Italian middle- and high-school students have a long summer break, among the longest in Europe. Schools close at the beginning of June and re-open at some point in mid-September. That means around thirteen weeks of vacation, in which students rest, meet friends, get part-time summer jobs, go on vacation, enjoy long sticky evenings … and read. Along with some homework, teachers always assign summer reading lists to their students.
So, what are the most popular summer reads for Italian middle- and high-schoolers? Together with some evergreens—i.e., i classici and coming-of-age novels—many teachers are now suggesting new topics—or at least, new perspectives—ranging from gender and cultural studies to migration issues and current events. But let’s get to business and see what Italian students (are asked to) read during their long summer break:
- Classics include the *very* classic classics, from Jack London’s White Fang and The Call of the Wild to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and everything you can list as literature pillars. Among the Italian classics, Italo Calvino and Dino Buzzati do not seem to be affected by the passage of time, while De Amicis’s Cuore, still in the classic league, looks a little outdated and is losing some favor. Contemporary classics include Jan McEwan’s The Daydreamer and Luis Sepúlveda’s The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly. Among the Italians, Liliana Segre’s Scolpitelo nel vostro cuore is worth a mention. Segre, a Holocaust survivor who is now 91, started to share her experience in the 1990s after decades of silence. Her commitment, especially toward young students, earned her the office of Senator for life.
- Coming of age novels often overlap with the classics above. A few titles stand out as evergreens: J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (fun fact: Italians know it as Il giovane Holden [The young Holden]); Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (and another interesting translation: Il buio oltre la siepe [The darkness behind the hedge)]; and the inevitable Harry Potter saga, just like pretty much everywhere else in the world. Among the not-so-classic Italians: Enrico Brizzi’s Jack Frusciante è uscito dal gruppo (“Jack Frusciante has left the band” [that “Jack” is a deliberate mistake with reference to Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante]); Niccolò Ammaniti’s Io non ho paura, which took place in a small town in Southern Italy in 1978; and Alessandro D’Avenia’s Ciò che inferno non è.
- The food-for-thought suggested readings include Fabio Geda’s Nel mare ci sono i coccodrilli, which follows the journey of a young boy migrating from Afghanistan to Italy; its sequel, Storia di un figlio; Carolina Capria’s Storia delle donne and Femmina non è una parolaccia, for a reflection on gender equality; Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, in which we go back (or forward?) to an alternate reality in 1990s England; Mario Calabresi’s Spingendo la notte un po’ più in là, for better understanding a very dark decade in Italy’s recent history, the 1970s.
Our list is necessarily incomplete, but you could use it for comparing and contrasting with your own summer reading, or as inspiration: Which title intrigues you most? Search some of the Italian authors to find more, and who knows, you might get caught in a rabbit hole of past and contemporary Italian literature!
By Claudia Quesito