Read Around the World: Spain
Our next stop in our world tour of literature is Spain. Join us as we explore some of what Spain has to offer in terms of literature and find out which books we selected. Spain is another one of those countries that has produced so much excellent and widely read literature that we won’t claim that there is only one book that represents the country. Instead we will each discuss one selected book and we hope you help us create a list of your favorite Spanish books and authors.
Fun Facts about Spain:
- Spanish is one of the most widespread languages in the world due to the influence of the Spanish empire. In fact more people in the US speak Spanish than in Spain.
- Spain has a number of islands including Mallorca, Tenerife, Ibiza and Gran Canaria.
- Paella is a popular rice dish in Spain but only ask for more if you are sure you can eat it, not finishing is considered rude.
- Bullfighting is a traditional and controversial sport in Spain and it represents Spanish arts, history and tradition. The bull is the national animal of Spain.
- Famous Spaniards include Antoni Gaudi, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, El Greco and perhaps even more well known Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.
- The first novel, Tirant lo Blanc (1490), was written by Spanish author Joanot Martorell. It played an important role in the development of the Western novel. It was highly influential on Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote one of Spain’s most famous novels Don Quixote.
- The outer castle wall of the Moorish palace Alhambra in Granada is one of Spain’s architectural masterpieces. The Alhambra was the seat of Muslim rulers from the 13th century to the end of the 15th century. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has inspired many stories and songs.
- Spanish children don’t have a tooth fairy instead they have a small mouse called “Ratoncito Pérez” who collects the teeth and leaves a surprise under the pillow.
- La Tomatina is an annual festival in Spain where people through tomatoes at each other.
- The humble mop was invented in Spain.
For this edition of read around the world Jen and I will be reading different books. We’ll start off with our individual selections and then will end with a list of other recommended reading.
Book Worm’s selection: Tales of the Alhambra (1832) by Washington Irvine. This book is based on Irvine’s visit to the region in 1828 where he was given the honour as a celebrity of staying in the Alahambra Palace. I am also counting this as diverse reading as I don’t normally read, much less enjoy, nonfiction books.
I really enjoyed this largely non fiction exploration of the Alhambra Palace in Spain. It is part tour guide, part history lesson, and part collection of folk tales. This book really captured the magic of Spain and revealed its diverse history due to years of Muslim and Christian conflict. While some of the folk tales reminded me of 1001 Nights they were much less repetitive in nature and got to the point a lot quicker. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in Spanish history as well as those who enjoy folk tales and if you are planning a trip to Spain this is a must read guide to the region.
Jen’s selection: I have read, and loved, a lot of Spanish literature. I went to high school in Costa Rica and Don Quixote was mandatory reading. I am lucky to be fluent in Spanish, so have been able to enjoy Spanish literature books in their original language. I decided to pick Viaje a la Alcarría (Journey to the Alcarría) by Camilo José Cela to match Book Worm’s choice since both are travel books. Cela won the Nobel prize for literature in 1989 and while he is better known for other works (La Familia de Pascual Duarte, La Colmena), this book gives readers a beautifully descriptive picture of rural Spain.
Journey to Alcarria is essentially a travelogue. The protagonist is a traveller (that traveler is actually Cela himself, although he only mentions his name once or twice) who leaves home and travels through Alcarria, a largely rural region northeast of Madrid. The book is neither character nor plot driven but rather is like a journal of travels. Readers are given virtually no information about the protagonist (Cela) or his intentions in wandering the countryside, but instead are taken along for a trip through some beautiful and often desolate land.
Cela really captured the beauty and atmosphere of the countryside. The writing was very descriptive and beautiful. There were some amusing characters encountered along the way and a few moments when I laughed out loud at some of his experiences. He wrote this book shortly after the Spanish civil war in an attempt to capture a part of Spain that was starting to disappear. In this context, the book took on additional meaning as there were some interesting commentaries on contrast between city and country, tradition vs. modernity and emerging poverty in suburban and city communities.
Other recommendations for Spanish Literature:
I (Jen) have lots of favorite Spanish authors and have a hard time selecting only a few books. My personal favorite Spanish author is Javiar Marias. Rather than give you a few favorite books, I’m giving you a top 10 list of Spanish books I think you should read to get a small sampling of Spanish literature:
1. Don Quixote by Cervantes
2. A Heart so White by Javiar Marias (or pretty much anything by Marias)
3. Fortunata y Jacinta by Benito Galdós (Spanish realism, 1886)
4. Cantar del Mio Cid (the oldest Spanish epic poem)
5. Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas
6. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
7. The Heretic by Miguel Delibes
8. La Celestina by Rojas
9. The Time of Silence by Luis Martin-Santos
10. Family of Pascual Duarte by Camilo Jose Cela
We want to hear from you. Have you read any books based in, or by authors from Spain? Do we have any Spanish readers? What would you like to share about literature in your country? Which books do you recommend?