Behind on the Books!

At the beginning of 2017, I set myself a reading challenge of reading 30 books this year. Since then, I have been collecting books on my wishlist when I see them in charity shops, and I have thirteen books ready, waiting to be read…I just haven’t got round to it yet.

Reading 30 books in 12 months means an average of 2.4 books per month, and so far each month I’ve fallen short of that target, with two books read each in January and February, and only one finished in March so far and I only have two days of the month left. I’m 32% through my current book, Emma by Jane Austen, but as I read it in bed, I don’t often get to read the whole chapter before I fall asleep.

I have the books, I just don’t seem to be able to make the time to read. What’s also important is the time and place of reading. Whereas before, I used to read on coach journeys on the day trips I went on, or in a café at the end of the day, waiting for the coach to leave. Now, I only read at the end of they day when I’m already tired, and I often have to turn five pages back and re-read those pages again to know where I’m up to and remind myself what’s going on.

I hope April will be more a more successful month in my 30-books-in-one-year challenge. I plan to go to bed earlier, to get in extra reading time, any other suggestions?

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The Saddest News of the Day

Was one that I read this morning, about China banning the sale of children’s books from different countries.

Although it is true that children’s books could potentially influence children’s perceptions, there are thousands of children’s books now that try to break those stereotypes, just a few days ago I read about a revolutionary children’s book of true stories about 100 great women. Rebel Girls aims to educate children and show them that not every girl has to dream of being a princess, which is what most books aimed at young girls promote. But I doubt a total block on all children’s books from outside Chinese borders would stop children being influenced.

As a nation of people who stream and download thousands of MB of films and TV shows each year, it is easy for Chinese people to download children’s TV series such as Peppa Pig, Teletubbies and all the other shows that are shown to children across the world. What’s the difference between TV and books?

I was reminded this morning of Malala, another book lover, here is one of her quotes

Let us pick up our books and our pens,” I said. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.

I was also reminded of the book burnings that I know to have taken place in China from the time of the first emperor Qing Shi Huang, and later again during the Cultural Revolution. Is this another modern day method of burning books? A way to control the people’s thoughts and opinions, to forcibly guide them into only reading certain types of literature, because other types are deemed ‘unsafe’, ‘defamatory’ or ‘blasphemous’? Whatever reason China has for banning foreign children’s books being sold in the country, I’m against it.

World Book Day

It’s World Book Day this week, and I’m forever hearing adverts on the radio, advertising fancy dress options, as children across the UK will go into schools dressed up as a character from their favourite book. Does this practice happen in other countries too?

Back in primary school, my usual costumes would be:

  • Tracy Beaker
  • Mildred Hubble (The Worst Witch)
  • Hermione Grainger
  • Sophie (from Sophie’s Tom, Sophie’s Snail etc)

The were quite easy to dress up as, because the first three had appeared on TV, and the final one had a drawing on the cover of what she looked like.

But now I’m wondering, if I had to dress up this week as my favourite book character, who would it be, and how would I dress? As an adult, many of the books I read aren’t made into films or TV series, and even less have illustrations on the front and inside the book of what the character looks like.

There would be two options: dress up as a character that people can recognise “oh you’re dressed as Hermione, that’s great”, but even better, would be to dress up as a character and have people ask who you are. That way you can describe to them in detail the character, why you chose them, what book(s) they appear in and encourage them to read a book you like too.

Characters that in recent years who have made an impact on me have been

  • Don Quijote in El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedrea
  • Empress Dowager Cixi in Empress Orchid – Anchee Min
  • Harriet Ann Jacobs in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl – Harriet Ann Jacobs (does an autobiography count?)
  • Hassan in The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini 

I should have nothing in common with these people and characters, they all come from very different parts of the world, and I haven’t shared any of the same life experiences as them. But their characters show passion, enthusiasm, persistence, bravery and determination, which is something I truly admire.

If you had to dress as a character for World Book Day tomorrow, who would you choose and why?

Double BOOKed

I never used to read more than one book at a time, but owning a Kindle has made that so much more practical than before, and to think I was so anti-e-books for so long when they first came on the scene!

I’m currently seriously reading 3 books (of course there are other books that I’m X% through, but haven’t opened them in a while)

  • Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler – The Art of Happiness
  • Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends and Influence People
  • Kevin Kwan – Crazy Rich Girlfriend

The first two are an incredibly good book pairing. Reading them at the same time has given me different pieces of advice about the same kind of topic. When I read Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia (Louise Brown) , although the content was very interesting and gave me a lot to think about, it was very one sided. Not in the sense that I wanted to read something condoning trafficking, but in the sense that the writing style was a bit sloppy. Also, some things were exaggerated to an extent that I’d read some chapters and be left thinking there’s no hope and all men in the world are evil, it shed a very negative light on some countries and although it was a documentary on the bad aspects of the slave trade, there wasn’t that ray of hope at the end. It left me feeling quite sad and I wish I’d read it alongside another book that outlined the types of aid going towards combating trafficking in Asia, or showed how women got themselves out of those situations.

