Confessions of a Bookworm in the Italian Language

Jan 17, 2011

Little girl in library

un topo di biblioteca

a bookworm (literally a library mouse)

A researcher once asked various people what they think heaven (il paradiso) might be like. One group had a strikingly similar vision: Book lovers — be they writers (scrittori) or readers (lettori) — couldn’t imagine a paradise senza libri (without books). Some actually think of it as a kind of library (which translates in Italian as biblioteca, not libreria, or bookstore).

My own love for books started in my hometown library in Scranton, Pa., where I spent endless hours in the children’s reading room. I still remember how proud I felt when the librarian (bibliotecario) gave me my own library card (tessera della biblioteca). To me, it seemed like a ticket (biglietto) to a whole new world.

When we moved to California, I fell in love at first sight with the Mill Valley Public Library, set amid the redwoods (fra le sequoie) along the local creek. I have many happy memories of taking my daughter to story times (l’ora delle favole), doing research (fare ricerca) and often coming across an unexpected treasure (tesoro) of a book on the shelves (sugli scaffali).

In libraries or stores, books (libri) can be hard-cover (copertina rigida) or paperback (tascabile, or pocketable). A school book or reader is un libro di lettura; a second-hand or used book, un libro di secondo mano or usato. A libro mastro is a ledger; a libro di bordo, a logbook.

If you’re looking for una buona lettura (a good read), try un libro giallo (yellow book)—a mystery or thriller, so called because the cover (la copertina) traditionally was yellow. If you prefer a novel, don’t ask for a fiction. That’s the term Italians use for a made-for-television movie. What you want is un romanzo. When a book goes out of print in Italian, it becomes un libro esaurito or fuori catalogo (literally exhausted or out of the catalogue).  

Many people prefer l’utilità e la praticità delle letture elettroniche (the utility and practicality of electronic readers) such as the Kindle and i-Pad. However, I agree with an Italian friend who says, “Il piacere di sfogliare le pagine di un libro rimane impagabile e insostituibile.” (The pleasure of turning the pages of a book remains priceless and irreplaceable.)

Words and Expressions

un libro aperto –- an open book (for a person who is easy to “read”)

essere nel suo libro –- to be in his book or in his good graces

parlare come un libro stampato –- talk in a way that makes sense or (sarcastically) to sound pompous

This year the Mill Valley Public Library is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a series of events featuring local authors. I am very honored to lead off this series with a presentation on Thursday, January 20, at 7:00 p.m. If you live nearby, please come.  

Mill Valley Public Library

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