One of the pleasures of preparing for a trip is reading books about the place you intend to visit -- and Venice has inspired many an author. While having Venice maps and guide books will help you to navigate your way around this city (truth is, it's small and not that difficult), books of fiction, art, history, and biography that express the soul of Venice can be equally helpful in finding your way. The following books will help you to access this magical and mysterious place.
Before you chose maps and guide books, select books that communicate the unique character of Venice. They'll build word pictures in your mind that you can later match up with actual locations. Andrea di Robilant's "A Venetian Affair" is based on a packet of love letters her father discovered in the attic of the family's Venice palazzo. Written in the 18th century, the letters bring to life the story of a passionate yet doomed love affair set against the masked balls and court intrigue of the Venice that Casanova, reputed to be the world's greatest lover, inhabited.
Art appears to fill nearly every corner of Venice, and even the untrained eye can appreciate the splendor of works by Titian, the Bellinis, Veronese and other masters. Yet experiencing their creations becomes more meaningful when the viewer understands the artists' lives and times. Reading "Art and Life in Renaissance Venice" is like having a plain-speaking art historian by your side to explain the context in which these masterworks were created.
© Susan Breslow Sardone.
Thanks to heiress Peggy Guggenheim, Venice is home to one of the world's best modern art collections, and it's open to the public. This book tells the personal story of the poor little rich girl who fled to faraway Italy to escape her unhappy childhood, took her fair share of lovers and husbands, and most importantly, developed an unerring eye for collecting the work of the leading artists of the 20th century.
If your time is short in Venice, you can't spend too much time or money on books, and your eyes are good enough to read tiny type, the "Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide to Venice" is first on my list of Venice travel guide books. Well-organized, highly visual, and tightly edited, it illustrates the highlights of the city in the early chapters and goes into more depth in later ones for readers who have the time and interest to explore further. It also includes fold-out maps on the front and back covers, but unless you have 20/20 vision or travel with a magnifying glass, they won't do you much good.
Paired with the "Eyewitness" Guide above, you'll have no trouble getting around Venice with these two small, lightweight books in tow. The "Knopf MapGuide" features a series of fold-out city maps that focus on Venice's historic sestieres, or districts. The book's maps are highly legible in addition to pinpointing and describing places of interest with small identifying photos. They also offer recommendations for restaurants, cafes, bars, and top shops within each sestiere. Confession: Even with the "Knopf MapGuide: Venice in hand," I still lost my way walking from the Accademia bridge to San Marco Square. But I followed the crowd, solicited directions from kindly shopkeepers, and still found the Square.
If you need a book on Venice that will hold your hand, provide you with simple and well-explained details (and prices) on everything from how to get from the airport to the city to tips for saving Euros on your Murano glass shopping spree, Rick Steves is your guy. That said, I picture Rick as the uncool guy in the baggy jeans and wrinkled shirt who looks somewhat out of place among the grandeur of Venice. He's a travel geek, and he's not afraid to tell you more about Venice than you need to know.
Italy For Dummies aims to provide information on the entire country for those who are visiting for the first time. If your itinerary includes more cities than Venice, you may find it especially worthwhile. A nice feature, the book's peel-off yellow stickies let you tab pages of particular interest. If you're only staying in Venice, tear that section from the book's binding, staple the pages together, and toss the rest of it. Italy For Dummies is like Rick Steves lite; important details are there, but it doesn't weigh you down with so many that you feel as if you'll never master the city. The tone is conversational and well-informed. (Full disclosure: I am a For Dummies author. But don't hold that against me.)
A novel of loneliness, longing, and unrequited love, Mann's classic "Death in Venice" conjures a different vision of Venice, cruel and gloomy. Much of the book is set on Lido Island, Venice's beach, as well as on vaporetti and in San Marco Square.
The sensual writer turns her pen to Venice, weaving a time-shifting tale that careens from the Venice Film Festival to the city's 16th-century Jewish ghetto. Published in 1989, the book is now out of print, but if you come by a secondhand copy, grab and read it.