As scholars and students of literature we are in the privileged position of having turned our love for books into a profession. That means it is very likely that we will be reading every day. At the same time, in our daily lives certain books will have to be prioritized over others in order for us to keep up with the scholarship in our chosen field. Often, I find in hindsight that I have wasted valuable reading time on articles and analyses that prove utterly devoid of insights, even though the work’s title seemed to promise a plethora of valuable information. Who doesn’t know that feeling of finishing some literary criticism only to regret that one didn’t spend the time reading a decent novel instead? At times I can’t help but wish for Borges’ ‘libro total’ from the ‘La biblioteca de Babel’. Borges’s book would contain within itself all possible books aka the universe and, although I say this tongue-in-cheek, that would mean I would be well over and done with identifying good reading material for the foreseeable future.
As a result of my being led astray in the world of scholarly publications, leisurely reading time is also often encroached on by the demands of the profession. Thus, I find that I am rarely up to date with the latest bestsellers coming from Spain, let alone those appearing elsewhere. Out of this professional deficiency grew the idea for the Contemporary Spanish Reading Group ‘Freshly Baked’ at the University of Oxford. My colleague María Liñeira and I felt that we wanted to at least try to remain a little bit in the loop by reading books that would not necessarily form part of the literary canon or academic syllabi, including translations into Spanish from Basque, Catalan and Galician.
The reading group meets informally twice a term to indulge in ‘obras recien salidas del horno’, as well as some freshly baked cakes. Prose has thus far dominated our reading, despite us being open and welcoming to poetry and drama as well. Not every chosen text has been an instant hit but that is the surprise effect of this group. Discovering that books I might have formerly discarded as ‘not up my street’ can actually be enjoyable. At the same time, there might be appraised novels that I personally prefer to stay away from. It all yields ample material for group discussion though – the positive and the negative….
When compiling the programme for the forthcoming academic year we realised with shame that we had only been discussing the works of men in the past year. For the new season we really wanted to strike a balance and decided on an all-female cast. After all, if nobody noticed the male over-representation why should it be any different with a women-only line-up? Thus we are aiming for a wild mix of Galician poetry, Spanish-Moroccan short stories and female perspectives on the Civil War amongst others. Always in the hope that one page of Borges’ ‘total book’ has at least been started…
Dr. Daniela Omlor is the Queen Sofia Junior Research Fellow at Exeter College, Oxford, and co-organiser of the Freshly Baked reading group.