Dia del Libro: Barcelona’s Yearly Homage to the Book and my Favorite Books About Spain

Well known fact about me: I’m a huge proponent for books. I average 20 novels a year and nerd out at bookstores in Seville (and online – damn Amazon’s one-click for my Kindle!). In Spain – particularly in Cataluña – the International Day of the Book is celebrated as a day for lovers, even if only for lovers as books.

The UNESCO has delegated April 23rd as the International Day of the Book, owing to the fact that both Cervantes and Shakespeare, considered to be true purveyors of their languages, died on this day in 1616. What’s more, the feast day of St. George, the patron of Cataluña, commemorates his death and falls on April 23rd. This holiday is revered in the region, and I actually first heard of the celebration reading one of my favorite books set in Spain.

According to local legend, Sant Jordi heroically saved a princess on the outskirts of Barcelona by using a spear. From the slayed dragon’s spilt blood grew a rosebush, and Saint George pick them and gave them to the princess. Since the Middle Ages, men have been giving roses to their sweethearts on this version of Valentine’s Day, and women gift books to them. Results are a massive sale of both in the days leading up to the 23rd.

On this Catalan version of Valentine’s Day, I leave you some of my favorite books set in Spain:

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruíz Zafón

Celebrated young adult novelist Ruíz Zafón jumped into adult fiction with this superb work of mystery and intrigue, set in Barcelona. Youngster Daniel’s father takes him to a place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a forlorn library stacked floor to ceiling with obscure books. The one he chooses, the Shadow of the Wind, is subsequently devoured. When his father warns him that he must protect the book forever, a sinister man tries to destroy it, throwing Daniel into a struggle to save a book and the legacy of an author called Julián Carax. Set in post-war Spain, I had an insatiable thirst for this book, relishing in the intricate story lines and well-drawn characters. I’ve subsequently read many others by the author but not the prequel to Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game.

buy it: The Shadow of the Wind Paperback | The Shadow of the Wind Kindle

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Am I the only one who felt tortured reading Old Man and the Sea? I was convinced I was anti-Hemingway, but my English lit teaching sister has set me straight. Bullfighting’s biggest proponent and the one who put Pamplona and the San Fermines festival on the map, troubled Hemingway was a Hispanophile in his own right. After having a coffee in his haunt in Pamplona, Cafe Irún, I grabbed a copy of the book with a torero emblazoned on the front. Set in 1920s Paris, a group of socialites travel to Pamplona to attend the San Fermines bullfights and running of the bulls. The book explores love, lust, masculinity and death against the backdrop of a Spanish town.

(The Paris Wife is a painful but beautifully written biography of Hermingway’s first wife, reconstructed from letters and journal entries by Paula McClain. Hadley divorced him just after the publication of The Sun Also Rises and took all of the royalties for it).

Buy it: The Sun Also Rises Paperback | The Sun Also Rises Kindle

Dancing in the Fountains: How to Enjoy Living Abroad, Karen McCann

Back in the Fall, I was thrilled to give away a copy of a laugh-out-loud tale of expat life by my friend and fellow Seville inhabitant, Karen McCann. Exploring the canny and kooky, the ups and the downs, Karen’s account of swapping brutal Cleveland winters for the eternal sunshine of Spain with her husband, Rich, is spot-on. I chuckled, recognizing several of the bars Karen and Rich frequent or the characters I’ve also come to know. This delightful recounting of the dreaming to the doing is one I’ve recommended to anyone who years for the sunshine and siestas lifestyle Karen and I enjoy.

Buy it: Dancing In The Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad Paperback |  Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad Kindle

Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past, Giles Tremlett

For a country know for its exuberant and open people, talking of the Civil War and the Franco years remains taboo, even fourty years after his death. Journalist Tremlett sets out to discover the dark roots of one of Europe’s more open and inviting countries. There’s talk of sex and the boom of the tourism industry, of midnight firing squads to eradicate those who cried out against El Generalísimo, of flamenco and gypsies. To truly understand a country whose history spans more than 2000 years is difficult, but Tremlett’s book about modern Spain and its secrets sheds light on modern society.

Buy it: Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past Paperback

 Winter in Madrid, CJ Sansom

My second post-war novel is a spy story set in Madrid with strong, British characters who make a life in the capital under the new Franco government. Madrid itself takes on a persona as if it were a character, and it made me look differently at several barrios that I’d come to know and enjoy, and the story of lost love made it an enjoyable read.

