Slow and Steady

It’s been three years now since I went on my trip to Spain and brought home two books translated from English to Spanish. I picked them up so I could start practicing the language and have a better understanding of the writing structure. I started reading one of those books, Leyenda, two years ago, and it has been a slow go. I was trying to sit down with my dad and read it with him since Spanish is his first language, so he could correct me on my pronunciation and explain the words I didn’t recognize, but damn, it’s hard to get a minute with that man. No grudges though; he works hard and it’s understandable how tired he is every time he comes home. I’m not a kid anymore, so he’s not obligated to pay attention to me and muck through my elementary out loud reading skills, because trust me, reading in Spanish feels exactly the same as reading in English did at five-years-old: excruciating and frustrating.

The challenge has also been fun though. I started reading on my own, keeping my laptop open with a Spanish to English dictionary on hand to help me out when I get stuck. That’s the beauty of today’s technology. I can have an entire language’s lexicon at my fingertips, and even have the option of an auditory sample to know how to pronounce it. Reading out loud in Spanish on my own leaves me giggling like a mad woman because I can hear how foreign I am to my father’s native tongue, but I like that I can’t get the accent quite right and my tongue still trips over rolled R’s. It’s simultaneously amusing and frustrating that I can say the word mentally, and know how it should sound in my head, but can’t get my mouth and brain to connect to form the words properly. I am a stranger in my own land, and it is exciting and aggravating and makes for a roller coaster reading ride.

I also noticed something new happening. Well, not so much new as an old habit that I’d phased out once I learned how to read at a proficient level in English, and that habit was to imagine the details in my mind like a movie playing out. I’ve become so adept in the English language that it’s easy for me to breeze through a book and barely blink at a passage as my eyes rove over the page and understand the scene that is taking place. I process what the words say, but I don’t stop to visualize the characters’ actions anymore. Reading in Spanish forced me to do that so that I can get a grasp on the vocabulary, grammar and syntax structure. The slow reading brought back my ability to read the action on the page and see it in my mind’s eye as it plays out like an image on a TV screen. I see the woman’s hand shake as she opens the envelope that could hold the very information she’s been seeking for over a decade. I see the priest’s apprehension as he hands over the document that could compromise his faith’s foundation. Slowing down to understand what’s happening on the surface made me slow down and dig into the rich imagery the writer took care to create for the readers.

I’ll take this as a lesson when I progress in my English reading, to remember to slow down and really read beyond the words into the visuals and sensory details. I need to remember it’s not a race, but a journey through different roads and perceptions, and I can’t truly appreciate those perspectives if I don’t take the time or care to stop and see the story.

All Books Matter

I was in my city’s Barnes & Noble store about a month ago, and I figured it’d be a long shot, but I thought, what the hell, why not give it a try.  My dad had been looking for a long time for a book of poetry by a Spanish writer named Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer.  Believe me, it’s a hard thing to come by.

Browsing several shelves for nearly half an hour, I finally found the Spanish section, and the sight I saw broke my heart.  First of all, I spent so much time looking because there were no labels over the tops of the shelves to indicate a Spanish language section.  Secondly, there were only two cases front and back dedicated to Spanish language books.  And to add insult to injury, everything was in disarray and out of alphabetical order.

Something about this just didn’t sit right with me.  I mean, I know throughout the day people pick things up and put them down, not necessarily where they belong, but there’s people working in the store periodically checking this and fixing the situation.  Well, maybe I just happened to catch it at a time when someone hadn’t checked in a couple of hours, so I thought, let me just give them a heads up.

I walked over to the customer service desk and politely told the woman working there, “Hey, just to let you guys know, I was looking for a specific author in the Spanish section, but it’s all out of order over there.  Could I get some help?”

She didn’t seem all too pleased to have me bother her with such an inane task, but she walked over anyway and asked me the author’s last name.  I offered it and specified the genre, and if she could perhaps tell me where the poetry section is that would help.  This is when she turned to me and said, “Honestly, there’s no separation for specific genres in this section.  It’s all just by author, so if you don’t see it in the B’s, it’s not here.”

Naturally, I was annoyed at this attitude, but I tried to remain polite anyway and reiterated my predicament of all the books being in disarray and out of order.  At this, she took a glance back at the books, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Yeah, no one really worries about keeping up this section.”  With that, she walked away.

My mother was with me, and I couldn’t help but look at her with so much fury in my eyes.  I’d been in the store’s restrooms and even those were in better condition than the Spanish language section.

I get it.  It’s a niche audience, they’re not big sellers, and probably not that many people browse the area on a daily basis.  But it’s still a part of your store, and every customer should matter, no matter what their background or language they speak.  And yes, that kind of blasé attitude toward those books is a personal affront to those customers.  It’s telling us we don’t matter.

Fast forward to last week, which was about a month later, and the optimist in me said, Go ahead and check it out again.  I still didn’t find any books by Bécquer, but there were now four full cases with Spanish books, labels that read Ficción and Religión, and they were alphabetized properly.  I smiled at my mom.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.

(Note: This was originally published on my personal Tumblr blog here.)