Required reading: Books I read in high school

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s been a while …

… a really long while!

Whoa, it’s been more than three months since the last time that I posted something on this site. How did that ever happen? I honestly don’t know – I never meant to take a blog-a-cation. All I can say is that sometimes life happens and reading doesn’t.

Let’s take a look at life first. It has been pretty busy around lately. Busy but good. In fact, it has been a very good summer full of sweet memories with my toddlers. Like the evenings we spent gathering seashells on the Spanish coast, or the afternoons we went for a walk and picked wild blackberries, or the many hot days that we lounged for hours at our local swimming pool and finished the day with an ice-cream. Ah, it was definitely a good summer but all too sudden we were already into the school year and busy took on a different meaning. I’m now talking being up and ready to leave at 8:30 am and having some preschool activity most days of the week. I know, I know, so many people have it much worse than that so who am I to complain. In fact, I am amazed at how well we have transitioned into the school year. That makes me happy and sad at the same time. It is preschool now but soon it’ll be kindergarten and then school and soon this beautiful season of life will be over and I’ll have only memories of my cute toddlers. I guess that’s when priorities come into place and I rather spend much of my time with my children than blogging.

But don’t get me wrong, I like blogging and I’ve missed it. I’ve missed you too, though I have tried to keep an eye on my favourite bookish blogs throughout this longish hiatus. I know I should get better at sharing some love via comments and likes. I’ll try to get better. I’ll get better. I also want to blog more regularly. Hopefully I’ll have some more inspiration now that I am catching up on my TBR pile and my classics list after a couple of months of little to nearly no reading. And perhaps that’s the real reason why I haven’t been much around here.

I don’t know why but I usually relax during the summer months and slow down my reading pace. I never do it on purpose but it just happens. It might be a consequence of long, warm, exhausting days playing outside. Or simply that I still go into school holidays mood during the summer months. However, this summer I can also put the blame on my choice of books. Or better said, on me stubbornly sticking to lengthy books I am not truly enjoying.

As it happened, I’ve spent most of the summer reading Death’s End, by Cixin Liu, a +700 pages hard sci-fi novel that didn’t quite grab my attention after a hundred pages, so perhaps it might have been more sensible to not finish it. But finish it I did and I’m glad I did (glad in the sense that I finished reading the trilogy and now I can put it behind). And if one huge book wasn’t enough for the summer, I decided to finally read The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Now, that was my second attempt at reading it so I was aware that this one was not easy and that I would need a strong will to get through it. Well, I made it to page 170 (approx.) and quit again. As much as I wanted to read and like this book, I simply couldn’t. You can read my Goodreads review here to find out why I disliked it so much that I gave up a second time. I don’t know, so many people seem to like this book and write rave reviews of it but in spite of my genuine interest in the Romanov family, this book simply didn’t work for me. Too bad. But at least I can now concentrate on something that I might like more and that’ll definitely bring more joy into my reading life (Tolkien, here I come again!)

Well, and that’s pretty much everything that might explain my absence around here. Glad to be back!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

“Don’t panic”

This is going to be a short review.

I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy while I was on holidays in Spain, in between of beach strolls, swimming pool fun and a bit of sightseeing, so I didn’t bother much with highlighting my favourite lines or writing down my thoughts on it. Pity, because this book is full of unconventional wisdom. It was also fun to read – probably the funniest book I’ve read this year – and I was often trying not to laugh too loud while my children napped beside me, which made it a perfect holiday read. I am only sad that I read it in Spanish because I had the feeling that the language was very witty and it would have been even more fun in its original English. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a bad translation and I truly enjoyed it.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was first broadcast as a radio comedy show in 1978 and it didn’t appear in book form until a few years later. It is then questionable whether this is a classic or not, partly because it is such a recent work, and partly because it is not your typical novel. After all, it used to be a radio show and as such it is mostly dialogue-driven. It is, I think, a canonical science fiction work, and for me that was reason enough to include it on my Classics Club list.

Arthur Dent is the last human alive after his friend Ford Prefect takes him for a galactic ride seconds before the Earth is destroyed to make place for a galactic motorway. From then on they’ll hitchhike the galaxy meeting all kind of peoples and having adventures alongside a few other outcasts, including a depressive robot, the president of the galaxy and his girlfriend, a former mathematician who had previously escaped Earth. And that’s the end of the spoilers, which I hope are not too many.

I had watched the film several years ago but I didn’t really remember much about it, so it was really like reading it for the first time (which I was) and without any prior knowledge. And that was great. What I remember about the film, however, was the quirky opening scene and how surprised I was to recognise the setting because I had been there before, several times. I was almost proud to realised that it had been filmed in my home island of Tenerife, at the Loro Parque, a zoo of sorts which features dolphins, seals and killer whales among many other animals (they keep adding more and more animals and plant species and working to preserve the natural habitat of many of those). And their dolphins were the stars of the opening scene of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which you can view here.

