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The Sixteen Pleasures

3.57  ·  Rating Details ·  2,445 Ratings  ·  307 Reviews
When book conservator Margo Harrington goes to Florence to aid in restoring the treasures damaged in the flooding of the Arno in 1966, she is entrusted with a rare book that its owner, the abbess of a convent, hopes to sell without the bishop's knowledge. (Nancy Pearl)
Paperback, 384 pages
Published May 1st 1995 by Delta (first published May 1st 1994)
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Roger Brunyate
Aug 21, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it really liked it
Shelves: art, sex-as-subject
Where I Want to Be

I have been hearing about this book for years, but had put off reading it, partly because of its simply dreadful design of the original cover and the implication in the blurb that it was a recherché erotic romp. But I was wrong. Sex is one of its subjects, yes, but so are religion, history, Italian life, book-binding, and art. The novel might almost have been written for me.

When the news of the flooding of the River Arno came through in November 1966, I was a junior lecturer in
Jan 18, 2016 Booknblues rated it it was amazing
The Sixteen Pleasures, Robert Hellenga's first published novel gave readers a taste for his intricate writing which weaves characterization, relationships, interesting details of time, place, skills, food, music and plot. In this way Robert Hellenga encapsulates all ones senses in the story.

We first meet Margot Harrington, in November of 1966. She is 29 and a book conservator and feeling stuck while the ticking hands of time leave her behind. The river Arno has flooded and she feels drawn to Flo
Nov 07, 2009 Bibliophile rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2009
The Sixteen Pleasures purports to take place just after the great flood of 1966 that devastated much of the city of Florence and its artistic treasures. Margot Harrington, a young American bookbinder, goes off to try and help preserve some of the cities' treasured old books, and in the process, becomes embroiled with an older Italian man, finds herself, etc., etc., etc.

I have no idea why Robert Hellenga chose to write from the perspective of a young woman, because he's really bad at it. Margot d
Sep 23, 2008 Laura rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 20, 2010 "Aubri"/Lisa rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
While I found the story engaging enough, and even liked the female protagonist, I have to admit to being rather disappointed with this book. In particular:

1. This was one of the worst proofread books I've ever (attempted to!) read. I know the author has no control over this, but it was distracting enough to knock it down a full star for me. And if I was the author I would be mortified to see my work thus presented. I'm not talking about comma usage or grammar... this book is full of misspellings
Oct 13, 2008 Leena rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who loves Italy, romance, and books
Recommended to Leena by: my sis
With very little forethought or planning, our spirited heroine, Margot Harrington, leaves the security of her low-paying job restoring books at the Newberry Library and heads for Europe. She throws herself headlong into an exhilarating Italian adventure, her destination the ancient city of Florence where recent floods have ravaged a historic part of the city. Priceless pieces of art, artifacts, and books lie beneath a layer of mud and the city needs volunteers to help with the cleanup. Margot be ...more
Dec 05, 2006 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who love Italy
Shelves: italy, fiction
Another get away and dream of Italy book.

From Amazon:
In 1966, 29-year-old Margot Harrington heads off to Florence, intent on doing her bit to protect its precious books from the great floods--and equally intent on adventure. Serendipity, in the shape of the man she'll fall in love with, leads her to an abbey run by the most knowing of abbesses and work on its library begins. One day a nun comes upon a shockingly pornographic volume, bound with a prayer book. It turns out to be Aretino's lost e
This book had a wonderful start, and the main character was so well-defined. I loved her nostalgic moments, and stories of her family and travels. I also liked the Italian lessons I got from the book. The premise of the book was quite fascinating--the "Mud Angels", the book restoration and conservation. The convent scenes were also well-written, and I found myself very interested in the lives of these nuns. There were so many good things about the book, although there were a few sections of the ...more
Jun 19, 2008 Theresa rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: book conservators, art lovers, and lovers of Italy.
Recommended to Theresa by:
Shelves: fiction-general, 2008
There is a paragraph near the end of the book that explains my feelings for the book itself:

"Have you ever read a great novel, or listened to a great symphony, or stood in front of a great work of art, and felt - absolutely nothing? You try to open yourself to the text, the music, the painting, but you have no power to respond. Nothing moves you. You are turned to stone. You feel guilty."

