A while back I talked about T.V. and how awesome it can be to soak up all the juicy high school drama while at the same time improving your Spanish in part one of the poorly titled series: Ways to Improve Your Spanish Despite That Spanish Guy You Live With Who’s Incapable of Speaking in His Own GD Language. Well you’ll all be pleased to know that I’ve finally got my act together to provide you with the riveting sequel: Turn off the T.V. you uncultured boob and pick up a GD book (or magazine or newspaper). Can you tell I have an affinity for ridiculously long titles?
As far as tips for improving your language skills goes reading is hardly a new or innovative suggestion, and let’s be honest, it’s pretty vague. You can read anything from One Hundred Years of Solitude to the menu at Taquería Mexico, so which should you choose?
- My Spanish Library – an entire shelf (balda) dedicated to books in or about Spanish.
To answer this question I’m gonna get all fancy with my book learnin’ here and talk about the ZPD, which stands for Zone of Proximal Development. Vygotsky’s theory argues that language learning is most productive in the ZPD, the difference between what you already know, let’s say about 90%, and what you’ve never encountered before, around 10%. This ties in great with reading because you really shouldn’t try out Don Quixote if you still can’t flip through a Glamour magazine. Reading in Spanish has everything to do with a fair assessment of your current level. So let’s take a stroll down memory lane and I’ll make some book suggestions along the way.
When I first arrived in Spain back in the fall of 2007 my Spanish was terrible. I didn’t major in Spanish, or minor, and it had been more than a year since my last college class. For the first few months the most I could muster reading wise were snippets of the local newspaper and signs at the local grocery store. Then finally around April of 2008 I embarked on my first real reading challenge.
Charlie y la fábrica de chocolate
Author: Roald Dahl
Why I read it: Having never read the children’s classic in English but with the help of two movies under my belt, I knew I could follow the plot. The Oompa-Loompa poems admittedly threw me for a loop with all of their made up nonsense, but other than that it was smooth sailing.
In the summer of 2008 I made the leap from children’s literature to adult fiction… told from the perspective of a child (so maybe more of a skip than a jump?).
El niño con el pijama de rayas
Author: John Boyne
Why I read it: The book is written from the viewpoint of a nine-year-old boy and at the time my Spanish was right on par. Rather than lots of long frilly words the narrator uses the vocabulary he has to explain complicated concepts – perfect.
2009 was the year of Sabrina, in which I made the all-important switch from English-to-Spanish translations to books by Spanish authors. And before you go and get impressed, I should admit that these books are pure Chick Lit.
Side-note, my method for choosing books in Spanish goes: open any book about halfway through and read a full page. If I can understand about 90% of the text then it’s a contender. For me, reading the Sabrina books was like watching an episode of Fisica o Química on paper.
Sabrina contra el imperio del zapping and Sabrina: 1 El Mundo: 0
Author: Rebeca Rus
Pages: 449 and 525
Why I read it: The books are about a twenty-something who works for an ad agency in Madrid. While the plot is completely predictable, the dialogue between young adults living in the Spanish capital and talking about life in Spain is priceless.
After about a thousand pages of Chick Lit I was ready to tackle something a bit more intellectual. At the time Anna Gavalda, a French author, was hugely popular in Spain, so I gave her a try. I remember reading this book on a bus tour through Turkey during Semana Santa 2009.
Quisiera que alguien me esperara en algún lugar
Author: Anna Gavalda
Why I read it: The book is made up of relatos cortos or short stories, which is a handy way to avoid boredom and increase the probability of encountering new vocab and verb tenses as the subject matter is constantly changing. Plus, Gavalda is a beautiful writer.
By 2010 I had reached a point where I could read not everything, but certainly a lot. That’s also about the time I instated my one-in-Spanish, one-in-English reading rule. So, I could sit here and list all the books I’ve read since then, but frankly I think we’re both losing interest. How about I just round it out with the book I’m currently on y me faltan 20 páginas para terminarlo (and I’ve only got 20 pages to go).
La Reina del Sur
Author: Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Why I’m reading it: It’s about a female Mexican drug lord, how could you not want to read it?! Plus, most of the novel is set in Andalucía and there’s no greater feeling than recognizing the streets, beaches and towns you’ve visited in the book you’re reading. And as if those weren’t reasons enough, they’ve turned the book into a series on Antena3. As soon as I’m all caught up on Aguila Roja I’m watching it.
Shew, that right there might be my longest post ever. If you’ve made it to the end, thanks for hanging in there with me. Now let’s add to the list. What are some of your must reads in Spanish? And how have your reading abilities progressed as a learner?