English Reading Skills

What should I read in English? 8 books that you will finish

What should I read in English? 8 books that you will finish

Here are 2 questions:

How many books have you started reading in English?

And how many books have you finished reading in English?

I’m guessing that these numbers are not the same.

I remember reading an English second-hand book I bought from a shop in Istanbul. There were Turkish notes in the book — clearly someone had been using the book to study English with.

But after 2 or 3 chapters, the notes stopped. The person who bought the book had given up reading it.

This is an incredibly common problem. I’ve seen it so many times.

You buy a book thinking, “I’m going to read this book and when I’ve finished I’ll know so much more English.”

And you start reading, making notes on new words and phrases. It’s exciting — you’re learning English and reading a proper English book!

Then after a week, you start losing your love for reading it. It’s hard work. It’s boring. It feels unnatural.

So you quit reading and sell it to a second-hand book seller.

Maybe he looks like this:

a smiling man in front of several bookshelves

Or maybe not.

Maybe a few months later you buy another book and try again… Only to give up again after a few chapters. So you sell that one, too.

The bookseller’s happy, but you’re not because it seems that you just can’t read a single English book.

But why does this keep happening?

There are usually four main reasons for this:

  1. You’ve chosen a book that’s too difficult.
  2. You’ve chosen a book that’s not very interesting to you.
  3. You’re a strong visual learner and you don’t like reading very much — even in your first language.
  4. You either don’t have enough time to “get into” the book or you have a short concentration span.

 

So how do we solve these different problems?

The best way is by choosing the right book.

Below, I’m going to recommend two books that will help you overcome (get past) each of these problems.

Problem #1:

You’ve chosen a book that’s too difficult

Solution:

The “comfortably simple” books

This is probably the most common reason why we give up on reading books, and the solution’s easy — find an easier book.

For a lot of learners, the natural choice here would be a graded reader.

What’s a graded reader? It’s one of those English books that are designed for English learners. The language is simpler, it’s shorter and it’s much easier to read. These books often contain vocabulary explanations and sometimes some exercises to help you understand the story.

But I don’t strongly recommend them.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that reading anything at all is always good practice, especially if your level’s on the low side.

But here’s some good news — if you’re reading my posts, your level is not on the low side and I think you can happily manage a regular book.

Examples?

1.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

by Mark Haddon

Books to read in English - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

This is a very popular choice for English learners. Not only is the language in this book easy to read, but the story is very interesting and thought provoking (it makes you think about things).

This means you are much less likely to give up.

The story is told from the point of view of a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome (a condition that means you see the world in a very different way). The language is very simple and direct and it’s fascinating to “get inside the mind” of the main character.

2. Animal Farm

…or anything by George Orwell

Books to read in English - Animal Farm by George Orwell

Again — this is a popular choice for language learners and many teachers recommend it.

I’ve chosen Animal Farm out of all of Orwell’s books simply because all the characters are different animals and this makes it especially easy to follow and to “see” the story happening in your head.

But really, any George Orwell will be a good choice.

That’s because Orwell (along with Ernest Hemingway) is the “king” of simple writing.

To give you an idea about how much he valued simplicity, here are some of his famous “rules of writing”:

  • Never use a long word where a short one will do (will be enough).
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous (uncivilized).

 

Problem #2:

You’ve chosen a book that’s not very interesting to you

Solution:

The “page turners”

There are some strange people out there.

I’ve met quite a lot of people who seem to believe that you have to suffer to learn. They really think that if it isn’t difficult, it isn’t working.

Absolute nonsense. In fact, I’d say the opposite:

If you’re enjoying yourself, you’re going to learn quicker.

That’s why I never understand it when I see English learners picking up a Charles Dickens book as their first English book.

Seriously? Dickens? The first book you’re reading in English?

Again, don’t get me wrong. I love Dickens. But it’s challenging at times — even for me. The main reason isn’t so much the language (although his English definitely isn’t simple).

It’s because he’s writing about people who existed over 100 years ago. People without smartphones or laptops. People who only travelled about 50 miles for their big holiday, or people who never even had holidays. People who didn’t read blog posts or go to cafés. People whose hairstyles and clothes probably meant that they spent at least five hours a day getting ready to leave the house.

In short — people very different from us.

When you’re reading about people completely different from you, you have to make a little extra effort.

And why do that when you’re trying to learn?

You want to read stuff that takes little effort, right? Books that make you want to keep turning the page and never stop reading.

That’s why I’m recommending these “page turners.”

3. The Da Vinci Code

…or or any Dan Brown book

Books to read in English - The Da Vinci Code

I have a strange relationship with Dan Brown books. The intellectual inside me looks down on them. They’re “trash” and unintellectual.

But then I start reading one.

Within a few pages, I can’t stop reading. I can’t put the book down. I just have to find out what happens next.

