A is for authors. It all begins with them. Authors are the reason that we are gathered here. They are the yarn-spinners. They are the enchanters. We look to them for solace, for entertainment, for wisdom acquired through vicarious experience, for news from other landscapes.

Bis for books. Over 56 thousand were published in Spain in 2014, of which roughly a third were works of literature. It was the pleasant task of our merry band of men and women –a publisher, a bookseller, two translators and a literary journalist—to select those recently published books that, in our view, most deserved to be brought to the attention of English language readers. B is also for Barcelona, where 8 out of the 12 books selected by the panel were published.

Cis for Catalan. Close to ten percent of the total number of Spanish books published in 2014 were in Catalan. The number is modest when considered alongside the near 78 percent of books in Spanish –though it remains considerably higher than other co-official languages (compare with 1.5% in Galician, 1.4% in Basque, or 1.3% in Valencian). Yet, when it comes to fiction, over a third of Spain’s titles were published in Catalonia –which may help to explain why one out of every four books in our final selection is in Catalan.

Dis for drop –as in “a drop in the ocean”. Spain’s publishing output has been shrinking over the past four years, but the industry remains one of the largest in Europe after the United Kingdom, Germany and France. Our final selection is, by necessity, a minuscule sample of this output.

Eis for English. Translation into English does not only offer the prospect of a wide English-language readership. English remains the most significant gateway language –the translation of a book into English is often one of the most useful tools in selling it to other markets. One recent study shows that, in total, fewer than 50 Spanish-language books are translated into English per year in the United Kingdom.

Fis for Franco. The General, and the Spanish Civil War, both of which have been staples of contemporary Spanish literature, were conspicuously absent from the selection. Rafael Reig’s Un Árbol Caído, a book that made it into the final list, is set during the transition period that began with the General’s death. Another, Les dones de La Principal, by the musician-turned-author Lluis Llach, is partly set in the aftermath of the civil war, but escapes the conventions of fictional accounts of life in Franco’s Spain, concentrating instead on the historical murder mystery. The more recent impact of Basque separatism was a recurrent theme of many shortlisted novels, though was not reflected in any title in the final selection.

Gis for genre fiction. The Spanish crime novel is in rude health, and was well represented in the short list. None made the final cut, however, as most were simply the latest instalment in some long-running series featuring a predictably flawed detective.

His for history. Like crime novels, historical fiction continues to flourish in Spain, though –apart from Ara Antón’s La Dama de Europa—no title seemed remarkable enough to go onto the final list. Special mention ought be made of the most unlikely sub-genre we became aware of: the historical epic set in medieval Japan, of which the long list seemed to have many examples.

Iis for Iceland, which seems to be having a moment in Spanish fiction. Two of the twelve books on the final list –Jordi Morell’s Islàndia, somnis de riolita, and Albert Juvany’s El silenci del far—are set in Iceland. They are both debut novels. They are both in Catalan. It is too early to say with any certainty whether this is the beginning of a new trend in Spanish literature.

Jis for Jordi, which, alongside José, is the most common first name on the final list of authors –there are two of each. This means absolutely nothing.

Kis for knight-errant. Perhaps the mot famous of them all is Alonso Quijano, known to all as Don Quixote, whose misadventures, as imagined by Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century, set the template for the modern novel. Exactly four centuries after the publication of the second volume of Don Quixote, all novelists in Spain (and elsewhere) continue to labour under Cervantes’ shadow, whether they acknowledge it or not.

L is for Latin America. The Spanish publishing industry is not only the platform for Spanish fiction, but has for decades been the launch pad for many of Latin America’s finest authors. Publication in Spain (and the help of Spanish literary agents) allowed writers of the so-called “Boom generation”, from Colombia’s Gabriel García Márquez to Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa, to achieve worldwide prominence. Latin American authors still gravitate towards the country’s publishing hubs. In recent years, Barcelona and its vicinity have been home to authors including Chile’s Roberto Bolaño, Colombia’s Juan Gabriel Vásquez and Mexico’s Juan Pablo Villalobos. The panel’s selection included two novels by Latin Americans: Colombian Octavio Escobar Giraldo’s harrowing Después y antes de Dios, and the quirky Ese príncipe que fui, by Mexican novelist and diplomat Jordi Soler.

Mis for Mexico, the country I grew up in. It is the largest market for Spanish-language books outside of Spain. Its annual book fair, in Guadalajara, is the biggest in the region. Putting aside the occasional bemusement caused by Iberian colloquialisms, Mexican readers are accustomed to treating Spanish-language literature with some indifference to provenance. Whether a novel is by a Mexican, Argentine, Uruguayan or Spanish author is often beside the point. We are used to a smorgasbord of voices. Only when I moved to the United Kingdom did I realise how few of the authors I had read and loved were available in English translation (see P, below).

