"Why Italians Love to Talk About Food" (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $35), a wandering encyclopedia, travel guide and history, at times ploddingly told, but unlike much else. Elena Kostioukovitch, who was Umberto Eco's Russian translator, walks us from north to south, each stop densely researched. There are no recipes. Photos are gorgeous, if sparse. And the tone is reminiscent of a long, discursive meal. (Risotto, for instance, is "always finished after the famished guests have already arrived.")

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