When you want to read a book in English, it can be hard to know where to start.
There are millions of books for you to choose from!
Which books should you try reading?
Why not start with the same books native English speakers are reading?
You might think that best sellers (popular books) are too difficult for an English learner to read. But actually, popular books are perfect for learning English, since they’re often written in simple English.
To become really popular, books have to appeal to many people. This means they need to be interesting and easy to understand.
The benefit of reading best sellers is that you’re reading the same books actual English speakers read.
You can learn a lot of vocabulary from them, and more importantly, you can learn more about the culture of native speakers.
You’ll also be able to discuss current books and popular authors with other readers (even native speakers), since best sellers are read by many people.
All of this means that best sellers can teach you a lot, and that you can definitely read them!
Before you pick a book, though, you should pick a genre.
What’s a Genre?
A genre is a category of book, or a specific kind of writing. There are many genres, and you probably know some of them already. Some examples of genre include horror, mystery, science fiction, fantasy…you get the point!
What kind of books do you like to read? Decide on a genre before you decide on a book. Otherwise, you might end up trying to read a book you aren’t that interested in.
You might love historical fiction but dislike sci-fi (that’s science fiction for short!). Or you might hate romance but love a good adventure story.
Learn what books you like, and you’ll get more enjoyment out of the books you study from!
22 of the Best Popular Books You Can Use to Learn English
Thriller and Suspense
A thriller is the kind of book that makes your heart pound fast. Many thrillers are “page-turners.” They make you want to keep reading and turning the pages to find out what happens next.
Suspense books are a lot like thrillers, and may be even more exciting or scary. They’re the kind of books you don’t want to read alone at night.
These two are often considered almost the same genre, because they’re so similar. You’ll like them if you’re interested in crime dramas, murder mysteries or just a good fast-paced novel.
Thrillers and suspense novels use a lot of action words and usually have lots of realistic dialogue. So if you’re looking for a fun way to learn exciting new words and phrases, these books are the perfect place to do that.
1. “Leaving Time” by Jodi Picoult
What this book is about: A woman searches for her mother, who disappeared after a terrible accident. She gets some help from a psychic and a detective. Together, they find out that sometimes asking questions gets them answers they didn’t want to know…
The English in this book: This book might be a little difficult, since it’s not a typical thriller. It’s focused more on how people think than on their actions. More advanced readers will enjoy this one.
2. “1st to Die” by James Patterson
What this book is about: Four women join together to catch a killer who’s murdering people in terrible ways. This is the first in a series, so if you like this one, you can continue reading about this team of women.
The English in this book: Patterson’s writing is fairly easy to understand, and has tons of great action words to learn.
3. “Three” by Ted Dekker
What this book is about: Imagine that you’re driving your car when a phone rings. The person on the line says you have three minutes to confess your sin to the world, or your car will explode. What do you do? In this book, Kevin Parson is chased by a killer for something he’s not sure he did. Follow the thrilling ride.
The English in this book: The writing in this book is about as easy as Patterson’s writing, but the story might be a little more difficult to follow.
4. “Mr. Mercedes” by Stephen King
What this book is about: This book is the first in a trilogy, or a set of three books. In it, a retired cop tries to stop a man from killing thousands of people. Will he be able to stop the terrible event in time?
The English in this book: Stephen King is one of the best-known authors in the horror (scary story) genre today. His language is a little more advanced, and his characters are very realistic, which makes this a good book for seeing how people talk.
5. “Silent Scream” by Angela Marsons
What this book is about: Someone is killing children. Detective Kim Stone is about to find out that they’ve been killing for a much longer time than anyone realized. But will Stone be able to stop the murderer before they strike again?
The English in this book: This book is a little more advanced in its writing style, but it should still be readable for high-intermediate level learners. Marsons is a British author, so some of the language and dialogue are specific to Britain (like calling people “guv”). This is a great book for learning “Britishisms”—ways of speaking that are specific to the UK.
Romance books explore relationships, finding Mr. Right (a perfect boyfriend or husband for someone) or characters dealing with love or sex. Some romance novels have sexual content and themes. Others, often called “chick lit,” have a lighter tone, and are more about interactions between people. Romance novels are usually written for women, but anyone can enjoy a well-written story about relationships.
Some of the language in romance books can get “steamy,” or sexual in nature. But romance novels are also fantastic at describing what people look like, feel like or act like. Many of the books show ways that women might talk to men, for example, or ways men might talk to women. You might even get some ideas for how to flirt in English.
