Again lots of peaks but lots of patches too; the distribution is uneven. Here are a few offhand remarks:
1. Cervantes: Book two of Don Quixote is much better than book one, just in case you never got that far. The Trials of Persiles and Sigismuda is a nice try but ultimately it fails at being the undiscovered classic.
2. Calderon: Life is a Dream. The piece of Spanish literature you are most likely not to have read that you should read. Every smart, well-educated person should know this book.
3. Lope de Vega: If not for the commies he wouldn’t be nearly so well-known. He is still a good dramatist, though.
4. El Cid: More readable than you might think, and it makes you realize how close they came to being an Arabic society.
5. Miguel de Unamuno: I have some sympathies for him, but if someone tried to write this stuff today, could it even get published? You could say the same about Jose Ortega y Gasset. Some people say the two are polar opposites, but who outside of Spain really cares?
6. Federico Garcia Lorca: It might be wonderful on stage but I find it unreadable.
7. Javier Cercas: Soldiers of Salamis. One of the best novels on wartime guilt, collective memory, and the ambiguous role of the author in a narrative. Recommended, if you are willing to give it a suitably careful read.
8. Pérez-Reverte: It’s fun stuff, but I don’t know if it will draw attention twenty years from now. Same with Shadow of the Wind. If anything it is symbolic of the Americanization of European literature and I don’t mean that in a favorable way.
9. Albert Sanchez Piñol: I loved Cold Skin, originally written in Catalan. His book on the Congo awaits me.
10. Javier Marias is good, especially A Heart so White.
The bottom line: Call me provincial, but I see 1660-1980 as a slow patch, at least for a country of Spain’s historic stature.
Maybe some will call for counting Orwell, Hemingway, and others inspired by Spain. Will you argue for Pio Baroja? Or perhaps The Family of Pascal Duarte? In any case literary culture is strong here and I see the future as bright. By the way, I’m always looking for recommendations in Spanish contemporary literature. Is Julian Rios worth reading?