You all know I love reading, and that I just graduated with a degree in Spanish. I posted here (before my impromptu graduating-and-moving blogging break) about how I’m planning on keeping up my Spanish skills. One of the biggest ways I’ll be doing that is by reading in Spanish, so every time I go to a library or bookstore I browse the Spanish section.
Just in the last week or two, I’ve been to four bookstores and library branches. And of the places who actually have books in Spanish (some don’t have any at all), all of the ones they have are condensed into just two, three, or four feet of shelf space. That’s not a lot, when you consider that entire niche sub-genres — like, say, vampire young adult fantasy novels — may have the same amount of shelf space.
Here in America, we have vast bookstores. We have sections for bestselling fiction, literary fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, Christian fiction, and chick lit fiction. We have romances, erotica, sci-fi, thrillers, epic fantasies, and crime dramas. We have biographies and memoirs, how-to everything, travel sections, technology books, books of just photos, books to read in the bathroom, every type of cookbook you could think of, and dozens of different magazines. We have books on every religion imaginable, and many bookstores have one or more aisles dedicated entirely to different versions of the Bible.
Aside from books, bookstores also typically have huge sections of stationery and notebooks, small gift items, and coffee shops. Barnes and Noble has the Nook e-reader section complete with its plethora of accessories. Bookstores have sections just for kids, with books and toys geared towards them, and entire sections blocked off for music and movies. Do you want me to go on?
We have all of this in some form in almost every bookstore you could ever walk into. Now, there are almost 43 million Spanish-speakers in the US as of 2015 (and not all of them are of Hispanic/Latino origin), which is almost 10% of the population. This number is only getting higher as the years go by. And yet, despite this, bookstores allow only a small fraction of their shelf space to books in Spanish, and this tiny amount of shelf space is expected to encompass the highlights of every genre that is offered in English in the rest of the store. It’s ridiculous.
Now, I do have to admit that while I couldn’t find any statistics on it, I don’t think Spanish speakers read in Spanish as much as anyone reads in English. I discussed this with one of my Costa Rican teachers when I spent a month in Costa Rica studying abroad. We were in the “getting to know you” stage, and she asked me what I liked to do for fun. I told her one of my favorite things was reading, and she asked me how many books I read a year. I told her it’s probably 20-24 on average, and she was astonished. She told me she reads maybe 1 or 2, and that most people she knows haven’t picked up a book since they got out of school. Of course, this was a small town in Costa Rica, not in the US. I have no way of knowing whether reading is something that is valued in Spanish-speaking households here, because apparently it hasn’t been studied. That’s something I’d like to see.
I also want to mention that I have never been in a bookstore or library in, say, New Mexico or California, where the number of Spanish-speakers is much higher than in Tennessee, where I live. Maybe in those states it’s more common to have larger sections of Spanish books since the customer base is larger.
Regardless, though, there are Spanish speakers everywhere in the US. It’s the second-most-spoken language here after English, and as such, I feel like it should be given a tiny bit more than a measly three feet of shelf space in a bookstore. Maybe more Spanish speakers would read and write if bookstores offered more than the same old Harry Potter translations and copies of Cien años de soledad in the Spanish section. Maybe more people would learn it as a second language if they could read different types of books at different levels in Spanish. Maybe brick and mortar bookstores could save themselves from going the way of Borders if they tapped into the Spanish-speaking market. I don’t actually know if any of this would actually help anything (honestly it probably wouldn’t). But I’d at least like to see some more effort.
For now, I’ll have to stick to reading through every small Spanish section I can find, and I’ll also try to find translations of works originally in English. But I would truly love to see just half an aisle of Spanish books when I go into a bookstore or library. I might have to take another trip out west.