Reading fictional books (also called novels) is one of the best and cheapest ways to improve your English.
With my own students, I notice the difference in class between those that regularly read novels in English and those that don't. Those that regularly read, improve their English faster and get better exam results.
The big problem is knowing which books to read. But before I advise you how to select the right books for your level, let's look at why reading in English will improve your level.
Although reading in English will help you to learn new vocabulary and expression, it will also help you to remember vocabulary and grammatical structures that you have already learnt. Like with learning to play the guitar, the best way to improve your English is through practice and repetition.
Reading books in English also helps you to practise using the context of a sentence to guess the meaning of words and expressions that you don't know. Using context to guess meaning is fundamental for both mastering English and remembering new vocabulary.
To know how to use context to improve your English, read my article on 'how to improve your English'.
As I said before, the big problem is choosing the right book for you. It needs to be just hard enough that you learn new vocabulary, but not too hard. If you choose a book which is too hard or complex for your English level, you'll become confused, frustrated and stop reading the book.
The only way to know if a novel in English is right for you, is to read the first few pages of the book. If you don't know the meaning of more than five words/phrases on each page, then you know that the book is too difficult for you.
If you know every word or expression you have read on the first few pages of the book, then the book will be too easy for you (you are not going to be learning any new vocabulary).
A novel will be right for you, if on the first few pages you understand the situation (where they are, why they are there, what they are doing etc...), but don't know the meaning of between two to five words or expressions per page.
To save you money, you should always read the first few pages of any book/novel you want to read in English before you buy it.
Although you can go to a book shop/store to do this, the easiest way you can do this is to look at a book you are thinking of reading/buying at amazon.com. For most books, the website gives a free preview/sample of the first few pages.
If there is a preview/sample of the book, you'll see 'Look inside' written above the photo of the book.
To read the first few pages of the book/novel, click on the photo of the book and then go to chapter one.
If the book has a kindle version, click on the tab for that (it is better to read the words from).
In addition to reading books written for native speakers of English, you can read books that have been written or adapted for people learning English. These books are called 'readers' and you can choose a book specially for your level of English (e.g. beginner, intermediate etc...).
Unfortunately, there is no 'look inside' option for these types of books/novels on amazon.com. So you either have to find one in a book shop/store and read the first few pages there, or buy it online without looking at the first few pages.
To help you choose a book, I have created a list of 10 novels which are suitable for people learning English who have an intermediate or higher level of English.
In addition to reading novels, you should also read online articles and news stories. The advantage of doing this is that they are shorter than novels and they are free. The problem is that it is very difficult to find an online article that is right for your level.
To help you find online articles which are right for your level, I have created two lists. The first list contains links to articles for people whose English level is intermediate. The second list contains links to articles for people whose English level is upper-intermediate or above.