Monday, March 29, 2010


I'm in Boston, staying in a motel in Framingham. Was surprised to find that Framingham has a large Brazilian population - the taxi to the motel passed any number of Brazilian stores, and the driver said there was a large Brazilian community. Went into the Barnes & Noble in the mall across from the motel; went, as one does, to the languages section. Which had 12 shelves, at a guess, of books in Spanish, and none in Portuguese. Asked about this at Information: was stock decided on by head office? Was told it was normally decided on at head office, unless there was strong local demand for something not stocked.

It may well be that there is also a large local population of Hispanics, but this still seemed somewhat unenterprising. It may be that the typical manager of a bookstore hasn't spent much time overseas, and so doesn't realize how helpful it is for expats to have access to books in their native language. It's not just that it's nice to be able to pick up books that are written in one's own language - people who were not big readers to begin with may not be especially likely to pick up reading as a leisure activity overseas. If one is trying to learn a new language, it helps to buy a book in both the target language and one's own: it's often easier to make progress in the new language by reading a text in it, flipping as needed to a translation, than to look up one word after another in a dictionary. (So if I were running this branch of B&N I would have a selection of Portuguese books with English translations in the same section, and the relevant English audio books as well if available. )

Meanwhile, was unable to resist buying a copy of Guillermo Cabrera Infante's Tres Tristes Tigres. Advertencia:

El libro está en cubano. Es decir, escrito en los diferentes dialectos del español que se hablen en Cuba y la escritura no es más que un intento de atrapar la voz humana al vuelo, come aquel que dice. Las distintas formas del cubano se funden o creo que se funden en un solo lenguaje literario. Sin embargo, predomina como un acento el habla de los habaneros y en particular la jerga nocturna que , como en todas las grandes ciudades, tiende a ser un idioma secreto. La reconstrucción no fue fácil y algunas páginas se deben oír mejor que se leen, y no sería mala idea leerlas en voz alta. Finalmente, quiero hacer mío este reparo de Mark Twain:

"Hago estas explicaciones por la simple razón de que sin ellas muchos lectores supondrían que todos los personajes tratan de hablar igual sin conseguirlo."

[Note: can't quite see how one could use an ebook, as currently on offer, to have a page of a translation and one of the original side by side; seems as though it would be enormously helpful if there were some kind of ebook with two screens, or one wide one, onto which one could upload two books at a time.]

[Shd probably translate, but I write in haste.]

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