Anyway, I haven’t finished either The Art of Happiness nor How to Win Friends and Influence People yet, but I find they are complementary. They both give solid examples of how to lead a better life and be good, caring and compassionate towards others.

Which books do you think are a good pairing?

Charity bookshelf bingo

I buy most of my books from charity shops (the rest I buy online). You can get the exact same books for a fraction of the RRP, help a charity and sometimes they’re brand new anyway. I used to rummage through the book sections trying to find a title that caught my eye, but now I have a proper reading list, now I tend to search for books on my list in charity shops, rather than finding random books.

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My two latest charity book buys – 2 for £1!

I used to volunteer in a charity shop, and I would always volunteer to put the books in alphabetical order. Here is a list of books I think you will always find in a charity shop, next time you go, see how many you can check off!

  • Steig Larsson – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl
  • Cecilia Ahern – Ps. I Love You
  • E. L James – 50 Shades of Grey
  • Dan Brown – Angels and Demons
  • Alexander McCall Smith – The No. 1 Ladies’ Detectives Agency
  • Stephanie Meyer – Eclipse
  • Khaled Hosseini – A Thousand Splendid Suns
  • Liza Klaussmann – Tigers in Red Weather
  • Adele Parks – The Other Woman’s Shoes
  • James Patterson – Cat & Mouse
  • Katie Price – Being Jordan
  • French phrasebook

 

Wild Swans – A review

Wild Swans tells the story of a Chinese family, spreading across three generations. It starts with an account of the author’s grandmother, and then tells the story of her mother and herself respectively. It spans from 1909 to 1978 and takes place in China.

The book tells a lot of sad stories – foot binding, famine, civil war, torture and other atrocities that happened during that time period, so it’s not an easy read. There are parts that are brutal, but they just reflect what really happened. It has definitely made me step back and think about the Cultural Revolution, and what people went through during that period. Even now, people’s views about the Cultural Revolution are split, some of my teachers praise it, others detest it, it’s a difficult topic to talk about.

New book

I see older Chinese people and wonder if they too were sent to labour farms in their childhood, if they were too made to recite the words from The Little Red Book and perform dances. These things happened not very long ago in Chinese history, so it’s hard to know how to and whether to talk to Chinese people about these things. This book is also banned in China.

This book was never on my reading list, I picked it up in a charity shop and it’s made me think a lot about the injustices that people have done to each other. I feel connected to the people in the book and their story has made an impact. It shocked and surprised me, and I’m sure it has had the same effect on other readers across the world.

Translating Books

After waking up at 6am on a rainy day in Qingdao, instead of running, I decided to watch some TED talks whilst waiting for my friend to wake up. I stumbled across a playlist of talks for thoughtful travellers and was amazed at some of the great things people are doing across the world. One of those people was Ann Morgan, in 2012 she set out to read one book from each country in the world, but as an English speaker, the language barrier became a big problem. Her talk can be found here.

But on her journey she found people who sourced and even translated books into English for her. This got me thinking… Not about reading 196 books in one year, but about translating books.

It’s very true that lots of the books in British book stores are in English, as they were written. There aren’t a lot of translations available, and even at university where language students have to take literature courses, the books are usually written in the original language, much to our disappointment, as reading books like Don Quixote* in ancient Spanish is not an easy feat.

This limits the British public, readers and book enthusiasts. And I’m not criticising British, American, Canadian writers, but it’s good to look at things from a different point of view and if you don’t know a second or third language, it’s impossible to surpass the language barrier.

Ann’s story has inspired me to start work on translating a Chinese book. Not the likes of 《红楼梦》or any of the other big four literary works of China, but the work of a young contemporary author, 方慧.

I’m reading her debut book at the moment called 《手机里的男朋友》, it’s a collection of short stories about how girls date in the 21st century, with instant messaging and social media. I think it’s a hilarious book, telling stories that even young Western women can relate to, things like being too shy to speak to the guy you like, getting an outbreak of acne, talking to a guy online and then realising he’s different when you talk in person etc. But there is still a lot of Chinese culture embedded in it, and some things that make me say ‘woah, that’s strange’, or ‘why did she say that?!’.

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The front cover

As it’s a small collection of stories, I can work on the individually and I hope to have three completed by the end of this year (there are 15 in total, but I’ll be working soon, so don’t want to set my goal too high).

