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Monday, June 15, 2009

Audio Books: A Desperate Cry for Help

I have another addiction to add to my already long list of things that I can’t seem to live without. At least this new vice is something that I can file under educational needs, at least I think there is an educational aspect involved. I could also file this under health needs as well as my new pass time has been making my daily bike rides more enjoyable—not that bike riding has ever been anything less than a complete joy for me, even when I’m humping up a huge mountain. For the past few months I have been listening to audio books on my MP3 player during my bike rides and whenever I am walking around town by myself. I never, ever listened to music on my MP3 so I never used it before its new incarnation as a book delivery system.

The problem is that there seem to be precious few audio books available in Spanish, at least in Spain. Recently someone delivered a care package of a stack of audio books recorded from the Seattle Public Library. I plowed through that collection in a matter of a couple of weeks, listening to a several of the books more than one time. If anyone wants to quiz me on The Catcher in the Rye (El Guardián entre el Centeno) I think I know that book in Spanish by heart. It was one of those computer recordings which I have now become quite used to. It is not exactly the best way to listen to a book but at least it is in Spanish.

I have also listened to another of these computer readings of the epic story of the femme fatale of all femme fatales, Travesuras de la Mala Niña by Mario Vargas Llosa. In fact, I have listened to that 800 page novel more than once now after reading it in print over a year ago. During my second or third time listening to this fairly autobiographical telling of the author’s life in Lima, Paris, London, and Madrid, all I could think about is what a fantastic movie this story would make. I wish I could write the screenplay because I think few people besides Mario Vargas Llosa know the story as well as I. It is a love story that covers the lives of the two principal characters: a Peruvian whose only dream in life was to live in Paris and the woman he loves who turns out to be a horrible little creature who attaches herself to a string of powerful men, stopping briefly in between to infect the life of the humble Peruvian who works as a translator in the French capital. Simply put, it is one of the best novels that I have ever read, a masterpiece of storytelling. I am glad I had the pleasure of listening to it several times, even though R2D2 was reading it to me.

After much frantic searching for new books, anything at all in Spanish, I was able to find a computer reading of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s La Sombra del Viento. This is one of my favorite books that I have read in Spanish these last few years here in Spain. It is an incredible work of imagination that I think was heavily inspired by Jorge Luis Borges. More than anything else I think it is the story of how inside just about any book—even a book that is close to being forgotten forever by mankind—there is a story of vast proportions and scope, not just the story told in the book but the tale of how the book came to be. I used to think a lot about this when I rambled through used book stores and would come upon a book that looked interesting by an unknown writer. As he says in the book, we are alive as long as someone remembers who we are. The young protagonist is taken by his father, a book dealer, to the cemetery of forgotten books where he is allowed to choose a book to take home and read. The book he chooses, a book unpopular in its time and long since forgotten, sets in motion an incredible tale of detective work uncovering a gothic romance and epic tragedy.

At my level of Spanish I think that listening to audio books is an excellent tool to improve vocabulary, recognize grammar patterns, and just get a feel for how people actually speak in Spanish instead of simply translating English to Spanish. As my Spanish improves I recognize a mistake a lot of non-native speakers make in speaking which is translating idioms from English into Spanish. This isn’t always a “mistake” or ungrammatical but more often than not this isn’t how a Spanish person would choose to word that particular phrase. All that I know for sure is that it certainly can’t be hurting my Spanish to listen to about two hours of audio books every day. Whether or not I am driving myself crazy by listening to the same books over and over is another matter. It is a pity because there are literally thousands of titles of audio books in English. If anyone can point me to audio books in Spanish I would really appreciate it.

About the only thing I have found thus far and it really doesn’t have much that I want to read: