Books: In the lists

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The Independent Culture
Eric Newby's A Small Place in Italy reappears in the top 15 several months after publication, and small wonder: it is a delightful piece of what one friend calls house-porn (the unhealthy, slavering interest in other people's home-making activities), and the perfect holiday-fantasy for the Chianti-drinking classes. Few of us (unless we are Lisa St Aubin de Teran, and nothing less than a palazzo will do) actually dream of castles in the air: we'd rather have a farmhouse (smallish, tumbledown, enchantingly primitive), with just the right size of a proper vineyard (first harvest within a year or so), near just the right size of village (picturesque, friendly, but surprisingly well provided with dextrous and willing craftsmen and builders), a community into in which one could become genuinely and deeply immersed. And this is exactly what Newby and his Slovene wife Wanda found, in 1967. (for pounds 1600 which most reviewers seemed to think amazingly little, but was surely, compared to contemporary prices at home, quite a lot?).

Eric Newby is no Peter Mayle, however. Not for him the high walls beyond which the tourist buses roll; by 1991, the incursions of the modern world into his beloved Italian countryside caused him to leave it, so that the book is an elegy for a way of life now disappeared. And, like the fine travel writer he is, he obeyed the cardinal rule: never write about a place you want to go to again.

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