Reading books in the original language is a fantastic way to expand your vocab and improve your language skills. And the best part is that you get to enjoy yourself while doing it. We’ve gathered up a bunch of English books for different levels that’ll help you master the language. And don’t worry, you won’t find the usual old Gatsby or boring stuff here—we’ve got some unique and rarely mentioned works in English.
Books for the Elementary level (A2)
It’s never too early to start reading books in the original language. Even if you can only speak about simple topics for now, you can already try to read easy novels and novellas with a little help from a dictionary.
A detective novel by British writer Mark Haddon.
Plot: One morning, a teenager named Christopher, who’s got autism, finds a dead dog in his backyard. That dog was his neighbors’, and despite his dad’s protests, Christopher decides to take on the investigation to find out who did the cruel deed. So, it’s all about his detective journey and the unexpected discoveries he makes along the way.
English in the book: What’s cool about this book is that it’s written for teenagers, so the language is pretty simple. Plus, there are loads of pictures, graphs, and schemes to help you out if something’s not crystal clear. Oh, and Haddon’s style is just amazing: one moment you’ll be laughing, and the next you’ll be crying. It’s quite a ride!
Here is a quote from the book:
“People think that alien spaceships would be solid and made of metal and have lights all over them and move slowly through the sky because that is how we would build a spaceship if we were able to build one that big. But aliens, if they exist, would probably be very different from us. They might look like big slugs, or be flat like reflections. Or they might be bigger than planets. Or they might not have bodies at all. They might just be information, like in a computer. And their spaceships might look like clouds, or be made up of unconnected objects like dust or leaves.”
Other adaptations: The book was adapted into a play at the National Theatre in London.
2. “Nine Lives to Die” (2014)
It’s part of the series about Mrs. Murphy, written by the one and only Rita Mae Brown.
Plot: It’s winter in Virginia, and the small town of Crozet is getting ready for the annual gala concert of the Silver Linings charity organization. But the festive atmosphere won’t last long because two mentors from the foundation are found dead. Mystery. The circumstances of their deaths are mysterious and somehow connected to events from 25 years ago. The main character, Harry, and her trusty helpers – the cat Mrs. Murphy, the kitten Pewter, and the corgi Tee Tucker (Yep, that’s right!) – take on the case to solve the puzzle.
English in the book: Now, the English in the book is what they call “cozy detective” genre, where the main characters are animals. So, even if you’re new to the language, Rita Mae Brown’s writing will be easy to follow. Plus, she lists the main characters at the beginning of the book, so you won’t have trouble remembering all their names. It’s a great way to get a taste of how natives speak through the simple dialogues between the cats and the corgi.
“Jessica dutifully investigated the contents: one Case pocket knife, a folded cotton handkerchief, twenty-two dollars in small bills, one dog cookie.
Harry pointed out the cookie. “Never know when I might get hungry.”
The ladies laughed again as Alicia walked to the large triple-sash windows. “Girls, we’re in for it.”
Other adaptations: There’s an audiobook version available on audible.com too.
3. “Holes” (1998)
It’s the first book from the series of the same name by American writer Louis Sachar.
Plot: Stanley Yelnats has got a family curse that goes way back. It all started with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather, and the curse has stuck with the family ever since. Because of that curse, Stanley ends up being unjustly accused of a crime and is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention center in the middle of nowhere. But there’s no lake, and not much green either. As Stanley spends time at the camp, he begins to realize that there’s more to it—it seems the camp’s warden is looking for something. And Stanley decides to find out what’s really going on.
English in the book: It is quite simple, with short and clear sentences, so even if your English is not that strong, you’ll be able to follow the story with ease. The only challenge might be the book’s structure—the author tells the story in different time periods. But hey, if you’re a Nolan fan, that won’t be a problem for you.
“But don’t forget who you really are. And I’m not talking about your so-called real name. All names are made up by someone else, even the one your parents gave you. You know who you really are. When you’re alone at night, looking up at the stars, or maybe lying in your bed in total darkness, you know that nameless person inside you…Your muscles will toughen. So will your heart and soul. That’s necessary for survival. But don’t lose touch with that person deep inside you, or else you won’t really have survived at all.”
