I recently read this post by The Orang-utan Librarian about her required readings at high school and I thought it would be a good idea to come up with a similar post. First because I always enjoy reminiscing about those carefree school years. And second, because being Spanish and having grown up in Spain, I’m sure that this list is going to be very different from almost every other list on this topic out there (at least in the English-speaking blogging community).
You might or might not guess that Shakespeare was out of the menu and classics such as Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice were unbeknown to us, unless a film version of those books was released around that time. This might sound weird, I know, but bear in mind that I graduated high school before Youtube and Wikipedia were born (MSN chatrooms were the hypest thing back then). Our Spanish literature curriculum focused exclusively on Spanish literature, with a little introduction to some Latin American authors, particularly those that blossomed in the 1950s and 1960s. Luckily we were spared the challenges of Don Quixote and A Hundred Years of Solitude, both masterpieces of the Spanish literature, but that doesn’t mean that our compulsory readings were a walk in the park. Quite on the contrary, they were complex and sometimes dull. But hey, that’s what school is about most of the time!
Anyhow, without further ado, here are some of the titles I remember most fondly, either for right or wrong reasons. I have included links to their Wikipedia sites, in case you’re curious about them.
El Conde Lucanor, by Infante Don Juan Manuel. This is a collection of moral tales that a rich lord hears from one wise servant whenever he is in need of counsel. Much like Aesop’s Fables minus the animals and plus some religious ideas. I think I had to read this one on my first or second year of high school and I found it very dull, even if we only needed to read ten tales of our choice out of the fifty that make up the collection.
La Celestina, by Fernando de Rojas. A real classic of Spanish literature, also known as the Tragic Comedy of Calisto and Melibea. Calisto falls hopelessly in love with Melibea and desperate as he is, asks immoral Celestina for help. Back then I found this book tedious and didn’t finish it – but I prepared for the test having a film evening with my friends and watching the latest film version, which featured a pre-Hollywood Penélope Cruz.
El lazarillo de Tormes, anonymous. Finally something I liked! El lazarillo the Tormes is one of the best examples of a very typical Spanish literary genre, ‘la novela picaresca’ (picaresque novel). It tells the story of Lázaro, an orphan that goes through many different guardians and is abused by most of them. But Lázaro is cunning and always finds a way out and unlike in most of these Spanish picaresque stories, he manages to become a good man.
Novelas ejemplares, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. As I said in the introduction to this post, we didn’t have to read Don Quixote but still we got our share of Cervantes. To be honest, I don’t remember much of it, so all I can tell is that, again, this is a collection of stories with a moral purpose and that work very well as a portrait of the miseries of 17th century Spain.
Adios, Cordera, by Leopoldo Alas Clarín. This is another book of which I don’t remember much. All I know is that Cordera is a cow and that it is set in the north of Spain. And that it was short.
El árbol de la ciencia, by Pío Baroja. Another book I liked. El árbol de la ciencia tells the story of a student of medicine in late 19th century Spain and again, it is a very accurate depiction of the society of its time. It can also be considered somewhat autobiographical, as Baroja was a doctor himself and probably wrote much of it from his own experience.
El tragaluz, by Antonio Buero Vallejo. The Spanish Civil War was an inflexion point in Spanish literature (and many other things as well). Partly because most of the established authors had to flee during and after the conflict and some even died, like Federico García Lorca, who was shot shortly after the start of the war. Another reason that definitely contributed to the changes in literature was the censorship applied to most forms of art during the dictatorship that followed the Civil War. However, it didn’t take long for authors to write about that savage war and the scars it had left on the Spanish society and playwright were particularly apt at that. El tragaluz is a good example of that post-war literature. It is the story of a family that was divided by the war and it shows the different fortunes of two brothers who fought in different sides. Winners and losers.
Como agua para chocolate, by Laura Esquivel. I think this is the only book we had to read by a Latin American author. Como agua para chocolate tells the story of Mexican Tita, who as the youngest daughter of the family is bound to remain a spinster and stay at home to take care of her ageing mother. But she is in love with Pedro. So in love that she even consents to her sister marrying her Pedro so that she can at least see him around the house. It is a magical realism novel and doesn’t shy away from lusty affairs. I was fifteen when we had to read this and I was shocked. Up to this day, I still wonder how this book was chosen for such a young age at an all-girls catholic school.
Mararía, by Rafael Arozarena. This is one of my all-time favourite books. It tells the story of María, a beautiful woman deceived by life and men who in the end throws herself to the flames in order to liberate herself from her sorrows. I think that the reason why this one was a required reading for us is because it is written by a Canarian author. Nevertheless, it is a very complex literary work and it was made into a film around the time I was at high school. Unfortunately, reviews for the film were not too positive.
And that’s all. Well, not quite. I also remember getting copies of other important books, such as El caballero de Olmedo, by Lope de Vega, and Rimas y Leyendas, by Gustavo Adolfo Béquer but I don’t remember reading those. So yes, that’s all. And what about you?
What were you required to read at hight school? Anything you liked so much that it’s still a favourite? Anything you disliked?