Some of my most enduring memories from my time as a student in Italy are of being on trains. Many of those memories involve me giving the conductor my ticket, only to have him inform me that I had the wrong type of ticket, the wrong seat, or the wrong time. It’s a feeling Tim Parks channels brilliantly in Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo (W.W. Norton & Co., 2013), which is as much about the Italian railroads as it is about Italy itself.
Like his other books, Italian Ways is the perfect corrective to the sun-dappled travelogues that have colonized our idea of the country. Parks has lived in Italy for 30 years, and his deep knowledge, keen observational powers, and masterful writing make him possibly the best writer on the country working today.