Spanish Professor

Books in Spanish
One of the best ways for you to become fluent in Spanish is by reading books in Spanish. This helps not only your reading and writing skills but also your speaking and listening skills, because you can both amass vocabulary and also increase your attentiveness, which carries over into real life conversational Spanish. In terms of literature, the Hispanic world, especially Latin America, has produced some of the heaviest hitters on the world literary stage. From Cervantes centuries ago to the Boom era of the 20th Century, with Spanish books written by authors like Julio Cortazar, Jorge Luis Borges, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, José Donoso, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Augusto Monterroso and Augusto Roa Bastos, this trend of excellence shows no signs of slowing down.

Non-fiction biographies and, political and scientific works as well as fiction such as short stories, poetry, short novellas, so-called microfiction or flash fiction, longer novels and books in Spanish—all these forms of reading and literature can expand your Spanish vocabulary and grammar skills dramatically and quickly, if not exponentially. Depending on your approach, which is something you should take into mind as you embark on this endeavor of reading books in Spanish, the process can almost feel like one of osmosis. In such a scenario, you don’t even have to look up every single word, as long as you can get the general gist of the story line and descriptions.

That’s one approach. In fact, though, there’s a heated and ongoing debate as to whether one should, when reading a book in a foreign language, stop and look up every last word, or do the above-stated osmosis approach. Some people recommend looking up every single word because despite the glacial pace it may seem to proceed at from the beginning, you can quickly familiarize yourself with the author’s lexical palate—the type of words he or she generally reaches for—and after even just the first chapter you can take off the training wheels and read more fluidly, now that you’re equipped with many more words.

What I like to do is a mixture of the two above approaches. When I read books in Spanish I take a book chapter by chapter. I will read the chapter and note down every word I don’t know or recognize. I won’t look it up, I’ll just note it down. That way I can read more quickly, and get a sense of what I can and can’t understand. That’s the osmosis part. But once I reach the end of the chapter, I will look up every word I noted and memorize each one, usually just with drills but you can use flashcards or whatever works best for you. Then I will re-read the chapter, and understanding every last word. Glacially slow? Sure. Absolutely effective? You bet.

When it comes time to reading books in Spanish, choose your own adventure in terms of which approach to take. All paths do, eventually, lead to Spanish fluency. What’s important is that you choose the easiest path for your language learning needs. Now the question is, what books in Spanish to read? Here is a growing list of our recommended selections. You might be surprised:

Spanish books
Here are novels from the Iberrian Penninsula which will improve your language skills while delivering profound cultural insight:

Don Quijote de la Mancha

This is an absolutely must-read-in-Spanish classic. Despite the antiquated language, which for some native Spanish speakers presents a challenge because it is a different kind of Spanish from what they have grown up speaking, hearing, reading and writing, similar to an English speaker reading Shakespeare, the unique advantage that non-native Spanish speakers have going into a text like this is that the writing is just as foreign to us as a contemporary book in Spanish. But while it is not any harder, it will make you smarter.

Agosto octubre
Even readers who report disliking this book admit being unable to put it down. It is riveting and impactful, and undoubtedly disturbing. For me, it left me in tears yet full of a sense of hope. The scenario is bizarre: a young boy on vacation with his family at the summer house by the water falls in with a rough group of local kids. He gets involved in some pretty hairy situations and is compelled, by his conscience, to redeem himself. Throughout the narrative there is a seething, animal urgency to everything he does and perceives, but this urgency is at the same time subdued by the laconic-when not violent-haziness of adolescence. Written by Andrés Barba, who was recently featured in Granta Magazine as one of the hot, up-and-coming, young Spanish authors, I highly recommend this book.

Latin American books
Followed shortly by Spain, South and Central America have produced some of the most noted literature of the 20th Century, and so far authors from throughout the hemisphere have given no hints that they are planning to throw the towel in. The boom continues to resound, with Roberto Bolaño replacing Gabriel García Márquez and a ton of new writers infusing energy into the scene.

Llamadas telefónicas
Little known collection of short stories by Bolaño that put all his other works, including 2066 and The Savage Detectives, to shame. It's pretty well under the radar, so you can easily pick up the paperback at a discount price.

Spanish/English bilingual books University of Wisconsin at Madison, WI, Cooperative Children's Book Center

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