Literature should be an integrated part in ESOL language classroom, particularly in advanced and proficiency levels. It is not strange that Cambridge ESOL, one of the oldest and globally accepted institution, have a writing task based on books in CAE and CPE exams .
Therefore, I felt the need to make a list of books most of which I have read myself while the rest are suggestions from my students over the years. I find them quite stimulating and thought-provoking besides immensely helpful for foreign learners of English language.
29 books in 5 categories: Classics, Dystopian Novels, Science Fiction, Romance, Mystery.
#1 To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee
The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.
Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature (from the back cover).
#2 Heart of Darkness (1899) by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness, a novel by Joseph Conrad, was originally a three-part series in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1899. It is a story within a story, following a character named Charlie Marlow, who recounts his adventure to a group of men onboard an anchored ship. The story told is of his early life as a ferry boat captain. Although his job was to transport ivory downriver, Charlie develops an interest in investing an ivory procurement agent, Kurtz, who is employed by the government. Preceded by his reputation as a brilliant emissary of progress, Kurtz has now established himself as a god among the natives in “one of the darkest places on earth.” Marlow suspects something else of Kurtz: he has gone mad. The book inspired Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now (from the back cover).
#3 The Catcher in The Rye (1949) by J.D. Salinger
The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.
J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of teenage angst and rebellion was first published in 1951. The novel was included on Time‘s 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. It was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It has been frequently challenged in the court for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and in the 1950’s and 60’s it was the novel that every teenage boy wants to read (from the back cover).
#4 The Old Man and the Sea (1953) by Ernest Hemingway
This short novel, already a modern classic, is the superbly told, tragic story of a Cuban fisherman in the Gulf Stream and the giant Marlin he kills and loses — specifically referred to in the citation accompanying the author’s Nobel Prize for literature in 1954 (from the back cover).
#5 The Great Gatsby (1925) by Francis Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story is of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his new love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s. The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature
(from the back cover).
#6 Lord of Flies (1951) by William Golding
When a plane crashes on a remote island, a small group of schoolboys are the sole survivors. From the prophetic Simon and virtuous Ralph to the lovable Piggy and brutish Jack, each of the boys attempts to establish control as the reality – and brutal savagery – of their situation sets in.
The boys’ struggle to find a way of existing in a community with no fixed boundaries invites readers to evaluate the concepts involved in social and political constructs and moral frameworks. Ideas of community, leadership, and the rule of law are called into question as the reader has to consider who has a right to power, why, and what the consequences of the acquisition of power may be. Often compared to Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies also represents a coming-of-age story of innocence lost (from the back cover).
#7 Little Women (1862) by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women or, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy is a novel by American author Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888). Written and published in two parts in 1868 and 1869, the novel follows the lives of four sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March — and is loosely based on the author’s childhood experiences with her three sisters. The first part of the book was an immediate commercial and critical success and prompted the composition of the book’s second part, also a huge success. Both parts were first published as a single volume in 1880. The book is an unquestioned American classic (from the back cover).
#8 The Europeans (1878) by Henry James
Eugenia is the morganatic wife of a German prince who is repudiated by her husband in favour of a state marriage. With her artist brother Felix she goes to Boston to live with relatives whom she has never seen before, with hopes of making a wealthy marriage (from the back cover).
#9 Kim (1901) by Rudyard Kipling
Kim is set in an imperialistic world; a world strikingly masculine, dominated by travel, trade and adventure, a world in which there is no question of the division between white and non-white.
Two men – a boy who grows into early manhood and an old ascetic priest, the lama – are at the center of the novel. A quest faces them both. Born in India, Kim is nevertheless white, a sahib. While he wants to play the Great Game of Imperialism, he is also spiritually bound to the lama. His aim, as he moves chameleon-like through the two cultures, is to reconcile these opposing strands, while the lama searches for redemption from the Wheel of Life.
A celebration of their friendship in a beautiful but often hostile environment, ‘Kim’ captures the opulence of India’s exotic landscape, overlaid by the uneasy presence of the British Raj ( from the back cover).
#10 The Hunger Games Trilogy (2008) by Suzanne Collins
Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don’t live to see the morning?
