I studied in Spain in college and found myself going back after college as often as possible. It would be hard to say what I find more exciting about Spain–the long, fascinating history or the surprising, fun reality of Spanish urban life today. I’ve put together this list of books currently in stock which bring together past and present to evoke Spain for me. If your only experiences with Spain are reading Hemingway or taking a Spanish class in college, these books are a great way to find out more–and hopefully inspire you to make a trip!

Lost in Barcelona. I love this guide! Perfect suggestions from locals whether you want to spend a day wandering the best museums and architectural wonders in the city or spend a whirlwind trip enjoying Barcelona’s amazing nightlife. Halfway between magazine and guidebook.

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Granada: A Pomegranate in the Hand of God. A surprisingly relevant history of a city that managed to bring together Muslim, Christian and Jew in peaceful harmony before the Renaissance in Europe. The Alhambra is just the most famous achievement of a multi-cultural capital that led a flowering of art, science, literature, and music before being “re-conquered” by Ferdinand and Isabel in the same year Colombus landed in the New World.

Madrid: A Cultural History. A wonderful, anecdote filled short history of the Spanish capital that would make a perfect gift for a student planning to study abroad or an adult interested in an intro to Spanish history. From the picaresque heroes and bandits of Velasquez’s time to the poets and painters who created surrealism, this book will make you want to buy a plane ticket if you haven’t already!

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Private Life. A novel of Barcelona in the age of Gaudi. Great fun to read despite–or because of–the fact that all the characters are kind of despicable in different, baroque ways. Money grubbing aristocrats, arriviste snobs, seedy hotels, and one memorable scene of countesses slumming it in the cabarets off the Ramblas. Written by Josep Maria de Sagarra.

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Asi Empieza lo Malo/Thus Bad Begins. This novel by Javier Marias helped me understand an aspect of Spanish culture in a very new way. Even though it is set in the 1980s, after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, it is a great evocation of the lasting effects of a dictatorship on the personal lives of ordinary citizens. It is also a quietly compelling story about a troubled marriage. We have copies of this in Spanish and English so you can read it in the original if you speak Spanish or in translation if you don’t.