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skylee
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@Publius Wow thanks so much for the detailed review I really appreciate it. I thought it might be his most popular work for Chinese readers because when I search his books and sort by popularity it's always at the top. Will be a while before I get to this book but when I finish I will make a post.

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🤔Hmm, having browsed through the first couple of chapters in Chinese translation now I wonder when you see the detective's name 笹垣 what sound do you assign to it in your mind.

 

笹 is a made-in-Japan kanji that does not exist in Chinese. Zdic.net gives a pronunciation of tì (同“屉”) and an English gloss "small bamboo". But 小学館日中辞典 specifically says it's pronounced shì in personal names (【注意】「笹」という字は国字で中国語にはないが、人名などで読むときはshìと発音する).

 

Upon further research, it seems the difference between 竹 "take" and 笹 "sasa" is that: 1) 竹 sheds its sheaths but 笹 does not; 2) 竹 is bigger/taller than 笹; 3) the veins of 竹 leaf have a grid pattern while the veins of 笹 leaf run parallel; 4) 笹 usually sprouts from the ground in clusters; 5) when it comes to flowering, 竹 flowers every 120 years and 笹 every 60 years.

 

But we don't make that distinction in Chinese. And finally my observation: "take" shares the same root (no pun intended) with "taka" 高 and "take" 丈, whersas "sasa" is obviously onomatopoeic.

So, the surname Sasagaki 笹垣 Shìyuán means dwarf bamboo fence or sasa hedge. Phew! 无用的知识又增加了,偶夜✌

 

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I just finished 皮囊 by Cai Chongda. Along the way, I learned that it actually has an English translation that fared quite well, called "Vessel" (I guess "skin sack" or "leather bag" wouldn't have resonated with the English speaking world). As you can imagine, it's just a metaphor for mortal human life--we are bags of skin. This is a non-fiction memoir in which Cai (who is a fairly successful journalist these days) reflects on his difficult childhood in rural China (Fujian province). His father experienced a stroke, and despite his best efforts to rehabilitate himself, he died some years later. He and his mother had to make ends meet by working really hard. The book doesn't follow any sort of chronological order, but it's just a series of stories/articles. So the main plotline is fully revealed at the beginning of the book. Along the way, he shares a lot of interesting stories about his tough-as-nails grandmother, his eccentric and idealistic friend who wants to start a rock band and change the world, his rich and privileged friend who had connections to Hong Kong (and a Nintendo Entertainment System as a bonus), etc. The book takes a philosophical point of view at times, reminding the reader that we are all mortal and must all face reality, even though we try to escape it through various means. Things change, people drift apart, and our plans don't quite play out like we'd like them to. This is actually a constant theme I've seen in Chinese literature thus far. I'd classify this book as "really good," though not necessarily my favorite one.

 

As far as difficulty is concerned, the book was pretty easy and straightforward. So that's a plus. 

 

My next book is a really short one called 人间值得,by Tsuneko Nakamura. I bought it from Amazon, which referred to the author of the book as "anonymous" for some reason (I don't normally buy non-Chinese books that have been translated into Chinese, but I was fooled again). Nakamura is a 90-year-old Japanese clinical psychologist (at least at the time of the writing of the book), and she gives all sorts of advice and wisdom about how to live life to the fullest. It looks fun and easy, it doesn't seem to have an English translation, and I really like hearing the philosophies of different people. So I'll read it!

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On 10/27/2021 at 11:27 PM, Publius said:

I have read 白夜行 in Japanese. For me the main hurdle was Kansai dialect, but hopefully it would be less of a hassle in the translated version. Chinese readers talk of this book as 无冕之王, his magnum opus, and I totally agree. The theme is dark yet epic, the timeline spanning thirteen years, and due to its unique third-person limited objective point of view, you never know for sure what really happened and why it happened. You can only guess. It's like looking at a collage, a jigsaw puzzle, each piece seen from a different character as they weave in and out of the storyline. Even the detective, which in a detective story is usually the main character, appears only sparsely.

 

Sounds really interesting! I haven't read much in Japanese but I'll have to remember that and give it a try at some point!

I speak one regional variety of kansai dialect with my wife, so it shouldn't be a problem. It would be interesting to pick up some new things too. 😁

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A few weeks ago I finished reading 曹文轩's book 《寻找一只鸟》.  I decided to read this because I found 《草鞋湾》 to be really good extensive reading practice.  The book is targeted at 4-6th grade students, so if you can't handle books targeted at that age bracket you should skip this one.

 

This book was OK - first half was a little boring, second half was well paced.  In my opinion, the book appears to be focused on a young boy with autism.  The signs are pretty clear, but I'm not sure any children would pick up that the child is autistic (which is partially the point, probably).  Particularly Chinese children, since mental health education and support is particularly lacking in China.  I actually really liked the way the author approached this topic - it was essentially just "see how this kid experiences the world and the difficulties he faces."  He never explicitly mentions autism or anything of the sort.

