10 Classic Novels You Should Be Reading in English

Reading classic literature is a fun, effective way of improving your English comprehension. If you are preparing to take an English proficiency exam, reading books in English is a great way to practice before test day. Although it may seem difficult to read English-language books while your skills are still developing, you’ll often find that you understand more than you thought you would. The more you read in English, the stronger your vocabulary will become. Not only will you be proud of how much you are able to understand, but you will also be experiencing the wonders of the classic stories we all know and love.

We’ve taken a look at some of the most influential classic English novels and put together a list of what books we think you should be reading to keep up your comprehension and reading skills.


classic novels
How many of these classic novels are you familiar with?


1. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

This book is a great for those still learning English because the narration is clear and uses simple, direct English. Not only does this novel have an interesting story, but it also gives you a snapshot into what life was like during The Great Depression in 1937. The book is also quite short at only 30,000 words (a typical novel is around 80,000).

A handy tip: It helps to read the dialogue out loud because it is written in dialect, which means it is meant to sound like an accent that is particular to a specific region.


2. Animal Farm – George Orwell

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is an easy to read allegory for Communist Russia. The writing style is accessible because it was written quite recently, so the language is more familiar to modern audiences. George Orwell was also known for his use of clarity in his writing, in which he never liked to use a long word in a situation where a short word would work just as well.

A handy tip: An allegory is story, picture, or poem that can be interpreted as having a hidden moral or political meaning. Understanding the literary techniques the author uses can be helpful to your overall interpretation of the story.


3. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic tale that has been reference and parodied many times in popular culture, which just goes to show how relevant it still is to readers today. The novel can be a bit tricky at times because of the witty language and the lavish descriptions, but it is definitely a rewarding read when you make it to the end.

A handy tip: Underline and look up the words you don’t understand and keep a note of what they mean. The more you look a word up, the faster you will learn it and the easier the novel will become.


Oscar Wilde Novel
Oscar Wilde was not only an author, but was somewhat of a rebellious celebrity in his day.


4. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe’s critically acclaimed book is less than 200 pages long and is highly recommended for anyone who is interested in reading a modern novel that is viewed with the same esteem as the writings of Oscar Wilde. Throughout the book, Achebe uses short, blunt sentences which make the story easy to follow.

A handy tip: Try to read as regularly as possible. If the book feels difficult, take it slowly and learn from the parts you don’t understand rather than skipping over them or getting frustrated.


6. The Sun Also Rises ­– Ernest Hemmingway

Hemmingway is probably one of the most famous American writers studied in English-speaking schools. The book is short and Hemmingway favors a clear, direct narrative style, which is easy to understand as a non-native speaker.

A handy tip: Try to focus on not just the words on the page, but also the overall message the story is trying to get across. This way, both your comprehension and interpretation skills grow.


7. Lord of the Flies –­ William Golding

Because the book is directed towards a slightly younger audience, the vocabulary is easier than some of the other books on this list. At points, the language can be a bit dramatic and descriptive, but never to an incomprehensible level.

A handy tip: Try getting a few of your friends from class to read the book as well. That way you can discuss which parts of the book were difficult and what you enjoyed most about the text.


8. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

Most people are familiar with the Hollywood adaptation of this novel, Apocalypse Now. But, in many ways, the book is much more fulfilling and meaningful than the movie. At only 116 pages, this writing can be dense at times, but it is gripping all the way until the last sentence. You’ll be proud of yourself and eager to brag to your friends about this one.

A handy tip: After finishing the book, watch the movie and see the words come to life. You might find that you had a similar vision to how the movie interpreted the book.


9. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Because the story is told from the perspective of an 8-year-old girl, the language is uncomplicated and the narration is full of humor and wonder. This book won the Pulitizer Prize in 1961 and has been a favorite for people all over the world for over 50 years.

A handy tip: Listen to an audio book while reading the text. This way, you can hear what unfamiliar words sound like.



10. The Hound of Baskerville – Arthur Conan Doyle

Because the Sherlock Holmes books were so popular in their time, Doyle ensured to write them for a larger audience, meaning that the language is simplified so more readers could understand it. To this day, Sherlock Holmes is still one of the most popular fictional characters.

A handy tip: Reading a book is a great way to make small talk in English. When you see your classmates, you can tell them ‘I am reading The Hound of Baskerville.” If they are reading it too, this can be a great conversation to have in English!


Are you practicing your reading comprehension skills for an English exam? Why not look into how you can improve your English and test taking skills with one of our Exam Preparation courses. Or maybe you are looking to travel and want to increase your English during your trip (while also enjoying a couple of these fantastic books), and would benefit from one of our vacation English programs. For more information on Kaplan's English courses, contact one of our student advisors.

Let us know some of your favorite English books in the comments!

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