What I’m Reading: Round-Up

My family is taking a fun trip to Mexico over Christmas break, and I’ve been practicing my Spanish! I’ve been listening to the Pimsleur CDs from the library (up to Level 5!) and reading books from the “Easy Readers” series. This is a series of actual Spanish literary works simplified down to certain specified levels–Level A requires a vocabulary of about 600 words to read (not to brag, but these are way too easy for me), Level B a vocabulary of about 1,200 words (this is a bit easy for me), Level C about 2,000 words (these are challenging for me, but a good challenge and probably what I should stick to), and Level D about 2,500 words (haven’t tried yet and almost certainly beyond my skill level).

Las Inquietudes de Shanti Andia A Level B book by Pio Baroja, originally written in the early 1900s and set around perhaps 1850, about a sailor named Santiago (Shanti for short) Andia. Shanti as a child dreams of working on one of the boats he sees from the waterfront in his small seaside town in the Basque region in northern Spain. As an adult, he finds work on the ships making three-year journeys from Spain to the Philippines and other destinations in the Far East. While at school to become a ship’s captain in Cadiz, he finds romance with a beautiful but manipulative woman who promises to wait for him on his next journey so they can marry, but instead marries a rich man while he is away.

Disappointed and bereft, he returns to his hometown for a spell and gets involved in a complicated family mystery involving an uncle long thought lost at sea but perhaps still alive, the beautiful and good-hearted daughter of a dying family friend, and an evil wealthy merchant who wishes to marry the daughter and will stop at nothing–including kidnapping and murder–to get Shanti out of the way when he tries to protect her.

I read this book several years ago and so enjoyed its ocean-faring adventures that I returned to it again, with much satisfaction.

Historias de la Artamila  A Level C book by Ana Maria Matute first published in 1961. This is a book of short stories set in the fictional village of Artamila, probably around 1920. Artamila is an impoverished and conservative village set in a remote valley where the modern world barely intrudes, other than an occasional car from the big city. The unifying factor is a young girl, the ten-year-old daughter of one of the town’s few wealthy men, who occasionally participates in, but mostly observes, the daily events that unfold in the town and its environs.

These stories are beautiful and sad, and often involve an outsider coming to the village and trying to change things for the better, only to find it’s not possible. I think I had two favorites stories. The first was El Rey (The King), about a new teacher who comes to the local school and befriends a poor but imaginative boy in a wheelchair. When he discovers the boy doesn’t expect to get anything for Christmas, he promises that the Three Wise Men will deliver gifts to him, planning to dress up himself as a Wise Man and make a special delivery to his house. Only the boy’s imagination proves more expansive than the teacher’s resources, and the teacher gives up the plan when he discovers the boy believes his special visitors will be able to conjure up a magical abundance of toys and treats.

The other of my favorites was Los Pajaros (The Birds), about a lame boy who lives with his father outside of the town. Because the father is the game warden in the woods and thus not popular with the residents, the boy leads a lonely life, and the little girl who is in all the stories meets him when she trips and injures herself on a walk outside of town one day. She must spend the day with the boy, who has learned to climb a rope ladder to the high branches of a tall tree and whistle so that birds come and settle around him and even land on his outstretched arms. Later, when the boy dies of the same illness that causes his lameness (polio?), his father sells the boy’s clothes for money. Only the little girl knows why the scarecrow that is clothed in these remnants attracts birds to the field, rather than scares them away.

Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish Finally, this one is not an “Easy Reader” but rather a non-fiction book that is just what it’s title promises. Not really the kind of book you read from cover to cover, but instead the best way to go seems to be to pick out the sections that seem most useful for an individual reader. For me, these were parts of the chapters on “tricksters” (i.e. false cognates, or words that appear to be similar to English words but mean something different), “which is which” (ideas with multiple words to express them in Spanish, each with various connotations), and pretty much the entirety of the “cranking up your Spanish” chapter (with small, easily overlooked words or phrases that might not be in your textbooks but are critical to sounding fluent–the Spanish equivalents of well, I mean, you see, so anyhow, etc.).

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