If you’re learning the English language, reading is one of the best ways to learn new words and acclimatise yourself with English speech patterns. Some books are very difficult and might put you off, but simplicity does not necessarily mean a bad book. In fact, whether new or old, some classics are remarkably easy to read while still resonating deeply with the reader. Here are some brilliant books for ambitious beginners….
Hemingway is a master of clarity and simplicity of communication. He had a well documented spat with William Faulkner over the economy of his language versus Faulkner’s comparatively florid prose and richer vocabulary. Hemingway puts a good argument for not using a long word when a short word will do. The Old Man and the Sea is a modern parable of extraordinary beauty. It is quite short and a beautiful allegory about human strength in the face of adversity.
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is a different prospect, but similarly short and written in familiar (American) English. The character speaks colloquially, in the idioms of the time. It is a story about disaffection, and the difficulties of adolescence. Initially banned and enduringly controversial it is popular among young men in particular and while coming from a place of pain is a great work of literature as well as being eminently readable.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a modern novel by Mark Haddon, written from the perspective of a boy with a behavioural disorder in the autistic spectrum, and is surprisingly touching as well as endearing and funny. The voice of the narrator is that of a child, and is very simple, but it’s a cracking read.
While there are plenty of English authors, there are of course great books in translation. Sometimes translations lose a little in the process, but Samuel Beckett, the Irish play-write, would translate his work into French and back again to best express himself in simple terms. Waiting for Godot explores dark themes with great humour in plain English.
One really good novel in translation for intermediate readers in English is Albert Camus’ absurdist classic, The Outsider (L’Etranger). It tells the story of Meursault, an Algerian who shoots and Arab after hearing of his mother’s death. It contains some interesting philosophy within a compellingly bleak story, which somehow maintains a stoic optimism in the face of meaninglessness.
George Orwell’s Animal Farm is another modern fable that resembles a children’s story on the surface, but sub-textually explores the problems with and history of communism in Russia, all set on a farmyard. A short book and an easy read that has much insight to give.
Life of Pi is the Booker Prize winning novel by Canadian author Yann Martel. It tells the story about a boy called Pi and his experiences marooned on a small boat with a Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker. Through the journey it explores different world faiths and the similarities in them and contrasts the choice between rationality and faith. Deep themes exist comfortably beside a sweet and inspiring story, and it’s a great read besides.
Lord of the Flies is William Golding’s classic novel exploring the dark side of the human condition through the trials of a class of children stuck on a desert island after a plane crash, and the violent behaviour that follows them being left to their own devices. Golding’s first novel is a staple for classrooms, and is read by many. Like Ernest Hemingway, William Golding was a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and has demonstrated that accessible work can exist beside great profundity.
If you’re interested in learning English, check out this awesome English School infographic from Kaplan International.
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