So. Weird creepy fact: it was exactly a year to the date between downloading and reading this book and the last time I used my KindleFire. How is that possible? Is there just some lure or pull in late June- early July that says "You must read your Kindle. Open your Kindle. Use your Kindle." in a airy, ghosty voice? Definitely one of those weird life things that make you pause and say "huh. weird."
This past week, I read and thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. You may be familiar with the 2003 movie of the same name, staring Diane Lane. That movie (incidentally, one of my all-time favorite movies) was inspired by this memoir in which Mayes recounts the process of moving to Italy and renovating a Tuscan villa and oliveyard. I'll admit that I saw the movie long before I read the book. Since I loved the movie so much, I figured I would at least enjoy the book. Oh my word. I was right.
Where to start? Suffice it to say, that this book may become one of my all-time favorites and certainly one of my favorite summer reads yet.
Here are my thoughts on this Good Read:
1. Mayes has quite the talent for description. Her writing warms your skin with the Tuscan sun, stains your fingers with grape juice, and makes your belly grumble for lemon-basil chicken or ravioli with sage and ricotta. Sometimes, there were whole paragraphs and even pages that had me highlighting. Passages that make you pause, breathe, and just live in the words for a moment. If you want to experience an Italian vacation this summer, definitely pick up this book!
2. Her description of the woes and joys of renovating are spot-on. Maybe it's because I too am renovating an old house, but Mayes had me nodding along and sometimes laughing out loud at the foibles and successes of her villa renovation. Cracking plaster, sloping ceilings, quirky wiring-- it all rang true! She delves into the meaning of home and place as well-- pulling out gold nuggets of truth that will make you feel all cozy and lovey-dovey for the old house you're attempting to wrangle into the 21st century. Truly the house builds and shapes you as you build and shape it.
3. The movie and the memoir definitely differ. The movie stressed Mayes' divorce, added some Italian lovers, and introduced Mayes' second husband Ed only at the end, a nod to all the book fans in the audience. In reality, Mayes had already overcome her divorce and had remarried before purchasing and renovating the villa. Additionally, the movie hints that Tuscany was Frances' total escape from her old life, whereas in real life, Frances and Ed--both writers and college professors--lived in Italy only during holiday seasons, not year-round. The "real story" doesn't lessen my love for book or movie. As Mayes said, each is simply a different translation of the same life story. And both perfectly capture the beauty of Tuscany, the culture and hospitality of the Italians, and the adventure of living as an expat.
Interesting tidbit: some real characters from the memoir made cameo appearances as extras in the movie! Mayes wrote that, when she saw one of the local citizens polished and dressed up one day, she thought someone had died in this family. Turns out, he was just working as an extra on set for the movie about her life! Ha! Life and art collide in funny ways.
4. If you're into Italian cooking, this book has several delicious recipes as well. Memoir has always been one of my favorite genres due to its trait of blending writing styles. Mayes tells her story through traditional narrative, journaling, poetry, and recipes--giving you a complete, intimate portrait of Cortona, Italy. Plus, some of the food just sounds downright stick-to-your-ribcage tasty. I can't wait to try out a few of her cooking suggestions. Trust me, she'll make you wish for a kitchen garden!
All in all-- this book definitely will go onto my "favorites" shelf. It certainly trumped the last book I read. Now, at Mark's urging, I'm moving on to a completely different type of story: the sci-fi classic Dune. Have you read it? I'm having a little trouble getting into the first few chapters. Mainly because there are so many made-up words I don't know. I have my doubts... but Mark insists its good so we shall see!
What's on your summer reading list?
Share in comments-- I'm always looking for more reads!