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Describe the experience of reading your first novel


Polyhistor
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I am finishing up my first adult novel. I am curious to see the experience of others as they advanced from novitiate to first-time bookworm. I just read an article on pinyin.info in which the author said it took him three years to read his first, while somebody he studied with allegedly could not read more than two or three pages in a couple hours, even after 10 years of study. Is this the case for other people? I'm 11 months and a few days into my study of Chinese, which for the first few months saw most of my waking hours being involved in cultivating my knowledge thereof. If I'd spent even three hours a day during those introductory months, I'd probably still be a year away from where I am now.

 

How much difficulty did this journey entail? Did you look up words on every page? Every paragraph?

 

Page 319 of 鹤惊昆仑 was my first page without any need for a dictionary. Especially since then, it's been quite smooth sailing. I've written about 62 or 63 pages of notes, for a total of maybe 7,500 words in a novel of almost 600,000 characters.

 

How much time did you spend on this? 

 

I went from around 45 minutes per page at the start, down to around 5 minutes (including taking notes on new or forgotten characters, words, tones) now that I'm on page 515. 

 

Did you enjoy it? And, most importantly: How did the experience of your second novel contrast with the first?

 

I'm worried about this last issue the most. Wang Dulu is, I think, a relatively unique writer.  I have about 100 novels in Chinese I've ordered from JD (excellent) and Amazon (5 times the price, even with shipping!) since I began studying, and I've read several pages from most of them. Some of the others are not nearly as understandable or readable as his, so I fear that if I read the next book in the pentalogy, my lack of exposure to other styles will be less beneficial as picking out another author (I'm thinking 边城, it looks like a mediocre challenge before moving onto something bigger, like Jin Yong)

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I'm on my sixth novel, and still looking up words, but finally reading is becoming enjoyable, and my comprehension is excellent. I still encounter the occasional section where there are a number of lookups required, but even then I could skip the lookups and still mostly understand. 

 

I usually read aloud, and sometimes I'll read 3-4 pages with no lookups, knowing both the meaning and the sound/tone. 

 

I think I am still a few novels away from feeling I can read virtually anything with no phone/computer nearby, but now that I can read 10-20 pages in an hour or two, reaching the goal seems close now.

 

And I still prefer books made of paper. I want to spend less and less time staring at a screen.

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How much difficulty did this journey entail? Did you look up words on every page? Every paragraph?

83% through 活著, the beginning was somewhat rough, I was looking up words every sentence or so. Now it's more like every few sentences, definitely there's a word or at least some kind of adjective  in every paragraph. If there are too many words but I get the meaning, I won't necessarily look all of them up. I tend to look up words when I feel like I'm missing out on something important by not knowing them - or when I feel like I've seen them before and should know them. A 30 minutes reading session will generally produce 10-15 new words and I'll probably look up half of these. I'm a little self-conscious that I'm only doing OK with this novel because I've seen the movie already. The areas where the novel separate from the movie can be more vague and challenging for me. 

 

How much time did you spend on this? 

A lot. I read it off and on, and didn't really commit to it until a about a month ago. I've ready 30 minutes of it on most days so I would say I've easily put 10 or so hours into it. 

 

Did you enjoy it? 

Yes, very much. 

 

 

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  • 4 months later...

I read my first book in my fifth year of studying (I had started a few books before that, but gave up). Looking up words slows me down, so normally I look up as little as possible, unless it's a 字 in a name of a recurring 人物 that I don't know the pronunciation of, or a word that I don't know that is hampering my overall understanding. For the last two or three books I started underlining unknown and useful-looking words to look them up afterwards and study them in Anki, and that also has its advantages. But I do that after finishing a reading session, not during.

 

I don't know what my reading speed was in the beginning. For the past few years, I've always calculated with 10 pages per hour, but of course that's a bit nonsensical: 10 A4 pages of cyber detective is not the same as 10 small pages with big margins of happy-go-lucky travelogue. I think if the book is engaging enough I actually read about 20 pages (not A4, regular book size) per hour.

 

I'd recommend:

- Pick a book that is not too difficult (obviously).

- Don't look up every unknown word, just the ones you really need. Looking up words all the time takes you out of the story and slows you down. If you want to learn more vocabulary, look up words afterwards.

- Read actual Chinese books, not translated English ones. The cultural aspects are not that different and the language is more natural. Chinese translators (as many translators worldwide) are underpaid and the translations they produce often stay closer to the English than the Chinese in an original Chinese book. Also, now that you can read actual Chinese books, why would you use that power to just read English books again?

- Pick a good moment in your day where you can read every day, for half an hour/an hour/two hours. Then do that every day.

- Post about your experience and the books you read in the various book topics of this forum 🙂

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