Reading List

This page is designed to guide you as you begin to extend the linguistic and cultural knowledge you’ve gained so far in Spanish, by suggesting a range of literary texts from a range of eras and from across the Spanish-speaking world. The list is not in any way intended to be prescriptive, and there are many other interesting texts and authors out there for you to discover. The texts below have been selected by the tutors at Oxford on the basis that they are relatively short, and should be accessible to you with a good dictionary at your side! It is challenging to pick up a novel or other work in a foreign language, and you should be patient when you begin. Don’t look up every word you don’t know (try to work some of them out according to the context), but be prepared to look things up when you need to for the sake of comprehension. There are some good online dictionaries, but you might also find it worthwhile to invest in both a monolingual and bilingual dictionary for your bookshelf. There are also some titles relating to history and language that will be essential to any further study in Spanish, and some web links to cultural sites.

This page is a work in progress and will be updated periodically, so please do check it from time to time. At the bottom of the page you will find a section called ‘Today I am reading…’, with details of a work that somebody in the sub-faculty of Spanish is particularly enjoying and would like to recommend.

History and Culture
John Elliot, Imperial Spain, 1469-1716 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002)
Tells the story of Spain’s rise to greatness from its humble beginnings as one of the poorest and most marginal of European countries. This book charts the rise and fall of Habsburg Spain.
Raymond Carr, Spain: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)
From Roman times to the present day, Spain has occupied a significant role in the evolution of our Western world. In this one volume scholars present an overview of the political, economic, social, and intellectual factors that have shaped Spanish history over the last two thousand years.
Other titles by the same author: Spain, 1808-1939 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970) and Modern Spain, 1875-1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)
Edwin Williamson, A Penguin History of Latin America (London: Penguin, 2009)
A history of Latin America that tells its turbulent story from Columbus to Chavez. Beginning with the Spanish and Portugese conquests of the New World, it takes in centuries of upheaval, revolution and modernization up to the present day, looking at Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Cuba, and gives an overview of the cultural developments.
This includes novels and short stories, listed in no particular order. After each title you will find the year in which it was first published, its genre, and the country to which it belongs. In the case of works from Spain, a region is sometimes mentioned in brackets if the author’s work is particularly identified with it.
Camilo José Cela, La familia de Pascual Duarte (1942). novel; Spain
Cela was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1989. Written in the first years of Franco’s dictatorship, this troubling confessional account of a murderer’s life experiences initially fell foul of the moral and religious censor. But is Pascual entirely to blame for his actions?
Carmen Martín Gaite, El cuarto de atrás (1978) novel; Spain
Written in the first years of democracy, this novel sets the fantasy of childhood play against the drabness of adult necessity. The narrator spends the night in conversation with a mysterious man in black, reflecting on how memory and writing construct the past.
Rosa Montero, La loca de la casa (2000). novel/ essay; Spain
A mixture of fiction and non-fiction, novelist and award-winning journalist Rosa Montero reflects on what it means to be a writer and, above all, a reader.
Ramón del Valle-Inclán, Sonata de primavera (1904) novel; Spain (Galicia)
One of Spain’s greatest dramatists, Valle-Inclán also wrote a cycle of four short novels about an alter-ego named the Marqués de Bradomín. A Don Juan figure characterised as ‘feo, católico y sentimental’, he describes his adventures in both love and war. Filled with romantic clichés but written in elegantly crafted prose, are they a homage to beauty and pleasure or an ironic parody?
Gabriel García Márquez, Crónica de una muerte anunciada (1981) novel; Colombia
García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. Crónica pretends to be a journalistic account of the apparently inevitable murder of Santiago Nasar in a small Colombian town.
Carmen Laforet, Nada (1945) novel; Spain
Written when the author was just 21, the novel was awarded the prestigious Premio Nadal in 1945. A deceptively simple novel about the experiences of a young girl in a grim postwar Barcelona.
Benito Pérez Galdós, Doña Perfecta (1876) novel; Spain
Galdós is Spain’s foremost 19th c novelist, and Doña Perfecta is one of his earliest realist novels. A young man arrives in provincial Orbajosa from the city, and is shocked to discover the hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness of its inhabitants.
Ramón J. Sender, Réquiem por un campesino español (1960) novel; Spain
Published in Mexico, where Sender lived in exile after the Spanish civil war, Réquiem is the account of a priest’s role in the execution of a young peasant by Nationalist forces.