I have read wonderful things about this book, but it just didn't do anything for me. I still gave it four sta
May 05, 2014 Christine rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014-reads
Needing a change and some adventure in her life, Margot Harrington felt a calling to travel to Florence in 1966 to aid in the restoration of art and books after the famous flood. Many foreigners arrived in the city, but Margot was a little removed from the other “Mud Angels” because she was an experienced antique book restorer and she was very familiar with Florence, having lived there for several years as a child. Circumstance leads her to end up living at and working in the library of an impov ...more
The Sixteen Pleasures – Robert Hellenga

4 stars

“What is amazing is how intensely you care about this woman” – The New Yorker

That quote appears on the back cover of my battered paperback copy of The Sixteen Pleasures. It’s true. I did come to care a great deal about Margot Harrington and her 1966 sojourn of self-discovery in flood stricken Florence. However, the truly amazing thing is how accurately Robert Hellenga managed to capture the inner voice and personality of a young woman.

Margot is 29 a
Sep 17, 2007 liz rated it it was amazing
So I really, really loved Philosophy Made Simple, Hellenga's later novel that I read over a year ago. The Sixteen Pleasures sucked me right in, and I liked it way better than some other novels I've read about Americans in love with Italy. The Sixteen Pleasures follows an American girl in her mid-twenties in the mid-sixties who, feeling a quarter-life crisis, decides to move to Florence to help with book restoration following the horrendous flooding. She'd spent two years of high school in Italy, ...more
F Macias-Mossman
Feb 27, 2010 F Macias-Mossman rated it liked it
The book, "The Sixteen Pleasures" is covered in praise, and the all-telling mark of "National Best Seller." I kept going back to the declarations that read "…an erotic book about an erotic book…","…a genuine literary treasure…", "…an adventure under pressure…," and "…amazing…how intensely you care about this women."

Somehow, these phrases did not appear to match or describe the book I was reading. Then towards the end of the book, the main character, Margo, tries to explain her initial disappo
Jun 13, 2007 Jest rated it liked it
This story is about a young female book conservator who travels to Italy in 1966, the year the Arno flooded its banks, destroying the collections of galleries, libraries and churches. While staying in a convent she discovers a lost book of pornography that dates back to the Renaissance. Hurray!

The blurb on the back cover describes this as an erotic book about an erotic book which I think is very misleading. The sexuality struck me as being very tame. However the main charcter is very well drawn.
Sarah Skye
Apr 02, 2009 Sarah Skye rated it liked it
I'm a little skeptical when it comes to books written by old men from the perspective of young women; I always expect there to be some sort of disconnect as if the author is writing about a subject matter that they obviously know nothing about. The Sixteen Pleasures captures all the romance of art, travel and young love, yet the love isn't so young and the heroin Margot seems a little world-weary for her 29 years. Despite Margot’s lackluster view on love and sex she falls into a life totally con ...more
Nov 13, 2015 Marianne rated it really liked it
I loved this book. Hellenga's characters are so real. I love when I hear myself saying "no, don't" or "go for it" to a character of print. It tells me that the author has done the job - brought me right there into the story. I only gave a four because I found the end a little wanting. A book this intense should have a powerful ending and I don't think it did. Still a great book.
Jan 23, 2008 Jacolyn rated it did not like it
Bookbinding + Italy = LOVE, right??? Anyone who knows me would recommend this book--and many did. I hated this book from the beginning and forced myself to read it. I had a professor in college that made quite the impression on me and she gave us one exercise in which she had us read excerpts of certain authors. It was then our job to assign a gender based upon this tidbit. It was fascinating to see if we could indeed do that! This book is an example of a man writing for a feminine protagonist w ...more
Karenbike Patterson
Mar 16, 2016 Karenbike Patterson rated it liked it
Megan is a book restorer who goes to Florence after the 1961 flood. She ends up restoring books in a convent and living with the nuns. She also picks up a married Italian lover.
While restoring the books ( a lot of really interesting info about how this is done), the nuns find a double book bound as one book: prayers and erotica engravings and narrative in one binding. Her lover restores frescoes and there is good info on that as well ). Megan restores the binding and the Abbess knows The Sixtee
Jen Bojkov
May 07, 2014 Jen Bojkov rated it liked it
This is one of those that you can't wait to read and then don't really understand what all the fuss was about. I suspect it had to do with the slightly naughty title- but I really don't recall the book being all that salacious. Maybe I would have liked it more and remembered more!!
"I was twenty-nine years old when the Arno flooded its banks on Friday 4 November 1966. On Tuesday I decided to go to Italy, to offer my services as a humble book conservator, to save whatever could be saved,
Feb 01, 2009 ehnonymus rated it liked it
the back of the book, and indeed even the title, suggests that the sixteen pleasures will be quite a bit more scandalous than it actually ends up being. in some ways i found it disappointing, not because i needed it to be more salacious but because it had all the potential to be an amazing book but just somehow failed to make that leap into awesomeness. i think in part because it focused a lot of attention on relatively inconsequential details but just sort of skipped over important moments.
Mar 01, 2015 Heather rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this novel, which is set in 1966-1967 and centers on a twenty-nine-year-old book conservator who goes to Florence to restore damaged books after the Arno floods, but either it’s just not the book for me or I wasn’t in the right mood.

