Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This is a must-read for anyone who plans on living in Barcelona. Ruiz Zafon, a Barcelona native, has written a love-letter of a novel to the city in this beautiful book. It combines history, romance, and mystery and has been on the international best-seller list for some time. The vivid descriptions of the various parts of town will make you want to discover or re-discover them all over again.
Zorro by Isabel Allende
Although Allende is a Latin American author, she is hugely popular in Spain. Her most successful novel House of the Spirits was a prize-winning work of fiction and if you are looking for a dramatic read to accompany you in your hammock, Zorro is just as much fun. Reading Allende in English will give you a feel for the cadence of Spanish too – there is something quite different about a translated book. An easy way to lay the groundwork for picking up Spanish.
Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones
Not one to be carried in your beach bag – the paperback edition alone could put your back out. This (originally written in Spanish) epic by Falcones is a brilliant tale of Barcelona in the 14th century. It´s essentially a story of personal triumph (with a couple of side dramas and a love story or two), but the setting is pure Catalunya and will give you a very real sense of the region´s history. Perfect for evenings on the patio with a glass of Cava.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
This is more of a challenge than a recommended read. The classic (and incredibly complicated) tale of a misguided knight errant and his mule-riding sidekick has symbolized Spain for centuries. Even if you are fluent in Spanish, it is recommended that you read Quixote in English – the original Spanish uses tenses that don´t even exist anymore. If you are brave enough to pick this one up, you will probably be charmed by the other-worldliness of this naive and courageous character literally tilting at windmills.
Bringing Home The Birkin by Michael Tonello
A firsthand account of an expat’s experience in Barcelona, Tonello’s book is thoroughly entertaining and inspiring. As a transplant from the United States, he thinks he’s arrived in this beautiful city with the perfect set-up, only to find everything falls apart quickly. Tonello’s easy writing style and inspirational story make for a wonderfully relatable book.
Barcelona: The Great Enchantress by Robert Hughes
An art critic and historian, Robert Hughes has put together an extensive but enjoyable book on the history of Barcelona. Hughes has been spending time here since the 1960’s and this book covers all the history of the Catalan culture as well as the architecture and art scenes. It is definitely worth reading to obtain a better understanding of the people.
Catalunya, One Nation, Two States: An Ethnographic Study Of Nonviolent Resistance To Assimilation by Alexander Alland
A big title for a big read. This one is not for the faint-hearted but is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the human history of the tensions between the former nation of Catalunya and the conquering Spain.
Barcelona and Modernity: Picasso, Gaudi, Miro, Dali by William H. Robinson
A good introduction to the most famous names in Catalunyan art and architecture. This book links the work of the ´Big Four´ to the changing social mores of their times. A good read if you would like to better understand the history of the city you are seeing from the top deck of the Tourist Bus.
Barca: A People’s Passion by Jimmy Burns
The religion of football is adhered to as fervently as Catholicism in Barcelona. Even if you are not a football fan (please don´t advertise this fact) this book is an entertaining and eye-opening read. Burns is a sports journalist-turned-book-author and his deep understanding of both the game and the people makes for a great read.
Barcelona Encounter Guide by Lonely Planet
Although LP offers plenty of choices when it comes to their Spain and Barcelona guides, ´Encounter´ is by far the best choice for ex-pats. There is very little space used for accommodation, tours, and other subjects that are most applicable to tourists. Instead, ´Encounter´ jumps straight into recommendations for boutiques, restaurants and all of the other things you will want to know as a new local.
Barcelona & Catalonia by Roger Williams
It´s difficult to choose only a select few travel books on Barcelona, but this one is included for its easy-to-read style and devotion to some of the hippest places in the city. Easy to digest snippets on the history of the city will keep you entertained rather than skipping pages. Also easy to carry in a daypack.
Berlitz Pocket Guide Barcelona (English) by Berlitz (publisher)
Not as comprehensive as Lonely Planet, or as trendy as Barcelona & Catalonia, but the Berlitz series trumps its competitors every time for the sheer ease of carrying it. It has everything you need to get you around the city and even the slightly older editions tend to be accurate.
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
The part historical account, part poetry, part polemic, Orwell arrived in Spain as a journalist before trading in his press pass for a uniform to fight against Franco´s fascists. The legacy of Franco is still very much imprinted on Barcelona (ask some of your older neighbors about life under the regime) and Orwell´s combination of cold facts with evocative emotional accounts will occasionally leave you breathless.