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Venice Is a Fish: A Sensual Guide

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  835 ratings  ·  88 reviews
One of Italy's brightest literary lights reinvents travel writing with a seductive, intoxicating celebration of the magical saltwater city
"Venice is a fish," writes Tiziano Scarpa. "It's like a vast sole stretched out against the deep. How did this marvelous beast make its way up the Adriatic and fetch up here, of all places?" Paying homage to his native city in a lyrica
ebook, 176 pages
Published August 14th 2008 by Gotham Books (first published 2000)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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 ·  835 ratings  ·  88 reviews

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An evocative ode to Venice by a native writer, which excludes naming restaurants and shops and instead focuses on the life of the place. He's too indulgent in word choice, but good at portraying the atmosphere that "keeps desire forever inflamed, but at a mild level, without sudden fluctuations." Not all is romantic, since Venice is also a giant sewer-home to rat legions, and chunks of old plaster fall on people's heads.

Another writer, Diogo Mainardi, concludes in the coda: "For me, Venice is th
Christopher Intagliata
Oct 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: travellers to Venice and Italophiles
This is probably the best guide to Venice. You won't find hotels, restaurants, bars or museums on these pages - instead they are dedicated to examining the essence of all things perceived by the senses in Venice, unique among all cities. There is a chapter on the sounds of Venice, footsteps on stone alleys reverberating in the closed space. The smells of the fish market and the canals in the summer. The most beautiful and sensible guide to experiencing Venice.

The title, "Venice is a fish" derive
Stuart Hill
lyrical musings on the city by a venetian. This book attempts to describe the impact of venice on the senses. At best it is a witty and stimulating read, but it is let down by some weaker sections.

It is also rather short, and the central text is a mere 100 short pages (the edition I read was a small format), the remainder is made up of alternative versions of previous chapters which felt rather pointless , and a couple of pieces by other authors, one of which is less than 3 pages long! I did won
Jun 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mostly, this book is amazingly fulfilling in its full-sensory engagement with La Serenissima, but then it simply ends, I suppose, just as my short upcoming visit will. Intensely felt, this geography lesson tells me how the place will lay claim to my heart. And I'm open to it. ...more
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this short little book. It's very evocative and there are certain paragraphs that I want to photocopy and keep in my pocket to amuse me again later. Definitely take your time reading it to appreciate the wit. ...more
Jul 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kaboom
On a trip to visit, my host left me with a map and this book and told me if I read it I would fall in love with Venice. Having read the book my first night in Venice, it now feels like she was giving me a choice, the map or the book. It's full of wonderful tidbits and gossip, funny and conspiratorial. I prefer prose to poetry, so at times it was more flowery than I like, but it put me in the perfect mindset to fall in love with Venice. I highly recommend it if you're coming to Venice, which I al ...more
Cara Lynn
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was shockingly well written. It was extremely engaging & a super fast read. If anyone wants to go to or is planning a trip to Venice, I highly recommend this. (It’s part travel guide, part memoir)
May 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A interesting guide through Venice focusing on the different senses. The book is unlike any other "travel guide" I've read because it focuses on the nooks and grannies and obscurities of a world famous city. The language is thick and convoluted which makes for a good read and a feeling similar to eating a very rich meal. ...more
Nov 10, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What started as initially beautiful became a very difficult to read little book. Ultimately I'm not sure this provided the background and info on Venice that I was looking for. I might just stick with the guidebook. ...more
Short book to whet your appetite for Venice. Each chapter comments on how a body part, legs for example, interactes with Venice. Eyes, ears, nose, taste, feet, legs each have a chapter. Basically saying Venice is sensory overload and so everyone is most serene.
David Gray
Nov 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is as much poetry as prose about the wonderful and bizarre world that is Venice. Another title that probably doesn't mean much to those wo don't already know or love the city, but certainly provides a unique perspective to those who already feel that connection. ...more
Mar 17, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
My second book about Italy... I wanted to like it, but it wasn't what I was hoping. Too short on useful details for me.. except, once again, for the food. ...more
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
{Review about Venice is a Fish and Dream of Venice in Black and White, intro by Tiziano Scarpa}

I was 19 when I first saw Venice. We had taken an overnight train from Vienna and arrived very early in the morning. Despite the fact that this was at the tail end of almost three months in India, where I had seen my fill of glorious wonders, nothing could have prepared me for my first glimpse of the fabled city. It was a blindingly bright September morning-- and I hadn't expected the Grand Canal to be
Gail Pool
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Is there any city more written about than Venice? The city is “encrusted with imagination” writes Tiziano Scarpa. “There isn’t another place in the world that could bear all that visionary tonnage on its shoulders.” Venice, he says, “will sink under the weight of all the visions, fantasies, stories, characters and daydreams it has inspired.”

Scarpa nonetheless seems quite happy to add to that “tonnage” in this love letter to his native city. His “sensual guide” addresses ways the visitor can take
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the most unique "guidebooks" I've ever read, _Venice is a Fish_ is more a love letter to the author's city, written to newcomers about to fall in love for themselves. "A Sensual Guide" is the perfect name, then, as Scarpa's language is laden with romance as he walks us through what is like to experience Venice by smell, touch, taste, and more. I read a translation, as I don't speak Italian--but the original Italian text must be like velvet. This book was a perfect introduction to the city ...more
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a darling book that is a must read for people going to visit Venice, or for those of you who have experienced the mystery of Venice. Unlike the usual travel guide, this is not about buildings, art, food, hotels. This is about the feel of Venice. What it smells like, noises heard, all of the sensual aspects of the city. Close your eyes, and feel the city! Yes, buildings are discussed, but Venice is more than what reaches the intellectually trained eye! All of the good, the bad, the smelly ...more
Bronwen Griffiths
This is the second time I have read this book. I came across it in a bookshop in Venice (English edition) and have just re-read it on another trip to the city. I love its quirkiness, the interesting snippets of information, its humour and pathos - and the absolute love the author has for his city, where, as he puts it, 'the aesthetic radioactivity is extremely high.' Its a small book but it contains so much. (NB My edition is paperback and published by Serpents Tail, London, 2009, translation by ...more
An interesting perspective on Venice but not one I wish to keep on my shelves. The author spends too little time on each 'sense' for any of them to be particularly memorable, and the actual book ends a lot sooner than you expect it to. Still, it presented a perspective I hadn't considered before so I'll give it that. ...more
Anything about Venice will have me captivated, but I especially appreciated the vignettes of a hidden Venice with the poetry of actually experiencing its treasures. The last sections (formally) had me a bit confused, but overall an enjoyable read.
May 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved how the author tied art, books, geography, and feelings to show the way through Venice in a timeless way.
A beautifully written book on the magic and charm of Venice.
Sep 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is not your typical city guide, its better.

Great to read while in Venice.

Full of little stories and tips to understand Venician and their splendid city.
May 20, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: italy, water
Okay if you're really doing a Venice deep-dive, but otherwise kind of meandering and vague in a way that made it hard to sink my teeth in. ...more
Dec 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Written by a native Venetian, this book has real Italian flair: the writing is fresh and original, and much of the anecdotes contained within are humorous and (sometimes) surreal. It is strangely bewitching and, hands down, the most innovative book about Venice I’ve ever read.

Scarpa’s main thesis is that Venice is so beautiful — her paintings, her architecture, her canals — that the visitor can be inflicted with a disease known as “aesthetic radioactivity”, an idea that is pushed so much it soon
Those of us who can’t get enough of Venice always hope to be told about some hidden gem, curious fact or intriguing anecdote that nobody has told us before, even though we may have read a dozen books on the Serenissima and visited the city many times. So it was with this „cultural guide“ by Tiziano Scarpa.

The book starts off beautifully, comparing Venice to a huge, tired fish loaded down with the pearls, sand, seashells and seaweed of distant lands, come to rest in the lagoon and tied down by th
Apr 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: venice, italy
This is an unusual book. To my knowledge, it's a whole new art form. It has the elements of a Hallmark gift book and at the same time those of an underground travelogue. The beauty of Venice is given in prose that rivals that of Maupassant (pp 117-124) whether it is about the vistas, the architecture or scatological issues unique to the city (pp.69-77).

The writer clearly loves his topic and the translator the art of translation. (Not having read the original, I presume Shaun Whiteside has coined
Apr 04, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Although I really like the idea of Scarpa's book, I think the flowery writing and abundance of big words make this short read a bit tedious. Plus I think the translation is probably a bad one (I speak Italian and I felt that some of the word and phrase choices were probably too literal and/or mistakes). My favorite part of the book is an essay included in the appendix titled "going back to sleep in Venice" (the first letter is not capitalised) by Diogo Mainardi.
Overall I'd skip this sensory ode
Jul 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, urban
This spare, impressionistic, and exceedingly unconventional account of Venice is far from the usual tourguide. I liked some chapters better than others, but appreciated the effort to try something new in the travel writing genre. I read about half the book before visiting Venice for the first time, and the rest after my return, and enjoyed the latter more than the former. It may work better as a stimulus for reviving memories of the city, than as a guide for the uninitiated.
Marwan Asmar
It would hardly seem fair for me to trash this book, particularly when it received so much glowing reviews from all over the world, and in spite of the fact I may needed to use a dictionary here and there, and which I am not afraid to say. I understand that this book is handled from an innovative perspective, and I so much wanted to follow its rhythm, but there was always a nagging feeling that I wanted to know and experience more about this beautiful city.
Mar 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: venice
Scarpa's account of Venice is not a guidebook or a history in any conventional sense, but he conveys an enormous amount about the city nonetheless. Quite the best book about Venice I've ever read. I also enjoyed his Venice-inspired musings on life, such as the story of Pucci, his great-grandmother's cat which, "emerging from a placid snooze, opened his eyes on to the fall. ...Life is a cat asleep on the window sill suddenly waking as it falls from the third floor." (p. 87) ...more
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