Wednesday, July 21, 2010

French Books and My Inability to Find Them

I hereby issue an advance warning that this post will constitute a rant. It is also not particularly related to writing. [In a deep ominous voice] You've been forewarned.

Once upon a time, I decided that since I'd dedicated a decent amount of time and passion to learning French, it would be a rather nifty thing if all that French stayed in my brain. I rapidly came to the conclusion that a great way to do that would be to read French books. Sounds like a good plan, no?

That's when I hit the roadblock. Namely, it's really hard in the US to find books that aren't printed in English.

Is it because the people who run these stores don't believe there are enough multilingual Americans to have a market? Is this because they think everyone should just speak and read only in English?

I'm curious, where did this idea come from that Americans should only have to know one language? Or the idea that the rest of the world should learn to speak as we do? I was never consulted on these issues. What gives?

According to the 2000 census, 17.9% of Americans speak more than one language, and that number was on the rise from previous polling. To me, that seems to indicate some potential market for non-English books. So why are none being stocked?

Admittedly, I'm currently in a rather monotone, monolingual area, so I can almost understand why there aren't many alternate language books for sale in my area. (Though why my local bookstore carries so many English-French or English-Spanish dictionaries but no French or Spanish books is beyond me.)

But I've checked in other areas. Last time I found myself in Chicago, I checked out a bookshop. Number of French books, probably 15. Number of Spanish books, I'd say less than 50. It's Chicago! You'd expect some sort of diversity in product represented, right?

On some level, I'm willing to cede this idea of monolingual stores. In some areas, it is not cost effective to stock books that are not in English. I can accept that. But this problem, it seems to me, has extended to Internet book retailers.

A certain book retail site that shares a name with a river, a basin, and a population of warrior women has what I'd consider a very limited selection of French books. Sometimes, to find a book I'm looking for, I'd actually have to buy in Canada. Personally, if I wanted to spend all my time shopping Canadian, I'd move to Canada, or at least a lot closer to the border. But that might just be me.

Am I the only one frustrated at a lack of non-English material available for purchase in the US? Or am I alone in having trouble finding these things?


  1. You're a brave soul. I know some Spanish but I'm not sure I'd ever believe in my abilities to read a whole book in Spanish.

    Americans are pretty ignorant to the rest of the world. It's sad but true. I hope you find lots of great books in French very soon.

  2. Oh, wow, I never thought of this before! I only speak English, but I can imagine how frustrating it would be not be able to find books in other languages if I was looking for them. Does Amazon sell such things?

  3. Hmm, I've never really thought about it before. I mean, in my freshman year of college we had to find a book that had been translated and also find the original book and compare...but I was able to find a copy at the school library (it was a small college, so I guess I should consider myself lucky?). But, not being fluent in any other language, I've never thought about trying to find books written in them.

    I'm searching my local bookstore's map right now, seeing if they have a section for that... Oh yeah, they look to have a LARGE section in one of their rooms. But they're Powell's City of Books, largest new & used bookstore in the US, so I'm not too surprised.

    I guess if you can't find anything locally, Amazon or some other online retailer (*cough* Powell's *cough*) might be your best bet.

  4. KAH -- My decision to read French has little to do with guts and more with blind stubbornness.

    Michelle -- It does, but it continue to frustrate me.

    Vicki -- Yes, I believe college libraries are often a good place to find such things. Thanks for the tip about Powell's. It's causing me to consider my used book store as a potential source.