Books

20 Years Later, Under the Tuscan Sun is As Evocative As Ever

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“May summer last a hundred years.”

With August over, and the days beginning to shorten, the same old familiar struggle to return to our “normal” lives — free of Summer Fridays, tan lines, and picnics — reemerges. The urge to grasp on to the few remaining weeks of summer might inspire you to take up a book that will help. Frances Mayes’s 1996 memoir Under the Tuscan Sun celebrates its 20th anniversary this September, and its pages are the perfect destination for your seasonal denial.

To read a book that Mayes herself describes as having little actual plot may seem unnecessary, but the lessons that come out of Mayes’s experiences are ones worth our attention. Without giving too much away, here is a taste of what you will find.

Taste everything.

This is a good place to start for a book set in Tuscany. Mayes’s own knowledge of cooking, passed along from her own family, is enviable. The discovery that making dinner can be a pleasure rather than an obligation is one worth taking to heart. Mayes spends her time writing about every market, ingredient, and meal in a way that reminds the reader that cooking is an art of love—take the time to taste what you are making and live in that experience. Mayes’s recipes will help you get started.

Be involved in the moment.

While there is certainly a focus on looking towards the future in the home they are restoring, Mayes and her partner, Ed, spend a great deal of time watching the Italians and learning to be present. It is okay to become engrossed in what you are doing without worrying about the next day.

Don’t forget the past.

Become engrossed, but let the past inform your present. Mayes is often in awe of the ancient world that continues to exist around her in Italy; she’s almost shocked by how casual those native to the country are about it. But she is quick to say that her town is not stuck in the past—rather, it moves forward with its history as its strongest foundation.

Look for angels.

Watch people; observe them; be kind to them. Reading a book where people are so gracious to one another can make you yearn for interactions that are wholly without rudeness or self-motivation. Mayes is remarkable at witnessing small, personal interactions and moments, and settling on them long enough to make you realize every individual has a story in their bones. We should spend more time searching for them.

Move beyond the familiar.

Allow yourself to always continue learning, and challenge yourself to go outside of your comfort zone. Mayes’s story starts with this challenge, and what comes of it is a discovery of a self she may have only heard softly existing during her busy days in San Francisco.

Choose the place where you want to arrange your books.

When you are searching for a new inspirational space, choose the location where you feel at home so that you have already mentally placed your books on the shelf the moment you enter.

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Years may have passed since its first publication, but Mayes’s account of her risky decision to purchase a house in Italy and spend years resurrecting it to a newfound splendor still dazzles. Inspirational for those who may be thinking of trying something new and comfortable for readers who want to open a book that makes them feel like sinking into a sun-soaked chair, to call this book a “memoir” is somewhat misleading: Mayes’s writing pointedly uses the house’s past to look towards her own future.

Rather than reflecting back on the time it took to piece the house into a home, the pages of Under the Tuscan Sun are active and bring you, even twenty years later, directly into the process—she includes mishaps, recipes, and gorgeous descriptions that will make even household chores seem idyllic. Whether it is your first foray into Mayes’s world or you are returning to Tuscany, this book will pull you through the end of summer and help you dream of your next adventure.