That’s why Dan Brown has sold over 200 million copies of his books and has made $178 million. That’s almost the GDP of the Marshall Islands!

It’s because he writes books that are so exciting, interesting and real that you just can’t put them down.

Even though they’re trashy.

4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or any Harry Potter)

by J. K. Rowling

Books to read in English - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Now I’m actually not a fan of the Harry Potter series. (I much prefer The Lord of the Rings.)

But the first book I read in a foreign language without using a dictionary was the first Harry Potter book in Turkish.

I didn’t understand everything. In fact, in some places I could only understand about 40%. But I kept on going and I realised that you don’t need to understand much to be able to enjoy the story.

And despite the fact I didn’t really like Harry Potter stuff, I really enjoyed reading it. Perhaps I only enjoy Harry Potter in Turkish. Who knows?

Problem #3:

You’re a strong visual learner and you don’t like reading very much — even in your first language

Solution:

The “comics for big people”

I’ve written about this before, and this was probably the most effective solution for me when I was learning Turkish.

I think I made the most progress with my vocabulary and grammar through a Belgian journalist called Tintin and a prehistoric French chap called Asterix.

I’ve always enjoyed reading the Tintin books in my first language (which is English, in case you were wondering!)

These books are great for three main reasons:

  1. They are visual! This is so valuable when you’re reading in your second language. You can see what’s going on and as a result you can focus on the language more, instead of trying to “create a picture.”
  2. They are conversational. (Almost) everything is based around conversations, so you can really get access to natural language.
  3. They are designed for adults as well as children. This means that a lot of the jokes and themes will actually be interesting for you!

 

So let’s meet these great guys if you haven’t already met them in your first language:

5. Red Rackham’s Treasure (or any Tintin)

by Hergé

Books to read in English - The Adventures of Tintin - Red Rackham's Treasure
Some Tintin books are full of action (like this one) and some are actually more like a normal book with lots of long paragraphs (like The Secret of the Unicorn and Flight 714 — don’t read these ones first!)

There have been some worrying moments in the Tintin series. The first book, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was clearly just pro-Soviet propaganda, and the second book, Tintin in the Congo, was unacceptably racist.

But as time went on, it seems that the writer, Hergé, changed and began accepting a more diverse view of the world.

Politics aside, these books are highly enjoyable with exciting stories and beautiful pictures.

Just don’t read the racist one. You’ll be sick!

6. Asterix at the Olympic Games (or any Asterix)

by René Goscinny

Books to read in English - Asterix at the Olympic Games
Much like Tintin, Asterix was written for both children and adults.

It’s very easy to relate to the different characters in the book and the stories are always highly creative.

In the story, Asterix and Obelix compete in the Olympic Games and although it takes place over 2,000 years ago, there are a lot of modern themes. The most obvious one is the theme of performance-enhancing drugs (like steroids) in sports.

Even with serious themes like that, the story is light and fun.

The best thing? You’ll want to understand it all and you’ll want to finish it all.

Problem #4:

You either don’t have enough time to “get into” the book or you have a short concentration span

Solution:

The “bathroom books”

Why “bathroom book”?

Well, this is actually a common thing. (Go ahead and Google it!)

“Bathroom books” are books that some people (like me) like to put in the bathroom so that when people are taking a bath or using the toilet, they can have a quick read at the same time.

These books are usually full of short bits of information because no one takes a bath long enough to read a full book. So you can pick them up, read from any part of the book for a few minutes, then just put it down again.

And they’re perfect for people who only have a few minutes at a time to read and for people with short concentration spans.

7. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾

by Sue Townsend

Books to read in English - The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4
This is especially useful if you’re interested in English culture, but it’s still a good read even if you don’t ever want to go to England in your life.

As you can probably guess from the title, this is the (fictional) diary of a teenager growing up in a working-class household in the middle of England — an ordinary boy with an ordinary life.

Although it’s a teenage diary, this book is not aimed at teenagers and is both funny and enjoyable for adults.

The book is the first in a long series and starts in the 1980s. If you’d like something a bit more up to date, you can read Adrian’s diaries as an adult in Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years (he’s around 30 years old and working as a chef in London) and Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years. (I think the title says it all!)

It’s very easy to read because it’s in diary form. Most days are only a couple of paragraphs long, meaning that you can read a whole day in a couple of minutes. If you have problems with one, it doesn’t matter — you can just move on to the next. Remember: you should be reading for enjoyment!

8. The Book of General Ignorance

by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson

Books to read in English - The Book of General Ignorance

What if I told you that the tallest mountain in the world wasn’t Mount Everest?

And that the sky in ancient Greece wasn’t blue?

And that we have more than five senses?

This book is probably the most interesting one in today’s post. You read it and learn how much you’ve got wrong about the world.

Each fact only takes up (consists of) a few paragraphs.