But I’ve already hit some hurdles before I’ve even began this task. Do I translate literally, or do I change some aspects to things that English speakers would relate to and understand? For example, the title of the book is also a title of one of the chapters, literally it’s ‘The boyfriend inside my phone’, but I don’t think that has a good ring to it. I’ve also thought about ‘Online boyfriend’, but a lot of the interactions in the book are done through mobile technology, not through a computer, as online may suggest. Then there’s other options, like ‘My mobile boyfriend’, ‘Guy: online’ and other creative one’s I’ve thought up.

Secondly, the first chapter of the book is called 《微博自杀记》Weibo suicide diary , but the majority of Westerners don’t know what Weibo is…do I replace it with Facebook, something that English speakers can relate more clearly to? But there are some specific Weibo features that Facebook doesn’t have, which would be lost if I changed it to Facebook.

I guess it is very difficult to translate a book, as you want to make the text accessible to your readers, but if you change it too much, it strays away from the original. If you keep some original elements (like Weibo), it becomes hard to read, messy, or the readers don’t know what these things are.

So that is my aim for this year. I will also try to get in contact with the author through Weibo, to let her know what I’m doing, and see if there could be any opportunity to publish my translation in the future (I’m not sure on copyright laws in China). Until then, I will continue reading the book and working on my 成语’s.

*Although there are English translations of Don Quixote, there are a lot of them, and no definite ‘best version’

Let me look that up

I’ve been studying languages for a long time (over 20 years in fact, because I’m still learning my native language English) so I’m pretty used to using dictionaries. I’ve had lots of foreign language dictionaries in the past and still do, from school learners dictionaries, to picture dictionaries, pocket dictionaries and native language dictionaries. So I always have a lot of choices when I meet a new word.

As now I’m focusing on Chinese language, I usually turn to Pleco when I don’t know a word. It’s a very useful app, where if you don’t know how to type the Chinese character, you can draw it and the app will recognise it. Pleco is a very useful tool for all Mandarin learners, and it has some pretty good translations of Chinese idioms too.

Lately, my vocabulary book has gone into overdrive and the words are colour-coded according to which text book they came from: comprehensive, listening, oral, reading and writing.

A few of my teachers have seen me looking up vocabulary on Pleco, and have told me that now I’m at an advanced level, I should be looking up unknown vocabulary in Chinese, not in English because the translations aren’t always right and there are some subtle differences with some words: for example, in English referee and judge are two different words, but in Chinese, 裁判 can be used to describe both of these. It’s also true that some things just don’t have a handy translation, try telling me what 辛苦你了 translates as!

Baidu dictionary app
Baidu dictionary app

This is not the first time this has happened. In our final year of university, in our Spanish translation classes, we were not allowed to use Spanish-English dictionaries, and instead were all made to download the RAE dictionary (the Spanish equivalent of the Oxford dictionary). We all reluctantly did this, but secretly would go home and check Wordreference when completing our homework.

Our teachers are right, looking up a word in an English- foreign language dictionary is a bit lazy. We just look at the first or second word and take it as it is, without question, but when we look up a word in a native language dictionary, it gives us a better understanding of the word and using our brain to figure out the meaning is better than just remembering what it seems like in our own language.

There are some difficulties in looking up words in a native language dictionary: synonyms. Imagine you don’t know the word ‘enormous’, you look it up and the definition says ‘huge’, but you realise you don’t know what ‘huge’ means either. You turn to , find huge only to find that the definition is ‘enormous’ – what do you do then? This is a problem I’ve found when looking things up in my 现代汉语词典. I’m trying though, and as I’m learning over 250 new words each week (yes I’m keeping track this semester), as my vocabulary expands, I’ll be able to use the Chinese – Chinese dictionary better than I am doing now.

What do you think about looking up unknown words? Do you prefer to use your own language to understand, or do you use a native speaker’s dictionary?

My rEading List

I used the capitals like that for a reason! I recently met someone who kept an electronic reading list, using Excel. He had a huge list of books and highlighted them according to whether he’d read them, was reading them or if they were yet to read. I really liked this idea of keeping a reading list, as I’m always getting book recommendations, but never seem to keep them all in one place – some of them are on my Amazon wish list, but seeing the prices sometimes makes me shed a tear.

So I used my friend’s method of keeping a rEading list (or a E-reading list), but have modified it slightly according to my own preferences. I use the spreadsheet to write down the

  • name of the book
  • author
  • language
  • genre
  • what country it’s set in

Firstly, I have three main sheets: Read, Bookshelf and Wish List.

books 1

The ‘Read’ sheet lists the books I’ve read, and I added two extra columns to show when I finished reading it and my star rating, out of 5.

