Ali Baba's Books: AliMcJ Recommends
FAQs re: reading
AliMcJ Recommends

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FAQ: People tell me to read to improve my vocabulary, but For reading for developing language fluency and/or vocabulary, for either ESL or native speakers, it is of utmost importance that this kind of reading be done at your own level and that it be done for fun. You should be able to sit in an easy chair, lie in bed, or lie on the beach and read with relative ease in order for you to develop your vocabulary. A good rule of thumb is that if you have to look up ten or more words on a page, it's too hard. It is also of utmost importance that you not stop to look words up (more about this later -- how to deal with unfamiliar vocabulary and the reading for learning process), but continue on reading -- you'll see that the words become clear through the book.

One thing I recommend a lot for improving vocabulary is the Perry Mason series, by Erle Stanley Gardner (any pre-dating the television show, written before 1960: the earlier, the better). One reason is that each novel follows a pattern of telling the same story three times, from three different points of view, so you get unfamiliar vocabulary repeated as well as learn synonyms for familiar vocabulary.

First, the story unfolds as the problem is introduced to the three main characters (always the same --detective, secretary, and private investigator); next, they interview the people involved in the crime and investigate; last, the whole case goes to court (with the same DA, Hamilton Burger, in each book) and the whole story is told again, the characters appear again.... All sections have a lot of dialogue, so they are fairly fast reading. Because they're older mystery novels, they use idiomatic English: a lot of the slang of that time is idiomatic now. Because they use a lot of dialogue, the ESL reader is exposed to natural spoken speech patterns and might develop a feel for the speech patterns of different regions and backgrounds.

They're pulp fiction, but accessible pulp fiction with use in developing language, vocabulary, and reading fluency.

Here are a few of Erle Stanley Gardner's mysteries to get a start on:

The Case of the Glamorous Ghost
The Case of the Shapely Shadow
The Case of the Restless Redhead
The Case of the Footloose Doll
The Case of the Mischievous Doll
The Case of the Lucky Legs


Science Fiction
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
The Body Snatchers
Zane Grey
Larry McMurty
Historical Fiction
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
The Harry Potter Books were really readable, but only for people very comfortable with English, as many words are made-up words. This is, however, a good exercise in training yourself to read on when confronted with a new word, as it will be explained later.

English as a Second Language, Grammar, and Writing
The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Paperback OOP
Betty Azar's Fundamentals of English Grammar, Full Text (448 pages)
Alice Oshima's Writing Academic English
The Elements of Style, Strunk & White (E.B. not T.H.)
Teaching Our Children to Read: The Role of Skills in a Comprehensive Program, Bill Honig

Roget's Thesaurus in Thematic Form and My Grammar Bible, William Smart's English Review Grammar.

A Course in Miracles, a life-saving stress buster!
C.G. Jung's Memories, Dreams, and Reflections
C.G. Jung's Psychology and Alchemy...., Bollingen Foundation
Manly P. Hall's books on metaphysics
Astrology, by Ronald C. Davison (OOP)
Ralph Mayer's Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques
George Bridgeman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life
Chiang Yee, Chinese Calligraphy: An Introduction to Its Aesthetic and Technique
The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron
Betty Edward's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
Betty Edward's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Workbook
Diners, John Baeder
Chinese Literature and Culture
The Dream of the Red Chamber, Florence and Isabel McHugh, transl.
The Dream of the Red Chamber***Bilingual 6 volume version***
The Dream of the Red Chamber Cao who who? 5 of 6 volumes done
R.L. Wing's I Ching
Chiang Yee, Chinese Calligraphy: An Introduction to Its Aesthetic and Technique
Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee Mysteries (Dee Goong An)

T.H. de Dillmont's Encyclopedia of Needlework

School Arts, The Absolutely The Art Education Magazine to have -- and make a lifelong commitment to.

Tender Comrades: A Back Story of the Hollywood Blacklist ( listing)

Books for teachers has its own page,

as does Books for Spanish Language and Literature

501 Spanish Verbs

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* * * * * * * odds'n'ends I'm still editing
Besides my King James Bible and my Complete Works of William Shakespeare, annotated, I would have a set of Anthony Burgess Books--(anything but A Clockwork Orange):
The Doctor is Ill,
You've Had Your Time (autobiography II),
Little Wilson and Big God (autobiography I),
The Long Day Wanes, A Malayan Trilogy
Earthly Powers
The Raj Quartet, by Paul Scott
The Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durrell
My Family and Other Animals, by Gerard Durrell
Nathaniel West's Los Angeles novels:
The Day of the Locust
Miss Lonelyhearts
Raymond Chandler's Books
The Long Day Wanes, A Malaylan Trilogy, Anthony Burgess


Elizabeth George:
In the Presence of the Enemy
Well-Schooled in Murder
Jan Willem van de Wettering
Georges Simenon
Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee Mysteries (Dee Goong An)
Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe mysteries:
Farewell, My Lovely
The Big Sleep
The Long Goodbye
The High Window
The Lady in the Lake
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles
Chester Himes Mysteries
The Big Gold Dream

© Alison McMahon Johnson 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 association with
Last updated 26 February 2003