Great New Spanish Vocabulary Book

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What do you call an ice cream scoop in Spanish? Yes, I know, most people would say cuchara para helado, but that is not its proper name. Specifically, that serving utensil, in Spanish, is called a funderelele, which is the title of Laura García Arroyo’s terrific little book of wonderful-sounding yet rarely-used Spanish terms. Funderelele y más hallazgos de la lengua is her attempt to share her love of words and encourage a more precise use of the Spanish language.

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Laura is a Spaniard living in Mexico City who grew up loving words. Her parents would read her to sleep, resulting in a lifelong love of the written word, and everywhere they moved the family’s books joined them; they were members of the family, as well. She is a translator and linguist, and has kept lists over the years of fascinating vocabulary she’s come across. Funderelele is based off that list.

The dictionary of the Real Academia Española contains 80,000 words, to which we could easily add another 70,000 Americanisms; there may be as many as 300,000 words in the Spanish language. It therefore saddens Laura that the average Spanish speaker uses only about 300 words in daily conversation—though most people have a passive (recognize the word when reading it but don’t use it in conversation) vocabulary of up to 4000 words. Laura is on a mission to help us improve our vocabulary, to love the Spanish language, to put into daily use some of its gorgeous terms.

Have you ever picked up a book that had some of its pages uncut, so that they stuck together? That’s called a libro intonso. Timar is what two lovers do when they understand one another with just one glance. I suppose that could apply to parents and children as well. The Spanish word for doppelgänger? Sosias. The smell of wet rain? Petricor. Isn’t that a cool word to know? Reminds me of some of the emotion-laden words in my beloved Japanese that have no equitable translation in English. How to say “fake news” in Spanish? Paparrucha. What about that gorgeous red color of the clouds we so often see in Mazatlán at sunset? We can communicate that beauty in just one word: arrebol.

One of my favorites in the book is giste, which refers to beer foam, that which so often remains on your lip as a mustache when you drink. And how do you describe someone who steps on the accelerator as soon as the traffic light turns yellow? Lord knows Mazatlán is full of people doing just that—flavilabando, which is much quicker and easier to say—with the slight downside that no one will understand you.

Most every word in the Funderelele has a two-page spread: a drawing at left with the word’s definition, and a short essay about it on the right. Its 152 pages aren’t meant to be read in one sitting, though that could easily be done. This is a book to have handy to peruse, so that the words insinuate themselves into our vocabulary and bring their history and culture into each of us and our daily lives.

In Laura’s opinion books don’t exist to make us happy, their purpose is to stir us, to move us: to feel, to take action, to think more deeply. She wonders why we spend more time dressing to present ourselves than we do in choosing our words, which she feels can count for much more in communicating our identity to the world. Like me, Laura feels she started to learn her birth language in a meaningful way when she began studying a second language; for her this was French, when she was in elementary school in Belgium.

I heard about Funderelele and Laura García via my book club. I’ve told you about my terrific book club in an earlier post—I am absolutely blessed with intelligent, talented, funny and interesting friends there and enjoy it thoroughly. Starting last year, Laura Medina, our wonderful local natural resource who has owned Casa del Caracol bookstore for the last 14 years, has organized an annual “gathering of the clans,” a reunion of all the registered book clubs in town. This year that included 16 different clubs who met in Casa Hass this Thursday evening.

In preparation, each club chose a minimum of ten books that our members loved, and which we wanted to share with others. Laura would lay the books out on a table during the event, one member from each club would be our representative, and choose new books for our club. It sounded like an interesting way to get some new books in the club library, although I’ll admit it was very painful saying adios to some favorite volumes.

The exchange was fun, and I’m excited about our club’s new books. I enjoyed sharing our favorites. The highlight of the evening was the talk. But, I have to tell you, the food was also wonderful! Oralia Medina makes delicious desserts, most Mazatlecos know that. But I did not know that she also makes some incredible savories: ceviche with coconut milk and mustard and empanadas with pumpkin seeds among my favorites.

Laura (Medina), thank you for your dedication to promoting reading in Mazatlán, and to always being ready to order the book we need or want. Thank you for arranging such a lovely and enjoyable evening for all of us. You are yet one more reason we are blessed to call this port home.

Book Club, Pata Salada Style

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Worldwide, Australians purchase more books per capita than any other nationality, and Indians spend the most time reading—an average 10 hours and 42 minutes per week per person. Interestingly, it would seem that Canadians, Mexicans and US Americans don’t vary significantly in how much we read. Canada wins with 5:48 hours/week/person, next USA with 5:42, and finally Mexico with 5:30. They say 33% of US Americans never read a book after high school, 56% read at least 10 books a year, and 14% read 10-20 books/year.

The members of the book club I belong to here in Mazatlán definitely beat those averages. Some of my friends easily read four or five books every month.

Are any of you members of book clubs here in Mazatlán? If so, what would you say are the key similarities and differences between a Pata Salada/Mazatlecan book club and a club north of the border? If you are not, check out the selfie of my club, above, for some clues.

The Story
A year or so ago a friend of mine invited me to join his group. It’s a Spanish language book club. Honestly, I was flattered that he’d invited me, but I worried he’d over-estimated my Spanish language ability. I wasn’t sure I could read books in Spanish, at least not if I were going to enjoy them. I’d read Spanish language books back in college, but, hey, that was quite a few decades ago! And, it was required reading.

