Gretchen’s personal favorites
This is a list of modern books that I have read and enjoyed. I have loosely arranged them into levels. Most of these authors have written other books that you might also enjoy. I have added a few sentences about many of the books to help you decide what to read. I will continue to add descriptions gradually.
A Great Place to Start (ESL 244 level)
Kroeber, Theodora Ishi, Last of His Tribe (non-fiction)- Kroeber tells the story of Ishi, the last of the Yahi, a tribe of Native Americans that lives near Yosemite. Ishi is a gentle and caring person who watches his family and tribe die off as they struggle to survive the influx of the Whites. Kroeber tells the story through Ishi's voice from Ishi's mid childhood in the hills to his final years in San Francisco. The language and sentence structure are rather simple and the story of high interest, so it makes good reading for lower level students. An appendix in the back defines Yahi words used in the book. (196 pages)<o:p></o:p>
A Nice Challenge (252 or 262 level)
Albom, Mitch Tuesdays with Morrie
Asimov, Isaac Earth is Room Enough (science fiction) Classic science fiction in easy to read language. Actually this describes all of Asimov’s work, so pick any of them. He is especially famous for his robot stories.
Asprin, Robert Lynn Another Fine Myth (fantasy)
Brin, David The Practice Effect (science fiction). This book is great for diversion—it is fun and fast. A man steps through to another dimension where physics works differently. (277 pages)
Burroughs, Augusten Dry (2003. memoir). In his previous book, Running with Scissors, Burroughs lets us laugh at his seriously messed up childhood. In this book (also funny), he is in his twenties and an alcoholic. His employers send him to rehab where he decides that he really would like to be sober. After rehab he has to figure out how to live soberly on his own. If you like David Sedaris’s books you may like this book as well because their senses of humor are similar. (304 pages)
Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey (science fiction)
Czerneda, Julie Beholder’s Eye (science fiction)— We see life from the perspective of a shape changing alien who struggles to hide her identity save a human from the Enemy. Don’t let the length scare you because it is well written, easy to read and fast-paced enough to distract you from the passage of time. (368 pages)
Dumas, Firoozeh Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America (memoir) A series of humerous short episodes from her life as she grows up in America with her Iranian family. It is funny and engaging written in a rather simple style. It does contain some slang that may be confusing for English learners, but don’t let this keep you away. (224 pages)
Gibson, William Neuromancer (science fiction)
Houston, Jeanne Farewell to Manzanar (memoir) - Word War II breaks out and Jeanne and her Japanese-American family are forced to leave their Southern California home for an internment camp. She gives a detailed and interesting account of how they lived and the changes they went through.<o:p></o:p>
Iwasaki, Mineko Geisha, A Life (biogrpahy) Iwasaki was a real Geisha and describes her life as such (hence the title). This dispenses many misconceptions Americans have about Geisha (See Golden, Arthur Memoirs of a Geish). The other book may actually be better written, but this one is all the more interesting because it is true. The end lacks the energy of the rest of the book.
Okada, John No No Boy (fiction)— After the war, the main character, a Japanese-American, has just returned from the internment camp where he stayed instead of joining the U.S. army. He struggles to find peace and his new place. (260 pages)
Tepper, Sheri The Companions (science fiction)
More Challenging (ESL 227 5 level)
Adams, Douglas Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (science fiction) – A classic science fiction comedy. It is the Story of the human Arthur Dent and his adventures in space with his alien friend Ford Prefect after they escape from Earth as it is being destroyed to make room for an interstellar bypass.
Bear, Greg Heads (science fiction)—Greg Bear writes ‘hard’ science fiction, which means that his ideas are based on real science. In this novel a group of people try to record the memories of cryogenically frozen heads, while a cult tries desperately to stop them. (152 pages)
Bodett, Tom The Big Garage on Clear Shot
Bradbury, Ray I Sing the Body Electric (science fiction)— I enjoyed this collection of short stories twice. Once in English while in junior high school and once as an adult in German while I was learning the language. Bradbury writing is easy enough for learners, while the concepts are interesting. The book takes its name from a story about an electric grandmother. He has many other novels and short story collections to choose from. (336 pages)
DeParle, Jason American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare (nonfiction)
Diamond, Jared Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (non fiction) Why are some countries wealthy and others poor? Jared Diamond argues that it has to do with the plants, animals and geography among other factors that people of different lands were dealt. His arguments are well thought out and seem quite logical. After I read this one, I went out and immediately read more books by Diamond. I recommend this book to anyone interested in anthropology.