 

It suffered from some of the typical themes present in Chinese books - the father leaves his wife and child when the child is young, the ending is a bit unclear, etc.  Overall though, especially when compared to the length of the book, it wasn't bad and I'd probably recommend it.

 

I'm currently reading 《绝对坦率:一种新的管理哲学》- a pretty radical departure from the kid's book, but I can only read those for so long before I start to go crazy.  This book was originally written in English, and is one of those "how to be a good manager" books.  I'm a manager in "real life," in a job that has nothing to do with Chinese, and a co-worker ask if anyone wanted to read it together.  I decided to find a Chinese version, of course 😉

 

It's alright so far, but not sure if I'll finish it.

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Just finished 人间值得. It was a very short book with large print and a lot of pictures in it! My easiest read so far. I only learned a handful of new words from it, but I suppose I did get the pleasure of experiencing smooth, uninterrupted reading. The book has all sorts of practical life advice from Nakamura, as well as biographical sketches of her life. She's very minimalist in her approach: Don't expect too much out of people or things. Don't make self-actualization your foremost goal. Prioritize the practical things that are right in front of you, here and now. Don't worry about comparing yourself with other people. Etc. At the time of the book's publication (2018), she was 90 years old and still continuing her 70-year career as a psychiatrist. 

 

My next book is 考工记, which is Wang Anyi's latest (I think) book. I've heard that Wang Anyi is a pretty big deal in China, so why not? I have no idea what it's about, or what to expect. I have a feeling that it's a modest step upward in difficulty, but not too bad. And after blowing through this last book, I think I need a bit more of a challenge!

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As for Wang Anyi's writing, I think the "modest step upward in difficulty" was a bit of an understatement on my part. Only 10 pages in, I have amassed 60 words that I don't know, and those were just the ones I was able to find in the dictionary. I gave up trying to find the others. It's my 17th book, and I'm now meeting with a level of difficulty that I haven't seen since about 12-15 books ago, towards the beginning of my reading journey. I have a rough idea of what's happening. It's the late phase of World War II, and a man is returning to Shanghai (after being released from military service, I think?) to see his childhood home, which is empty and deserted. He, along with his childhood friends, came from rich families. He reminisces about his upbringing with them.

 

Sometimes, depending on the author, this initial tsunami of vocabulary subsides as the book goes on, the narrative gets going, and the writing becomes more prosaic in style. But sometimes not! I will see.

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I think it's okay to put down a book for maybe later visit if you find more than 7-8 unknown words per page - that is, if you're reading for fun and not on some "mission". :)

 

I took a look at 考工记 online and I can't say I'm a fan. Too much description for description's sake in my opinion. The sentences are deliberately terse and choppy, for lack of a better word. Feels almost like not of this century. Not my cup of tea.

 

I happen to have 人生海海. But it's been gathering dust. I know, guilty, on the charge of being an impulse buyer. Do let me know how you feel about it once you've finished. 🙂

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On 11/8/2021 at 9:14 AM, Woodford said:

Have any long-time readers here had the experience of stumbling upon a random book that's just shockingly difficult? I recall someone once saying, "No matter how experienced or good at reading you become, you could always find something harder to read."

 

I’m really curious to hear from anyone who has read over 50 novels and what they find challenging at this point. Other than the 4 classics, I wonder when, or if, the struggling ends. To use my native language as an example, English, outside of old philosophy like Kant and Berkeley, I can pick up anything and understand it pretty easily without a dictionary. Even those books are understandable if I put enough effort into them, but it’s hard to imagine ever being close to that proficient in Chinese. 

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On 11/8/2021 at 12:54 PM, Publius said:

I happen to have 人生海海. But it's been gathering dust. I know, guilty, on the charge of being an impulse buyer. Do let me know how you feel about it once you've finished. 🙂

 

Will do! I have a good feeling about it so far. It might not ultimately be my favorite book ever, but I think I'll like it. 

On 11/8/2021 at 12:54 PM, Publius said:

I know, guilty, on the charge of being an impulse buyer.

 

Ha, I have about 20+ unread Chinese books sitting in my basement. I tend to indiscriminately buy whatever I find available on Amazon (which has a very limited selection of Chinese books, unlike Taobao). So I never know whether a book will be a good one or a not so good one. I've found I can go to Weixin Dushu and look at book reviews. That usually works well. I don't really have developed literary tastes, either. Too often, if a book is easy to read, I like it. If it's hard to read, I don't like it. But of course, that's not the best way to evaluate books. :) 

 

On 11/8/2021 at 1:12 PM, ablindwatchmaker said:

I’m really curious to hear from anyone who has read over 50 novels and what they find challenging at this point. Other than the 4 classics, I wonder when, or if, the struggling ends.

