Books and, briefly, Beards

Today I bought a book. Not just any book, El Cuaderno de Maya by Isabelle Allende. That’s right it’s a book in Spanish. My own personal Lord of the Rings-esque adventure.

Truthfully, I didn’t set out to buy a book at all; I mean, hello, unpaid intern here. But browsing at a bookstore is my kryptonite. Originally, I had Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried but then I was drawn to a table labeled (I think) Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Right then and there I made it my quest to pick a book from the table and successfully finish it.

Confession: My Spanish speaking, reading, and writing skills are average to above average despite growing up in a home where one of my parents–my dad–spoke mostly Spanish. For the longest time I thought I was “the bomb” when it came to speaking the “native language”;  I mean I was the special student assistant in my high school clase de espanol. I was in for a rude awakening when I spent a summer in Florida with my aunt and her neighbor who spoke only Spanish. From that point on I was humbled and I became hesitant to speak what I now know is “Spanglish.”

So, when I picked up Isabel Allende’s El Cuaderno de Maya I had a couple of motivations:

  • Prove that I could read an entire book in Spanish
  • Strengthen my reading and comprehension skills
  • See how an author’s ‘voice’ changes when translated
  • Challenge myself to accomplish something out of the norm

I’ve read Allende before and the English translation of the book is supposed to come out sometime this year so hopefully I’ll be able to “investigate” how translating a work from its original language changes the overall feel of the book. Spanish is romantic and picturesque. English, while it can also be picturesque and romantic, is much more….precise and assertive. I’m not saying that Spanish > English. It’s just that I’ve grown up with the English language so it doesn’t have the same romantic aura or the magic of Spanish. I guess its like a long-term relationship; I’ve grown accustomed to the comfortable English language and Spanish is that new piece of bearded eye candy across the bar. Ha. Woah, digress much?

Reading the book is also an exercise in not getting comfortable and complacent. My mornings are spent as an internship with the State of Texas but my afternoons devolve into applying for jobs, watching supernatural and freaks and geeks, and making dinner. So, in a way this little challenge is my way of injecting some sort of purpose into my afternoons and a way to feel like I’m actually accomplishing something. Weird, right? I think this logic also has something to do with my “spurts and chaos” phase. I have so many projects, all in different stages of fruition, in my head and on my laptop that accomplishing just one will be like validation. Well, that and a kick in a butt to finish some other projects (like the book review I’ve been working on and my pre-nanowrimo outline).

Okay, so back to my epic quest. I’ve read, quite slowly, about 30 pages of the book. Sure, I have to stop and look up words but I’m finding that the plodding place (on my part) is giving me time to savor the book. God, I sound like I’m eating the book for dessert! No really, I’m spending more time reading, comprehending, and reflecting on what I’ve read. So far its pretty hilarious, in a dry sarcastic way that may or may not translate well into English. Example: The protagonist, Maya, has been exiled to Chile from California for some vague reasons that may involve a drug cartel and the FBI. She stops at a remote village where she befriends a dog. When he refuses to leave her alone she screams “Shoo! Fucking dog!”. A local man who is supposed to take her to her grandmother’s friend kindly tells Maya that she can take her dog, Fakin, with her.

So, long blog post short, I am on a quest. To read a book in Spanish, understand it, and enjoy it. Wish me luck!

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