The ‘best’ holiday reading doesn’t have to be about home: The Times’ best holiday reads 2009 vs El Pais suggestions for 2010

Writing on Wednesday in Papeles Perdidos (Lost Papers, the blog of El Pais’s cultural supplement Babelia), Winston Manrique Sabogal posted a list of ‘holiday reading’ recommendations. I always look forward to these in the UK press over the summer, partly to see if I can spot the connections between recommender and recommendee before Private Eye does, and partly to see if anybody in London literary circles has been reading any of the same things I have. I don’t have a good record with these things – of last year’s 100 Best Holiday Reads according to The Times* I didn’t manage a single one, and I read a LOT. Admittedly, this is partly because the holiday reading lists, as a marketing exercise for contemporary publishing, don’t tend to include trashy early 20th-century novels about Spain and partly because I generally ignore all the the new stuff from the Big Beasts of English literature (though according to Gabriel Josopivici in Guardian Books this week, that might not be such a bad thing…), but it does highlight, yet again, the relentless marketocracy and anglocentrism of the UK publishing sector. Of the Times’s 100 ‘best holiday reads,’ I think only four were translated from other languages: in fiction, Roberto Bolaño’s  2666 and Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma, and in crime fiction, Boris Akunin’s The Coronation and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul to Take. Nothing in the non-fiction categories was anything but Anglo, which is pretty disappointing, if entirely unsurprising.

Anyway, back to the Papeles Perdidos selection. One of the things I liked about it is the focus on ‘narradores poco o nada conocidos que vale la pena descubrir’ ‘little-known or unknown writers who are worth discovering.’ Despite this, I was excited to see that I actually own one of the books on the list, Kirmen Uribe’s Bilbao-New York – Bilbao, which is very close to the top of my long list of things to read during the rest of the summer, now that I’ve finally finished my own book, which I very much doubt will be making anybody’s holiday reading list next year, but which went to the press yesterday (yay!).

Another thing I liked about the Papeles Perdidos list is how international it is, with authors from at least fifteen countries, and nine original languages, including Spanish, English, French, Italian, German, Polish, Serbian, Hungarian and Norwegian. This isn’t surprising given that around a quarter of the books published in Spain each year are translations from other languages,** and I do note in passing that these are all European languages (international varieties of both Spanish and English notwithstanding), but nonetheless, what a difference from the Times list. These are the authors to look out for (links to author webpages if available, otherwise to alternative sources, in English or Spanish):

Spanish-language: Pedro MairalMario Cuenca Sandoval, Jordí Punti, Vicente Luis Mora, Kirmen Uribe, Arturo Fontaine, Pola Oloixarac, Javier Calvo, Jorge Carrión (novels) and Ronaldo Menéndez, Pilar Adón and Samanta Schweblin (short stories).***

In Spanish translation: the novelists Helen Garner (Australia), Richard Bausch (US), Daniel Glattauer (Austria), Jayne Anne Phillips (US), Marek Bienczyk (Poland), Jacqueline Kelly (New Zealand), Herbjorg Wassmo (Norway), Branimir Scepanovic (Serbia), György Dragomán (Hungary), Lorenza Mazzetti (Italy), and the short story writers Wells Tower (US), Bernard Quiriny (Belgium), and Jhumpa Lahiri (US).


* I’m including the link out of a sense of completeness, even though pretty much everything but the front page is now behind the paywall. At the time of writing, the archive is still free, but watch this space…

** See the annual statistics (here in English) provided by the Federación de Gremios de Editores de España (Spanish Federation of Publishers’ Guilds).

*** I note in passing that only one of the Spanish-language novelists (Olaixarac) is female, and only one of the short story writers (Menéndez) is male. The translated list is a lot more balanced. No analysis, just an observation.



  1. […] read any of them and in fact have only ever heard of one of them – Pola Oloixarac, who I mentioned in another list here a little while back. As a bonus, the same issue also announces the winner of the inaugural Harvill […]

  2. […] This is the question that drives Kirmen Uribe’s debut novel Bilbao-New York-Bilbao, which as long-time readers might remember, has been on my ‘to read’ list since before the summer. Uribe, now 40, is best known to […]

  3. […] What strikes me is just how little relation this list has with the bestsellers I’ve been reporting on during the last few months; we’ll find out tomorrow, when they publish the essays and […]

  4. Stephanie · · Reply

    Last summer I was in Barcelona and I noticed lots and lots of people (mostly women) carrying around a yellow book with a picture of a crocodile (or maybe an alligator) and perhaps another animal on the cover. I never got a good look at the book itself but have remained curious as to what it might have been. Any ideas? Please email me if this sparks anything!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: