I used to teach the English side of the SAT for the Princeton Review, an SAT prep company. I had the advanced class, which was about 50% Korean immigrants who were still learning idiomatic English.
I told them the best thing they could do to improve their English was read Raymond Chandler. He's the guy who wrote The Big Sleep
and Farewell, My Lovely
. You know, the Humphrey Bogart movies. (Or, at least, the movies I remember as starring Humphrey Bogart, even when it was actually Robert Mitchum.)
See, you don't need great literature to learn English. In fact it's not idea. First, great literature is taxing on your brain. Second and more importantly, it's all about nuance. When you don't already know the nuances, you're apt to muddy your learning. What you need is stylish writing
. Raymond Chandler had style to burn:
"It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window."
"The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back."
"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge."
"She lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theatre curtain. I was to get to know that trick. That was supposed to make me roll over on my back with all four paws in the air."
“In writing a novel, when in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns.”
That last one is indeed his plotting style. Don't read Chandler for an airtight plot. Read Chandler for how to turn short old words into magic; for how to give your sentences rhythms that have the sway and slash of poetry without reminding you that you're reading words on a page. Read Chandler because his books are very hard to put down.