6. “Until the End of Time” by Danielle Steel
What this book is about: Does love last forever? The couples in this story believe so. This is a story about love that even death can’t destroy.
The English in this book: The writing in this book is a little verbose (it uses a lot of words), but the language is simple enough for an intermediate learner to follow.
7. “One for the Money” by Janet Evanovich
What this book is about: Stephanie Plum needs money, and she needs it fast. So she turns to hunting down people who should be in jail, starting with a guy she has a history with.
The English in this book: Fast-paced and easy to follow, this is a great book for intermediate readers. The book is written from the point of view of the main character, and it uses a very conversational tone. It’s written the way Stephanie Plum would actually speak. Perfect for learning how native English speakers talk!
8. “I’ve Got Your Number” by Sophie Kinsella
What this book is about: A woman preparing for her wedding loses her cell phone. No problem! She decides to just use the cell phone she found in the trash at her hotel. So what if the man the phone belongs to doesn’t think that’s a good idea?
The English in this book: This is another great book to learn how people talk, since it’s written in the first-person point of view. In other words, it’s written as if the main character is speaking or thinking. It’s a fun read that isn’t too difficult to follow.
9. “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James
What this book is about: When Ana Steele goes for an interview, she is fascinated by the handsome and smart Christian Grey. The two begin a very physical relationship that’s all about control. This book is full of unconventional (less common) sexual material, and is for mature (adult) audiences only!
The English in this book: The language in this book uses plenty of colorful words to describe even the smallest moments. It’s a great place to learn many new words, especially adjectives (words that describe).
10. “Sincerely, Carter” by Whitney Gracia Williams
What this book is about: What happens when you fall in love with your best friend? Watch a relationship slowly go from close friendship to romance.
The English in this book: This is a fun, simple book that uses realistic conversations and moments. It’s told from a man’s point of view, making it different from many other romance novels.
Sometimes a good fantasy book lets you explore magical lands. Other times, it brings otherwordly (not from this world) creatures into our own ordinary world. Whichever fantasy you prefer, this genre takes you away from the real world.
Fantasy books often have interesting descriptions and characters, which makes them great for learning synonyms (words that mean the same thing as others) and common words to describe a person. Since fantasy doesn’t have to follow the laws of reality, anything can happen in these books!
11. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling
What this book is about: Young Harry Potter lives a sad life in a tiny closet under a staircase. One day, he gets an invitation to Hogwarts, a school where kids learn magic. His life changes forever.
The English in this book: “Harry Potter” is written for young adults, so the writing is very simple but still full of life. It’s also a British book, so if you’re learning British English, you can find some UK-specific writing here.
12. “The Girl with All the Gifts” by M. R. Carey
What this book is about: A young girl has special gifts, but they don’t make her happy. Instead, she’s researched and treated like a lab animal (who might turn on her protectors at any moment…).
The English in this book: This book is different because it’s written in the present tense—everything is happening now. Since it’s also told from the point of view of a young girl, the writing is very simple, so you can focus on the strange story.
13. “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman
What this book is about: One day, a boy discovers that the family that lives down the lane is a bit…strange. This doesn’t stop him from becoming friends with the family’s little girl, and starting a strange and magical journey.
The English in this book: Gaiman is a master storyteller. This book goes from simple to difficult, making it more fitting for an advanced reader.
Often shortened to “sci-fi,” science fiction is a kind of fantasy that has to do with technology, science or outer space. A lot of the time, the books are based on real science, but aren’t actually about real things that happened. One of the most famous examples of science fiction is “Star Wars.” So if you’re a fan of the movies, you might like these sci-fi books.
Science fiction books can teach more than just simple English—they can teach science and technology terms. Even if the way science and tech is used in the books is not real, many of the words and terms are real. You can learn words about outer space, words that you would hear in a science laboratory and much more.
14. “The Martian” by Andy Weir
What this book is about: An astronaut becomes the first man to walk on the planet Mars, but then things go horribly wrong. Presumed (thought to be) dead and completely cut off from the rest of the universe, the astronaut has to use his skills and intelligence to find a way back home.
The English in this book: This book is full of space words and terms! There is very little dialogue since the main character is alone on Mars, but you can learn a lot of words about Mars, astronauts and other space topics.
