The ultimate guide to reading books in Italian

If you are a topo di biblioteca, a library mouse like me and 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 noticing.

If 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. At the same time, however, you wonder if you’ll be up to the challenge.

Let’s say your vocabulary is that of 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 further.

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 start!


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 reading simple books that you have read in your native language before, especially if you fear that your language level in Italian is still too low to tackle them.

Remember the example I told you in the previous paragraph? About the Harry Potter books series? The Sorcerer’s Stone, for example, has a very simple writing style where chunks of sentences tend to repeat themselves throughout the chapters.

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

This is a piece of really important advice and that’s why I’m placing it on top of this list. If you are like me and like to look up every unknown word in the dictionary, even reading a single page will get tiring very quickly if you aren’t determined enough to go on.

You will risk losing interest if you have to take too many breaks from reading to pick up 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 your memory.

What follows is a short 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 Italian books for children)

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 might want to start with graded readers and short stories.

You want to read books that tickle your fancy so that the activity is pleasurable, but you also don’t want to bite 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 feel like stepping up your game, 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 directly follows what I told you above. Don’t go looking up every unfamiliar word in a dictionary.

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

Reading in a foreign language is enough of a challenge per se but it should also be fun. Don’t let it become even more overwhelming or discouraging.

If you really can’t infer the meaning of the sentence without using a dictionary, then go for it. If you even have the slightest hunch about it, keep on reading and leave the dictionary on the shelf.


Passato remoto and imperfetto when reading books in Italian

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

As you probably already know, 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 several verb forms that are much more represented than others on the page. To help you to start reading books in Italian with ease, I compiled a list of these verb forms below:

VERBHE / SHE…
dissesaid
chieseasked
risposereplied
andòwent
tornòwent back
aprìopened
chiuseclosed
presetook
guardòlooked at
videsaw
avvertìfelt
sentìfelt, heard
toccòtouched
si accorsenoticed
provòtried
riuscìmanaged to
erawas
eranowere

Non-fiction can be easier than fiction

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

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

Riprodurre. To reproduce.

Confermare. To confirm.

Garantire. To guarantee.

Sicurezza. Security.

Caratteristiche. Characteristics.

Preferenza. Preference.

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

So don’t take for granted that you will understand only a word out of three. Once you get acquainted with the basic terminology of a topic, reading non-fiction books in Italian can be easier than fiction since the style is drier and less creative.

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

If your level is at least intermediate, you could subscribe to a magazine. This is a list of some very common 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, take advantage of modern technology as much as you can.

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

Audiobooks are a terrific opportunity to expand your vocabulary while improving your listening skills, all 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 in one of the previous paragraphs.


Don’t overdo it

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

If you’re not an avid reader, you could start with short stories and magazine articles, then scale up to longer books with longer chapters. Whatever you do, always 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! 🙂

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