Our Reading Recommendations for Language Learning (Spanish)
As we talked about recently, reading in Spanish can be a great way to improve your vocabulary, comprehension, and overall language skills in this foreign language. Be sure to check out the original article for more information on what to consider when choosing your book and some other general tips. Today, we'd like to give you some specific recommendations and share a bit about what some of our favorite books (and other sources) have been throughout our own language-learning journeys. As Claudia and I have different tastes and tendencies when it comes to reading, I'm sure there will be something for everyone on the list!
My Classic: “Cien Años de Soledad” by Gabriel García Márquez
This book, for me, was the perfect lesson in how important it is to read a book in its original language or, at the very least, with a clear understanding of its historical, cultural, and literary context.
My mom had actually purchased me a copy of the English version (One Hundred Years of Solitude) on the recommendation of a bookstore worker upon seeing the list of classic books I had asked for. Thus, I went ahead and read it, knowing nothing more than what the back cover had told me (I even avoid forewords and notes from the author as I hate spoilers). Honestly, I didn't enjoy it at all. It was confusing, repetitive, and even frustrating as ridiculously impossible things kept happening! I finished the book, but didn't quite understand why it was a world-renowned classic.
Fast forward two years and I had the book assigned to me in a Hispanic literature class (cue the heavy sigh). However, with the context given about magical realism and why this literary style was so effective in this Colombian classic as well as the meaning behind the repeated names throughout the family's history and their similar experiences, I was able to see the book through a new lens, really appreciating the beauty of the words in the way they were written by the author.
If you're up for a challenge (and I highly recommend making notes of the family tree otherwise you'll never be able to remember who's who), this is a really powerful story of family, life, death, solitude, and the inevitable continuity of time.
My Favorite Topic: “Cuentos de la Alhambra” by Washington Irving
In contrast to my previous recommendation, this book was actually NOT originally written in Spanish but it was a beautiful and powerful practice of my Spanish reading skills all the same. Since I had already lived in Granada for a school year and had been away for almost a year when I read this compilation of short stories about the history and legends of the Alhambra, it was an ‘easy read’ for me.
Now, I don’t say ‘easy’ because it was actually quick or even because I had a good grasp of the vocabulary used before starting it. Instead, it was an ‘easy read’ because I cared so much about understanding the stories and feeling re-connected with my home abroad while I read. If you’ve also fallen in love with Granada, this is the perfect book to try out as it is made up of many different stories (starting with Washington Irving’s journey to the Alhambra and transitioning into the myths and stories he heard about the palaces while he was living there). This gives you the perfect opportunity to read in chunks and take breaks when you need them, while still having a concrete, consistent thread between all of the stories.
Pro-Tip: While this book was meaningful and powerful for me because it took place in Granada, you might not have the same beautiful experience if you don't have a special place in your heart for the city. Finding a different book about a place, time period, or topic that is important for you will likely have the same effect of keeping you motivated and captivated.
My daily read: The paper/Blogs
I’m going to confess that I don’t necessarily read books in Spanish daily. In fact, I don’t currently have that many books in Spanish at all. However, that doesn’t mean I am not reading anything in Spanish. On a daily basis, I like to read shorter blog articles or news stories. Most of the blogs I follow in Spanish are often about stuff I work on (entrepreneurship, innovation, etc.) and I only tend to keep updated on local, Granada news. At the same time, by reading small doses of Spanish on a regular basis, I am able to keep my skills fairly up to date—something that really helps because living in Spanish can be tiring!
Currently the blog that is on my personal list is called “No me creo que no te creas” (I cannot believe that you don’t believe) and it is written by a Blablacar driver I once had—Daniel if you are reading this, I am waiting for the next update. ;) I also like reading what’s going on around Granada, even though I am not a world newsreader, which I do on a page called miUGR.
Neither of these pages takes up much of my time during the week, but they do allow me to follow along with things that I find interesting and connect me to my Spanish living. If you have any blog or news recommendations, please share them with us!
My easy read: “Harry Potter” by JK Rowling (translated into Spanish)
I know this might not be an easy read for everyone, but as someone who has read the Harry Potter series more times than I can count in English, reading them again in Spanish just makes so much sense. Because the books are really popular worldwide, the translations are quite good (although I will admit that I always prefer an original language if I can manage). In addition, because they are written more for young adults than other books, the writing style is easy to follow along, even if you don’t get every word.
However, one of my favorite things about reading this kind of book is all the cool vocabulary you can pick up on and then integrate into your life to look like a pro. Because it is set in a daily life situation—albeit taking place in a fantasy world—you learn a lot of words about everyday things in addition to weird words about magic and wands. Another cool thing about books that were popular as they can be great middle points for making friends with Spaniards as you will now know everything you need to have a conversation about it.
My YA author: “Marina” by Carlos Ruiz Zafrón
Carlos Ruiz Zafrón is a Catalan writer who is extremely well-known both in and out of Spain, and I personally really enjoy his books! “Marina” might be the most famous of all of his books and is a story about a boy, Oscar, and a girl-turned-friend named Marina who he meets while wandering away from his boarding school. Together Zafrón tells us about their adventures in Barcelona. As you can probably guess by my choice to ready Harry Potter, I like fantasy, and this author has the ability to weave what appears to be reality with the impossible.
I will say that the story is a little bit dark at moments, but it will also have you wanting to read the whole thing it one sitting. The author is able to pull you into an almost-real Barcelona and it almost feels like you are there with Oscar and Marina. The first line of the story is enough to make me smile and want to read it again: “Marina once told me that we only remember that which never happened” (“Marina me dijo una vez que sólo recordamos lo que nunca sucedió”). If that doesn’t make you think—and maybe even pick up the book—I don’t know what will.