The ‘Bookshelf’ is a list of the books I have on my bookshelf, I also added an extra column to remind myself if the copy I have is paperback, hardback or Kindle. This way, I won’t go searching in my room for a book that I’ve downloaded.

Then there’s my ‘Wishlist’, a list of all the books people have recommended to me, or ones that I’ve read reviews of. If I like an author, I may also add some of their other works to my wishlist, which is definitely the case with Anchee Min and Michael Palin.

Now I feel that my reading list is very organised, and I have everything all in one place. When I buy or receive a new book (last week the university gave international students lots of free books), I can enter it into my mini database and keep a record of all I’ve read.

Currently, I have read four books this year (excluding text books), I have 53 books on my bookshelf and 70 books on my wishlist*. I doubt I will get through all of them any time soon, but it’s nice having them there.

It’s also useful for when friends ask for recommendations, have you ever finished a book last year let’s say, then forgotten how much you liked it and if you would recommend it? This way helps me to remember if it was good or not. What historical fictions have I read recently? I can check that too, very quickly. Finally, if anyone asks me for an idea for a birthday/xmas gift, by the time December comes, I’ll have lots of suggestions for people.

books 2

Are any of these books on your wishlist too?

*The books in my bookshelf and on my wishlist are different, if it’s on my wishlist it means I don’t have a copy

For links to other posts about books and reading, check out the link below, this post was part of a Link-Up hosted by Jenna, a fellow member of the InfluenceHer Collective.

Ridiculous Texts

I’ve been studying Chinese for over four years now, and have used a variety of text books. Some of the texts are really interesting and give us students a real insight into Chinese culture and history – one of my favourites was about 武则天, an evil empress from China’s history. But today I want to talk about three texts which have just been ridiculous, texts that I probably will never forget. I’ve ranked them in order of ridiculousness, and am sorry if I ruin the surprise for any of you currently studying Chinese.

3. God’s punishment for the golf playing Rabbi

This text is from an oral text book and it tells the story of how one day, there is a Rabbi, who love to play golf. One Sabbath*, all he wants to do is play golf, and he thinks that as it’s the Sabbath, nobody will know if he goes to play 9 holes (*Jews are supposed to rest at home on the Sabbath). He goes out, and of course, nobody is on the golf course to catch him out, except suddenly on the third hole, an angel spots him and goes to God to tell on him. God says he will punish the Rabbi, so for the remaining holes, the Rabbi plays excellently, nearly all his shots are holes in one, so he plays another 9 holes to complete the course. The angel goes back to God and asks what kind of punishment is this? He’s getting great results. Then God says to the angel, “Aha, he won’t be able to tell anybody about his excellent round of golf because they’ll know he’s broken the rules by going to play on the Sabbath. Not being able to share your happiness with other people is a punishment”

I like this anecdote, but I just think it’s a bit out of place in a Chinese text book, since religions aren’t practiced the same way as they are in other countries, and I don’t think there is a big Jewish community in China, nor many golf courses.

2. Buying a banana apple

This story was from my first year and was a very simple dialogue about a Canadian student 林娜, buying fruit in a market in China. She asked for a kilo of bananas, half a kilo of apples and a kilo of banana apples. Wait, what, banana apples yes, you read correct. We were told that in China, there is a fruit called “banana apple”, which looks like an apple but tastes like a banana. I’ve been in China for over 6 months in total now, and have yet to find one. When I searched on Baidu (the Chinese Google), apart from photos of apples and bananas beside each other, I found pictures showing yellowish apples as below. Until I eat one, I refuse to acknowledge that they actually exist!

Banana Apple
Banana Apple

1. Is that really our daughter?

This by far must be the most ridiculous text I’ve come across so far. It’s from a text book I used last time I was in China. A couple with straight, blonde hair, small (one lidded) eyes and white skin have a baby. They take the baby girl home, and one day, the Mum says to the baby “are you really our daughter? You have such dark skin, black curly hair and big (double lidded) eyes”. The Mum isn’t convinced, so goes back to the hospital to check. She meets the nurse who delivered the baby, who realises that on that day, there were two baby no. 6’s born. She gives the white couple the address of the other couple who’s baby was no.6. They go to this family’s home and a black lady with curly black hair opens the door, holding a small white, blond baby girl. They realise that their babies have been switched at birth, so meet another day and swap toys, clothes and babies.

I like the variation of our texts, as sometimes learning Chinese, you find yourself always talking about Chinese food and being a foreigner in China (as well as the basic “where are you from, what do you study, WOW your Chinese is so good, how long have you been in China). But sometimes, the texts are a bit strange. Have you had any strange texts in your Chinese text books, or do you remember reading any of these texts yourself?