The word for book in Italian is libro (masculine, plural: libri), which comes from the Latin word liber. If you find it hard to remember, just think of the English word library!
Before the Latin word came to mean book, it indicated the inner bark of some plants which, when dried, was used as a writing material in ancient times.
Ho letto l’intero libro in una seduta.
I read the entire book in one sitting.
Some important terms related to libro include:
- libreria = bookstore
- libretto = booklet, record book, pass book
- libraio = bookseller
- libresco = bookish (pejorative)
Two kinds of books almost all children have growing up are colouring books (libri da colorare) and storybooks (libri di fiabe / racconti). Once they reach school age, they start using school books (libri scolastici or libro di testo) and reading novels (romanzi) which may be either hardback (libro con copertina rigida) or paperback (libro tascabile).
Other type of books are:
- libro rilegato = bound book
- libro sacro = sacred book
- libro bianco = white book (figurative way to describe documents and testimonies for a crime)
- libro paga = pay book
- libro di bordo / navigazione = log book
If you like novels, you may wonder how the different genres translate in Italian. Here they are:
- Romance = romanzo rosa (rosa = pink)
- Fantasy = fantastico (the English term is often preferred nowadays)
- Science fiction = fantascienza
- Thriller = thriller (or romanzo d’azione)
- Detective / Crime = giallo*
- Horror = orrore (the English term is often used these days)
- Adventure = avventura
Adoro i romanzi di fantascienza e i gialli.
I love science fiction and detective novels.
Trivia: Italians started to call detective / crime novels gialli (meaning yellow, singular giallo) following the release of a popular series of books in 1929 by Mondadori, which all had a distinctive yellow cover.
An expression that exists in both English and Italian is essere un libro aperto which means to be an open book. It refers to something that is completely transparent or someone who doesn’t keep any secrets about themselves.
Other expressions using the word ‘libro’
Cosa letta nel libro dei sogni
Literal translation: something read in the book of dreams
English meaning: a fantastic, impossible thing, which can only exist in dreams
Essere sul libro nero
Literal translation: to be in the black book
English meaning: to be in someone’s bad books
Essere un libro chiuso
Literal translation: to be a closed book
English meaning: a person who does not reveal his or her thoughts or feelings
Libro da spiaggia
Literal translation: a beach book
English meaning: light reading, generally a novel, intended to be read on vacation
Parlare come un libro stampato
Literal translation: to speak like a published book
English meaning: to know many things and present them clearly and convincingly (often used to describe people who show off)