Desperate Literature (or interesting bookstores and libraries)

I fell in love with literature at the American School in London with a couple of great teachers: Soledad Sprackling for Spanish Literature and James McGovern for English. But I did not fall in love with books until college.

At Bentley University I discovered the Bowles Reading Room which had beautiful books. It was glassed in from the rest of the library and every day I went there to do my homework but would invariably end up looking at the wonderful books. I loved that room so much that at the end of my studies, I donated a book about Spain to the Collection. (I contacted the librarians who got me this rare photo of the Reading Room for this post, thanks!).

Bowles Reading Room 1992 (After I graduated) (PC: Bentley Archives)

Bowles Reading Room 1992 (After I graduated) (PC: Bentley Archives)

But I would have to wait until after college to have enough disposable income to buy books, which, living in Boston, was very easy. Some days on my lunch break I would sneak to Goodspeed’s to look for treasures. Such is my love for books and literature, that years later, I ended up getting a PhD in Spanish Literature! (see previous posts)

Speaking of UNC, one of the highlights are the libraries. Plural. The old library is the Wilson Library (which is featured prominently in Robin Williams’ great film Patch Adams). I spent hours studying in this library and a couple of times studying very old books in the Rare Book Collection. The big, modern library is the Davis Library with its 7 million books. There, I soon made best friends with the Spanish book librarians Teresa and Becky. I would walk to their office deep in the heart of the library and talk books, (and gossip). This library is as close to the Borges idea of a library as I have ever been: massive and repetitive, but with a soul.

During my studies at UNC, one summer I got a Fellowship to do research at the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. What an experience! To get to the rare book collection you have to pass not one, but two security checks, you cannot bring in any pens, books, phones, etc. Books there are treated with the care and reverence one would expect of -in my case- over two hundred year old books. I spent every morning that summer reading most of Francisco de Isla’s first editions, manuscripts, and other pieces attributed to him but not his. That experience is one of the highlights of my academic career. (Their coffee shop in the basement was also excellent – and subsidized! but that is for another post)

Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid

Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid

After UNC I moved to Southern Florida, which is a wasteland for books -must be the humidity. But, in 2016 I did read this great article in Vanity Fair, (to which I have subscribed and read every issue from cover to cover since around 2006) about this magical book store in Santorini called Atlantis Books.

Fast forward to 2018 when my dear friend Matthew came to visit me in Madrid. He stayed at a hotel in the old part of town. One evening after I dropped him off, around the corner from the hotel, on narrow Campomanes street, I bumped into Desperate Literature. I was ecstatic! What a discovery, what a find! A tiny bookstore, but filled with books mostly in English, with a few in Spanish and French for good measure. It was a tiny paradise, an oasis of… books!

Books in time of Covid

Books in time of Covid

I soon found out that this bookshop is part of Atlantis Books which I had read about in that Vanity Fair article. It all fit in, a collection of magical bookstores.

During this Covid-19 pandemic I found out they were sending books to folks. I ordered one and I was able to make use of my workout time to ride my bicycle to pick it up.

In conclusion: support your local -hopefully quirky- bookstores, and read.

 

Three semesters down. (5 to go, but who is counting?)

Walking to class on a Fall morning

Walking to class on a Fall morning

I love my morning walk to class

I love my morning walk to class

I was so busy I only went to 1 game (and 2 of the players were my students!)

I was so busy I only went to 1 game (and 2 of the players were my students!)

Two of my favorite guys Ramses and Ronald!

Two of my favorite guys Ramses and Ronald!

my usual view

my usual view

The old well

Delicate Christmas decorations on a frat house!

Delicate Christmas decorations on a frat house!

After another grueling, and hectic semester at UNC I can finally update my blog! I had not expected my third semester to be so crazy, but things got busy right from the start. I taught two classes: Intermediate Spanish, which I had already taught three times, so that was not a problem, and Spanish for Business which was my first time but it was a high performance class, I loved teaching that class. The students were sharp as tacks, fun and had excellent Spanish! Although I technically did not have to take any classes, I chose to take a Medieval Spanish literature class with the amazing Prof. Dominguez, what a blast! I am so happy I have taken three classes with Dominguez, I have learnt so much. What kept me on my toes all semester was getting my reading list approved for my Ph.D. exam. What I thought was going to be a one week deal turned out to take the full semester. The way it works is I have to prepare a list of books (and scholarly articles) with both primary, source readings and secondary, critique and theory for each of the three topics I have decided to study. My three reading “tutors” that are going to examine me pushed me hard to have the best list possible. In the process I learnt a lot about what and how I had to prepare. Although my list was not finally approved until December, that did not stop me from continuing reading and reading material that either had already been approved or that I knew would be on the list. I am happy to say that the semester is over and I am writing this from the boarding lounge at Philadelphia airport as I await my flight home to Madrid where I will spend ten short days visiting my family.

What have I been reading you ask? Well, besides material for the Medieval lit class, I have been reading 18th Century Spanish satire and colonial satire, all the while keeping in mind the Medieval cornerstones being laid… All good stuff, fascinating, and I love connecting the dots and being able to ask deeper questions and figure them out. It all reminds me of a summer night on the Greek Islands a long time ago when I asked my dear friend George Dangas why he was studying medicine. His answer “in order to be a student forever” is now my guiding light and what a pleasure it is to be a student again. To lose the “know it all” attitude that is needed in the business world where I spent all my previous life. To be open and vulnerable to learning is very rewarding as you are allowing all these waves – in the form of books, conversations and classes to wash up on your shore daily.