15. “The Atlantis Gene” by A.G. Riddle
What this book is about: Scientists uncover a secret that’s been around since the beginning of humanity. Now it’s up to two people to keep this secret from an organization that will stop at nothing to get it (even killing nearly the entire human race).
The English in this book: “The Atlantis Gene” is like a sci-fi thriller. It has lots of action words, with some science terms. This combination makes it a little more difficult to read, and great for more advanced learners.
16. “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card
What this book is about: The universe is at war and children are taken into the military when they’re young. Except for one extraordinarily smart little boy. This boy is left behind, but he might just be what the world needs to survive.
The English in this book: Even though “Ender’s Game” is about a young boy, the language can be a little tough at times. This book is about leadership and being accepted by society, but it’s also a book about government and military. There is plenty of vocabulary to be found for all those topics.
Mystery novels are also called “who-dun-its” because they have you trying to figure out who committed a crime. Many mysteries are also thrillers—but a lot of times the mystery books have a slower speed, and focus on the, well…mystery part of things.
It’s fun to read a mystery novel and try to guess who the criminal is before the book’s detective does it. Since many of the characters in these books lie, if the author is good, you can learn how to recognize that someone is acting suspicious (guilty) from their body language and the way they talk.
17. “Evil Under the Sun” by Agatha Christie
What this book is about: Agatha Christie’s books are older than many of the other books in this list, but they’re some of the best examples of classic mystery books. In this one, the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot investigates the death of a woman during a holiday. It seems trouble just follows Poirot wherever he goes!
The English in this book: Since this is an older book, some language is old and hard to read. The way people speak in the book might not be how people speak in real life anymore, either. If you’re interested in beautiful, less-known words like picturesque (beautiful, like a picture) or protuberance (something that sticks out from something else), you’ll find them here!
18. “Nine Lives to Die” by Rita Mae Brown
What this book is about: A small town in Virginia is having some trouble with suspicious deaths and bloody fingers. Who is causing all this trouble? In this mystery, the animals have their own opinions about the case!
The English in this book: This is a “cozy” mystery, a simply-written story about a small, sleepy town. The characters are listed in the beginning, so you won’t have trouble keeping up with them. Simple language and realistic dialogue (even among the animals!) makes this a great one for learning about how natives speak.
19. “The Cinderella Murder” by Mary Higgins Clark
What this book is about: This series is about a TV show that looks at old, unsolved cases. In this book’s episode, the TV show looks at a woman who was found dead and missing a shoe…just like in the fairy tale of Cinderella.
The English in this book: The writing in this book is a bit more advanced, but it’s fast-paced and easy to follow.
It’s hard to recommend non-fiction books (books about things that are real or really happened), because what you like depends on your interests! There are many interesting non-fiction books, and you’ll need to explore until you find a topic you find interesting.
You can learn anything you want from non-fiction books. If you’re interested in food, fashion or horses (or anything!), you can learn terms and words relating to those subjects from a book.
Here are a few good places to start.
20. “Stiff” by Mary Roach
What this book is about: What happens to our bodies after we die? If you’ve left your body to science, you can end up anywhere from a “body farm” to a beauty stylist college.
The English in this book: Mary Roach writes in a very conversational, friendly way, and explains anything scientific as if she was talking to a friend. Here you’ll find scientific and more common words about life and death.
21. “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough
What this book is about: Learn the story about the two brothers who built the very first airplane in this bestselling biography (a story about someone’s life).
The English in this book: This biography is more advanced, written beautifully but using lots of difficult language. There are words about history and growing up, and lots of description of both things and people. This book is full of great vocabulary words!
22. “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell
What this book is about: What makes a person successful? You might think it’s all about intelligence and personality, but Malcolm Gladwell writes about how important your environment (the things and people around you) is to how successful you become.
The English in this book: “Outliers” is a great book for more advanced English learners who are interested in learning words and phrases about psychology and how people work.
There are even more genres that we haven’t explored in this article—you can find a book about anything!
Curl up with a good book and a drink—and enjoy learning!
And One More Thing…
If you like learning English through great books, then I’ve got to tell you about FluentU. FluentU lets you learn real English the fun way. It teaches you with cartoons, funny YouTube videos, movie trailers and more:
FluentU makes it simple to watch native English videos. It has interactive captions. Tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
Tap on the word “brought,” and you would see this:
Videos become English lessons. With FluentU’s questions, you can always see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The most interesting part? FluentU knows the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends examples and videos based on those words. You have a 100% personalized experience.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.