Buy it: Winter in Madrid: A Novel Paperback | Winter in Madrid: A Novel Kindle

Zen Khou, Maestro, Jeremy Joseph Dean

The most recent book I read is a story that mirrors my own in many ways. Jeremy Dean left his comfortable job as a teacher in England after over twenty years to teach at a bilingual immersion school in the Comunitat Valenciana. What he finds is a school that is poorly organized, the kids not quite bilingual and his own teaching styles no match for Spanish niños. Like I said, mirrors my experience at a bilingual immersion school. Dean complements his experiences at school with the day-to-day dealings of bureaucracy and language issues, though his students (the Marias, the Jaime/Jaume and the effable Macarena) steal the show with their ganas, their progress and their gut-busting pronunciation that kept me in good spirits during my two years teaching.

One of these days, I’ll actually get around to reading Don Quijote. After all, I did by a 400 anniversary edition and threw out half of my clothes after studying abroad to make room for the 800-paged brick!

Do you celebrate Día del Libro? What are you favorite books about Spain? Like books themselves can be, these are subjective views and by no means a be-all, end-all list. I’d love to hear your suggestions – I’ll need to download onto my kindle for the Camino anyway!

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

Comments

  1. Some great recommendations, Cat. I’m about to read Jeremy’s too. Following your comments, I’m looking forward to it even more.
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  2. This was a really cool post, Cat! Today in school we had a few minor celebrations for Día del Libro, but I had no idea the holiday commemorated the deaths of Cervantes and Shakespeare. Cool! On the way to school in the carpool someone mentioned it being “Sant Jordi” day but I didn’t think anything of it until you brought up the fact that in Cataluña his feast day is celebrated with book-giving. That’s just the best idea.

    I’ve got Ghosts In Spain on my to-read list for the summer. Looking forward to it!

    P.S. You should put Amazon links to these books to make it easier to look them up! ;)
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  3. I just spent the morning with an American friend who is dating a Catalan guy. He had left her roses this morning, and her books for him! She explained the Catalan tale too!
    Just read Shadow of the Wind and started reading Ghost of Spain last year but it’s now in CA… guess I’ll have reading material when I go back home!
    I love books but certainly don’t make enough time for them, I probably average 5 a year if I’m lucky!
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  4. Melanie Murrish says:

    Loved Shadow of the Wind, and have just started Ghosts of Spain funnily enough. I’ll be checking out the others, but they will have to go in my Kindle queue!

  5. It’s also el Día de Castilla y León, so two great holidays in one! I wish girls were given books, though. Who doesn’t love a good book?

    I’ve read Shadow of the Wind and The Sun Also Rises, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’d like to check out your other listings as well as Leaving the Atocha Station.
    Kaley [Y Mucho Más] recently posted..Why Are You in Spain?My Profile

  6. Christine says:

    I love the idea of giving a book. It is my first choice of gift for kids, I figure their parents give them clothes and toys so why not. :o )
    Cat, I have to give you a big thank you…I would of never discovered Dancing in the Fountain, what an enjoyable read. I can’t wait to read Zen Khou, Maetro (just downloaded) and Ghost of Spain (will run to Barnes & Noble).
    Let’s see I really enjoyed Driving over Lemons by Chris Stewart but again who hasn’t. I found a quirky little number called More Ketchup than Salsa which made me giggle quite a few times.
    Iberia is a classic by James Michener and will also double as a gym weight but so worth it. ahhh so many but I just started reading Sister Queens by Julia Fox about Catherine of Aragon and Juana (la loca) of Castille quite an interesting read.

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I’m glad you like Dancing in the Fountains – knowing Karen and Rich personally (vamos, and Sevilla!), I couldn’t help but laugh all the way thru!. I have read a few Chris Stewart and have “More Ketchup than Salsa” downloaded to read once I finish “El Tiempo Entre Costuras.” I’ve read Michener’s “Iberia” and can’t BELIEVE I missed it – I loved it!!! Will also take the others into consideration, thanks dear!

  7. Karen McCann says:

    Thanks, Cat, for including my book among your favorites. I am honored (thrilled, actually) to appear with Hemingway, Zafón and the other illustrious writers on your list. Book Day just became my favorite holiday!

  8. I loved “The Shadow of the Wind”. Might look out the “Winter in Madrid” book.
    Thought Dave Bolling’s “Guernica” might get a shout? It’s beautiful but harrowing.
    Johanna Bradley recently posted..A tale or two : CreteMy Profile

  9. Jill says:

    Agree with Johanna that Guernica would be a worthy addition to the list. I would also recommend Duende by Jason Webster, described as a journey in search of Flamenco. Anyone interested in the Civil War might want to read Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas.

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I actually have read “Duende,” but was not a big flamenco fan at the time. I much more enjoyed the account of searching for flamenco en Las Tres Mil of Seville – hard to think that the Costa Dorada (if I remember correctly) as a hotbed for duende. Will check out the other mentioned, for sure! Thanks for the tip, Jill!

