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What are you reading?


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On 3/29/2022 at 4:33 AM, Thaddeus Collins said:

I finally finished with 穆斯林的葬礼.

 

Nice! Another person has read that super-huge book and survived to tell the story! I don't know how the experience was for you--I mostly enjoyed it, though it was rather difficult in terms of vocabulary, and sometimes spent too much time giving elaborate descriptions of stuff.

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Nice! Another person has read that super-huge book and survived to tell the story! I don't know how the experience was for you--I mostly enjoyed it, though it was rather difficult in terms of vocabulary, and sometimes spent too much time giving elaborate descriptions of stuff.

It was really difficult for me, but I really liked the book.

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I am finally about to finish book 2 of The Hunger Games today. Just have one more chapter to work my way through. And then after that I should be able to get through the third book at a brisk pace, given that I have already learned most of the vocabulary for it.

 

I am as yet undecided on what I will read next. I think I want a change of pace. I think I might go for The Secret Garden, and then spring for 猫城记。I'm keeping an eye on 英雄无泪 -- has anyone read it? I'm thinking I'll pick it up fairly soon. It's technically already within range of what I consider acceptable levels of unknown vocabulary, but I'm waiting for it to decline a bit further. My vocabulary is continuing to increase rapidly:

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On 4/2/2022 at 5:20 AM, 黄有光 said:

I am finally about to finish book 2 of The Hunger Games today.

 

How was your experience reading this after the first one? Was it easier? Faster? More enjoyable?

 

I read the first Hunger Games book and enjoyed it, but I told myself I wouldn't read any sequels until I had 5+ books under my belt so that I could increase the breadth of my vocabulary as much as possible (I think yours is already quite a bit larger than mine).

 

I'm curious if reading the sequel was in fact any easier than reading a totally new book by a different author.

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@dakonglong Reading a sequel was in fact significantly easier. I would not call it more enjoyable, though. I think I find the book version of Katniss pretty annoying, to be honest. She's very...whiny and petulant? Which feels kind of silly to say, I mean -- she's basically living through North Korea on steroids -- but still. Her character is off-putting to me for some reason.

 

My much bigger problem right now is general reading comprehension. My ability to understand the individual words (and clauses, and sentences) is fine, but fairly often my ability to take the sentences I'm reading and synthesize internal imagery and understanding falls apart. I'll read through a section and know every word, and understand every sentence (or at least, feel like I'm understanding every sentence), and then at the end of it realize I couldn't possibly explain what I just read, or what its implications were, or anything. It was particularly apparent towards the end of the second book. There were sections describing very specific sequences of events in great detail and almost all of it went right over my head. Gah. Very frustrating.

 

@Woodford Care to drop in with your experience here? Did you experience the same thing? Tell me it gets better, lol. Losing my mind about this.

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My much bigger problem right now is general reading comprehension. My ability to understand the individual words (and clauses, and sentences) is fine, but fairly often my ability to take the sentences I'm reading and synthesize internal imagery and understanding falls apart. I'll read through a section and know every word, and understand every sentence (or at least, feel like I'm understanding every sentence), and then at the end of it realize I couldn't possibly explain what I just read, or what its implications were, or anything. It was particularly apparent towards the end of the second book. There were sections describing very specific sequences of events in great detail and almost all of it went right over my head. Gah. Very frustrating.

 

While studying another language, I got past this stage by - for a while - having both the foreign text and an English translation to study from.  I would read a page or two of the foreign text then read that same passage in English to be sure I understood the unliteral, overall sense of what I'd read.  Often I'd see that I had missed a crucial point or seriously misinterpreted something.  It was hard to simultaneously be reading for the language and also for the story, but after getting used to several books by the same author, this got easier and easier even if there were many descriptive words I didn't understand.  I think if I hadn't done this I would soon have lost the story line.

 

I have never seen anyone recommend this method, but it works for me.  You just have to be sure that the translation you've got follows the original text closely.

 

With one author I discovered that the English translation was so loose and slangy that it was pretty useless for my purpose.  For instance, it would translate one idiom into another one that had the same general import but none of the words corresponded.

 

 

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On 4/2/2022 at 4:56 PM, 黄有光 said:

and then at the end of it realize I couldn't possibly explain what I just read, or what its implications were, or anything

I get this in Chinese also in English, my native language, and I assume it's because for whatever reason I'm not focused enough on the meaning of what I'm reading. I assume it's because I'm either bored or tired, which means it's time to take a break or read something more interesting or less difficult.

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Just finished an English book called The Subplot: What China Is Reading and Why It Matters by Megan Walsh which is a short run-through of who and what the writer thinks are big in Chinese fiction of the last 20 years. The writer does not appear to be a fan of most webnovels and made me aware of some very peculiar features of some of this very popular online fiction. In terms of printed novelists, I guess anyone who's fairly well-read will have heard of most of the names, I'm not fairly well-read and even so was familiar with many of their names.

