I'm in my final year at school next year and I'm looking to improve my vocabulary. What are some good novels that I can enjoy and learn considerably from at the same time?i hate romance novels and...

I'm in my final year at school next year and I'm looking to improve my vocabulary. What are some good novels that I can enjoy and learn considerably from at the same time?

i hate romance novels and anything to do with vampires etc. (no Twilight). 

Expert Answers
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ut tamquam scopulum sic fugias insolens verbum.
(Avoid the unusual word as if it were a cliff.)
-Julius Caesar

Big words can often create a bad impression both in conversation and in writing. They can make people think you are just showing off. You should try to choose the right word but not the most impressive or sesquipedalian word. 

One good way to improve your vocabulary is to look up the etymological derivation of a word when you consult your dictionary. A good collegiate dictionary provides the derivations of many words, and big words are usually evolved from simple words with simple meanings. It is interesting to see how words evolve. Computers have given us new meanings for words like "menu," "document," "swipe," "memory," "notepad," and countless others. 

You should also think about prefixes and suffixes. Knowing just one of them can help you deduce the meanings of numerous words. For example, "icide" obviously means "killing," and we have "homicide," "patricide," "matricide," "fratricide," "suicide," "insecticide," "genocide," and others. "Ology" obviously means "the study of," and we have "psychology," "zoology," "biology," "anthropology," and numerous other "ologies." The roots of words are usually shown in collegiate dictionaries. In order to understand a word and absorb it into your working vocabulary, it is good to know not only what it means but why it means what it means, and also probably how the present-day meaning has evolved.

"Phobic" and "phobia" are other suffixes that occur to me. There are dozens of words ending in "phobia," and people keep finding or inventing new ones all the time. "Homophobia" is a popular word these days.

As far as books that will throw a lot of new words at you, I would recommend the novels of Henry James. He not only used some tough English words, but he liked to throw in an occasional French word. But the words he used were always appropriate and correct, because he was a stickler for those things. One word that was new to me and still amuses me was "endimanche." "Dimanche" is the French word for Sunday, and "endimanche" means "dressed up in one's Sunday best," but there is a subtle implication that the person described is not used to being well dressed and looks stiff, uncomfortable, and ill at ease.

The easiest Henry James novel to start with, if you have never read him, is Washington Square. His best novel by his own estimation is The Ambassadors, but it is hard reading. I think you should push yourself a little when it comes to reading. You don't have to be afraid of novels like War and Peace or James Joyce's Ulysses. And you don't have to understand every single word.

dkaye eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I recommend checking out older books--they often have vocabulary that has fallen out of fashion, but isn't necessarily more difficult than current bestsellers' word choices.

As a part-time gig, I edit classic science fiction novels into e-books.  I just finished a series of short books by Harry Harrison (the author of the story adapted into the movie Soylent Green) that uses a whole host of words even I had to look up--and I've got an MA in English! The first one is called The Stainless Steel Rat. They're pretty quick reads, and the main character is really fun. He's a slick con man with a code of honor all his own who gets caught up in a futuristic government agency that uses him to fight crime.  The books are fluffy, but fun--and classic retro scifi.

A few examples of great words I learned from that series:

eructate (to burp)

dottle (the tobacco left over in a pipe after smoking)

carom (to strike and rebound, especially in a game of billiards)

Happy reading!

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I learned a long time ago to choose books by authors rather than by titles or subjects. If you like one book by a certain author you will probably like his or her other books. Following this concept, I have read a lot of novels by Aldous Huxley, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Hesse, Leo Tolstoy, Theodore Dreiser, and a few others. But I have also read lots of anthologies of short stories by authors like Guy De Maupassant, Edgar Allan Poe, John Cheever, John Collier, John Updike, D.H. Lawrence, Anton Chekhov, Henry James, Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, and many others. I would suggest that you ask yourself what authors you have enjoyed and then try reading more of their works. If you liked The Great Gatsby, for example, have you read Tender is the Night? This Side of Paradise? The Beautiful and Damned? The Last Tycoon?

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (which is also one of my favorite novels) has a pretty sophisticated vocabulary that is made more palatable by McCarthy's generally spare sentences. The unorthodox use of puncuation can be a little off-putting for some readers, but once you get used to his style, it's not difficult reading. I would recommend this book, or in fact, many of his books, like Blood Meridian or All the Pretty Horses for readers trying to improve vocabulary. Another great book full of "ten-cent" words, as a former teacher of mine used to call them, is Confederacy of Dunces. Very unlike McCarthy's work, it is funny and dense, but Ignatius J. Reilly, the main character, spews out word after word that will send you to the dictionary.

mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would suggest that you try some of the novels written specifically to teach SAT vocabulary with words underlined and definitions available for words you don't know.  You can find them at book stores if you just explain what you want.  Also, some of the more difficult books such as the classics use vocabulary which requires you to look up words in the dictionary if you don't know them.  Vocabulary books themselves such as the "Word Power Made Easy" suggested above do help.  In addition, the real secret to improving vocabulary is to know the meanings of prefixes and suffixes which are added to the beginnings and endings of base words.  Vocabulary is important to build anytime but especially before college.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are novels from a couple of companies that have words highlighted in them.  Those are pretty neat.  Although it is geared toward younger kids, A Series of Unfortunate Events is funny and easy and has a lot of adult humor, including definitions of words.  My favorite vocabulary builders are Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series though.  When I taught Hot Words for the SAT, it was astonishing how many there were.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If you are looking for some literary titles, I would recommend As I Lay Dyingby William Faulkner and One Hundred Years of Solitudeby Gabriel Garcie Marquez. 

These are two classics that boast quite a range of terms, using some arcane language, some rather specialized vocabulary, and draw generally from a wide lexicon. 

In your last year of school, you may now be ready for these books. (They are challenging.)

shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Any novel that is at or above your current reading level will offer some challenges to your vocabulary. One good tool to help you with this is something called a "lexile" rating. The higher the lexile rating the more difficult the book. Many libraries display a book's lexile rating. Just make sure that what you are reading isn't too low.

thewanderlust878 | Student

That's awesome that you are looking to improve your vocabulary! Books are a fantastic way to help with that (its also probably the best way to do so). There have been many great suggestions above, and here are my own preferences:

The Night Circus 

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series

A Song of Ice & Fire series

Anything by H.G. Wells

Anna Karenina

Hope these suggestions help!

guigs97 | Student

Tsotsi by Athol Fugard is a good book, there is also a movie. Assasin's quest by Robin Hobb has good vocabulary, but it might not be your type of book.

rinodyssey | Student

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. It's a great story with great vocabulary. It takes a good intellectual mind to fully comprehend the way he uses his grammar.

msnewbooklover | Student

unlike others i would suggest u to read novels which u like....of any gener...but if u read fiction u will improve ur knowledge....remember vocabulary isnt build in a single day,it takes tym....u read novels and try to figure out contextual meaning...next tym u will read it anywhere u will remember it for ever.....

like mY teacher told me once the meaning of unanimous.....but i couldnt remember..but i read it somewhere...moreover i heard it in movie...now i remember it...movie too can enhance the vocb...........:)))

praneshhk | Student

i sujjest you to read .. "world power made easy" book it helps u to improve the vocabulary .