Of course, I didn’t let my concern stop me. I agreed to give the club a go.

Next I second-guessed my decision because I’m already so busy—full-time job, photography passion, two blogs, trying to stay physically active— and I don’t really read that many novels. I tend to read non-fiction. My new book club reads fiction. Maybe not officially, but that’s what they read. I joined anyway, figuring all I could do was my best and see how it would work out.

Then, my friend told me I’d need to attend the first meeting to have everyone meet me and “approve” my joining! Wowzer! This was like interviewing for a job. Maybe some north-of-the-border book clubs do that; it makes sense that they would want everyone to get along well with one another.

My first meeting was great, but it was also intimidating. I really liked the club members. They were funny, lively, intellectually curious, and socially engaged. I was psyched. This would be a great way to get to know some interesting new friends! One of the women, however, scared the heck out of me that first meeting. She was very tall, outspoken, dressed up and made up, and she said, in front of everyone, “Diana, if you don’t completely read one book in Spanish every month, we will not keep you in the club. You have to read minimum one book a month.” Jeepers! Looking around the room, the books were thick! Nothing like pressure! I told myself she was joking, but no one laughed.

After that, I had my third wave of doubt: would I be able to effectively summarize what I’d read to my new friends in Spanish? Could I be engaging and interesting, able to explain what I’d enjoyed or hadn’t in a book?

I promised myself early on not to use a dictionary. If I find vocabulary that I don’t understand, consulting a dictionary would make my reading feel like homework. Obviously it would help me learn. But I know myself; I knew it would slow me down and ruin the joy of a good novel.

Well, I’m happy to report that so far, one year on, I have pleasantly surprised myself. I understand the novels just fine, and I’ve really enjoyed some great Spanish-language fiction this past year. I may not summarize the books I’ve read with one-tenth of the poetic flair my fellow members do—somehow native Spanish language communication style is so much more colorful and metaphorical than my gringa Spanish language style—but my friends humor me. They listen to me with interest and ably build on my ideas.

I am very happy I joined the club. We have a delightful group of people, from different professions, experiences and walks of life. Yes, I even enjoy that tall, outspoken, well-dressed lady who intimidated me in the first meeting—she rocks.

I’ve learned that I only want to read books written in Spanish, rather than translations. Somehow to me it just feels better, and I feel like I’m learning real Spanish, and getting an insight into the mindset of a native speaker. And, I’m especially interested in books that teach me something about Mexico or Latin culture (obviously my way of getting my non-fiction fix while enjoying a good novel).

The Differences and Similarities
So, what are some of the differences that I’ve noticed between this book club and others I’ve been a member of in the USA? In the photo at the top of this post, did you notice all the books? All the different books? Most obviously and importantly to me, we do not read the same book each month and then discuss it. That is what we’ve done in every other book club that I’ve ever been a member of.

Here, we all read different books and take turns talking about them; then we trade books, depending on who wants to read what. At first I found it so very weird. I missed the in-depth conversation that, for me, a “normal” book club provides. I still do. What is cool, however, is how this process allows each of us to read exactly what we want to—complete freedom! It exposes us to loads of new authors, and keeps our costs for buying books down, as well.

How does it keep costs down? Each month we pay a nominal amount to the club kitty. Periodically we take turns going to the book store and choosing new books that club members might enjoy. We then vote on which if any of the books to purchase and add to the club library. So, each month, we’ve got a whole library of books to choose from. We can check out as many as we wish to read, and periodically that library expands, as well. That’s especially wonderful because the price of Spanish language books tends to be much higher than similar books in English.

Look at the photo again. See those glasses and bottles? A second major difference is the amount of alcohol that we consume, at least in our book club here. I have been in book clubs up north where perhaps we each had a glass of wine or two during the evening, but here, in our club at least, we all bring a bottle of wine every meeting! And it’s good wine, not the cheap stuff. Sort of makes up for any cost savings on books, lol. Most times there is leftover wine for the following meeting, but sometimes… 😉

The other truly “Mazatleco” part of book club, to me, is that communication is done via WhatsApp. I remember a couple of years ago when I discovered that WhatsApp was the secret to any event planning here. It was so liberating! Quick responses there, whereas emails, e-vites or Facebook messages rarely let me know who’s really coming to a gathering and who’s not.

So, what’s similar? Book clubs are all about books and reading, right? Both sets of clubs, here and NOB, definitely encourage reading, broadening our horizons with new topics and new authors. Every club I’ve ever been in also serves as a social outlet, allowing us to get to know people more deeply, expanding our network.

Book Fair
This year Casa del Caracol book shop is celebrating its 12th anniversary. To help celebrate, the owner, Laura Medina, organized a “book fair.” It was really cool. Book clubs in town were invited to rent a table at the event, and sell the books they no longer wanted in their libraries. All books were sold for the same price (I think it was 30 pesos; incredible deal, right?)

So, our book club got together and went through our entire library. We all voted on the books we wanted to keep, and put them back in the cupboard. Of the books that we as a club were willing to get rid of, we took turns choosing the ones we personally wanted to buy—for 50 pesos each. Those that were left over, we sold at the fair. It was amazing how many books changed hands that night! It was so incredible to know how many readers there are in this town! And I learned that there are at least two Spanish-language clubs in town that all read the same book at the same time, just like so many clubs NOB.

Those of you in a book club here, what other differences and similarities have you noticed?