  10. Tiana Charles says:

    The Shadow of the Wind is by far one of my favorites. It definitely helped salvage my relationship with Barcelona, at least to the point of a bit of fictional nostalgia…(incredible given my real experience there). Good pick!

  11. amelie88 says:

    Books! This is one area I know very well, considering I am a bonafide bookworm. I actually had to read Ghosts of Spain for my master’s program in Madrid. It was a good book and I learned a lot about Spanish culture, but not necessarily something I would reread. And I just picked up the prequel (in Spanish) to Shadow of the Wind in NYC–I was actually looking for Shadow but they didn’t have it so I got the prequel instead. I will get around to reading it once I finish my current book.

    An interesting book I read recently was Kinky Gazpacho, a memoir written by an African American woman who studies abroad in Salamanca and falls in love with a Spanish man. It was definitely a different perspective–reading about the black American experience studying abroad. Considering most bloggers I follow who live abroad are white, it made for a very interesting read–though I found the book slightly uneven and the author to be a bit whiny at certain moments. I recommend it because it was a pretty fast read.

    One of the best expat books I ever read was Almost French by Sarah Turnbull if you haven’t read it yet. An Australian journalist who randomly meets a Frenchman while on assignment in Bulgaria (I think?) who then invites her to spend a few days with him in Paris–she barely knew the guy! So she takes him up on his offer and ends up staying so it’s all about her learning French and adapting to the French way of life. My mother laughed out loud several times because the experiences mirrored her own when she met and dated my father in the late 70s when she studied abroad in France. It was pretty great. :D
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    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I love when people admit to being bookworms!

      I have actually read Kinky Gazpacho – it was in my library’s “Spain” section and it seems like forever ago that I picked it up. Didn’t stick out to me, and probably for the same reasons you mention. As for Almost French, it was assigned to me for a class on Parisian lifestyle at university. I still hae it at home – wedged in between my Green Guide and Paris to the Moon. I may have to revisit them next time I’m home!

    • Christine says:

      I started to pick up Kinky Gazpacho and then I heard others say the same thing, it was a bit whiny. I am always tempted to write about my experiences abroad being an single African American women. hmmmmm

  12. Gayla says:

    I’m really interested to read The Shadow of the Wind. Thanks for the recommendation :-)
    I LOVE books. The Netherlands doesn’t have a day of books, but we do have Boekenweek (book week) with lots of special programs around the country promoting books. Even free train/public transit travel if you purchase a book and can show proof of purchase. That’s cool!
    Two books I enjoyed reading are Isabelle Allende’s ‘Zorro’ (partially set in Spain) and one by a woman who’s name escapes me at the moment, but it’s about her journey on the Camino. Very inspiring!

  13. Penny Sadler says:

    HI Cat, nice post! I read Shadow of the Wind, Dancing in the Fountain, and The Sun Also Rises.
    Loved them all. I must find out if we have the equivalent in the US?!
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  14. I’ve read Karen’s book & loved it – thanks for more recs to read!
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  15. Micki says:

    Love this – have to admit that I was a very reluctant Hemingway fan too :)
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  16. Hi Cat! Obviously a fan of Dancing in the Fountain and I read The Sun Also Rises a few months ago. I felt there was something lacking in my literature education that I had never read Hemingway prior to that. I got so excited when he wrote about crossing the Pyrenees…. just like me on the Camino! I started Iberia last year, but never managed to finish it. I blame it on the thin pages and small print. Very intimidating. The second I have time in my life again I am going to devour your suggestions. I also loved Spanish Recognitions: The Roads to the Present by Mary Lee Settle. Beautiful account of Spain that mixes in interesting history.

    Here are my Camino picks for you:
    I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago by Hape Kerkeling, a German comedian.
    To the Field of Stars by Kevin A. Codd was great. More of a religious, spiritual read by a priest. (Good juxtaposition to the former)

    I also read Paulo Coehlo’s The Pilgrimage after falling in love with The Alchemist, but wasn’t a fan.

    You will have to know if you actually read on the Camino. I barely had time to write in my journal!
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    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Upcoming Camino post, don’t worry lady! I actually have read “Field of Stars” and was a bit iffy on it. Actually, I’m iffy about nearly every Camino book I read…and Ciehlo’s was just painful.

      Will definitely be checking out the others you mention, gracias! Hope the end of the school year is going well!

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  1. [...] in which Cervantes was born and to which his name is commonly associated to pay an early homage to Día del Libro, a celebration of his death and contributions to the Spanish Language and its literature. My [...]

  2. [...] I present you with seven more books I’ve read about Spain since last year’s list, or had previously left off the [...]

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