TOP BOOKS TO READ BEFORE YOU VISIT SPAIN!
Cyclists who are planning to bike Spain, may be wanting to be read more than their Strava counts in preparation to their Spanish cycle tour. We´ve prepared a list of books you can download and read before you get here.
1) CLASSIC BOOKS ON SPAIN
Ok, due to the sheer fame of this author, we just have to include his works. Ernest Hemmingway – “For Whom the Bell Tolls” – is the classic favourite which we all studied but perhaps didn’t appreciate at the time in school. This famous Hispanophile gives an idea of the civil war with this fictionalised account of Republican supporters fighting the Fascists. Hemmingway spent much time in Spain as a war correspondent and later researched bullfighting as a lifelong interest. His “Death in the afternoon” also acquaints one with Spain’s passion with this sport.
Another has to be on the reading list is of course, the most famous and beloved, DonQuixote by Miguel Cervantes! This magnificent novel is over 400 years old and is one of the most influential pieces of literature spawning Broadway shows to images on a million tablecloths. Still a very enjoyable read even if it does remind you of being in your high school English Lit. class.
More modern, but still a classic is Federico Garcia Lorca – Any of his plays, i.e. “Yerma” or “The House of Bernarda Alba”. Lorca is one of Spain’s most beloved poets, and was widely acclaimed in the United States and across Europe. His plays can be quite disquieting and often depressing, Lorca, who grew up in Granada has a way of seeing the society in clear terms and his plays reflect a deep significance. They are all the more poignant knowing of his murder in the Civil War repression in Granada city.
In the Lorca theme, a very nice fictional movie, is “La Luz Prodigiosa”, directed by Miguel Hermoso (2003) and staring Alfredo Landa, (the English title is The End of a Mystery) as a man, who tries to discover the identity of someone he helped in Granada during the civil war.
2) BOOKS ON MODERN DAY SPAIN
Moving into the Modern day verse and history, is Giles Tremlett – “Ghosts of Spain – Travels through a Country´s Hidden Past”
Tremlett a journalist for the UK Guardian paper has been a long time resident in Madrid and in this book explores Spain´s ability or inability to come to terms with its civil war history and in general the interesting cultural differences which exist in Spain and the UK. His book on Isabel and Ferdinand´s daughter, Catherine of Aragon, * is also fascinating. These are both very readable books, very easy to digest topics and history that might otherwise be heavy going.*Allison Weir´s book (a 6 book series about all of Henry the VIII’s wives) about the Spanish Catherine of Aragon is also an interesting take on this fascinating woman.
A bit further back is Gerald Brenan – “South from Granada” - Recounting the author’s days of living in a small village in the Sierra Nevada, it is an interesting piece on the lifestyle in the 1950s of this area and Chris Stewart´s fun account of modern day living in the Alpujarras of the Sierra Nevada is also most readable (“Driving over Lemons, A Parrot in the Pepper Tree”, etc.).
3) BOOKS ON SPAIN´S RECONQUEST
A lighter read, but still a good historical fiction is The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner, which is an interesting look at Isabel and Fernando´s daughter, Juana (La Loca – the Crazy) and as well, The Queen´s vow, about Isabel herself.
Ok, this is not technically on Spain, but Michael Wood’s “Conquistadors” is an excellent way to spend time. A thought provoking and fascinating look at the Spaniards who left their country to destroy and enslave the great Civilisations of the Mayans and Incas throughout Central and South America. These cataclysmic events, which resulted in one of history´s biggest genocides is explained by Woods in a great narrative style and helps fleshes out many people, who otherwise have been consigned to stuffy history books.
Going a bit further back in time - Reconquest and Inquisition era
Amin Maalouf – “Leo the African”. Being in the city of Conquest and the famed Alhambra Palace, this book is a good fictional account of the Christian reconquest of this city and the Alhambra Palace workings. The rest of the book takes place in Morocco, where the family is displaced after the Reconquest.
Another for this time is The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner, which is an interesting look at Isabel and Fernando´s daughter, Juana (La Loca - the Crazy) and as well, The Queen´s vow, about Isabel herself.
Also good are Arturo Perez-Reverte´s books, “The Fencing Master”, “The Seville Communion”, etc. Reverte is Spain´s best known author of historical fiction and his books are set in a myriad of times and topics.
4) BOOKS ABOUT ART AND SPAIN HAS IT ALL!
A very good and recent published book on one of Spain´s painters is The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velázquez by Laura Cumming, which is a fusion of a detective story with a great deal of biographical information of the artist himself.
A different kind of art then painting is Flamenco! Jason Webster – “Duende: A Journey in Search of Flamenco” is a readable book about the author’s attempts at learning to play the flamenco guitar and offers an insight into flamenco and the Roma (gypsy) way of life.
5) BOOKS ABOUT THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR
Laurie Lee – “As I walked out one Midsummer Morning”, The author’s trip from North England to his months in Spain on the eve of the Spanish Civil War is a very interesting story. His other works include the sequel “A Rose for Winter”, “A Moment of War” and “Cider With Rosie”, all written in his simple but poetic writing style.
Those with interest in the Civil War era will find Paul Preston´s historical tomes on “Franco” and the “Spanish Holocaust” interesting reading or a more lighter read (fiction) is “Winter in Madrid” is set at the time of the Spanish Civil War; it’s by C. J. Ransom or Victoria Hislop – “The Return”, An easy fictional read about Granada set in various eras but mainly concerning a family living in the city and surviving the chaos of the Civil War.
Another fascinating read, “In Hiding: The Life of Manuel Cortés” by Ronald Fraser recounts the time spent in hiding (30 years) of the former mayor, Manuel Cortés, of Mijas (near Málaga) . This oral account is both inspiring and a great insight into Andalucía during the treacherous post war years.
Whatever you end up reading before or while you travel this country will lead you to appreciate the great diversity and depth that Spain has to offer the visitor! Learn more about Spain on our cycling trips around Andalucia, the Rioja wine region and our Coastal bike tour of the Camino de Santiago