Other adaptations: “Holes” was made into a film in 2003, with Sigourney Weaver and a young Shia LaBeouf in the lead roles. So, what else do you need to give this book a shot and watch the movie? Just do it!
4. “Wonder” (2012)
Here’s a novel by R.J. Palacio.
Plot: August Pullman doesn’t have a regular face like everyone else’s. You see, he has Treacher Collins syndrome, a condition that deforms his eyes, nose, mouth, and jaw due to a DNA mutation. Because of this condition, August has been homeschooled all his life. But now, he’s about to “see the world” and attend a regular school with regular classes. Sadly, regular bullies are there too. Even though August tries not to draw attention to himself, a group of tormentors notices his differences and starts bullying him. The book tells the story of a year in his life and the challenges he faces for being different.
English in the book: Simple and easy to understand, geared towards younger and middle-grade readers. But don’t think it’s just a kids’ book—it deals with issues and problems relevant to all ages.
“It’s like people you see sometimes, and you can’t imagine what it would be like to be that person, whether it’s somebody in a wheelchair or somebody who can’t talk. Only, I know that I’m that person to other people, maybe to every single person in that whole auditorium.
To me, though, I’m just me. An ordinary kid.”
Other adaptations: “Wonder” was made into a film in 2017, starring Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts, and Jacob Tremblay. The director was Stephen Chbosky.
5. “Timbuktu” (1999)
This novella is by American writer Paul Auster.
Plot: Mr. Bones is almost an ordinary dog. “Almost” because, unlike other dogs, Mr. Bones can understand English and tells the story in his head. He lives on the streets of Brooklyn with his human, Willy. However, Willy doesn’t have much time left to live—his tough life as a homeless man has given him a severe cough that’s getting worse every day. Willy decides to do one last good thing in the world and sets out on a journey to find a new home for Mr. Bones. The loyal dog tells about their final adventure from his canine perspective.
English in the book: Dogs aren’t known for following Immanuel Kant or Arthur Schopenhauer, so their language is usually pretty simple with short sentences and understandable constructions. The only thing you should be prepared for is the possibility of crying after reading this book.
“That’s all I’ve ever dreamed of, Mr. Bones. To make the world a better place. To bring some beauty to the drab, humdrum corners of the soul. You can do it with a toaster, you can do it with a poem, you can do it by reaching out your hand to a stranger. It doesn’t matter what form it takes. To leave the world a little better than you found it. That’s the best a man can ever do.”
Other adaptations: “Timbuktu” has an audiobook version available on Audible.com.
Books for the Intermediate level (B1–B2)
For students with a decent grasp of the language, there are loads of original books to explore, but let’s leave those complex manifestos and encyclopedias for later, okay? Instead, you can dive into works that high schoolers in English-speaking countries read during their senior years.
1. “The perks of being a wallflower” (1999)
This bestseller by Stephen Chbosky is a must-read.
Plot: The book tells the story of Charlie, a 15-year-old introverted teenager, who is going through depression. At school, he becomes friends with older kids Sam and Patrick, and together with their group, he experiences the world of alcohol, first sexual contact, and drugs. “The perks of being a wallflower” is like our contemporary version of “The Catcher in the Rye,” skillfully describing the emotional struggles of teenagers and the problems that come with growing up.
English in the book: Chbosky’s writing is light and captivating from the get-go. You’ll come across some cool idioms and slang that intermediate students would totally like.
“I remembered this one time that I never told anybody about. The time we were walking. Just the three of us. I was in the middle. I don’t remember where we were walking to or where we were walking from. I just remember the season. I just remember walking between them and feeling for the first time that I belonged somewhere.”
Other adaptations: In 2012, a movie with the same name was released, starring Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and Ezra Miller in the lead roles. The film was also directed by Stephen Chbosky and achieved worldwide success.
2. “The Book Thief” (2005)
This novel by Markus Zusak will blow your mind.
