Recommendations for fiction to help new U.S. citizen learn modern slang?
June 5, 2005 9:05 AM   Subscribe

A smart Venezuelan acquaintance is looking for fiction to help improve his understanding of current American idioms and slang.

He mentioned young adult books by Walter Dean Myers as helpful, but has been plowing through adult fiction as well. He's a very smart and literate guy, but needs practice at grasping the ins and outs of U.S. English as it's used in practice.
posted by mediareport to Media & Arts (11 answers total)
Paul Beatty's The White Boy Shuffle is pretty much all slang, stereotypes, satire and non-PC observations. It's smart, and outrageously funny in parts, but perhaps not perfect for the first foray into US adult fiction for slang - he'd need a bit more background before he could really dig Beatty's bite. But it's certainly worth the read. How about The F-Word? It's not really "fiction" but as a reference for certain colloquialisms, obscenities, and pop-culture notes.
posted by fionab at 9:38 AM on June 5, 2005

I would suggest that television is a far better source for American slang. First, because it's likely to be more up-to-date, and second, because you can actually hear how the words are used. Personally, I'd recommend The Sopranos.

It is fiction, after all. :)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:16 AM on June 5, 2005

Dan Clowes writes some of the most real-sounding American dialogue I've ever read.
posted by sophieblue at 12:01 PM on June 5, 2005

Maybe some Chucks -- Palahniuk and Klosterman both.
posted by climalene at 1:12 PM on June 5, 2005

I mean this seriously - but why not metafilter? This site lacks AOL-speak for the most part and is as slangy as you can get. Also, a U.S. newspaper would be a great source for English as its used in written practice - although not as slangy as conversation of course.

The Sopranos is too regional, isn't it? You get a lot of Italian mafioso "You fuckin' fuck" talk.
posted by vacapinta at 3:22 PM on June 5, 2005

Response by poster: I really appreciate the non-book suggestions and will be sure to pass them along, but he did seem specifically interested in books. He's tried the book-on-CD-with-book-in-hand route but found it more time-consuming than simply reading, and as a busy father of two who likes to read, he asked specifically for popular novels that might help him learn what I'm calling idiomatic U.S. English.

I think climalene's on the right track, if that helps focus things. Popular fiction with good, loose modern dialogue (not necessarily cutting edge street slang) the way ordinary people speak it. I was thinking recent Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, or even someone like Eric Jerome Dickey, but with a bit more action. Further suggestions welcome.
posted by mediareport at 3:37 PM on June 5, 2005

I would throw out a suggestion for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genious by Dave Eggers, as it's almost entirely conversational and slangy, and also a good read.
posted by Inkoate at 3:57 PM on June 5, 2005

Magazines. They try harder than anyone to use every word invented this decade. Your average Entertainment issue provides not only slang, but a general idea of who's famous in America. It's not the brainiest material, sure, but it's damn helpful with fitting in.
posted by NickDouglas at 10:04 PM on June 5, 2005

Semi-irrelevant: I'd really, really like to recommend some Raymond Chandler, if only for the joy of hearing 1940s private eye-ese these days. Plus Chandler's got an excellent, feisty use of language. Farewell, My Lovely's the best, in my opinion.
posted by soviet sleepover at 10:22 PM on June 5, 2005

Elmore Leonard crime novels, unless he wants to learn up-to-the-minute current slang. If he does want that, he's SOL, because by the time a book comes out, the slanglords have decreed new language.

Robert Crais is also pretty good with dialog.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:15 AM on June 6, 2005

I liked the newspaper suggestion. I particularly recommend the comic pages. Reading the funny papers was something I always suggested to my ESL students as a good introduction to American idioms in print.
posted by alumshubby at 8:32 AM on June 6, 2005

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