The ultimate guide to reading books in Italian

If you are a topo di biblioteca, a library mouse like me and you study Italian (or any other foreign language for that matter), sooner or later you will want to test your skills, close your textbooks and start reading books in Italian. Actual books in Italian.

This is a winning strategy in language learning. Reading books is a great way to improve your vocabulary and brush up on grammar rules without even realizing it.

When you start reading books in Italian, you will get used to the syntax and rules of Italian in a much more natural way. Plus, reading is fun!

boy surrounded by towers of books - bookworm reading books in italian

If you are an avid reader, you might want to start as soon as possible. But at the same time, you’re wondering if you’re up to the challenge.

Let’s say your vocabulary is at an A1 level in Italian, but you want to start reading the Italian translation of the Harry Potter series, for example, and you don’t want to wait any longer.

Are there any tricks you can use to start reading books in Italian with ease?

Well, yes. In this lesson, I will share some tricks that will make it easier for you to read any text in Italian. Iniziamo! Let’s get started!

Tricks for reading a book in Italian

Read a simple book you’ve already read in your native language

My first suggestion is to start by reading simple books that you have already read in your native language, especially if you are afraid that your level of Italian is still too low to tackle them.

Do you remember the example I gave you in the previous paragraph? The Harry Potter books? The Sorcerer’s Stone, for example, has a very simple writing style, where parts of sentences tend to be repeated throughout the chapters.

If you’ve already read it in English (or whatever your native language is), you’ll have much less trouble understanding the general meaning of the sentences, even if you don’t understand all the words on the page.

This is really important advice, which is why I’m putting it at the top of this list. If you’re like me and like to look up every unfamiliar word in the dictionary, reading even a single page will get tiring very quickly if you’re not determined enough to keep going.

You risk losing interest if you have to stop reading too often to use the dictionary. Reading books in Italian that you are already familiar with in other languages will allow you to guess the meaning of a word from its context and from your memory.

Below is a small collection of simple and very common books in Italian.

Simple books in Italian

Harry Potter e la Pietra Filosofale, JK Rowling (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

Geronimo Stilton (series of children’s books in Italian)

Il piccolo principe, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince)

La fabbrica di cioccolato, Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

Alice nel paese delle meraviglie, Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)

La storia infinita, Michael Ende (The Neverending Story)

To each level their own books

If you are new to reading books in Italian and are a beginner or intermediate learner, you may want to start with graded readers and short stories.

You want to read books that tickle your fancy and make the activity enjoyable, but you also don’t want to bite off more than you can chew and pick up a book that’s too complicated for your language level.

So, here’s a handy list of the most common graded readers in Italian.

Books in Italian for beginners

Short Stories in Italian, Olly Richards

20 Italian Short Stories for Beginners, Lingo Mastery

12 Italian Short Stories for Beginners, Giorgio Mills

Italian Short Stories for Beginners, Talk in Italian

Italian Short Stories for Beginners, Learn Like A Native

Books in Italian for intermediate learners

Short Stories in Italian for Beginners, Leonardo Mancini

Italian Short Stories for Beginners, Language Guru

Intermediate Italian Short Stories, Manuel Maria Di Gioia

10 Intermediate Italian Short Stories, Lingo Mastery

Short Stories in Italian for Intermediate Learners, Olly Richards

And if you want to take your learning to the next level, try one of these Italian translations of famous books!

Books in Italian for advanced learners

Il Signore degli Anelli, JRR Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings trilogy)

Uno studio in rosso, Arthur Conan Doyle (A Study in Red)

La collina dei conigli, Richard Adams (Watership Down)

Il Trono di Spade 1, George RR Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire, volume 1)

Don’t focus too much on every single word

This tip follows directly from what I said above. Don’t look up every unfamiliar word in a dictionary.

Even though there are techniques to maximize the learning of new words, our brains can’t really learn 200 words a day, and if you keep track and write down every unknown word you find in your book, the numbers will add up quickly and you’ll simply burn out.

Reading in a foreign language is challenging enough on its own, but it should also be fun. Don’t make it more overwhelming or discouraging.

If you really can’t figure out the meaning of a sentence without a dictionary, then go for it. If you have the slightest inkling, keep reading and leave the dictionary on the shelf.

Passato remoto and imperfetto when reading books in Italian

The vast majority of Italian books published today are written in a mixture of passato remoto and imperfetto tenses, which generally correspond to the past simple tense.

As you probably already know, the Italian conjugations for a given verb are different for each subject pronoun, so if you want to understand who is doing what while reading, knowing the passato remoto and imperfetto conjugation tables will be very handy.

You will also notice that some verb forms are much more represented on the page than others. To help you start reading books in Italian with ease, I have compiled a list of these verb forms below:

tornòwent back
guardòlooked at
sentìfelt, heard
si accorsenoticed
riuscìmanaged to

Non-fiction can be easier than fiction

This is a load of ***, you’re talking nonsense!

I am not. Many unusual words in both Italian and English have a common origin: Latin or even Greek. For example…

Riprodurre. To reproduce.

Confermare. To confirm.

Garantire. To guarantee.

Sicurezza. Security.

Caratteristiche. Characteristics.

Preferenza. Preference.

You see? You can infer the meaning of many more Italian words than you think!

So don’t take it for granted that you’ll only understand one out of every three words. Once you know the basic terminology of a subject, reading non-fiction in Italian can be easier than reading fiction, since the style is drier and less creative.

For example, if you enjoy reading books about space, first look up the Italian translations for galaxy, star, nebula, black hole, universe, etc. and then start reading, because chances are you will intuitively understand the meaning of many unusual verbs and nouns!

If your level is at least intermediate, you can subscribe to a magazine. Here is a list of some very popular magazines in Italy:

Focus (science, culture, environment)

National Geographic Italia (level C1 or at least B2+; many articles in the Italian magazine are translations of the US magazine so this is a great resource for upper-intermediate and advanced learners)

Ciak (cinema, movies)

Giallo Zafferano (cooking, recipes)

Rivista Studio (culture, lifestyle, books, movies)

Let technology help you

Last but not least, make the most of modern technology.

Did you know that the Kindle comes with a built-in Italian-English dictionary? You can look up word definitions without having to get up or carry around heavy paper books. And if there’s an audio version of the book you’re reading, listen to it.

Audiobooks are a great way to expand your vocabulary and improve your listening skills at the same time! Plus, many Audible audiobooks are free on the Amazon store, like the one for Alice nel paese delle meraviglie that I linked to in one of the previous paragraphs.

Don’t overdo it

Take it easy. If you are not used to reading a whole book in a single day in your native language, reading books in Italian will be even more difficult. In this case, less is more. Even a few pages at a time can go a long way.

If you’re not an avid reader, you can start with short stories and magazine articles and then work your way up to longer books with longer chapters. Whatever you do, remember that reading books in Italian should be fun!

Did you like this guide on reading books in Italian? Do you have any book suggestions to make? I’m all ears! In the meantime…

Buona lettura! Happy reading! 🙂

2 thoughts on “The ultimate guide to reading books in Italian”

  1. Hey Lucia!
    I’ve found your guide simply brilliant! I’m in the Modern Languages studies as well, and I’d like to congratulate you. Your ideas are clearly exposed and catchy and well, I’d just like to say that I really love your style and your project! 🙂

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