Friday, 26 August 2016

Why Terrible Books Can Be Terribly Useful

I’m 14% into Doce años y un instante by Anna Casanovas. It's awful. A romance novel of the sickliest kind. It's so predictable it hurts. The characters are plastic. A special kind of plastic that drips marshmallow juice. The male protagonist conforms to a long list of clichés - troubled boy breaks girl's heart, joins army, becomes "a real man", returns to put things right. In the meantime, his rejected love interest straps herself into a girdle to keep her feelings in. Because women suffer and men do stuff, right? Like I said, I'm only at 14% and I can already tell that it can only get worse. A whole lot worse.

The cover should have warned me - I swear,
I did't see it at the time when I bought this!
...and ... uhm ... "Casanovas"...?

I blame Amazon. It runs a daily special offer called “Kindle Flash”, which is rather a mixed bag. Sometimes I get lucky and fish out an excellent read, but this one's very much at the soppy bottom mingling with the sticky wrappers of half-liquefied cough drops. All I can say in my defence is that the summary sounded so much less painful than the reality. 

The author is quite enamoured with her creation. She has gone the extra mile to put the reader "in the mood": Every chapter starts with lyrics lifted from a famous love song. She has collated them all on a Spotify list, asking her readers in the preface to listen to these while reading.

But Simone, I hear you ask, why the hell are you reading this drivel in the first place, and why oh why are you whining on to us about it!?

A valid question. And you already know the answer to that one, don't you? The reason I'm persisting with this cheese fest is the language. And, in particular, the dialogue.

You see, when trying to internalise a language, I believe it is important to read widely and not limit oneself to the usual genres. I may really enjoy biographies of 19th and 20th-century scientists, historical novels and the occasional self-help book on how to improve my time management skills (my chances of turning myself into a 19th-century scientist are marginally better), but these don't do much for improving my witty chatting capabilities. 

For furthering conversational repertoire, you just can't beat novels set in the here and now, laced with everyday conversations centred around people's emotional debris and, dare I say it, a dash of hum-drum domesticity thrown in. Romance novels, as much as I abhor them as a genre, are great for this. 

Despite having lived in Spain for nearly half a decade and having had thousands of conversations, I still have so many aha! moments seeing written dialogue. Just today, for example, I learnt that "tres [meses] a lo sumo" means "three [months] at the most". How could something so basic have escaped me until now?! 


  1. Bah so sad but so true! I've tried the romance novel approach but find I can never make it to the end. I've turned to krimis and YA adventure novels - at least that way the plot has enough action to keep me reading until the end.

    1. You're right... I think I might return to detective novels... am at 20% and it just gets worse and worse...!