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before – and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Collins delivers equal parts suspense and philosophy, adventure and romance, in this searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present (from the back cover).
#11 Ender’s Game (1985) by Orson Scott Card
In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut–young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.
Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.
Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is (from the back cover).
#12 Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley
Brave New World is a dystopian novel by English author Aldous Huxley, written in 1931 and published in 1932. Largely set in a futuristic World State, inhabited by genetically modified citizens and an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific advancements in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation and classical conditioning that are combined to make a dystopian society which is challenged by only a single individual: the story’s protagonist (from the back cover).
#13 The Bear (2020) by Andrew Krivak
From National Book Award in Fiction finalist Andrew Krivak comes a gorgeous fable of Earth’s last two human inhabitants and a girl’s journey home.
In an Eden-like future, a girl and her father live close to the land in the shadow of a lone mountain. They own a few remnants of civilization: some books, a pane of glass, a set of flint and steel, a comb. The father teaches his daughter how to fish and hunt and the secrets of the seasons and the stars. He is preparing her for an adulthood in harmony with nature, for they are the last of humankind. But when the girl finds herself alone in an unknown landscape, it is a bear that will lead her back home through a vast wilderness that offers the greatest lessons of all, if she can learn to listen. A cautionary tale of human fragility, of love and loss, The Bear is a stunning tribute to the beauty of nature’s dominion (from the back cover).
#14 1984 (1949) by George Orwell
‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’
Winston Smith works for the Ministry of truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101 . . .
Nineteen Eighty-Four is George Orwell’s terrifying vision of a totalitarian future in which everything and everyone is slave to a tyrannical regime (from the back cover).
#15 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) by Philip Dick
It was January 2021, and Rick Deckard had a license to kill.
Somewhere among the hordes of humans out there, lurked several rogue androids. Deckard’s assignment–find them and then…”retire” them. Trouble was, the androids all looked exactly like humans, and they didn’t want to be found (from the back cover). The film Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 were both based on Philip Dick’s book.
#16 The War of Worlds (1898) by Herbert George Wells
When an army of invading Martians lands in England, panic and terror seize the population. As the aliens traverse the country in huge three-legged machines, incinerating all in their path with a heat ray and spreading noxious toxic gases, the people of the Earth must come to terms with the prospect of the end of human civilization and the beginning of Martian rule.
Inspiring films, radio dramas, comic-book adaptations, television series and sequels,The War of the Worlds is a prototypical work of science fiction which has influenced every alien story that has come since, and is unsurpassed in its ability to thrill, well over a century since it was first published (from the back cover).
#17 Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert
Set in the far future amidst a sprawling feudal interstellar empire where planetary dynasties are controlled by noble houses that owe an allegiance to the imperial House Corrino, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides (the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides and heir of House Atreides) as he and his family accept control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the ‘spice’ melange, the most important and valuable substance in the cosmos. The story explores the complex, multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion as the forces of the empire confront each other for control of Arrakis.
Published in 1965, it won the Hugo Award in 1966 and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. Dune is frequently cited as the world’s best-selling sf novel (from the back cover).
#18 Foundation (1951) by Isaac Asimov
For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future — to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire — both scientists and scholars — and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for a future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.
But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. Mankind’s last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and be overrun — or fight them and be destroyed (from the back cover).
#19 Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen
Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love (from the back cover).
#20 The Time Traveller’s Wife (2003) by Audrey Niffenegger
A funny, often poignant tale of boy meets girl with a twist: what if one of them couldn’t stop slipping in and out of time? Highly original and imaginative, this debut novel raises questions about life, love, and the effects of time on relationships.
Audrey Niffenegger’s innovative debut, The Time Traveler’s Wife, is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing.
The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s marriage and their passionate love for each other as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals—steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control, making their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable (from the back cover).
#21 Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell
Gone with the Wind is a novel written by Margaret Mitchell, first published in 1936. The story is set in Clayton County, Georgia, and Atlanta during the American Civil War and Reconstruction era. It depicts the struggles of young Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, who must use every means at her disposal to claw her way out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman’s March to the Sea. A historical novel, the story is a Bildungsroman or coming-of-age story, with the title taken from a poem written by Ernest Dowson.
