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Review: 诗词趣话


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Here is, finally, my review of 诗词趣话 (Stories Behind Chinese Poems), which I received as part of a giveaway organised by @elina, @Sinolingua and @roddy, way back in 2014. The book is still for sale, it seems, so I hope this is still of some use.

 

诗词趣话 consists of a hunderd short anecdotes around classical Chinese poems. Sometimes the poem is central to the story, sometimes it’s just one aspect of the story. Some of the stories tell more about what the poem is actually about, or tell something about the background or the circumstances in which it was written, and some just tell a story in which the poem features. They are not elaborate explanations of the poems themselves, they're really anecdotes.

 

The stories are very short, 1-2 pages. In the (also short) introduction, the editor states that they can be read in less than five minutes. I think that really depends on the Chinese level of the reader, though, because the language is not particularly easy: it’s rather 文言-ish. This means I have to read the first few lines several times to understand who is doing what where, but after that it’s a bit faster. And the stories are, indeed, 有趣 - the first one had me laugh out loud.

 

A downside of this book is that the poems are printed in a handwriting-like font, which makes them difficult to read. Classical Chinese poems are not easy reading at the best of times, and this does not help. If there will ever be a new print, I’d suggest to change this font. The stories themselves are in a standard printed font.

 

There is no vocabulary list or other learners’ aid. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone not already fairly proficient in Chinese, but I would recommend it to someone interested in classical poetry, classical poets and anecdotes around them (and who doesn’t mind the font).

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