Bookstore of Babel

30 August 2011 · 2 comments

I had a surreal experience today. After my Spanish lesson, I stopped at Wallace Books in Sellwood. (Yes, yes — I know I’ve complained about them in the past, but the fact is they’re the only real used bookstore around, so I’ll take what I can get.) I wanted to pick up A Game of Thrones and some sort of Spanish-language reading.

Turns out Wallace has a handful of Spanish-language books, but they’re mixed together with all of the other languages. As usual, there’s no rhyme or reason to the way the books are filed. No worries. There were only two or three shelves of foreign-language books, so I just browsed them all.

But as I did, something strange happened. In my mind, all of the languages I know morphed into one. And one language — Portuguese — that I don’t know!

So, I’d come across a French book with a promising title, pull it down, and leaf through it only to realize that while the title made sense, I couldn’t read anything else really. Or I’d grab a Portuguese or an Italian book, glance through it, and only realize I wasn’t looking at Spanish after about thirty seconds. (No joke!)

This went on for about twenty minutes, and it was strange. It was as if all of the bits and pieces of the languages that I’ve learned had united to form some sort of super-language in my head, allowing me to parse any of the Romanic languages. (I didn’t really ever get the German stuff confused with the Italian/Spanish/Portuguese/French — it’s too different.)

Fun, but very confusing. When it came time to leave, I had to put back three books from my to-buy stack because they weren’t actually Spanish, but some other language. In the end, the only Spanish book I came home with was Como agua para chocolate, which is a bit above my reading level. (Though it’s nowhere near as tough as Cien años de soledad. “I can only understand the first sentence of that,” I told Aly today, “and that’s because I’ve already read the book in English.”)

Bonus trivia: Wallace has a big display of the new book from Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. I was admiring it, so the clerk and I talked a bit about the band and its members. “You know he used to work here, right?” she told me. “No way!” I said. “Yes,” she said. “And Jenny too.” Well, there you go. Maybe I’ll have to give Wallace more cred in the future.

1 Amanda August 31, 2011 at 07:07

Latin-based languages all share common roots so cross-language barriers break down the more you learn. I recall back in college after a semester of Intermediate Spanish that I watched a Sophia Loren movie on TV and found that I could understand almost all of it, even though I’d never studied even basic Italian. Glad you experienced this very cool bonus effect of studying languages!

2 kazari September 4, 2011 at 16:54

This is a bit of a tangent – but did you find Game Of Thrones? I’ve just finished reading it, and i really, really enjoyed it.
It is a bit confronting in parts though.

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