Gone with the Wind was popular with American readers from the onset and was the top American fiction bestseller in the year it was published and in 1937. As of 2014, a Harris poll found it to be the second favorite book of American readers, just behind the Bible. More than 30 million copies have been printed worldwide (from the back cover).
#22 Atonement (2001) by Ian McEwan
On a hot summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses the flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century (from the back cover).
#23 The English Patient (1992) by Michael Ondaatje
With ravishing beauty and unsettling intelligence, Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning novel traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an Italian villa at the end of World War II. Hana, the exhausted nurse; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burned man who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal, and rescue illuminate this book like flashes of heat lightning.
#24 The Historian (1974) by Elizabeth Kostova
Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to “My dear and unfortunate successor”. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history (from the back cover).
#25 The Da Vinci Code (2003) by Dan Brown
While in Paris, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is awakened by a phone call in the dead of the night. The elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum, his body covered in baffling symbols. As Langdon and gifted French cryptologist Sophie Neveu sort through the bizarre riddles, they are stunned to discover a trail of clues hidden in the works of Leonardo da Vinci—clues visible for all to see and yet ingeniously disguised by the painter.
Even more startling, the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion—a secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, and Da Vinci—and he guarded a breathtaking historical secret. Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle—while avoiding the faceless adversary who shadows their every move—the explosive, ancient truth will be lost forever (from the back cover).
#26 The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1904) by Arthur Conan Doyle
It has been three years since Sherlock Holmes, locked in a fierce struggle with his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty, disappeared over the edge of the Reichenbach Falls. The world has mourned his loss greatly, no one more so than his good friend and partner in the arts of detection, Dr. Watson. Imagine Watson’s shock, then, when an elderly book collector he bumps into on the street turns out to be none other than the master sleuth himself. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Sherlock Holmes did not die in Switzerland—he vanquished his greatest foe and set a trap for every other would-be mastermind foolish enough to attempt to match wits with the world’s greatest detective( from the back cover).
#27 Dark Places (2009) by Gillian Flynn
Libby Day was just seven years old when her older brother massacred her family while she hid in a cupboard. Her evidence helped put him away. Ever since then she has been drifting, surviving for over 20 years on the proceeds of the ‘Libby Day fund’. But now the money is running out and Libby is desperate. When she is offered $500 to do a guest appearance, she feels she has to accept. But this is no ordinary gathering. The Kill Club is a group of true-crime obsessives who share information on notorious murders, and they think her brother Ben is innocent.
Ben was a social misfit, ground down by the small-town farming community in which he lived. But he did have a girlfriend – a brooding heavy metal fan called Diondra. Through her, Ben became involved with drugs and the dark arts. When the town suddenly turned against him, his thoughts turned black. But was he capable of murder? Libby must delve into her family’s past to uncover the truth – no matter how painful…
#28 The Girl on The Train (2015) by Paula Hawkins
Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.
Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…
#29 And Then There Were None (1939) by Agatha Christie
First, there were ten—a curious assortment of strangers summoned as weekend guests to a little private island off the coast of Devon. Their host, an eccentric millionaire unknown to all of them, is nowhere to be found. All that the guests have in common is a wicked past they’re unwilling to reveal—and a secret that will seal their fate. For each has been marked for murder. A famous nursery rhyme is framed and hung in every room of the mansion:
“Ten little boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine. Nine little boys sat up very late; One overslept himself and then there were eight. Eight little boys traveling in Devon; One said he’d stay there then there were seven. Seven little boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in half and then there were six. Six little boys playing with a hive; A bumblebee stung one and then there were five. Five little boys going in for law; One got in Chancery and then there were four. Four little boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were three. Three little boys walking in the zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were two. Two little boys sitting in the sun; One got frizzled up and then there was one. One little boy left all alone; He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.”
When they realize that murders are occurring as described in the rhyme, terror mounts. One by one they fall prey. Before the weekend is out, there will be none. Who has choreographed this dastardly scheme? And who will be left to tell the tale? Only the dead are above suspicion.