Plot: Get this – Death is the narrator! The story revolves around nine-year-old Liesel during World War II. She’s forced to leave her family and live with foster parents. During her brother’s funeral, she steals her first book. Death then shares the horrors of war she goes through . Amidst all the pain, Liesel finds new pals, exciting discoveries, and stolen books that become her ultimate inspiration and support.
English in the book: Although it’s about a nine-year-old, don’t think it’s just a kids’ story. Zusak’s Death doesn’t hold back on describing the war nightmares, fear-filled atmosphere, and all that intense stuff. Oh, and heads up, it’s a hefty read – almost 600 pages! But if you’re rockin’ that intermediate level, you’ll breeze through it.
“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”
Other adaptations: In 2013, a movie with the same name was released, starring Jeffrey Rush and Emily Watson.
3. “The Giver” (1993)
It’s the first book in a cool dystopian series by Lois Lowry.
Plot: Jonas, a twelve-year-old, lives in an isolated Community with strict rules. Everyone has a role, and going against the system is a no-no. But Jonas is not an ordinary boy; he gets a top job as the Receiver of Memory. The previous receiver teaches him all about human emotions – love, friendship, grief, you name it. Jonas decides that living in a bland Community with no colors sucks, and he sets out to find a place where life is vibrant.
English in the book: Lowry’s work is geared towards older high school students, but it’s not just for them – adults can dig it too. It’s got some complex stuff and philosophical terms, making it great for those with intermediate English looking to pump up their vocabulary.
“I liked the feeling of love,’ [Jonas] confessed. He glanced nervously at the speaker on the wall, reassuring himself that no one was listening. ‘I wish we still had that,’ he whispered. ‘Of course,’ he added quickly, ‘I do understand that it wouldn’t work very well. And that it’s much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live.
…’Still,’ he said slowly, almost to himself, ‘I did like the light they made. And the warmth.”
Other adaptations: “The Giver” got the movie treatment in 2014. Cool actors like Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, and Katie Holmes rocked the film.
4. “The Girl with All the Gifts” (2014)
It’s a sci-fi novel by Mike Carey.
Plot: Twenty years ago, a deadly virus struck humanity. This virus turned people into extremely carnivorous beings, and they started attacking others. But this is not just your typical zombie horror story. The main protagonist is actually a zombie. A small group of humans who managed to survive is working on developing a vaccine by studying the infected “second wave” children who contracted the virus while in their mothers’ wombs. Among the test subjects, there’s a girl named Melanie who exhibits special abilities and curiosity. Unaware of her infection, Melanie’s unique talents lead the scientists to believe that a viable vaccine is within reach. Little do they know that the survival of humanity now hinges on something beyond the vaccine.
English in the book: In this work, there are hardly any complex tense constructions—the narration is in Present Simple. However, the book is filled with medical terms and modern idioms, making the novel useful for expanding vocabulary at the Intermediate level and beyond.
“Denial is a stage she goes through very quickly indeed, because her reason strikes down the demeaning, treacherous thought as quickly as it rises. There’s no point in denying the truth when the truth is self-evident. There’s no point in denying the truth even if you have to wade through thorn thickets and minefields to get to it. The truth is the truth, the only prize worth having. If you deny it, you’re only showing that you’re unworthy of it.”
Other adaptations: In 2016, a movie with the same name was released. It was positively received by critics and won several awards and nominations.
5. “About a Boy” (1998)
A novella by British writer Nick Hornby.
Plot: Will is a 36-year-old, unmarried, who has never worked a single day in his life, living comfortably off his father’s capital. Slightly tired of parties, he comes up with a creative way to meet women: at single mother’s support group meetings. At one such gathering, he meets Fiona, and they develop some sort of relationship, introducing Will to her teenage son Marcus. Suddenly, the little child and the big child become friends. The unexpected alliance leads to a reevaluation of values and life changes in the fates of all the characters. For fans of melodrama, this book will definitely be a hit.
