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Spain in Mind

  • Oct 13, 2010

In 2007 I quit my job in biotech and moved to Spain for six months to learn Spanish in situ. Although I/'d had great intentions about reading up on the country and culture beforehand, this didn't happen. I did have a blast, and did eventually fill in most of the gaps in my knowledge. This is a list of books that I found particularly helpful. I'd recommend them to anyone interested in learning more about Spain.
The New Spaniards, 2nd Edition
One of its major strengths is an outstanding account, in its first section, of Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy. In only 90 pages, Hooper provides a clear, insightful analysis of events from Franco's death to the political upset that followed the terrorist attacks of March 2004. As a single source to help understand the key political effects of the last 40 years, and their residual effects on the current political scene, Hooper's book is unsurpassed.

Full review is here
See the full review, "An excellent, comprehensive account of contemporary Spain".
Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its
What I particularly liked about Tremlett's book is the way all of his writing is grounded in the vivid details of everyday life. He is much better (than Hooper) at capturing how it feels to live in Spain. The cacophony of noise in Madrid, the necessity for having and using connections (enchufe) to get anything done that pervades all aspects of Spanish life, first-hand encounters with the health and educational systems through the birth and education of his child, a visit to the municipal jail in Seville (conjugal visits), a brothel in Almeria - the mosaic of Spanish life that Tremlett constructs is detailed, colorful and vibrant. Cumulatively his delightful collection of essays do manage to capture both the charm and frustration of Spanish life.

Full review is here
See the full review, "A terrific mosaic of modern Spain".
Homage to Catalonia
There's no better guide to the Spanish Civil War than Orwell.
Spain in Mind
A terrific collection of pieces by "great writers entranced by Spain". Powers has assembled a wonderful collection, which includes pieces by all of the usual suspects (Hemingway, Auden, Orwell, Washington Irving, James Michener, Gerald Brenan, Langston Hughes), augmented by contributions from other illustrious literary pilgrims (Lord Byron, Henry James, John Dos Passos, Edith Wharton, Robert Graves, Anthony Trollope, W. Somerset Maugham), a smattering of poetry (Billy Collins, E.E. cummings, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Andrew Marvell, William Wordsworth), and a variety of travel pieces from such 20th century visitors as Rose Macaulay, Jan Morris, Eric Newby, Calvin Trillin, Joanna Trollope, Tim Moore, Barbara Kingsolver, and Mary Lee Settle. The result is an absolute delight.
See the full review, "An outstanding collection of writing about Spain".
Entre Limones/ Driving Over Lemons: Historia De Un Optimista
The former drummer for Genesis, Chris Stewart, opts out, buys a farm in remote Andalucia, battles with the terrain, the lifestyle, and the unique charm of his peasant neighbors. Whatever tendency Stewart has to romanticize the whole "rustic getaway" aspect is nicely balanced by the commonsense practicality of his wife Ada. This account of their early years in Andalucia is funny and charming.
Seville and Andalucia (Eyewitness Travel Guide) : DK Publishing
DK travel guides are my favorite - they are well-organized, with copious illustrations, kept pretty up to date and give the right mixture of facts and cultural/historical background for my taste.
Madrid Eyewitness Travel Guide : DK Publishing
DK guides are da bomb!
The Ornament of the World : How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain
For almost 700 years, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived in harmony on the Iberian peninsula until the Christian expulsion of non-Catholics following the conquest of the peninsula by the "Catholic Monarchs", Ferdinand and Isabella. Maria Rosa Menocal's account of the culture that flourished in Andalucia, combining the best of Judaic, Muslim and Christian traditions is fascinating and very accessible.
Spanish English Bilingual Visual Dictionary (DK
Oh, this dictionary is so awesome! I have so much geekish fun with it you wouldn't believe it. A genius-like idea (words grouped by theme, each with a matching picture), flawlessly executed. But such pictures!. Everything is so top-of-the line. If DK include a photo of a bathrobe, it's so klassy you immediately start to krave it. Their pastry display makes you drool. You don't just want to know that "la masa brisa" is filo pastry, or that "trifle" is "el postre de soletillas, gelatina de frutas y nata", you want the damned trifle itself. Even the fast food ("comida rapida") looks uncommonly mouth-watering. The "albaricoque" picture is of the most perfect apricot you have ever seen. Even the ugli fruit ("el ugli") is beautiful. Over in the section about the bank, "el director de banco" is kindly and avuncular. "Las plantas podadas con formas" (topiary) are uniformly exquisite. Even the watering can ("la regadera") is an aesthetic delight. "La montaƱa rusa" (the roller-coaster) is a canonical example of roller-coasterdom. File under dictionary-porn.
See the full review, "This dictionary is the bomb!".

