Like many language learners, I enjoy reading Chinese novels as a way of learning new vocabulary and practicing my reading skills. Nevertheless, in the process of muddling through Chinese fiction, I often find myself learning a lot of literary words and structures which are too rare to be useful (at least at my current level of Chinese). Ideally, I'd like to find an exciting book which, for the most part, avoids excessively flowery prose in favor of fresh, colloquial descriptions of characters and events.

To give you an example of what I don't want: I've read several novels and short stories by 余华, which are colloquial enough but still end up teaching me a lot of lovely phrases that I rarely get a chance to use.

An ideal answer would be a novel which is

  1. Exciting: mystery, suspense, or thriller novels would be especially welcome, but really anything that's hard to put down.
  2. Colloquial, full of modern, or even slangy, words and phrases.
  3. Reasonably popular: I need a book that's easy to find in the United States. I have access to several Chinese bookstores and a Chinese library, but the book needs to be popular enough that I might find it in stock.

Young-adult books would be fine as long as they still might be stimulating to an adult reader.

  • I try to learn English by reading English novels before,but novel is different from the real world.In a novel you can't see many F-words(porn-novels are exceptions),but it's common in the films.So watching film is better than reading novel in learning Chinese.
    – coqer
    Jan 18 '12 at 9:00
  • Jpn, maybe you should consider asking on Literature SE too, they have "book recommendation" on topic for now, although it has some restrictions... You could ask on chat or in a meta question... Maybe the only obstacle would be that there might not be any chinese learners there to help you on that side... :)
    – Alenanno
    Jan 18 '12 at 9:14
  • 2
    That is a bit condescending, don't you think? Most people who are not physically resident in China or Taiwan can sometimes find it hard to find hard-copy resources, or not have the specific search skills to find things online. I think that an answer for how to obtain materials in the US might also potentially benefit those in Europe, South America, or other places outside of China. Jan 18 '12 at 14:44
  • Note: the comment by Terry was directed to another user that deleted his/her own comment.
    – Alenanno
    Jan 18 '12 at 18:14
  • Please refer to discussion in meta regarding the closing of this question and please go there to discuss further.
    – going
    Jan 18 '12 at 22:18

You said "I need a book that's easy to find in the United States."

I don't know what kind of book is easy to find in the US.Let me give you some suggestions.

As for mystery, suspense, or thriller:


I like novels written by 蔡骏。

As for Colloquial, full of modern, or even slangy, words and phrases:


明朝那些事 is a history book of Ming dynasty.It's very easy to understand and full of Chinese wisdom.

I don't know whether you can buy these books in the US or not.If you don't mind the issues of copyright,all of these books are easy to download from the Internet.Especially 明朝那些事,It comes from a personal blog -----当年明月的博客

In fact, the best way to learn a foreign language is to involve in the culture.All novels are written in the past time,they can't provide you the most fashioned words and phrases in the other culture.If you can't live in China ,you should try to communicate with Chinese through the Internet.Registering in the weibo.cn(twitter),renren.com(facebook) is a good idea.


I take the opposite view.

We place so much stress on learning about "the culture" of the language we're teaching or learning. That's great, and it's important -- but what is the first thing most learners need to talk about, right from the start when they take out that pile of photos to show people in China? Their OWN culture. This is a picture of Christmas at my house, and this is how we celebrate. This is Hanukkah. How many Chinese textbooks mention Hanukkah, let alone give anyone the vocabulary needed to talk about it intelligently in Chinese?

So in terms of finding books to expand one's language capabilities -- I tend to recommend books translated into Chinese from English. For a learner, there is a great advantage in reading a book with which he is already familiar. Harry Potter is quite difficult in Chinese for most learners, but there are shorter works available, like the Magic Treehouse series and many other children's (not emergent reader) and adolescent fiction. Heck, get the Hunger Games in its Chinese version (probably another very difficult one since made-up words would not be marked clearly, but I digress.)

Get a book you're familiar with and would enjoy reading. Then use the advantage of knowing the cultural background, the characters, and maybe even the specific plot, to help you READ. Not decode. READ. All that language flowing into your brain and being understood will do a lot to advance your Chinese overall. Then you can use your improved abilities to read things where you don't have those advantages, like "authentic" materials (overrated, IMO, in their value to learners, but ultimately the goal toward which we are helping learners.)

The other thing that has revolutionized reading for this generation of Chinese learners is Pleco. The PlecoDic app for iDevices (and other platforms as well) includes a reader. If you can find the reading material in digital form (text), you can copy it into the reader and look up anything just by touching the screen. It can make the difference from a piece of literature being inaccessible to being something a learner could read without frustration, or with a lot less frustration.

The crucial thing for reading colloquial Chinese is to have a solid underpinning of spoken language that you understand immediately. Written Chinese of this type doesn't absolutely reproduce spoken language exactly but it's pretty close. If you need to stop and decode each word you're adding another step to the process (it becomes text > Chinese > meaning rather than text> Chinese=meaning) and you will find that the weight of the unknown words and phrases becomes greater since they are more disturbing to your overall comprehension process. If you can automatically parse and comprehend "normal" language, you will have more brain resources left over to mull over the meaning of unknown terms you encounter, rather than having the entire train of thought you've got going unceremoniously derailed by the first word you haven't seen before. (The way reading is taught in Chinese classes also needs a huge overhaul, as it emphasizes looking up each word rather than using reading strategies. But I digress.)

  • I have read some English novels translated into Chinese but have always felt somehow inauthentic in the process. Thanks for the validation. :)
    – J..
    Jan 18 '12 at 17:24
  • What is so great about "authentic" if it is inaccessible? Our cultural background, our identities -- they count, too. We are the ones acquiring the language. It amuses me that it is considered to be "culturally imperialistic" to teach only about Western holidays in an EFL class in Asia, but no one considers teaching only about Chinese festivals in a Chinese class to be in any way inappropriate. Jan 18 '12 at 20:16

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