cover image My Venice and Other Essays

My Venice and Other Essays

Donna Leon. Grove/Atlantic, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2036-6

Best known for her Venetian mystery series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti (The Golden Egg, etc.), Leon turns to real life with this engaging yet overstuffed essay collection on everything from her adopted city to animals. Divided into six sections—On Venice, On Music, On Mankind and Animals, On Men, On America, and On Books—Leon muses, reminisces, and often complains about her Italian home of more than 30 years. While Venice isn’t associated with cleanliness, Leon makes it clear just how dirty the city is in the bluntly titled “Garbage” and “Shit” (the latter of the canine variety). But in the titular essay, it’s clear also that she loves the community feel and unforced camaraderie of her neighborhood, where the city’s lack of cars means citizens are “forced to walk [and] forced to meet.” A music aficionado, with a particular penchant for the underappreciated Handel, Leon makes the arias and orchestrations come alive in “On Beauty and Freedom in the Opera” and “Confessions of an American Handel Junkie.” Originally from New Jersey, though she’s lived and taught in locations as varied as Saudi Arabia and China, Leon takes her native country to task on issues of obesity (“Fatties”), the Manhattan male (“The New York Man”), and fear (“The United States of Paranoia”). With most of the essays running no longer than three or four pages, the volume leans a bit too much on the side of quantity (there are 55 essays), but Leon’s distinctive voice is reason enough to power through. (Dec.)