What 20/21 century literature classics do you recommend reading for GRE?
August 31, 2013 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Hi everyone. I am an international student considering the option of going to the US to do my graduate studies. I am currently studying for the GRE. As I am not a native English speaker (Portuguese), the verbal section is really difficult for me because of the vocabulary. As I got bored of studying vocab flashcards, I am know thinking of reading a book with a great diversity of words. What recent books do you recommend reading? (remember that I am completely unaware of the what the best english literature may be)
posted by tsuwal to Education (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
John Steinbeck's East of Eden

Helen Dewitt's The Last Samurai
posted by colin_l at 11:09 AM on August 31, 2013

Chine Mieville's The City and the City might be a fun choice - he is certainly a wordsmith!
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:14 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

What genre of literature do you like? Mysteries? Sci-Fi? Historical novels?

PD James writes mysteries and has a pretty wide vocabulary.

And you could check out the National Book Awards site for recent fiction.
posted by brookeb at 11:20 AM on August 31, 2013

I would read the essays of David Foster Wallace. He has a titanic vocabulary that covers the full spectrum from slangy to academic, interesting ideas, and a chatty tone which makes him very readable. My favorite essay of his is A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Several of his essays are available online at Harper's; Shipping Out is an abridged version of Supposedly Fun Thing.
posted by apparently at 11:40 AM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Why does it have to be recent?

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is a classic and is very frequently prescribed reading for American high school students, partially because it is contains a ton of the vocabulary words that are used on the SAT and GRE.
posted by telegraph at 11:40 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would also consider reading on a Kindle (or equivalent) so you can look every word up as you read. I used to write my words down in the back of the book and look them up when I was done reading for the day and of course I lost the context of the meaning.
posted by InkaLomax at 12:31 PM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I was studying for the GRE, I subscribed to the news magazine Time. This gave me access to well-written, diverse articles that were interesting and peppered with words I did not understand. It also gave me the advantage of bring up to date on current events, technology, and culture. I'm still a subscriber.
posted by thank you silence at 12:53 PM on August 31, 2013

Read Nabokov.
posted by trip and a half at 1:08 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I like non-fiction books and books from which you can draw a lesson from it like Atlas Shrugged. I was asking for a recent book because the vocab is more likely to be used today, even though, I want books with uncommon vocabulary. I just want to build up my vocab but avoid archaic words that won't appear on GRE.
posted by tsuwal at 2:02 PM on August 31, 2013

I remember way back when I read an SAT vocabulary prep book that was in novel form. The definitions for words were provided but could primarily be deduced from the context. The book was a neat/fun way to learn/be exposed to a broader vocabulary and was geared specifically toward SAT prep -- but the book was still a novel.

On amazon it seems like there are many similar for the SAT -- which might or might not be helpful for the GRE but could be a genre you'd be interested in as vocabulary building. (Search term: SAT vocabulary novel on amazon.)
posted by countrymod at 3:09 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Anything by C. S. Lewis or Ayn Rand or Olaf Stapledon. Rich in words. Takes a long time to read and you have to take your time
posted by brownrd at 4:59 PM on August 31, 2013

A fine writer with a good vocabulary is Guy Gavriel Kay. He writes fantasy that is based on historical research. "Sailing to Sarantium" and "Lord of Emperors" - based on research into Byzantium / Constantinople - are a good start.

If you would like to read American English written by a master then seek out H. L. Mencken. Some of the words he uses in essays have gone out of date, it is true, because the American landscape has changed since he wrote. The "Days" series: Happy Days, Newspaper Days, Heathen Days, are autobiographical and not as dated as the essays. They're written in a plain style but he chooses his words carefully and well.
posted by jet_silver at 6:03 PM on August 31, 2013

Just a caution: I am a well-read native English speaker and many, many, many of the vocabulary words on the GRE were new to me. I don't know that if you want to master a lot of words that novels are the answer.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:19 PM on August 31, 2013

Infinite Jest

There's even this wiki that you can read with alongside it in order to get most of the definitions. The built-in dictionary in the Kindle can't handle some of these words, but there are hundreds of words in there worth learning.
posted by mattbucher at 10:06 AM on September 3, 2013

Ola! My SO is Portuguese, and a few years ago had to take the GRE for grad school here in the US. She was already extremely fluent in English, but was worried about the vocab section nonetheless. The thing that helped her most was a GRE test prep book - it is chock full of esoteric words that you will likely never encounter anywhere other than the test. I helped her study by providing definitions and context, but honestly, there were several words that I had to look up- and I read A LOT, and have for 47 years :).

For what it's worth, when she took the test, she found the 'reading comprehension' section more difficult, because the topics presented were so...odd... that she found it hard to wrap her perfectionist brain around the topic and write a response in the allotted time, so you may want to keep that in mind. She also took the test a second time (see: perfectionist) because she felt like she would do much better having had the experience of an actual test. It was an added expense, of course, but worth it. She had no trouble getting into her grad school of choice with her scores, and is well on her way to a combined PhD and MPH at Virginia Tech (go Hokies!)

Please feel free to Memail me if I can answer any other questions, or offer any support during the process. Good luck!
posted by PlantGoddess at 6:17 AM on September 4, 2013

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