Maybe my problem is mostly structural: after starting really engagingly, with a wonderful first few chapters narrated by Margot Harrington, the aforementioned book conservator, the book switches to third-person narrative to introduce Sandro Postigli
I'm nearly done. I have enjoyed the adventure of the secret book that Margot has restored and is attempting to sell. I wish there was more discussion of her fling with Postiglione and the negotiations to sell the book, especially since she is doing it for the convent that hosted her during her stay in Florence to help after the '66 flood. It makes perfect sense, but the details about Florence and her life there are so pleasant that it would be great to have MORE.
Lindsay McMaster
Aug 19, 2014 Lindsay McMaster rated it it was amazing
I found Robert Hellenga's writing to be perfectly nuanced, the novel just long enough. I related achingly to his female protagonist-- it was disheartening to see among the reviews so many women who felt Margo's point of view to be completely misguided and even offensive. While several moments in the book had me in a heightened emotional state, I was actually in tears for the final chapter-- a reaction which took me by surprise in that I experience it so rarely with books.

Many books hinge on a j
Claudia Mormile
Apr 26, 2015 Claudia Mormile rated it really liked it
I loved this book primarily because of its setting in Florence, but I couldn't put it down until I found out what would happen to the mysterious book. I loved the convent and observations on the nuns. I wish she would have spent more time with Madre Badessa. How unfair is the church to women??
I wanted to see all the artwork and all the books. When I visited Florence I saw in many churches a sign on the walls showing were the water of the floods had reached. Yet, the flood only truly came to lif
Joana Silva
May 06, 2016 Joana Silva rated it it was ok
These are the type of books that make me mad. The potential was there but did not deliver. The description in the back of the book uses words such as "exquisite" and "sensual" but it was none of that. The book centers around Margot and her time in Italy and not on the actual 'sixteen pleasures'. It's more of a soul searching story rather than a mystery dealing with the book.
Another issue..... the misspellings and grammatical errors! I can't spell to save my life but it distracts a reader to see
Jul 08, 2008 Pat rated it it was amazing
I really liked this story. The book is set in Florence after the Arno flooded in the 60's. The main character is a librarian bored out of her mind who volunteers to help restore books. She has the adventure of a lifetime. Probably silly but I still loved it.
Susan Kerr
Jul 17, 2016 Susan Kerr rated it really liked it
Shelves: popular-fiction
Curiously full of promise -- a young woman book conservationist, Florence after the great flood, a nunnery, an older lover, another lover, a valuable ancient book, a bit of skulduggery. But somehow The Sixteen Pleasures did not fully work for me. Fascinating insights, great research regarding book and art restoration and conservation, and post-flood recovery and international aid, and Italian life as she is lived. What threw me is the book's shifts of intent. Now, I do like a novel that is not g ...more
Linda George
Dec 26, 2012 Linda George rated it really liked it
Ah, just finished this book. It was a real treat for the senses!
J.A. McLachlan
Jul 30, 2016 J.A. McLachlan rated it it was amazing
This book was brilliantly written; I will read more of Hellenga's works. The characters were well-drawn and complex and the author wove in their backstories very skilfully to make what happens to them poignant and believable. I cared about the heroine from the start, was intrigued by the plot, and particularly enjoyed all the detailed descriptions about the "mud angels" who helped rescue art and precious books during the flood in Florence, in 1966. This is a superb example of a fictional story w ...more
Jun 02, 2015 Vira rated it it was ok
Underwhelming. Seriously. The liner notes were more exciting.

And the sad thing is that it could've been more exciting. And not in the sense of 50 Shades of Gray. She has a book that the Vatican wants, to prevent the public to see its eroticism. All she did was restore it and sell it illegally.

I agree with the other reviews about the author not being able to write in the POV of a young woman, especially during the sexual scenes. Her attitude and behavior didn't make sense to me.

And I really don't
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“He doesn't believe in talking too much about art, especially while you're looking at it. The pressure to appreciate is the great enemy of actual enjoyment. Most people don't know what they like because they feel obligated to like so many different things. They feel they're supposed to be overwhelmed, so instead of looking, they spend their time thinking up something to say, something intelligent, or at least clever.” 6 likes
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