Peter Hainsworth and David Robey
Oxford University Press, 2012
I came across this slim volume while looking for books the old-fashioned way at the library: by perusing the shelves. Usually I discover an interesting book in one of the book-review blogs I frequent; then I jump over to my library's web site, put it on hold, and pick it up down the street at the local branch library. It's very efficient, but the thrill of serendipitous discovery is absent.
This time I was wandering in a newly re-organized library and found this little gem. With my background in microbiology and computer science, I can feel intimidated by literary references and literary criticism, although I am a fervid reader. So I was quite tickled to find such a succinct introduction. I haven't read much Italian literature, but I am currently working on Umberto Eco's "Baudolino" and have just ordered a copy of "The Decameron" by Giovanni Boccaccio.
Although there are only 128 pages, the type is rather small, as are all the margins, so the book punches above its weight, as they say. The publisher's summary is as follows:
In this Very Short Introduction, Peter Hainsworth and David Robey examine Italian literature from the Middle Ages to the present day, looking at themes and issues which have recurred throughout its history. The authors illuminate such topics as regional identities, political disunity, and the role of the national language and they cover a wide range of authors and works, including Dante, Petrarch, Manzoni, Montale, and Calvino. They explore some of the distinctive traditions of the literature, such as its concern with politics and its secular orientation in spite of the Catholic beliefs and practices of the Italian people, and they conclude by looking at recent developments in Italian literature, such as the influence of women's writing in Italian.
After the main text there is a section of Further Reading with books listed by various topics and a list of all the writers cited with their dates and types of writing. I'm far from being an expert now, but I have a feel for what's available in Italian literature. Once I've read a goodly number of Italian novels, I would like to re-read this book for more perspective on the topic.
Very Short Introductions
Oxford University Press has a huge series of these small volumes called Very Short Introductions, with over 300 books on every imaginable topic. This is how they describe the series:
Oxford's Very Short Introductions offers concise and original introductions to a wide range of subjects--from Islam to Sociology, Politics to Classics, and Literary Theory to History. Not simply a textbook of definitions, each volume provides trenchant and provocative--yet always balanced and complete--discussions of the central issues in a given topic. Every Very Short Introduction gives a readable evolution of the subject in question, demonstrating how it has developed and influenced society.
I plan on reading some of their introductions to national literatures, literary genres, and individual authors.