1. The Irish Way: A Walk through Ireland’s Past and Present by Robert Emmett Ginna (Random House). If you can’t cross the pond yourself, there’s no better way to learn about the old country than through the memoir of someone who’s walked the length of the land. Starting in Malin Head, Ireland’s northernmost point, Ginna made the 350-mile trek to Kinsale, south of Cork, while in his 70s. Travel with him as he meets scores of interesting people and discovers the history of the Emerald Isle. Reading The Irish Way is the next-best thing to going there yourself.
2. Stolen Figs and Other Adventures in Calabria by Mark Rotella (North Point Press). More Italian-Americans can trace their roots to Calabria (the toe of the boot), contends Rotella, than to any other part of Italy. If your ancestors hailed from that region, be sure to read this book. You’ll discover a countryside that hasn’t changed much since your forebears lived there. On a mission to learn more about his family’s past, Rotella persuaded his father to visit Gimigliano, the town where Rotella’s grandparents lived before immigrating to the United States. There, Rotella not only uncovered ancestral clues, but also gained insight into Italian religious practices, food procurement and preparation, and migration patterns. He documents his findings in Stolen Figs.
3. The Summer of My Greek Tavérna by Tom Stone (Simon & Schuster). Formerly a Broadway stage manager and assistant director, Stone traveled to Greece for one summer to write a novel and ended up staying 22 years. An amateur chef, he rented a tavérna (small restaurant), where he envisioned commingling with the locals at one dinner party after another. That dream turned into the harsh reality of running a restaurant that didn’t close until 3 a.m. and then had to reopen four hours later. You’ll enjoy the author’s vivid descriptions of Greece (the island of Patmos in particular), along with anecdotes about the colorful people and their culture — Stone details the Greek art of bargaining and the curse of the evil eye. A bonus to this book is the section devoted to Stone’s recipes.