12 great summer reads to explore Spain through the pages of a book

SUMMER in Spain usually brings with it the opportunity to get out and explore the country. But even if the pandemic forces you to stay put this year, don’t forget that something as simple as a great book can transport you to the world’s most interesting places.

With that in mind, here are 12 books about Spain to check out in the remaining weeks of summer. Ranging from historical investigations to action-paced thrillers, each provides a unique insight into life in this rich and varied country.

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The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 

This internationally renowned tale of an Andalusian shepherd boy who sets off on a hero’s journey in search of hidden treasure is both heartwarming and fulfilling. Coelho’s writing offers both inspiration and wisdom to power you into autumn.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Spain’s most famous novel, Don Quixote is widely considered to be a foundational text of Western literature. Written in two parts in the early 1600s, it follows trials and tribulations of a nobleman who, inspired by tales of chivalry, decides to become a knight. Its varying narrative styles and engaging plotlines still holds up centuries later, and it’s a must-read for those interested in the roots of Spanish literature.

The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture Of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by María Rosa Menocal 

If you are looking for a non-fiction approach to medieval Spain, this historical narrative will do the trick. As the title suggests, Menocal details the relatively peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Spain that lasted for 500 years during the medieval era. Offering lessons for the present day, it makes for a fascinating historical account as well. 

The Orange Grove by Rosana Ley

When it comes to contemporary novels, you can’t go wrong with this one, in which a mother must confront the past she left behind in Sevilla when she returns with her daughter years later. It makes for a feel-good read that’s perfect for your summer holiday. To find out more, check out the author’s interview with The Olive Press. 

Madrid Again by Soledad Maura

Another modern-day novel, this tells the story of a Spanish woman torn between the life she has made for herself in America and the family she left behind in Madrid. When she decides to become a historian to discover her family’s past, a whole new journey awaits, and it’s one you’ll want to take with her.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway:

Dialing back the clock, Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 novel set during the Spanish Civil War is regarded by many as one of the best novels written about the war. Drawn from his experiences covering the conflict for an American newspaper, this gripping tale centers on an American fighting with a Spanish guerilla force as a member of the International Brigades. It is just one of Hemingway’s books about Spain: The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon are also worth checking out.

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The International Brigades by Giles Tremlett: 

This historical undertaking makes for a great pairing with Hemingway’s novel, telling the full story of the International Brigades who fought against Franco in Spain. A bottom-up investigation by the Madrid-based British journalist sheds light on the complicated, fascinating, and chaotic experiences of these anti-fascist fighters.

Working Class Heroes: The Story of Rayo Vallecano, Madrid’s Forgotten Team by Robby Dunne  

Dunne’s work is another bottom-up narrative, this time focused on football. The Irish journalist goes beyond the dominant Real Madrid/Barcelona narrative and dives into Madrid’s working class club, Rayo Vallecano. Providing insight of the club’s neighborhood pride and anti-fascist roots, he achieves a unique blend of sports and history that lovers of both will find captivating. 

Spanish Vignettes by Norman Berdichevsky

If you are interested in learning more about the Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry, though, Spanish Vignettes is your go-to guide for this and other important elements of Spanish culture. American expat Norman Berdischevsky covers 34 topics in a fun, digestible way that is perfect for newcomers to Spain. 

Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart

This light-hearted, witty memoir offers another accessible avenue into Spanish culture. Former Genesis drummer Chris Stewart describes how he and his family adjust to their new life in Spain after buying a remote farm in Andalucia on a whim.

Galician Songs by Rosalia de Castro

Switching genres, this book of poems about Galician traditions and culture will shed light on the particular experiences of the Galicians in northern Spain. De Castro is seen as the founder of modern Galician literature, and with her work only recently being translated into English, reading her poems is a great opportunity to immerse yourself into the oft-overlooked Galician way of life.  

Garden by the Sea by Merce Rodoreda  

An enthralling work by one of Spain’s great Catalan writers closes out this list. This novel follows the lives of a wealthy family and their friends who spend their summers vacationing at a villa on the Mediterranean. Told through the eyes of their gardener, this sun-soaked, carefree story evolves into a tension-filled mystery when a wealthier family moves in next door.  


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