6 Books To Help You Learn Italian

From ‘My Brilliant Friend’ to lesser-known works, these Italian books will help beginner, intermediate and advanced language learners master Italian.
pink Italian books graphic on green background

One of the best (and most entertaining) ways to make sure a new language really sticks in your head is to read books, watch films and television, and listen to podcasts and music in the language you’re learning. Seeing or hearing the words and sentences in context paints a fuller picture of how the language should flow. Italian flows in a very particular way, so reading Italian books is a great resource for helping you understand how the language works.

With the help of our team of language-learning experts, we’ve compiled a list of six Italian books — varying in level from beginner to advanced — to help you take your ability to speak Italian to the next level. Look for these Italian books online, or maybe at a local bookstore, and start reading!

Italian Books For All Levels Of Learning

1. Corto Maltese (Beginner)

This comic book series features the adventures of a sea captain Corto Maltese during World War I and throughout the 20th century. The series was created by Italian comic book writer and artist Hugo Pratt and attracted a cult following around Europe. This is a great starting point for beginners because the comic book format means simpler sentences, as well as images that can help you understand the plot.

2. Io Non Ho Paura (Beginner)

Meaning “I’m Not Scared,”Niccolò Ammaniti’s Io Non Ho Paura tells the story of a 9-year-old boy who encounters a horrible crime while exploring an abandoned farmhouse in his fictional town in southern Italy. The story is set during Italy’s “Years of Lead” — a time of political terrorism and kidnappings in the 1970s. The plot is relatively straightforward, and the vocabulary is basic enough for beginners to understand. When you’re finished reading, you can watch the film version, which was released in 2003.

3. Novecento (Intermediate)

Novecento, which means “Nine Hundred,” is a one-act theatrical monologue by Alessandro Baricco about a young boy who’s abandoned on a steamer ship and adopted by the steamer’s machinist. The boy disappears for a while, and when he reappears, he can play the piano perfectly. The language is somewhat colloquial, which makes it an intermediate-level read. The book was made into a 1998 film called “The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean”.

4. Accabadora (Intermediate)

This novel by Michela Murgia is a particularly interesting one. The winner of several literary awards, Accabadora chronicles the work of a caretaker in 1950s Sardinia, who comforts the dying and sometimes takes controversial action to end their suffering. The novel has been translated into English, but we’d recommend trying it in Italian first. It’s a beautifully written book that will teach you about some of the traditions and culture of Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy.

5. L’amica Geniale (Advanced)

The most famous work on this list by far is L’amica Geniale (“My Brilliant Friend”) by Elena Ferrante. The book is the first of Ferrante’s four Neapolitan Novels, which follow the lives of two women from childhood to their 60s. L’amica Geniale is rich in challenging vocabulary and is a great choice for more advanced Italian students. The Babbel Book Club discussed the novel at length, so learn more about My Brilliant Friend here.

6. Una Storia Semplice (Advanced)

Don’t let the title fool you — this is not “a simple story”; it’s actually pretty complex. This short novel by Leonardo Sciascia follows a murder investigation in Sicily by a police department rife with mafia ties and corruption. Italian learners will take in a great deal of crime-related vocabulary while learning about the mafia’s far-reaching grip on society. There’s a 1991 film based on the book that won several awards — it’s worth a watch after you read the novel!

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