English in the book: Hornby’s language is lively and contemporary. Sentences are filled with slang and colloquial expressions, and the writer loves to mention names and phenomena of pop culture—music and film industries, brands, and TV programs. For example, in this book, Nirvana plays a huge role, even the title references their song “About a Boy” from their first album.
“He loved Nirvana, but at his age they were kind of a guilty pleasure. All that rage and pain and self-hatred! Will got a bit…fed up sometimes, but he couldn’t pretend it was anything stronger than that. So now he used loud angry rock music as a replacement for real feelings, rather than as an expression of them, and he didn’t even mind very much. What good were real feelings anyway?”
Other adaptations: In 2002, a movie with the same name was released, starring Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult. Despite receiving positive reviews from critics, many note that the movie and the novella are quite different.
Books for the Advanced level (C1–C2)
With an Advanced level of English or higher, you are no longer limited in your choice of “what to read in English.” So we offer a few books in their original language that definitely deserve attention for various reasons.
1. “American Gods” (2011)
A novel by Neil Gaiman.
Plot: Shadow Moon is released from prison early and rushes home to his wife, only to discover that she died in a car accident a few days before his release. To make matters worse, his best friend was involved in a love affair with her. Heartbroken and burdened with grief and betrayal, Shadow meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday and reluctantly agrees to become his bodyguard. He soon realizes that his new employer is actually the embodiment of the Scandinavian god Odin, and in the United States, a diaspora of gods from different pantheons and myths coexists. Mr. Wednesday is obsessed with the idea of rallying them all to rise against the gods of the new era: Mr. World, the god of globalization, the Technical Boy, the goddess Media, and other embodiments of modern technologies.
English in the book: Neil Gaiman’s English is not the most complex in the world, but all his works are filled with abundant details. Additionally, he enjoys making references to gothic novels, myths, and fairy tales, which makes his writing diverse and slightly challenging for students at the lower language levels.
“We do not always remember the things that do no credit to us. We justify them, cover them in bright lies or with the thick dust of forgetfulness. All of the things that Shadow had done in his life of which he was not proud, all the things he wished he had done otherwise or left undone, came at him then in a swirling storm of guilt and regret and shame, and he had nowhere to hide from them. He was as naked and as open as a corpse on a table, and dark Anubis the jackal god was his prosecutor and his prosecutor and his persecutor.”
Other adaptations: In 2017, a TV series based on the novel was released, with the second season following in 2019.
2. “Cat’s Cradle” (1963)
A dystopian novel by Kurt Vonnegut.
Plot: A writer sets out to create a story about the day America dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He believes the best source of information would be one of the fathers of the bomb, Hoenikker. However, Hoenikker passed away long ago, and the writer must now gather information from his colleagues, children, and friends. Hoenikker’s eldest son responds to the writer’s request, and the writer finds out that the son is residing on a distant island in the Caribbean Sea, where people live in abject poverty and their only entertainment is a religion invented by a traveler called Bokononism. As the writer travels to the island and meets Hoenikker’s children, he forgets about the atomic bomb because he learns that Hoenikker developed an even more dangerous weapon, Ice-Nine. Just one drop of this substance could obliterate all life on Earth, and its access is restricted to the island’s dictators.
English in the book: Kurt Vonnegut’s style of satire is quite easy to comprehend, but his works abound in jokes and allegories, which will be understood only by students with a higher level of English. Moreover, Vonnegut is a philosopher and not particularly fond of linear narration, which adds challenges to the reading. However, his dark humor and short sentences save the day, and readers with intermediate and higher English proficiency will undoubtedly enjoy the book.
“We don’t make bicycles anymore. It’s all human relations now. The eggheads sit around trying to figure out new ways for everyone to be happy. Nobody can get fired, no matter what; and if somebody does accidentally make a bicycle, the union accuses us of cruel and inhuman practices and the government confiscates the bicycle for back taxes and gives it to a blind man in Afghanistan.”
Other adaptations: In 2008, a musical adaptation of the novel premiered in New York City, and in 2010, a classic theatrical production of the novel was staged in Washington.