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October 15, 2010
Djevoke: Barcelona is a great city in many ways - vibrant, terrific architecture, lots going on. I spent 3 weeks there in 2003 and I'm not a great fan. Most of the Catalans I met had something of an attitude and many were downright rude. Much of it stems from their particular linguistic chauvinism - I understand that, having been forbidden to speak Catalan for decades, they are anxious to revive its use, but replying in Catalan when someone who's obviously a foreigner asks you a question in Spanish is rude, and kind of pointless. Barcelona is the only city where I've had the experience of getting lost while looking for my hotel (on foot, in 100 degree heat, with a heavy suitcase), and asking a hotel concierge for directions only to have him refuse to help me because I was looking for a different hotel, then mock me for being lost in the first place. And when the staff at the language school found out that I had decided to cut a week off my time in Bareclona and use it to spend an extra week in Seville, they refused to believe it and didn't want to help me arrange the change. When I persevered they basically treated me as if I were retarded and didn't speak to me for the rest of my stay. (It probably didn't help that I confessed to finding Gaudi a little overwrought...) But most people's experience of barcelona is far closer to kristina's, I think. It should be a great location to visit on your honeymoon - you should have a blast.

Devora: The dictionary is indeed awesome. As you can tell, I LOVED Spain, but definitely preferred the south to the north. (Also Buenos Aires, but that's a whole other list..)
March 18, 2012
Mine cannot be swayed: to a man, Catalans are dedicated snots who loathe anyone who can't speak their bluntest of all Romance tongues with some facility. Do remember: be ye a sojourner in Barcelona suburbs, La Franja de Aragon or Le Pays Catalan, you're no more in Spain or France than you might be were you trekking through, say...Andorra. Furthermore, any critique of Catalan icons - be it Verdaguer, Maragall, Casals, Dalí or especially beloved Gaudí and Montaner - will at best be met with ostracism. Of course, these tendencies are merely a means to exercise that peculiarly selective exclusivity common to both native and diaspora Catalans. Furthermore, Anglophones are regarded there as cultural morons (excluding present company, this is usually accurate, and demonstrably so), so the rudeness that you've suffered is an otherwise wonderfully efficacious instrument for the social expulsion of riff-raff. I'd love to visit Buenos Aires for its architecture, social life and a visit to two familial parties, and from what I've heard, neither the city nor its suburbs are free of insufferable Catalan fastidiousness. It's how we are, and this will not change. This began as a response to Habsburg idiocy and brutality; Franco's oppression only augmented the reflex.

Spain's lovely throughout; for me, no place on Earth is so enthralling as Catalonia. However, if you go there expecting unconditional generosity or congeniality, you'll come away terribly disappointed.
October 15, 2010
This list is fantastic and I'm envious of your trip! The visual dictionary sounds awesome and is something that I'll have to pick up to brush up on my Spanish while getting some eye candy! Thanks for sharing :)
October 13, 2010
Great list! I've always wanted to go to Barcelona and will be finally making that dream come true when I get to go for my honeymoon. I'll definitely have to check out some of these books before I do! Did you get a chance to check it out? Do you agree with @kristina's Barcelona review?
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