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On 4/2/2022 at 10:56 AM, 黄有光 said:

Care to drop in with your experience here? Did you experience the same thing? Tell me it gets better, lol. Losing my mind about this.

 

I would agree with @realmayo that these comprehension issues can happen in one's own native language. Since so many people around me were talking about J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, I decided to buy it and read it for myself several years ago. It's not considered to be a particularly difficult book to read, but there were some parts of it that were so ambiguous and vague to me. Especially a passage in the first book, I think, that introduced these creatures called "barrow wights," which guarded royal burial mounds with treasure inside, if I remember correctly (these characters were left out of Peter Jackson's film adaptation). The narrative got so strange there that I really didn't know what was going on. After it was over, I thought, "What on earth just happened?" I wasn't in any mood to re-read the whole passage. Additionally, Tolkien liked to make intentionally mystifying allusions to background lore, never explicitly informing the reader as to the full context of that lore. "Ah, yes, it was as Lord Lorthorien spoke when he marched through the plains of Orethengard in the time of the campaign of the Planeduns..."

I imagine my set of Jin Yong Wuxia books will be the Chinese equivalent of that. :) 

 

Occasionally, I'll read English literature that is either so ornately or so poorly written that I just can't follow it. So I don't worry too much when that happens to me in Chinese. The last truly frustrating Chinese book I read was all the way back at my seventh book (around 14 books ago), Wang Xiaobo's "Golden Age," a trilogy of three short stories. It was nauseatingly difficult for me. So many unknown words, and such puzzling language. I thought, "Is this worth the time and effort? Should I just put this book down and come back later?" After that, though, while there are small sections of some books that have left me puzzled, it's been more or less okay. The book I'm reading now, "Life and Death are Wearing Me Out" by Mo Yan, is a particularly tricky book to read, for multiple reasons (and even native Chinese literary critics have apparently admitted it's confusing). But it's been okay. Once in a while, I'll stumble upon a sentence that's confusing, and if I can't quickly parse it out, I just shrug my shoulders and keep going. Very occasionally, I'll have to re-read a small paragraph to make sure I understood what happened. But can I otherwise clearly understand and follow the story and dialogue? I'd have to emphatically say "yes." Things are getting better all the time.

 



 

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On 4/2/2022 at 8:01 PM, Woodford said:

After it was over, I thought, "What on earth just happened?"

 

How fast do you read? A common problem is reading literature too fast. Being able to read fast is good, but one should only use that ability where it is suitable.

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On 4/2/2022 at 1:06 PM, Insectosaurus said:

How fast do you read?

 

Rather slowly, actually! I'm not sure what my English reading speed is, but when I'm in a leisurely mood, I think it's slower than most other college-educated people. I do everything rather slowly, not just reading. To stick with the Lord of the Rings theme, I'm basically an Ent. I had a class lecture from a professor who said, "You'll get way too much reading assigned to you in graduate school. You'll never be able to read it all, so you'll have to learn how to skim the books and get the important information out of them!" I know that's practical, but it feels sacrilegious to me, almost like it defeats the purpose of reading.

 

I think my issue is that I can't deal well with ambiguity. I think too much like a robot, and I'm easily confused.

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On 4/2/2022 at 8:18 PM, Woodford said:

I had a class lecture from a professor who said, "You'll get way too much reading assigned to you in graduate school. You'll never be able to read it all, so you'll have to learn how to skim the books and get the important information out of them!" I know that's practical, but it feels sacrilegious to me, almost like it defeats the purpose of reading.

 

Yes. Reading come in different forms. When reading for academic purpose, learning how to get the most out of a text quickly is important. A lot of students solve this by skimming, which is a horrible method if the text is somewhat difficult. A more experienced  reader (like my partner, a researcher) will rather try to find out what is most important in a text and read that bit more carefully. Introduction, summary, specific chapters etc.

 

On 4/2/2022 at 8:18 PM, Woodford said:

I know that's practical, but it feels sacrilegious to me, almost like it defeats the purpose of reading.

 

I agree one hundred percent. Since most of my interest in reading comes from reading what I find to be good literature. Right now I'm reading Eileen Chang in Chinese and Graham Greene in English. Not taking the time to actually take in what they write and how they write it would take a lot of my enjoyment out of the book. It was not until I learned to slow down I started enjoying reading good books.

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Reading 镇魂 by priest, and 青梅峪 by 回南雀. I'm reading two books at the same time since I'm part of two book clubs. It's kinda a bit epic keeping up with two books, so I don't think I'll do this again in the future.