I would actually like to watch that film again now. And the next four books in this series, which Douglas Adams described as a trilogy of five books, are now on my tbr list.

Have you read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or seen the film? Any thoughts to share?

Cien años de soledad, by Gabriel García Márquez

“The secret of a good old age is nothing more than a honest pact with solitude.” *

A Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad) is Gabriel García Márquez’s masterpiece and quite probably the second most important novel written in the Spanish language. It is also the most recognisable landmark of the South American magical realism literary movement, which started in the 1950s. I think that these three facts – being the brainchild of a Nobel Prize winner (not that this matters much nowadays), being a canonical work of Spanish literature, and being the embodiment of a literary genre – are more than enough to consider it a classic.

I first read A Hundred Years of Solitude ten years ago while I was living on my own for the first time in rainy Belgium. Uninteresting details, I know, but looking back, I think those were the perfect conditions to tackle such a dense novel: long, lonely evenings inside while it poured outside. To be honest, I don’t remember much of my experience reading A Hundred Years of Solitude back then or the impression it left me. The internet, however, remembers and funnily enough this was the very first book I blogged about ten years ago in an old, random blog that I discontinued shortly after leaving Belgium and have kept private as a sort of souvenir of my young crazy years. Apparently, this is what I thought about A Hundred Years of Solitude back then:

When I started reading I had no idea what the book was about, so at first I got totally lost in a non-sense maze of Aurelianos and José Arcadios, but somehow the reading managed to make sense in the end. Two things got my attention from the beginning. First, the closeness of the book to an erotic novel, no joke, it really surprised me to be reading in almost every chapter the sexual adventures of certain member of the family Buendía. And secondly, the fact that magic had such an important place all along the story. Then I found out that this book actually epitomised the concept known as magic realism that developed, specially in the South America related literatures, around the 50s.”

Funny. I cannot really tell whether I liked it or not; I think I didn’t dislike it, which is enough for such a cryptic novel.

Fast forward ten years and I can tell you that I really enjoyed reading A Hundred Years of Solitude this second time around. I am glad I included in my list of classics to read for The Classics Club. And I am certain that I will reread it sometime in the future. Perhaps because I was vaguely aware of what to expect I didn’t find it so hard to get into the story this time. And perhaps because I am older and more learnt I could get more out of my reading.

Granted, A Hundred Years of Solitude might not be for everyone. First, because it is a magical realist novel and if you don’t enjoy the beautiful nonsense that magical realism brings along, then there’s no way you’ll make sense of A Hundred Years of Solitude. And second, because it deals with many controversial topics such as incest, the futility of war, the miseries of human nature, and yes, there’s a lot going on under the sheets (or over them, as it is supposed to be way too hot in the fictional tropical region where the story takes place). Once more I was candidly surprised by how often the story took an erotic turn. But I also understand better how this serves the plot. After all, A Hundred Years of Solitude is a novel about life and this is all part of life; it is a story about a family – the great-great-grandparents and their offspring – and this is how children are made. Did we need to know? Probably not, but it was García Márquez’s choice to tell his story this way.

A Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the Buendía family and the fictional town of Macondo. Those two history are closely related, as the town was founded by José Arcadio Buendía and it’s bound to disappear as the last descendant of the family dies. During the hundred years that Macondo exists and the Buendía family lives, the town goes from isolated village in the jungle to a metropolis with a booming economy, and the Buendías take part in all key moments of Macondo’s brief history, which mirrors the history of many Central and South American countries, albeit very loosely. And that’s A Hundred Years of Solitude in a nutshell; actually there’s a lot more to it but I’m keeping it simple. Nevertheless, I was impressed by how complex the story is in all its simplicity and how this could easily be the story of the world condensed in 500 pages, and not only that of Macondo and the Buendía family in a hundred years.

Two things that caught my attention while reading were how often the word solitude popped up throughout the novel and how many words there were whose meaning I did not know. In fact, I think I have never read a book with so many words unknown to me despite having read this book in Spanish, which is my mother tongue. Funny, perhaps my brain is tricked into ignoring words I don’t know when I’m reading in English but not in Spanish … dunno. Anyway, the language was beautiful. García Márquez has often been touted as a terrific storyteller and he surely is, and also brilliant at wording. So here’s another quote to end this post.

“The world will be definitely f***ed off when people travel in first class and literature in a freight car.” *

*Translations are mine; I hope they make sense.

The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien

“Have patience. Go where you must go, and hope!”

And so the adventure continues.

