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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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 montaña rusa" (the roller-coaster) is a canonical example of roller-coasterdom. File under dictionary-porn.
See the full review, "This dictionary is the bomb!".