much fun at the Romans as it does at the self-titled Martian, who is said to be “happy to live in Rome, where life is undoubtedly better than in all other cities on the Planet.” Buy it here.

Blue Guide Rome by Alta Macadam and Annabel Barber (2020)

This is a regularly updated guidebook that is as exuberantly impractical – the latest edition has 703 pages of densely printed prose – as it is glorious. Give yourself a doctorate in Roman studies when you close the last page. Buy it here.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (2012)

The production of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s (in)famous 1963 film, Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and shot in Rome, launches this unabashedly romantic novel across decades and continents. Hide your credit card while you read or risk booking an actual trip to Italy before you finish. Buy it here.

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