I’ve been a book nerd my whole life. I used to pretend to be asleep when my mom would check in on me, fingers holding my place in the book under the covers. I would take a dozen books with me on even the shortest vacations because What if I Finish Them All?!?! A fate worse than death, of course! In high school I considered A Tale of Two Cities one of my favorite books of all time, and blazed through The Grapes of Wrath in a single weekend. I even used to read for fun in Spanish and Portuguese.
And now? Now I spend any precious salvaged moments of peace playing Candy Crush. The books that I read on vacation (and only on vacation, because reading during real life? Not happening) have an uncanny tendency to be The Hunger Games and other classics of the YA canon. So what happened?!?!
Well, duh, Real Life happened. Jobs and a spouse and kids and laundry happened. I hardly have time to read what I’m SUPPOSED to be reading, much less other stuff. And when I finally get a break from all get craziness, I tell myself, “I don’t want to read ‘heavy’ stuff.” At least, that’s what I tell myself.
But you know what? I’m starting to wonder if that’s an excuse. Hear me out: I fully acknowledge that I should do physical exercise, despite time limitations and feeling tired. Why don’t I feel the same way about making time to read good books? Especially good literature in Spanish, given that I CAN read in another language? And considering the joy that can come from reading a great book (which is generally NOT a feeling I have about going for a run), you’d think I could make a little time for an activity that is both enjoyable AND good for me.
And you know what I’ve noticed, after talking about reading with my Hispanic colleagues? In many Spanish-speaking countries, they tend to have a much stronger culture of decent literature. That doesn’t mean everyone’s reading Don Quixote on their morning commute, but my impression is that when people do read, they are just as likely to be reading Mario Vargas Llosa as a cheesy “beach read” paperback. My sample size for this oh-so-scientific study is admittedly minute–you can correct me if I’m wrong. But I don’t get the same impression about our reading culture in America. We tend to read “book club” books, which can be pretty good, but how many times do you pick up Steinbeck for fun? And how much could we gain by appreciating the great works of both American and Hispanic authors?
So here’s what I’m proposing, to all of us here. Maybe we could make a little space in our busy lives to read a little bit of good literature, especially in whichever our “foreign” language is. Yeah, maybe we won’t understand it all, and maybe there will be cultural references that are lost on us in the short-term. But what better way to take a little mini-trip to another time, another place, another perspective? It will be a kind of “gourmet health food for the soul,” nourishing our minds in this time when it seems like so many of our daily distractions do the opposite.
But here’s what we need from each other: where do we begin? What recommendations can you give for the type of books we’re talking about? It doesn’t have to be super-fancy, “high” literature. Just something that is both quality and enjoyable. And in either Spanish or English. Even translations are welcome here. (I read Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon in English and enjoyed it immensely; my Portuguese reading is not quite up to the task, but it’s still worthwhile!) Please put any recommendations in the comments below, and check back to see what other readers have recommended!
My recommendations: Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado, anything by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Relatos vertiginosos (an anthology by various authors)…