Mario Vargas Llosa, El hablador (1987) novel; Peru
Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010. El hablador explores the difficult relationship between modern civilization and indigenous culture in Peru, and considers the power of storytelling in constructing reality.
Santiago Gamboa, Plegarias nocturnas (2012) novel; Colombia
Gamboa is one of Colombia’s most important novelists. A boy goes to extreme lengths to discover the secret behind his sister’s disappearance, in a novel that explores Colombia’s culture of violence in an international context.
Mercè Rodoreda, La plaza del diamante (orig. in Catalan, La plaça del diamant) (1962) novel; Spain (Catalunya). A modern classic by one of Catalonia’s most highly regarded novelists, set in Barcelona before, during and after the Spanish civil war.
Javier Marías, Todas las almas (1989) novel; Spain
Marías is one of Spain’s most internationally respected contemporary novelists. A Spanish lector at Oxford in the ’80s, Marías reflects some of his experiences of the city and the university in this novel.
There are some good bilingual (parallel text) editions of short stories, e.g. Spanish Short Stories: Cuentos En Español (New Penguin Parallel Text Series), ed John R. King. This particular collection includes stories by such major Spanish and Latin American authors as Javier Marías, Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, and Isabel Allende.
If you are interested in theatre have a look at, the website of a major recent research project carried out at Oxford and two other universities. Its aim was to make the riches of the theatres of Spain and Spanish America accessible to English-speaking researchers and theatre professionals.
Antonio Buero Vallejo, Historia de una escalera (1947), El Tragaluz (1967) Spain
Buero Vallejo was one of the foremost dramatists of the Franco era, writing plays that offered subtle criticism of the regime whilst encouraging people to be hopeful about the future.
Fernando Arrabal, Pic-nic (c. 1952)
Another dramatist of the Franco era, but writing in a very different mode. He left Spain for France, seeking greater artistic freedom. Pic-nic is an absurdist play in which a soldier’s parents join him on the battlefield for a day out in the country.
Federico García Lorca, La zapatera prodigiosa (1930) Spain (Andalucía)
Undoubtedly the most internationally renowned of Spain’s playwrights, Lorca is best known for his rural trilogy. La zapatera prodigiosa is written in the style of a puppet play, and brings together farce with some of the author’s most enduring themes.
Jacinto Grau, El señor de Pigmalión (1921) Spain
Inspired by the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, the play depicts the downfall of a theatre impresario who has created a company of living dolls. Submissive and cowed before their creator at first, the dolls eventually become rebellious.
Lope de Vega, Fuenteovejuna (1619) Spain
A small town rises up against the oppression of a cruel overlord, putting him to death in an act of collective justice. A drama about popular and institutional power, and its uses and abuses, this play has been staged regularly since it was written to express political upheaval and what can happen when a town takes the law into its own hands.
Calderón de la Barca, La vida es sueño (1635) Spain
One of the theatrical masterpieces of the Spanish Golden Age, La vida es sueño is a remarkably modern questioning of reality and perception, free will and destiny. It was performed by a student company, in Spanish with English surtitles, at the Oxford Playhouse in April 2013:
See the Hispanic Classics series published by Aris & Phillips for bilingual editions of a range of plays (and other genres) in Spanish.
Pablo Neruda, Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (1924). Chile
Neruda’s best-known collection of very sensuous love poems.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695). Mexico.
Antología Poética (Madrid: Alianza, 2004), or find some of her poems (with translations) at
Antonio Machado, Soledades (1903) and Campos de Castilla (1917). Spain (Castilla and Andalucía). A poet of place, many of Machado’s poems use objective descriptions of the landscape to convey private emotion.
Pedro Salinas, La voz a ti debida (1933). Spain
Love poetry by one of Spain’s best 20th c poets.
Gabriela Mistral, Antología poética. Chile
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945 ‘for her lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world.’
Web links
For current information about books, authors, and literary prizes in Spain and Latin America:
Today I am reading…
José María Merino, La glorieta de los fugitivos (2007). Short stories, Spain
Known for cultivating the genre of microfiction or minificción, this is a collection of very short, pithy, moving and amusing stories.
And before that I was reading….
Antonio Muñoz Molina, Beatus ille (1986); novel, Spain
A story of memory and false reconstructions of the past that evokes the legacy of the Spanish civil war. Muñoz Molina is one of Spain’s most respected contemporary novelists.
Mario Vargas Llosa, El hablador (1987). novel, Peru
See above.
Andrés Neuman, El viajero del siglo (2009). novel; Argentina
Winner of the Alfaguara prize in 2009 and shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction prize in 2013, this is a novel set in the 19th century but narrated from the perspective of the 21st. You can find more information at
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