This means that it’s very easy to read and you don’t have to concentrate for a long time. It’s also incredibly interesting and as a bonus, you’ll be able to impress your friends with the fascinating facts you learn.


So which of these books interests you the most? Don’t wait! Get a copy and start seeing your English improve while you learn and enjoy yourself!

Because this post is all about other people’s books, I haven’t had much opportunity to create many of my strange pictures.

I know a lot of readers enjoy my weird visual style, so here’s that bookseller again.

Remember, don’t sell him your book until you’ve finished it!

a smiling man in front of several bookshelves

46 thoughts on “What should I read in English? 8 books that you will finish

  1. Hello
    Actually, I’d like to thank you very much for your efforts and the information you kindly provided also your priceless advices and directions about reading in general.

  2. Hello Grabiel!
    This is by far, one of my favorite posts. While I was reading your post, I was searching on Google every book you were going recommending us, and I downloaded three of them: Animal Farm, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Red Hackman’s Treasure.
    P.S: I’m Harry Potter series fan and I’d like to download the first one in English, but I’ve all of them in Spanish, of course and I’ve not finished them yet.
    Thanks for this posts, I’ll share it with some of my friends, who also love learning English.

    1. Hi Alexis.

      Great choice of downloads! My favourite is probably Red Rackham’s Treasure. Such a fun book!

      If you like Harry Potter, you should definitely get into reading them in English. I don’t even like Harry Potter, but I still enjoyed the experience of reading them in a foreign language.

      And thanks for the shares!

      1. Dear gabriel
        Thank you for the books you have recommended above. I struggle mostly with grammer and vocabulary. When I speak i struggle to find words to express myself. Will these books help me improve my english speaking

        1. Hi Dorothy,

          Good question.

          Reading will definitely help you with everything (reading, writing, listening etc.) It’s especially good for picking up vocabulary and for understanding grammatical concepts better.

          If you want to use your reading to improve your speaking, try implementing some strategies. You could, for example, try to use new words or grammatical concepts that you’ve learned from reading directly into your conversation. If you’re reading something that’s quite conversational, like a novel or a comic book, remember a few of the useful conversational phrases (“That’s nice,” “what about it?” “that’s the gist of it”) and throw them into conversation when you have the chance. It doesn’t matter if it’s not quite the right thing to say at the right time — learning takes a while and mistakes are a great way of learning.

          Hope that helps and thanks for the positive feedback!

  3. Great and useful post but moreover I’d like to add , even well written !
    Thanks to you I’ve finally understood why I rarely I’ve finished reading an English book , because you’re completely right , it’s happened to me many times…..
    I’d opt for bathroom books and I’m really drawn by ” the book of General Ignorance”….sometimes I feel I’m so ignorant!

    1. Haha! Yes — that’s the one problem with that book: it makes you feel that you know NOTHING!

      But thanks for your kind comments, Marco. I’m hope you find the book you need to help you enjoy reading again.

  4. Hi Gabriel,
    should I mention once again that you are the best? I will try to read at least one of the above books but I must confess I face all four reasons you showcased!
    Just my two cents…videos work better for people like me. It will be great for your readers to present some YouTube channels in this respect. Folks, do you agree with me?

    1. That’s a great idea!

      YouTube channels are also a great way to go for this (instead of just recommending films). Thanks for the suggestion Daniel and I’m super-pleased you enjoy the post. Sometimes I feel like I suffer from all four reading problems.

      Which book are you planning on reading first? Just out of curiosity…

    2. Hi Gabriel,
      I think that I will start with The Da Vinci Code. All my friends talked about the movie a few years ago. It’s time to stay updated to them :)))))

  5. Hi teacher
    Thank you for posting informations like those above . i really enjoyed reading everything you said . I hope I can read at least one of those books , it will be useful for a beginner learner like me. thank you again .

    1. Hi Reda. It seems that you’re more than just a beginner. But if you feel like reading a whole book can be difficult, perhaps you should try a Tintin or an Asterix first. Take the time to read it and try to enjoy it as much as you can!

  6. Thanks for your post!

    I’ve already read Animal farm, The daVinci code, Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone (and the other six HP books).
    I tried to listen to the audiobook Dickens: Christmas carol -but it was too difficult for me…
    I love books!!
    I found my next book to read: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It seems very interesting.

    I read this in the blog of a Hungarian polyglot: you have to keep your grammar book in the bathroom. You don’t need more time to learn grammar rules.

    1. Hi Agi,

      Yeah — Dickens is challenging, even for so-called Native Speakers.

      I hope you enjoy The Curious Incident.

      And I love the Hungarian polyglot’s advice. I often recommend toilet books in the way that I did in this post, but perhaps he’s onto something: grammar for the toilet, fun reading for all other times!

      1. Hi Gabriel,
        I would like to tell you, I read The Curious Incident and I really enjoyed it!! Very good book, thanks a lot for the tip!!

