What book do you suggest?

I’m looking for a book in English to read. Unfortunately, the foreign section of my city’s major bookstore has nothing that attracts me particularly, so I hope I’ll find advice here. These are some guidelines:

  • I would prefer the author to be English (American, British…). I like to read books in their original version

  • If possible, although this is not a strict constraint, I would prefer the text to be publicly available on wikisource (that means the author died 75-100 years ago, no copyright then)

  • I awfully like these authors: George Orwell, Oscar Wilde, Charles Darwin, Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve read all their most notorious books, so you can kinda figure out what genres I like most

I’ve read the New York Times bestseller “State of Fear” from Michael Chichton a few months ago. Although it isn’t Georg Orwell or Oscar Wilde the story is interesting. It’s a thriller with social intent. I could send it to you as a kind of intelligent book recycling.

If you like Sherlock Holmes I would also suggest books by Agatha Christie. She is famous as one of the best mystery writers there were.

If you would like to read modern English books (and support contemporary authors by buying their books) you can buy English language books from anywhere around the world via Book Depository.


Unlike Amazon, their shipping is free worldwide. They tend to offer cheaper prices than Amazon too.

If you like older works you can easily find something to read on the internet by searching for ‘public domain e-books’. e.g. Project Gutenberg

As an aside, if you enjoy the literature itself, that’s one thing, but if you’d like to learn natural, contemporary English I’d stick to newer works. The English in the books you mentioned is quite dated.

I agree with you, Adelbertolito, that reading out of copyright books has a number of advantages. One is the availability of the texts at Gutenberg. But another is the great feeling of being transported into another time, as well as another place. I am most often disappointed by modern books.

Check out this list of the 100 best English language books


I recommend Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and books by John Dos Passos, but anything on this list has a good chance to be good.

What exactly do you find disappointing about modern books, Steve?

I am not really in tune with modern culture, it strikes me as superficial, relationships are superficial.I must be getting old. On the other hand I enjoyed Ruiz Zafons’ The Shadow of the Wind, and a recent book by Haruki Murakami, South of the Border and West of the Wind. It is just that the icons of modern English language literature do not interest me.

I do recommend Dawkins on evolution, however.

I have read Dawkins. Top shelf full of his stuff, in fact.

Maybe you’ve not found the right contemporary books for you. There is so much variety out there that this in itself makes it harder to find a good fit, I reckon.

By choosing a book you have to consider two things: What’s your goal, and which kind of book do you like. If your goal is enjoyment, and you like to read about how people thought and lived 70 and more years ago, old books are fine. They are available at Gutenberg and other sources on the internet for free. But if you like to learn language as it is spoken and if you want to learn more about modern life, than you should read modern book.

There is nothing bad with old books. Some are really great. But the language that they use is often old fashioned and a kind of unnatural. The language sometimes sounds artificial. That is why they considered as art :slight_smile: But be careful. That can also happen with modern books that are considered as art.

Recently I finished my second “real” book in English. “Real” means no graded reader. It was a great experience! I chose the book carefully. I went into a book store and read the first two sites to make sure that I like it. The language that the author uses shouldn’t be too complicated, the book should not contain too many unknown words, the story should be easy that I can follow it and it should be entertaining for me. Therefore I chose a funny criminal story and the decision was perfect for me. I’ve just started the third book from this author and I really enjoy it. The language that the author uses seems to be common language. That corresponds with my goal to be able to have conversations.

I agree with Vera.

One book I read recently which uses quite simple language is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. The viewpoint character is an autistic boy, and that’s why the language is simple. But the story itself is deep and complex and is a fascinating insight into this condition.

It’s hard to find ‘proper’ novels which also have a good, challenging story. I would recommend that one to an intermediate student of English.

I recommend librivox for oldies and classics because a) there is audio + text and b) because they are books that someone loves enough to spend hours of their time reading it out loud for total strangers.

I read “King Rat” recently by James Clavell. I found it very entertaining and thought provoking, but written in a fairly simple manner, a bit like “The Curious Incident…”, so, yes I would recommend that to an intermediate student of English.
Steve, I know what you mean about modern literature, I think the thing is that the volume of published material has increased over time and this means that lower quality work can “slip through the net” and become available.

There used to be a site where you could read every single thing by George Orwell. He wrote many interesting little essays. If I can find it I’ll post it up.

That’s the Orwell site.

Thanks a billion times for the splendid websites you shared and your advices.

Daniel, many thanks for Orwell!!!

This might have little to do with the thread.

I like American novelists, such as J. D. Salinger and Irwin Shaw.
Are they still regarded as cool as they were a couple of decades ago
when I was a student ?
I wonder if they are not regarded as “contemporary” any more
but categorized as classic.

In Japan many think that they are still contemporary writers,
because here fewer and fewer English contemporary novels have been
introduced, except for some best seller novels ( so boring to me ),
while a lot of nonfictional books have been translated.

I am guessing the information about new writers is so little that we
tend to think of such old novelists as “contemporary”.

Hayden Caulfield cannot age, Although their books may now be termed modern classics, Böll, Grass and Salinger will stay contemporary for me.

Another, no longer quite contemporary book which is still haunting me with its beautiful writing is Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.

I think J.D. Salinger and Irwin Shaw would be classified as classic. By contemporary, I mean work published in the last few decades or so, but like all things, individuals differ when they use these classifications. As to whether they are ‘cool’ or not, that depends on who you’re talking to. In order to be truly ‘literary’ it’s necessary to have read the American classics.

I haven’t.

I noticed in Japan (like at Kinokuniya) the selection of English novels is limited to best sellers and this is a shame. However, you can buy any book you like online (e.g. at Book Depository, link above), so this shouldn’t be a barrier to getting your hands on novels which really interest you. The only barrier, perhaps, is knowing which ones to buy, since you can’t stand in a store and flip through. Amazon Books will let you ‘see inside’, however. I often use this function when it’s available.

In this country, and more so in New Zealand, books are prohibitively expensive so I buy all my books online. It’s cheaper to get them shipped from the UK or the USA. As a consequence, I don’t think people down here buy as many books as Japanese people.

I haven’t read Kazuo Ishiguro ( it’s a shame! ).
Is he popular in western society?
In Japan Haruki Murakami is very popular, but I think not many
people know Kazuo Ishiguro.
Thank you for mentioning his name. I will read some works of his.
I like Grass, too!


The only barrier, perhaps, is knowing which ones to buy
This is exactly why I wrote on this forum!
As you say, lot of Japanese seem to prefer to read Japanese novels
these days and to lose the interest in English contemporary literature.
So people like me have difficulty finding the information
about new novels.

Your suggestion on this forum helps me a lot to find some
of the contemporary writers to read.

Many thanks, both of you.

SanneT and Cherry6120,
I have read “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro. The story is told by Stevens, ageing butler of Darlington Hall in England. Stevens was played by Anthony Hopkins in a film that had the same title of the novel. I watched the film twice.