What do you read when you’re working on a book? And what kind of reading do you avoid while writing?
I read things having to do with what I am writing. Not so much research material (though a bit of that), but poetry related to the subject or “spirit” of my novel. From Shakespeare to Keats, from Eliot to Wilfred Owen, from Lope de Vega to Machado. I tend to avoid novels by contemporary authors, not because they bother me but because when you’re concentrating on your own novel, it is advisable for a while to have the foolish idea that yours is the only book on earth. Extremely foolish indeed, and generally impossible to maintain.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
That we trust too much in will. That we trust too much in gratitude. Nothing should be expected from any of those things. I learned this while rereading “The Fall of Constantinople 1453,” by Steven Runciman, which I published as one of the two titles per year in my small imprint, Reino de Redonda.
What books would you recommend to somebody who wants to learn more about Spanish literature?
I do not much believe in national literatures. Important as it is, the language in which you write is secondary. There is no such thing as “Spanish literature.” In Spain there are great single authors, from Cervantes to Juan Benet, from Quevedo to García Lorca, from Jorge Manrique to Antonio Machado, from Lazarillo de Tormes to Valle-Inclán. But each is very different from the others. I myself feel much closer to many foreign authors than to many of my compatriots.
What moves you most in a work of literature?
Recognition. When I must stop my reading and say to myself: “Yes, this is true, it is just like this. I knew, but I did not know that I knew until I read it here.”
Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
I still enjoy fiction, and ghost stories are an old weakness. I enjoy history, essays, poetry, sometimes philosophy (though not much proper philosophy nowadays). I generally avoid reading drama, which has too much dialogue to read silently. I tend to avoid memoirs and diaries ever since they became a mere vehicle for grievances and banalities. Too many people wondering how on earth they can be seen as victims.
How do you organize your books?
By language or country (it depends), and in a strict chronological order of the authors’ births. Therefore, not by genre. In the British section, for instance, A. W. Kinglake (a historian of the Crimean War) precedes Elizabeth Gaskell and Charles Dickens; and Capt. Richard F. Burton precedes Wilkie Collins. This way, at a glance, I see who was contemporary to whom, no matter if they are novelists, poets, scientists or essayists.