 

I would absolutely love to know that. My situation in English is similar to yours. I'm pretty well-read in English, and can handle almost all books pretty well (if they were written in the last couple of centuries--I don't do as well with Shakespeare or Victorian stuff). I wonder if Chinese is larger and more diverse than English. Tons of dialects, lots of development in the tumult of the 20th century, etc.

 

I imagine it must be possible to become proficient in a certain subset of Chinese material. I've certainly grown more comfortable in contemporary, prosaic Chinese.  But once I venture out into something more fancy or literary...yikes! I have gotten myself to a place where only have to look up 1 word per page on each book. It's taken the shape of an exponential decay curve, as expected. Less and less unknown words. But with this book...BOOM. 7 or 8 words on each page.

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I imagine it must be possible to become proficient in a certain subset of Chinese material. I've certainly grown more comfortable in contemporary, prosaic Chinese.  But once I venture out into something more fancy or literary...yikes! I have gotten myself to a place where only have to look up 1 word per page on each book. It's taken the shape of an exponential decay curve, as expected. Less and less unknown words. But with this book...BOOM. 7 or 8 words on each page.

 

Don't take this to heart as it's obviously not you - it's the author's writing style.

 

I read 200+ books a year in English, and I have this experience once in while with books in English.  It happened most memorably with a recently published book by a British author who writes about odd landscapes.  Wow, there were 6 or 7 words completely new to me on every page, and I don't mean technical terms, but literary adjectives and verbs.  I wish I could remember the name of the author - a man, with I think a "Mc" or "Mac" in his name.  I tend to be rather proud of my English vocabulary, but that book sure cut me down to size.

 

Aha, I remember the author!  Robert Macfarlane:

 

https://www.amazon.com/Robert-Macfarlane/e/B001IOFAN4

Edited by Moshen
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On 11/8/2021 at 1:25 PM, Woodford said:

I have gotten myself to a place where only have to look up 1 word per page on each book. It's taken the shape of an exponential decay curve, as expected. Less and less unknown words. But with this book...BOOM. 7 or 8 words on each page.


It just goes to show how most estimates of how many words it takes to be proficient are far, far lower than the reality. Based on the little bit of research I’ve done with CTA, the number looks more like 50,000, not 5-10k. If you are only finding one per page, you’ve got to be north of 20k, maybe 25k. 
 

Yeah, I’d be curious to know if there are people on this forum who are only encountering a few dozen new words per book, or less, and how many books it took them to get there. 

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On 11/8/2021 at 6:23 PM, imron said:

As an example, I picked up two books from my shelf that I hadn't read yet 火星任務 (sci-fi) and 笑傲江湖 (Wuxia) and read a page of each.  I didn't have any difficulty reading them, however 笑傲江湖 had several unknown characters (that didn't impeded understanding) and 火星任務 had sci-fi words I didn't know but could understand from the characters e.g. 探測車, 放射性熱電產生器.   I don't think either of those books would present a challenge for me to read (the only challenge is finding the time to read them!).


 

How many new words do you think you’d encounter if you decided to read the books, and how many are you currently finding when you read material you are more familiar with? 
 

Yeah, don’t we all wish we had more time 🤦‍♂️😔

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On 11/10/2021 at 11:38 AM, ablindwatchmaker said:

Based on the little bit of research I’ve done with CTA, the number looks more like 50,000, not 5-10k. If you are only finding one per page, you’ve got to be north of 20k, maybe 25k. 


You are correct, I think! I have catalogued a list of 19,000 words I specifically singled out and studied, but there are likely thousands of more words that I didn’t bother studying, because I could easily guess what they meant. CTA would probably estimate my total vocabulary size at around 35-40,000. So that 50,000 number you cited above seems intimidating, but it won’t actually require the effort of working through and actively memorizing 50,000 words. Though to me, it feels like the total size of modern Chinese vocabulary must be several quadrillion. It just never stops. 😀

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On 11/10/2021 at 5:40 PM, ablindwatchmaker said:

How many new words do you think you’d encounter if you decided to read the books, and how many are you currently finding when you read material you are more familiar with? 

Per book, probably a few hundred, maybe even over a thousand.  Most of the "new" words would be words like 探測車 which are new in that I've never seen them before but I don't have any difficulty understanding them or knowing their pronunciation.  Some of them would be new ones that I'd need to look up in a dictionary if I wanted to fully understand the meaning and know the pronunciation.

 

Whether I would do that would depend on how much I needed to know the word to understand what was going on, and/or how often that word had already appeared.

On 11/10/2021 at 5:38 PM, ablindwatchmaker said:

It just goes to show how most estimates of how many words it takes to be proficient are far, far lower than the reality. Based on the little bit of research I’ve done with CTA, the number looks more like 50,000, not 5-10k.

5k definitely won't cut it - that's HSK 6 level, and that "only gets you halfway".  Over 10k and most general literature should be accessible to you - but still require effort.  North of 20k and you shouldn't have much trouble understanding general content, even if you don't know every word/character.

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