Reading Group Suggestions

As an ESL teacher and a reader, I find myself constantly wanting to share my love of books with my students. Unfortunately, most of my students could no better understand an English novel than I could interpret ancient Sumerian papyrus scrolls. That’s not a dig at my student’s intelligence – on the contrary, most of them are quite bright. Their language faculty is just too utilitarian to make reading a novel a plausible possibility. Even for those with a deeper grasp of the language, the desire to put in the hours just isn’t there.

There are a small few, however, who have both the language ability and the desire to challenge themselves to see the English language as more than a tool. They want to appreciate it for it’s beauty and power. So, for these students, I’ve secured the teaching time and resources to put together a bit of a summer reading club and I’m looking for suggestions. Here are the criteria for the ideal book.

1. Short. I’m talking about around 150-200 pages. This cuts out a huge majority of good books. But, remember, this is the first English novel that most of these students will be reading so I don’t want to scare them with heft. Also, it’s just not plausible that they will be able to get through a longer book in the time we have.

2. Original English. Translations are wonderful, but these are students of English and I want them to read a book originally written in English.

3. Non-objectionable. At some level, literature is supposed to challenge and shock. I’m not, however, trying scandalize my students or get myself fired. A small amount of sexuality or violence is ok (perhaps even desirable) but nothing incredibly graphic.

4. Relatively easy. I’m not talking YA easy, but nothing that would give you or me headaches trying to wade through.

5. Contemporary. I’ve promised a novel which uses modern language with which they will be more familiar.

My initial thought was Emma Donoghue’s Room. It fits all the above criteria quite nicely. But I haven’t finalized anything yet. I’m completely open for suggestions and would appreciate any ideas you may have. Thanks!



    1. Oh man, I have such negative memories of this book. But, it does fit all the criteria I’m looking for. Maybe I’ll try to read it again and see if I could teach it with any kind of passion. Thanks for the suggestion!

  1. How about something by Christopher Brookmyre say Pandaemonium or Quite Ugly One Morning, Country of the Blind, Not the End of the World,
    One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night,
    Boiling a Frog, A Big Boy did it and Ran Away,
    The Sacred Art of Stealing. all good reads, not to complicated & very very funny

    1. I’ve just downloaded Pandaemonium. Looks like something I’m going to love, but judging from the blurb, not sure how much my students will appreciate it. I’m looking to have a group of all middle aged women (although I’m trying to hunt down some male students who might be interested, just to diversify the group). I’ll read it and see how it might play. Thanks for the suggestion and, if it doesn’t work for the group, I’m sure that I’m going to enjoy it!

  2. Hi Pete! I’ve just seen your post and couldn’t resist making some suggestions, even though you may have already chosen which book to go for. How about something by Graham Greene? The end of the affair is short and so is Travels with my Aunt. Or maybe a novel by Susan Hill. If your students would enjoy a ghost story then A woman in Black is quite good and easy. And lastly, how about The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham?

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