Dick, Philip K. Blade Runner: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (science fiction)
Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee The Mistress of Spices
Edrich, Louise Love Medicine (fiction)
Gibson, William Neuromancer (science fiction)
Griffen, John Black Like Me (nonfiction/essays) Griffen, a white reporter took a medication to darken his skin and visited racist American south during the 1960's. His experiences are frightening and enlightening.
Guterson, David Snow Falling On Cedars (fiction)
Heller, Joseph Catch-22 (fiction)
Hurston, Zora Neale Their Eyes Were Watching God (fiction)
Kolata, Gina Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandenmic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It (non-fiction). I was drawn to this book because of my own family history. As a child I grew up hearing the story of how my great-grandmother died in this epidemic, leaving her two small children motherless. In this book I learned how the flu spread and why it was so deadly. I also learned about the swine flu scare and why so many people are afraid of flu shots. Kolata is a science writer for the New York Times and has written other interesting books. (338 pages)
Larson, Peter and Kristen Donnan Rex Appeal: The Amazing Story of Sue, the Dinosaur That Changed Science, the Law, and My Life
Mason, Daniel The Piano Tuner ( 2002. fiction). In 1886 Edgar Drake leaves his wife and home in England to tune a piano of a British surgeon deep in the jungles of Burma. This is one of those books that makes me say, ”Wow!” The story pulled me along, and I became attached to quiet and shy Mr. Drake. The words flow and are sophisticated, but still accessible. Mason, the author, is a medical student in San Francisco. This is his first novel, and I hope he has more. (336 pages)
Maguire, Gregory Wicked (1995. fiction). This one is fun and well written. It is the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West from the famous move and book, The Wizard of Oz. This is her life and her perspective of the famous story. I’ll never look at Dorothy the same way again. The sequel is to this book, Son of a Witch, is equally good.
Ondaatje, Michael Anil’s Ghost (fiction). I read this one a couple of years ago and have since misplaced the book, but here is what I remember. Anil, a young woman with a man’s name, has gone to Sri Lanka to solve a murder. Like most on this list, the writing is excellent and the story is interesting. It is a quick read with an unexpected change in perspective at the end.
Sedaris, David Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000. Humor). The essays bounce around from the memories of his childhood to his grown up life in France where he tries to adjust to the language and the culture. Anyone who has lived in a foreign country can relate to his experiences in his French class with students from around the world. Sedaris knows how to look at the absurdity in life and make it hilarious. I love his books enough to read them more than once, and I laugh each time.
Stephensen, Neal Zodiac (science fiction)
Townsend, Sue The Adrian Mole Diaries (fiction)
Vonnegut, Kurt Slaughterhouse-five (science fiction)
Even More Challenging
Books may fall into this category because of length, complexity of ideas or sentence structure, high-level vocabulary, or use of slang.
Golden, Arthur Memoirs of a Geisha (fiction)
Lee, Gus China Boy
O’Brian, Tim Going After Cacciato (fiction)
Roach, Mary Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (non fiction). Did you ever want to know what happens to you after you die--not your soul, but your body? Well, this book will tell you. Roach has done extensive research into what bodies do in the grave, out in the open and in research facilities. She describes with respect how bodies help improve the lives of the living. This book reads easily for a strong reader, but the vocabulary will cause some difficulties for others. (294 pages)
Robinson, Kim Stanley Red Mars (science fiction)
Seth, Vikram A Suitable Boy (fiction). I love this book. If it weren’t so long I’d require it in a class. Seth writes from the perspective of a teenage girl in India in the 50’s. Her mother has decided it is time to arrange a marriage for the girl, but the girl is not convinced this is right for her. Parts of the novel remind me of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, while other parts become more frightening as political and religious problems arise. Seth specifically wrote this book with an audience in mind that includes both Indians and non-Indians. From this book you will get a good dose of Indian history and culture as well as a fascinating drama, but it is looong. (1474 pages)
Shlain, Leonard Sex, Time and Power: How Women’s Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution (non-fiction)
Sidhwa, Bapsi Cracking India (fiction)
Smiley, Jane A Thousand Acres (fiction) This is a modern retelling and a new perspective of Shakespeare's King Lear.
Yalom, Marilyn A History of the Wife (non-fiction)