“I don’t want some author telling me what I should think about a country and it’s people. I want to find out for myself.”
Alright, I hear you.
But I disagree. Books are important. Yes, a book cannot take the place of immersing yourself in a foreign culture. However, I will argue that books make travel better.
Sure, there’s a lot to do before setting off for life abroad, besides the trivial formalities of paperwork. Personally, I like to read. I’ve got the typical traveler’s stack of lonelyplanets, an English-to-Spanish pocket dictionary, a Crash Course in Spanish Grammar, and 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. These are for reference. I believe, to really know a culture, you must approach it with an understanding of its stories. What better place to turn for a story than a book?
First of all, books can explain the cultural significance of things that you might not even realize are important, or at least culturally relevant, to the country and its people.
Secondly, books give you a story to relate to a location, engaging your imagination in its people, history, and landscape.
And third, a country’s literature is integral to its culture. For instance, can you imagine Spain without Don Quixote?
Since Bilbao is considered the capital of Basque country and culture, I have developed a special interest in Basque literature. I’ve already devoured one novel, Guernica, titled after the town where the horrific bombing took place in 1936 that Picasso famously painted. I’ve ordered three more books, each focused on a different piece of the Basque story. Obabakoak explores life in a traditional Basque village during the Spanish Civil War. A Cup of Tea in Pamplona follows the exploits of Basque smugglers who transport goods between Basque communities across the French and Spanish border. Finally, The Lone Man examines the life of an ex-ETA member and his attempt to escape the violence of the nationalist movement.
A List of Books I Like:
The Classic: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
The Pop Non-Fiction: Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett
The (Other) Classic: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
The “Historical” Fiction: Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving
Where to Find More:
Emily Bowman, DUSA Student Blogger