        I’m reading Insomnia from Stephen King now, I’ve read it already in my mother tongue and also in German, I like this book too.
        🙂

        1. Hi Agi,

          That’s awesome news. Congratulations!

          Finishing a book in a foreign language feels good, doesn’t it?

          Stephen King is a great writer for second-language English speakers, too. It probably falls under “the page turners” category I guess.

  7. Wow! Im not that bad in english but im trying to learn with a friend listening & writing also to improve my speaking skills. Actually this article is perfect & very useful! Thank you so much! Keep going in this!

  8. I would like to start by thanking you for the site then I want you to give me some suggestions about books or novels that may help me improve my level in English , because I really love it !

      1. hello sir ,
        I mean the sort and simple books or novels . I’m not very good in English !
        And thank you for your reply .

        1. Hi Oumayma,

          If you want simple, check out recommendations 1 and 2 from this post. Recommendations 7 and 8 are made up of short parts, so make it easier to take in.
          If you want short AND simple, you can check out some of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories. They’re great reads.
          I hope that helps.

  9. Hi!
    Thanks so much for your recommendations. Though I must admit I was expecting some of Roald Dahls´ among them.
    I´d love to have your expert opinion.
    Thanks again!
    Marisa

    1. Hi Marisa,

      That’s a good point.

      There are, of course, a lot of writers and specific novels that I couldn’t mention in this post. The ones here are just a guide to get you started, really.

      It’s been a long time since I read any Roald Dahl, so I wouldn’t be able to give a very informed opinion. Nonetheless I remember that some of his books were silly and fun (like “The Twits”) and some were more serious and had a good narrative (like “Danny the Champion of the World.”) So if I have any advice it would be “read the more serious ones.”

      I remember that they were very clear and well-written and would fall into the “comfortably simple books” category.

      1. Roald Dahl, definitely, and his Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts, likewise Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes by Harry Graham (aka Col. D. Streamer), Cautionary Tales and (More) Beasts by Hillaire Belloc… but I’m a poem-nerd (like that ) of course.

        Animal Farm’s brilliant work and, understandably, been banned in USSR, alas…

        Btw, have you read Vintage Stuff by Tom Sharp? It’s one of my favourite, especially performed by Stephen Fry.

        1. Ooohhh… Good calls. Dahl is great fun. I’m not familiar with Graham or Belloc — I’m not big into poetry.

          Yes — it’s unsurprising Animal Farm was banned in the USSR. It’s important to remember that he wasn’t just criticising Sovietism, but that the warnings about how totalitarianism can creep into ideology were more universal.

          Tom Sharp? No — but I’ll check him out… If Fry likes, it, I probably will, too!

          1. Well, it’s not dull (Duhl) anyway.
            As for what you should not be reading (and watching)… maybe without a supervising at least, I also have the examples: here and here.
            And what about Radio? Iggy Pop is right, of course (the quote from “In The Death Car“), but I mean BBC Radio Dramatization. Do you like ’em? I certainly do.

          2. Oh yes! The Tim Burton was fantastic! Good share!
            And of course you can’t go wrong with Dahl. Also yes — TV is nonsense. Usually.

            And of course radio is a great source of what to listen to. Have you found my post on BBC’s “listening project” yet?

  10. Thanks a lot for you’re extremely interesting lessons! My mistake that every time I take very difficult book for reading for example Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen or Tomas Hardy. I enjoy reading them in my native language (Russian) but in English it was hard! By the way I’m a fan of The Lord of the rings:)) but Harry Potter is also interesting from my point of view:))

    1. Oh yes, I see it often! It’s great to have a love of the classics, but perhaps not while still working on improving your reading skills.

      In fact there’s a lot of research out there that shows reading can be improved more efficiently if you read stuff that’s below your actual level. Just for fun — but a lot of it.

      Either way, it’s helps a great deal to enjoy what you’re reading. In any language.

  11. Re: BBC’s “listening project”
    From https://goo.gl/MDevLZ“>this blog? Yes, I have, and it’s not my cup of dried leaves boiled in water, sorry — I acquired very peculiar interests since I’d discovered them. I’ve got, in fact, their archive (pdf plus mp3 files) from britishcouncil.org AND even the deleted poem with the original audio from 2009, my favourite actually. And yes — I edited out all ads in audio with Audacity.

  12. Hi Gabriel, I do love how you talk. Your post on this is very useful and easy to understand. I must say while reading your post, I find myself smiling.. I seldom do this. Just goes to show that I love how you keep people’s attention and interest on the matter. And makes me want to go find those books now..haha
    Thank you.

  13. I was wrong exactly as you said. One of the first books I wanted to read in my beginnings was “The Scarlet Letter”! This is the frustration itself.

    Thank you very much for you awesome website and for every thing you taught us.
    Best wishes

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