reading my way through every country in the world…

#17 Italy: What does your doorbell say about you?

The Doorbells of Florence
By Andrew Losowsky
Chronicle Books, 2009

General reading value: 5/5
Armchair travel value: 2/5

Fly-by summary: Photographs of real-life doorbells in Florence with fictional stories about the owners

Why this book? Loved the concept and, I have to admit, the gorgeous typefaces used.

Take the full tour: I am currently practising what I read by travelling away from home to undertake a placement for my Master’s.  As anyone who does this regularly knows, it can be an exhausting process as not only are your neurons firing at work all day but they are also engaged during non-work hours as you try to navigate your way through the unfamiliarity of new environments, forms of transport and living conditions. Needless to say, whatever reading material I would access during this period had to be easy to read, entertaining and preferably accommodate my much shortened attention span and current proclivity to nod off at a moment’s notice. As such Tolstoy has become buried under clothes in my suitcase while Hitchens’ doorstopper of a biography that I have been so enjoying has remained unopened for the past three weeks.

Instead, I have been delighted by the sheer joy of The Doorbells of Florence. The author is also a photographer who during a trip to Florence began taking pictures of interesting doorbells. He then created a short story around each doorbell: who it might belong to and what might be happening in their lives. Where the doorbell is accompanied by the occupant’s name, Losowsky even uses this name for the character (imagine if you were the real person and came across this book!). It made me wonder what how people would interpret my character based solely on my rather bold and somewhat masculine doorbell – one which is mandated by the complex in which I live!

Losowsky’s characters range from a woman who secretly removes the name tags alongside all of her neighbours’ bells and replaces them with her own elegant typeface, to a man who becomes quite upset when a neighbour moves out meaning that his and his neighbours’ surnames are no longer in alphabetical order, to “Luigi” who “likes it old school” and has a beautiful brass door knocker in the shape of a lion’s head.  Then there is Jemima who travels though Florence using a map for another city; Xiao Pei Wen whose musical powers cause dizziness, vertigo and hallucinations in her listeners; and a couple whose large wooden doors have no doorbell at all (and therefore Losowky assumes one of them must always be at home in order for the other to go out).

This is a witty, highly original and extremely entertaining book. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again. Apparently, a play has been made of the book.

Advert for the play of The Doorbells of Florence

The Literary Nomad xx

More on Italy…

Capital: Rome

Population: 60,418,711

Area: 301,338 km2

Language: Italian

Religion: Roman Catholicism

Currency: Euro

Delay your stay: The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa; If on a winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino; The Divine Comedy by Dante Aligheri; The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani; Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd (and many other books by this author)

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

Money – Martin Amis

Downriver – Iain Sinclair

Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

The Iron Age – Margaret Drabble

Anything by Charles Dickens

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