Everyone may be on their smartphones all day every day nowadays, but there’s something uniquely charming about sitting down to read an actual book. There’s also something particularly effective about it for those of you keen on improving your English skills.
I’m a Spanish speaker by birth, but I’ve been passionate about English for years now. My secret tip for making faster progress with the language is reading lots of English novels and then reading some more. When it came to finding books that were both educational in terms of the language level AND interesting in their own right, I realized I needed to go beyond the obvious choices and decided to draw up my own list.
Happy reading and happy learning!
1. 40 Rules of Love (by Elif Şafak)
“Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough.”
This novel will not only transform your English, but your life; it’s currently my favorite book. It’s beautifully written and the Penguin edition ensures that even relative beginners get a good grasp of the story and the meaning it conveys. If you’re curious about spiritual matters, this is your pick.
2. How to be a woman (by Caitlin Moran)
“Why on earth have I, because I’m a woman, got to be nice to everyone?”
This isn’t your topical feminist manifesto. Caitlin Moran is a powerful, compelling writer and doesn’t mince her words. This book is perfect if you want to learn slang, smash the patriarchy (as any good feminist would!) and laugh while you’re at it.
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (by Stephen Chbosky)
“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”
This book is the story of a smart and socially awkward teen struggling with mental illness, trying to find his place in the world. If you feel like jumping back to your high school days while brushing up on your teen slang, this one’s for you.
4. Deal Breaker (by Harlan Coben)
“Acceptance of the inevitable, a sign of a wise man.”
This is my favorite crime fiction series. Myron Bolitar, a retired pro-basketball player, solves crimes together with his eccentric best friend, Windsor “Win” Horne Lockwood III. This book is heavy on mysteries – being a crime novel and all – and sports jargon. Warning: if you’re one of those people who can’t put a book down once they’ve started, steer clear of this one.
5. Treasure Island (by Robert Louis Stevenson)
“Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum”
This book doesn’t really need an introduction – it’s a true classic, complete with pirates, sailors and adventures. It’s a great one for expanding your vocabulary, especially if you love to travel.
6. A Thousand Splendid Suns (by Khaled Khosseini)
“Marriage can wait, education cannot.”
This book offers up a story line like no other. Become immersed in the daily lives and hardships of Miriam and Laila as they struggle to find a future in Kabul. The English is simple enough for most learners, but still beautiful and challenging. And the book features characters you’ll never forget.
7. Pride & Prejudice (by Jane Austen)
“I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.”
Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is another classic. Although the vocabulary is quite advanced, if you feel like a challenge, this one’s a perfect pick. Oh, and I dare you not to fall in love with any of the characters, especially a Mr. Darcy.
8. To Kill a Mockingbird (by Harper Lee)
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
A masterpiece of American literature that will help you understand the history of the United States. They say a culture can only be understood through language, fancy a try?
9. Orientalism (by Edward Said)
“From the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient, the one thing the orient could not do was to represent itself.”
For the intellectual out there, keen to see beyond stereotypes. If you have an advanced English level, this book is an invaluable resource for understanding the world and the way we see each other. It’s also a great conversation starter when traveling, especially in the Middle East.
10. Twilight (by Stephenie Meyer)
“And so the lion fell in love with the lamb…”
Maybe not what you expected as the 10th, but it’s the very first book I read in English, so it has a special place in my heart. And I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to any English learner: It offers up an entertaining story, and the English is easy and simple enough. Don’t judge a book by its movie.