Camino specific, non-fiction.
Camino guidebooks: On our trip you’ll get a daily tip sheet showing distances and towns, as well as notes on the stops we’ll make, so you don’t really need a guidebook. But if you are interested in additional information, John Brierly’s books are probably the most-chosen of Camino guidebooks in English. He has written three guidebooks for the French route (Sarria-Santiago is part of that route). One of the French route guidebooks covers the entire route from the Pyrenees to Santiago, another Sarria – Santiago with the continuation to Finisterre on the coast, and the third is just maps and accomodation with no cultural information (thus smaller and lighter). Brierley’s books usually have cultural information and inspirational or spiritual notes as well as route notes.
Michelin map Camino de Santiago (try their code 160). Slim paperback format for maps and elevation on the French route, with the basics on infrastructure in each town – hotels, restaurants, pharmacy, banks, etc. No cultural information.
The Pilgrim’s Guide to Santiago de Compostela, by William Melczer. English translation of book five of the Calixtine Code, the twelfth century guideook explaining the French route from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. Considered the first guidebook of the Camino, this contains author’s comments about the character of the people along the way and the quality of bread as well as practical 12th century guidebook advice. Good intro about the Camino in the Middle Ages, most important moment for this route.
Book Five of the Calixtine Code: The Pilgrim’s Guide by Denis Murphy. Online English translation of book five of the Codex, the pilgrims’ guide. Considered the first guidebook of the Camino, contains editorial comments about the people along the way and the quality of bread as well as practical 12th century guidebook advice. Website: sites.google.com/site/caminodesantiagoproject
Spiritual and Walking Guide: Leon to Santiago on El Camino (Spiritual and Walking Guides), by Stacey Wittig. Haven’t delved into this one but some people like to have a thought for the day.
The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago: The Complete Cultural Handbook, by David Gitlitz & Linda K. Davidson. Cultural and art guide for the Camino. Hefty, too big to take with you but nice for armchair reading if you like art and architecture.
The Edible Camino, Field Guide to Edibles along the Camino de Santiago. If you’re a foodie, this is for you! Available at Amazon and https://ediblecamino.com/
Personal pilgrim accounts: I’m not really in favor of reading pilgrim accounts before a journey. It could influence one’s own experience, whether by looking for someone else’s experiences, or by being discouraged before the start by tales of big hills and hot days (it isn’t always like that!). After the journey it’s fun to read other people’s experience and insights, pondering what they saw and felt, always remembering that every Camino is different and just right for each person, but likely not just right for someone else. That said, if really interested in reading pilgrim accounts there are many many books out there, including Shirley McClaine’s account (which gets strange in the middle) and more recent book A Million Steps, by Kurt Koontz
Camino fiction – there are many more, some good and some less good. These are four I’ve read and enjoyed.
The Pilgrimage, by Paolo Coehlo. The Camino as a spiritual experience, an initiatic journey. Some people love this, others not so much.
Iacobus, by Matilde Asensi. A medieval monk-knight travels the Camino on a quest for…. treasure? knowledge? personal fulfillment? Knights Templars, adventure, family issues and love interest.
Strong as Death and The Outcast Dove, both by Sharan Newman. These books are part of the Catherin LeVendeur mystery series and while are excellent on their own, the books are even better if you read the previous books first, or at least the first in the series (Death Comes as Epiphany) where we get most of the backstory and learn the many family secrets. Catherine is a 12th century French woman who almost becomes a nun but doesn’t, ends up solving mysteries through her curiosity and intellectual prowess. The two books mentioned are both set partly on the Camino de Santiago (Road of St. James).
General books on Spain (for more, go to Reading List link above under Cultural Tips, books here are selected from that list, with a few Camino-specific additions).
The Story of Spain, by Mark Williams. This is a good, very readable overall history book from prehistoric times up through the present. Instead of concentrating on every single date, this gives the major events and their context, as well as the ongoing themes in Spanish history. My favorite for a first history book.
Ghosts of Spain, by Giles Tremlett. Sort of history, sort of light anthropology, this book clues you in about current issues in Spain and about the fascinating transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Wanderlust, a History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit. If you like walking, this is a great book, a history of walking in general and specifically of recreational walking. And yes, the Camino gets a mention.
If you are arriving early or staying late you may want a general guidebook. All the well-known travel guide publishers have guidebooks, some on specific regions of Spain, some include Portugal or Morocco. Just remember no guidebook is perfect!! Making the right choice is a good start but no book will have absolutely everything you want or be totally error-free.
In making your choice, what geographical area the book includes will be an important factor – why get something on Portugal if you don’t plan to travel there in the near future? Different guidebooks also include different mixtures of information on the cultural sights and practical travel information – if you are a real culture buff you may need more information (local tourist offices can usually help a lot here in Spain). Of course you should also keep in mind your own travel style, as the different guidebooks are meant for different people – don’t get a backpacker’s book if you only go first class. And very important (for Puente at least) is a solid if brief history section — which will help put things into context during your travels.
My personal favorite is probably Lonely Planet, they have a good history section as well as covering lots of interesting places.