3. “Dune” (1965)
A novel by American writer Frank Herbert.
Plot: Chronicles of the distant future. The most valuable planet in the Universe is Arrakis, as it’s the sole source of the spice. Without the spice, there would be no trade, interplanetary travel, or civilization. Whoever controls Arrakis and its capital, Dune, controls the world. At a crucial moment, control of the planet shifts from the Harkonnen House monopoly to their longtime rivals, House Atreides. Resources are depleted, and the new rulers promise to restore the balance and make Dune great again. However, the former owners are not pleased with losing their gravy train, so they plan and execute a military coup, regaining control of Dune. The revolutionaries, however, overlooked the heir of the Atreides, Paul, a boy with superhuman abilities acquired through a genetic experiment. Now, the fate of Arrakis and the world rests solely on him.
English in the book: Herbert’s English is moderately complex and not overly layered. However, the uniqueness of the book lies in the way the author mixed modern (for 1965) English with invented words borrowed from Arabic, Russian, Hebrew, and other languages. This may be a bit confusing for people with weaker English, but it won’t be an obstacle for more advanced students.
“Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never consistent. It depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind. The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man.”
Other adaptations: The novel has been frequently hailed as the best work in the science fiction genre and has inspired numerous people, including directors, screenwriters, and game designers. There are quite a few adaptations of the book, including a 1984 film directed by David Lynch. Additionally, several games are based on this universe, such as “Dune” (1992) developed by Cryo Interactive and “Dune 2000” by Intelligent Games, released in 1998. Moreover, there is a movie based on the book featuring Timothy Chalamet in the lead role.
4. “Silent Scream” (2015)
A thriller novel by British writer Angela Marsons.
Plot: Rumor has it that a very valuable ancient treasure is buried on the premises of a burned-down house near Birmingham. Archaeologists are eager to excavate, but the city authorities won’t grant permission for the work. Then, former staff members of a children’s home start dying one after another. Police inspector Kim Stone decides to investigate this strange case at her own risk and discovers that the institution’s grounds hold a terrible secret that someone tried to bury in flames but couldn’t. Now, this secret continues to kill everyone involved in the past.
English in the book: Marsons’ style is quite advanced and elaborate but still understandable for students with an Upper-Intermediate level and above. As the author is British, the book contains a fair amount of British slang and expressions, so if you aim to speak more like a cockney than a redneck, this work is a must-read.
“Despite Bryant’s warning, she had never possessed the ability to adapt her behaviour to accommodate other people. Even as a child Kim had been unable to assimilate herself into any kind of collective. She possessed no ability to hide her feelings, her innate reactions having a habit of claiming her face before she had a chance to control it.”
Other adaptations: The novel is available as an audiobook on audible.com.
5. “The Summer Without Men” (2011)
A novella by American writer Siri Hustvedt.
Plot: Mia Fredrickson is a poet who has been happily married for 30 years. However, one day, out of the blue, her husband asks for a “pause” in their relationship. Mia is so shaken by this request that she even checks herself into a psychiatric clinic. After several months of therapy, the main character leaves the hospital rooms and medical offices behind and heads into the heart of American nowhere, surrounded only by prairies. Mia will have to reconsider many things in her life and come to a new sense of self – confident and self-sufficient.
English in the book: Siri Hustvedt holds a doctorate in linguistics, so it’s not hard to guess that you shouldn’t expect primitive sentences. Be prepared for a beautiful style – the author is also a poet – unusual connections, and a lot of humor. And provocations. In a good sense of the word.
“We all start out the same in our mothers’ wombs. We, all of us, when floating in the amniotic sea of our earliest oblivion, have gonads. If the Y chromosome didn’t swoop in to act on the gonads of some of us and make testes, we would all become women. In biology, the Genesis story is reversed: Adam becomes Adam out of Eve, not the other way around.”
Remember, reading in English is not just about comprehension, but also about embracing the beauty of language, the art of storytelling, and the endless possibilities it opens up for connecting with diverse cultures and perspectives. So, dive in and enjoy your literary adventure!