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Just finished 生死疲劳. It was a very long, heavy book, almost 600 pages, and I had to learn about 700 new words (so at this stage of my journey, it's a relatively difficult book, compared to others). It has an English translation, "Life and Death are Wearing Me Out," and it's interesting to read the reviews for that version--I agree with a lot of them. The book starts out well, sags significantly in the middle, and then gets good again at the very end. Mo Yan very strangely inserts himself as a character in his own story, but in a way that rarely ever advances the plot. One English reviewer was so emboldened as to call it a "vanity project." I can't really say anything for sure. The author goes on incredibly tedious tangents at times (again, in ways that don't really advance the plot), and he explicitly admits it! "I ask my dear readers to please bear with me in my long-windedness," etc...The primary genre of the story is "black humor." Lots of gross-out moments, blood, guts, pee jokes (I'm mildly impressed by the author's ability to cram so many pee jokes in a single book), and general absurdity. There are, admittedly, several laugh-out-loud one-liners in the book. The characters aren't really meant to be relatable, and a lot of them are actually terrible people. As a reader, you likely won't care about what happens to most of them. And, by the way, there are a lot of them. There's a character table in the beginning of the book to help you--it lists 23 of them! I found it hard to keep track of who's who, who did what to whom, etc. The biggest difficulty of this book is that it doesn't  have a single narrator, and the narrator changes without warning! It's sometimes hard to tell from whose perspective the story is being told. This isn't just a complaint on the part of me, a person reading Chinese as a second language, but native Chinese readers have noted the same thing.

 

Anyway, the synopsis: The story (mainly) follows a landlord by the name of Ximen Nao, who is brutally murdered in the beginning of the book, leaving behind his wife, kids, and his two concubines. He is subsequently reincarnated as a donkey, a cow, a pig, a dog, a monkey, and then a human. The whole story spans from 1950 to 2000, and through several reincarnations, the main character experiences the happenings and the societal upheavals of the local village. Sometimes, he goes on adventures and performs heroic feats (my favorite part is the "pig" part, where he escapes his pen and becomes the king of a group of wild pigs). Other times, he fades into the background, and the story revolves around Lan Jiefang, the son of one of Ximen Nao's former servants, Lan Lian ("Blueface," from the giant blue birthmark on his face), who stubbornly defies social pressure to join a People's Commune and attempts to farm on his own. I guess my prior use of the word "plot" is deceptive, because there isn't much of a central plot in the book (other than Ximen Nao's reincarnations). A lot of stuff happens--too much to summarize here. It's a huge book.

Ultimately, the book was just okay. I wouldn't enthusiastically recommend it. I've heard people say that Mo Yan's other books do everything this book does, and better.

 

Quite frankly, I'm fatigued from reading these 600-page books that contend for major literary prizes and use tons of flowery language. So I'm turning to what looks like a much lighter read: 人间告白 by 金鱼酱. It has very positive reviews on Weixin Dushu. So here goes!

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On 4/2/2022 at 7:26 PM, realmayo said:

Just finished an English book called The Subplot: What China Is Reading and Why It Matters by Megan Walsh which is a short run-through of who and what the writer thinks are big in Chinese fiction of the last 20 years.

I just started this! I also read an interview with the author, in which she admits she read almost everything she discusses in English translation. On one hand, I found this reassuring: I, too, read translations so much faster and easier than original Chinese. On the other hand, this does mean that what Walsh discusses is not so much 'what China is reading' but rather 'what English-language publishers are reading'. Of course, one can still say all kinds of interesting things about those subset of Chinese books, but yah, it will mostly be familiar names. Apparently she also read all or most of the webnovels in translation, which did not improve her enjoyment of them, to say the least.

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I do have a book by Mo Yan at home (Red Sorghum), but have not read that one yet. I'm basically in the opposite situation, having mostly read high brow literature for a year, but have just started reading 1367. It's not that I have found these books simple, but reading something I really like increases the chances of me staying interested. Therefore it's going to be interesting to see how this one pans out. I knew on beforehand this would be in a different category, having been recommended it for just that reason by @Lu. The police vocabulary might be beneficial for understanding a lot of the more contemporary stuff.

 

I have a question for you Chinese novel experts out there. I have two books at home that Zhang Yimou films are based on, Red Sorghum and Raise the Red Lantern.  The Shanghai Triad is supposed to be based on the novel Rules of a Clan (門規) by Li Xiao 李小棠 (son of Ba Jin), but I just can't seem to find it. Anyone knows anything at all about this book?

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On 4/7/2022 at 9:48 AM, Insectosaurus said:

Li Xiao 李小棠 (son of Ba Jin)

How did I love this movie and own and like this book and never knew this.

I have the Dutch translation, picked it up somewhere second-hand years and years ago, so I'm afraid I can't be of any help on how to find the book. Perhaps in Taiwan?

And I hope you like 1367! It's a bit of a doorstop, but really enjoyable. The classic Sherlock Holmes type detective novel, where the reader can puzzle along with the detectives (and in the end, Kwan Chun-dok is still smarter than you, and that's fine).

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