Frodo has parted with the ring and his faithful Sam. The rest of the fellowship is scattered and hesitant about what to do next. Aragorn takes the lead and his words begin to sound as wise as those of Gandalf. And as solemn as those of the kings of old.

The Two Towers is the second part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It contains books three and four, which focus on the adventures of Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and company, and on Frodo and Sam’s long and treacherous way to Mordor, respectively. If you have read my previous review of The Fellowship of the Ring or this post on my thoughts on Tolkien, you probably know that I am reading The Lord of the Ring for the first time ever but that I have watched the films several times. Therefore, I am not expecting any big surprises in here regarding plot, which is always a pity but that doesn’t make the journey any less enjoyable.

Once again, I am amazed at how good Tolkien’s writing is: his wording is precise and beautiful, his storytelling compelling, his world-building is rich and realistic and his characterisation, particularly in the Lord of the Rings, is very solid. All the characters in the fellowship feel real; they are their own persons with their unique personalities and back histories. All these details bring the story alive and make it somehow new, in spite of being an old acquaintance from the films. In fact, some parts which I always found rather dreadful and slow in the films, such as the adventures of Merry and Pippin with the Ents, could easily be my favourite part in this part of the trilogy. Same about Frodo’s misadventures with Gollum. And I also liked Faramir even more than I already did in the films. He presents himself almost like a Renaissance man who likes books more than war but always does what he has to do. All in all, I think that The Two Towers makes a much better book than film (even though all three Peter Jackson’s films are terrific).

So, another Tolkien read, another Tolkien loved. And now onto The Return of the King. And again, let Aragorn’s words set the tone for what’s yet to come.

“Yet dawn is ever the hope of men.”

My favourite classic: Little Women

Hi all!

Today’s post is my response to the monthly meme of The Classics Club. They have been doing this meme thing on and off since they started their blog and they have just brought it back after a long hiatus. I joined The Classics Club earlier this year and I am glad to be taking part in these conversations about all things classic. So here we go!

This month’s question is: What is your favourite classic book? Why?

That’s a tough question; there are so many books out there. So many good books. So many good classic books. There quite a few I have read recently that I really liked and could easily become a favourite. Shakespeare’s King Lear, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre or George Orwell’s 1984 are the ones that come to my mind. Plus The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien. However, I’m going to stick to my childhood favourite and I’m going to tell you that my favourite classic is Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. This is a rather tricky thing to do considering that I haven’t read this book since I was 18 or so and I am now 33. So my memories of it might be anything but trustworthy, besides immature.

But I love Little Women. It is such a beautiful, heart-warming story. Little Women tells the story of the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, who live with their mother while waiting for their father to return from the Civil War that bled the US in the 1860s. Each sister has a very different personality and that’s part of the appeal of the book. Almost everyone can identify with any or some of the sisters. Furthermore, the book addresses some sensible topics that were almost revolutionary for its time, such as women’s emancipation or marriages made for love.

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It’s been a very long time since I read Little Women but I have watched some of its films adaptations as well, so I think I have a rather good recollection of the story. Some lines that have particularly stuck with me are Amy’s “we will all grow up and it’d be better if we knew what we’d want by then” and Beth’s “I have always remained behind you but now I am ahead of all of you and I’m not afraid”. Okay, I have just quoted these out of my mind and I don’t remember the exact words (plus I have translated them from Spanish) so it might be that the original words are nothing like this or that they are taken from the films and not from the books. But if you know the story you might guess what I mean.

Anyway, I listed Little Women as one of the fifty classics I want to read to The Classics Club so I will be rereading it soonish though I think I will wait until December, when Christmas time is near. I’m very looking forward to see what I’ll find in Little Women this time, many years later.

And what about you? What is your favourite classic and why?

 

Five on Friday: what I’m reading now

Happy Friday! Especially happy for us as we’re enjoying a long weekend which started yesterday. So plenty of time for relaxing and reading, children permitting.

I just finished reading The Two Towers by J. R.R. Tolkien and I totally loved it! I don’t know about you but I usually find that I need some time off before starting another big book right after finishing one. It doesn’t mean that I’m not reading, quite on the contrary, it is usually the time when I pick up on the bits and pieces of books and magazines that I haven’t finished because I was too invested in whatever I was reading before and I didn’t want to stop or deviate from it.

Anyhow, these are the books that I’m reading on and off now. Quite an eclectic mix: a book on vikings and their raids, a collection of Celtic stories, a couple of children books, and a guide to Scotland because I’m always thinking about the next holiday. Or in this case, about the holiday after the next one.

One

Beyond the Northlands, by Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough.

Two

Lonely Planet’s Scotland travel guide.

Three

Celtic Tales: Fairy Tales and Stories of Enchantment from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany and Wales.

Four

The Usborne Book of Illustrated tales of King Arthur.

Five

Linneas Jahrbuch.