3 Books to Read Before/While Visiting Spain

Alison Moore is a student at the University of Pittsburgh and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Granada, Spain.

As a literature and Spanish double major, I fell in love with the idea of highlighting the top 3 books I would recommend reading before and/or while traveling to Spain. Before we begin, I wanted to clarify that these books need not be read in Spanish, but each of them can offer a new perspective on Spain and its culture, and they should definitely be on your stack of books to read if you plan on visiting Spain!

1. Don Quixote (by Miguel Cervantes)

Yes, I know, Don Quixote has been on the reading list of many Spanish classes for years, and a significant number of you have read parts– if not all– of it before. However, did you know that Don Quixote’s route is an intrinsic part of the history of Toledo, and the Spanish countryside? Toledo is a charming Spanish town, situated about an hour south of Madrid. Although I love Madrid for its Gran Vía and the beautiful Royal Palace, Toledo speaks with the unique voice of the Spanish countryside. All throughout the town there are markers on the city walls that designate Don Quixote’s route. My favorite marker is part of a wall across the river from the city. The wall outlines an overlook which has fantastic views of Toledo sitting on top of the hill. Definitely a spot to check out when you finish reading the book!

While taking in the sights of Toledo, you can also follow Don Quixote’s route through the city. Don’t forget to stop here, at the overlook across the river from the city, to take photos of the beautiful city on a hill!

2. Tales of the Alhambra (by Washington Irving)

This book title might surprise you, as Irving is not a Spaniard, and this work was published originally in English. However, Irving is among the thousands of people who have toured and fallen in love with the Alhambra, an Arabic fortress and castle in Granada dating back to the 1200s. Irving was the “resident writer” of the Alhambra during his time in Granada, and there is a plaque above the doorway in the rooms where he wrote. Irving’s stories bring the walls of the Alhambra to life, as they recount the lives of the Spaniards and Moors who spent time within its walls. This is a book that I have yet to finish, but it is well worth the read!

Amongst the Arabic calligraphy on the walls of the Alhambra, you’ll see this plaque, dedicated to Washington Irving and the collection of works he composed within the palace walls: Tales of the Alhambra.

3. All the Light We Cannot See (by Anthony Doerr)

I do have a confession regarding this book on the list: this author is neither Spanish, nor is this book written about Spain, or its people. However, this book is not only my current favorite book, but it also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for Best Work of Fiction, and for good reason. This book alternates narration between Werner, a young German boy, and Marie-Laure, a young French girl who is blind. As a literature major, I was astounded by Doerr’s ability to narrate through Marie-Laure; he describes the world in such detail without using sight as one of the senses. Doerr magnificently details the world through its smells, its noises, its tastes, and its touch, and his words changed my perspective on how I ought to experience the world. I recommend this book to everyone I meet, and I would particularly recommend this book to all travelers. This book will encourage you to experience your travels in every possible way. It inspired me to experience the city of Granada: to notice what it’s cobblestone streets feel like underneath my sandals, to fall in love with the taste of chorizo and paella, to notice the hints of spices in the air when the market stalls are open, and to listen to the toll of the church bells every hour, on the hour. This book will change how you see the world around you, and will help you become a better traveler– one who experiences the world, and doesn’t just see it.

Sometimes we can learn how to better experience the world by listening to another’s story, in this case, the fictional story of Marie-Laure. Anthony Doerr’s prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See changed my perspective on what it means to experience life and embrace the world through all of our senses.

The world awaits…discover it.


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