Best of the Book Nook: Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home In Italy, by Frances Mayes

Apr 10, 2018

22 years ago a relatively unknown poet became a publishing sensation after she released her first memoir. Frances Mayes had written about her experiences renovating an ancient villa in the Tuscany region of Italy. That book, "Under the Tuscan Sun,  became a massive blockbuster best-seller. The paperback remained on the best-seller list for years.

When Frances Mayes came out to Yellow Springs for a live interview in 1996 she was at the final stop of an exhausting book tour. During our conversation that day I asked her if she was concerned that her peaceful and contented existence in Tuscany might get disrupted by swarms of excited tourists who upon reading her book had decided to come and visit her quiet little village? After all, Peter Mayle had experienced that exact problem after he wrote about the wonderful life he had found in the French region of Provence. Mayle finally moved away from Provence because he could not stand it any longer. Of course he probably blamed himself for drawing attention to the area. At that point she had noticed more visitors passing through; some of them were actually starting to drop by her house to see if anybody was home.

A few years later I interviewed her for a subsequent book and she admitted to feeling somewhat exhausted by all the attention and the visitors. Have you noticed that since she wrote this book that the word "Tuscan" has developed enormous cachet with marketers? You can buy all kinds of products that are identified as Tuscan even if they have no connection to Tuscany whatsoever. The other day I saw an advertisement for Tuscan dog food.

Her wonderful book still resonates with readers and it was reissued in a 20th anniversary edition. The sections in which she reveals the joys they found in renovating their villa and the amazing discoveries they made while doing so is one of the great fixer upper sagas of all time. We had a lovely conversation that day. And afterwards Frances got quite a surprise. Listen to the podcast of the interview to find out what happened.

The Book Nook on WYSO is presented by the Greene County Public Library with additional support from Washington-Centerville Public Library,  Clark County Public LibraryDayton Metro Library, and Wright Memorial Public Library.