Nis for Non-fiction, of which there was a single item on the final list of books –Polifemo vive al este, by journalist Daniel Pinilla Gómez.

Ois for Olloqui, the author of the most outlandish entry on the final list. Described by one reader as “‘Independence day’ acted out by the characters from ‘Shaun of the Dead’”, Malditos terrícolas seemed both the wackiest and the most socially prescient, mixing an alien invasion with scenes of romance set in Madrid’s unemployment office.

Pis for percentage. Three percent, to be specific. A recent study by Literature Across Frontiers (LAF) has confirmed that the often-quoted figure does, indeed, correspond to the percentage of books published in the United Kingdom that have been translated from other languages. Literary translations represent a slightly higher share, consistently exceeding 4% of the total. The numbers are low, but the same study confirms that there are grounds for optimism –between 1990 an 2012, the number of literary translations published in the UK increased by 66%.

Qis for Quijote (see also K). In book two of the classic novel bearing his name, the haggard hero arrives in Barcelona (where else?) and pays a visit to a local printer. There he falls into a discussion about the merits of literary translation: “…it seems to me that translating from one language to another”, he says, “is like looking at Flemish tapestries from the wrong side, for although the figures are visible, they are covered by threads that obscure them, and cannot be seen with the smoothness and colour of the right side”. Harsh words from a classic literary character whose enduring and universal appeal is due, in no small measure, to having been presented in so many languages and re-iterations –not the least of which is a very recent “translation” of Don Quijote into contemporary Spanish.

Ris for readers. A question often asked by panel members when considering a book was: “Are there any readers for this?” Deciding on behalf of any imagined reader is an exercise fraught with difficulties. As demonstrated by the success of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s best-selling, Barcelona-set gothic mystery novel, The Shadow of the Wind, it is presumptuous and risky to second-guess readers’ tastes. R is also for another type of reader –the sixteen men and women who valiantly trudged through the panel’s long-list and produced the reports that allowed the panellists to make their final choice. Without them, the process would have been impossible.

Sis for Spanish –the language, not the nationality. The good news is that it is the third most translated language into English, following French and German. The bad news is that the number of translations from Spanish remains pitifully low (See E). S is also for selection. It is worth noting that publishers participating in the New Spanish Books programme were only allowed to submit up to three titles. This led to the exclusion of many excellent authors from the panel’s discussions. It also led to the surprising discovery of other writers who, in competition with some of Spain’s mighty men and women of letters, might not have been noticed otherwise.

T is for translation. I grew up between cultures (see M), so I have always been drawn to translation. Figuratively at first –in the sense of interpreting between cultures—and, over the past few years, literally. It seems a necessary task . Urgent, even. So as a translator, I am duty-bound to disagree with Don Quixote when he declares: “translating easy languages does not argue for either talent or eloquence, just as transcribing or copying from one paper to another does not argue for those qualities. And I do not wish to infer from this that the practice of translating is not deserving of praise, because a man might engage in worse things that bring him even less profit."

Uis for unanimity. One expects heated arguments and violent disagreements on literary judging panels. This one may have been an exception. Not only were the discussions calm and civilised at all times, but there was also a very unexpected level of consensus about which books most deserved to be promoted.

Vis for variety. The panel’s final list included: a collection of travel essays about Eastern Europe; a novel about the descendant of an Aztec prince; a novel about the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine; a novel about an alien invasion in Madrid; a novel charting the relationships between a group of friends during Spain’s transition to democracy; a historical whodunit spanning three generations of women in a wine-producing estate; a novel that examines life in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin wall; a story of casual brutality and social hypocrisy set in Colombia; a period novel about the murder of an English woman in Biarritz; a family saga about Jewish communities in Melilla  And, of course, those two debut novels set in Iceland by Catalan authors (see I).

Wis for women. The panel’s selection was gender-blind, yet we could not avoid a certain disappointment after realising that only one of our authors, Ara Antón, was a woman.

Xis for Xenos, which in Greek means alien, or foreign. English-language readers are famously averse to foreign titles (see P). The purpose of the New Spanish Books project is to help diminish that reluctance by arming publishers, translators and readers with information about Spanish titles that deserve wider attention.

Yelling at each other was not encouraged during the selection process. In fact, it was completely unnecessary (see U).

Zis for Zaid. In his celebrated essay So Many Books, Mexican writer Gabriel Zaid bemoaned the oversupply of books and the dwindling of actual readers. This, it should be added, was back in the late 1990s, long before the explosion of electronic books and self-publishing. We may be drowning in even more books today, but good translations into English of worthy works of foreign fiction remain rare. It is the aspiration of the New Spanish Publishers project to counter this state of affairs, one Spanish book at a time.

Ángel Gurría-Quintana