Reading in 2017: 5 Books That Made Me a More Effective Reader

I know, I know… It is not even June and already I’m making a list of the best books I have read this year?

Any other year, I might agree with you, but this year I was lucky to finish books that seriously blew my mind. These past months have been so productive when it comes to reading!

But this isn’t just about the best books I have read – it is about changing some of my bad bookworm habits. And, believe me, I have a lot of those! Neverending TBR piles, being unable to finish books, always reading the same books, not trying anything new or just plain old sloppy reading.

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Usually, I am more prone to hitting and missing when it comes to my choices in literature, but this year was so good, that I just have to share titles that made me a better person, a better reader, and a better bookworm.

By combining these lessons (and a couple of more) I managed to gain more talent in picking titles I will probably deeply enjoy. And sticking with them! These five books are my reward, so let me tell you how tweaking a couple of details in my reading habits made me a better reader, and my reading experience more rewarding than before.

The Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson

It is not enough to just have a book translated into your language – the translation has to be good!

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My God, people! For ages did EVERYBODY recommend these books to me. And since I wasn’t really a thriller fan (or at least I thought I wasn’t), I never picked up the damn books and just gave them a shot.

I found them in a horrible mess in my local libraries. These huge, THICK, paperback editions were so worn out from all the lending and reading they had extra layers of tape on the back to keep them from falling apart (my advice – if I book is that worn out in a library, it is probably worth reading).

Usually, I alternate between two languages – Croatian and English. In the past I preferred English, only taking a Croatian title (mostly translated) when I needed a mental break and an easier read (I like to think my English is pretty good, but it is still not my native language).

This year I decided to read in Croatian more (lending books through the amazing public library system we have in my city of Zagreb, Croatia), but to be pickier which one I choose.

We all know these titles are good, but the translated editions (despite the paperback) and the translation (mind you, from Swedish!) were equally impressive. So well-edited and researched!  I was able to effortlessly glide through the pages of this enormous trilogy just enjoying the amazing character (you have not lived as a reader till you met Lisbeth or fell in love with Mikael Blomkvist).

And the plots! A mesmerizing kaleidoscope of politics, industry crime, serial killers and espionage, with a heavy social commentary on multiple subjects like feminism, domestic abuse, ethics and morality.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo“, “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” are modern classics from this Swedish author, make sure you have a well-translated edition.

World War Z by Max Brooks

A hated genre can be told in refreshing new ways – experiment with your comfort zone!

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I read this book in Croatian, after finding it on a sale in a local geek shop. When I say sale – I mean SALE. Only a couple of dollars for a book a lot of friends recommended to me, back in the day when zombies were the most popular thing ever.

The thing is, I hate zombies and I am deeply annoyed with the zombie craze. Movies, books, tv shows, I was lost in all the hype! I adore fiction, I love fantasy, but zombies? No.

Honestly, I thought I will buy the book and just be happy that I have a new book on my shelf (and on my TBR list). I never really thought I will read it.

Still, when I got home I picked up this book, it felt very good in mu hands (thin, but heavy with high-quality paper, on of those books that you don’t need to spine-break, it just lies in your hands like it is the most natural thing the book should do. The format was weird. Very journalistic, sans-serif font! But it drew me in…

Fast forward 12 hours and I’m in the same chair, completely lost in this huge story, in all of its aspects and facets. At moments I forgot it was a zombie story, it could have easily been any other plague, any other world catastrophe. Even a true event!

The writing and the concept were so engaging, so educational – how would we behave, as a civilisation, to something so big, so dark, and so devastating as a world plague of zombie virus? How would it affect our society?
What would we lose in the process? What would we gain in terms of our humanity?

Through a series of short, but powerful testimonials, the author built a world I will not soon forget.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Listening to books is awesome, but it might not work with every book!

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This is a story about my bitter-sweet relationship with audiobooks.

Last year I finally decided to try audiobooks.
I was smart about it, I did some research and all of my friends RAVED about Audible and their talent-acquisition talent when it comes to narrators. So, of course, I went on to pick genres I would normally pick – FICTION.

Uh… grr.. phew… Sigh.

I couldn’t. I tried out a couple of titles, none seemed right. I even finished a few, but it just wasn’t that enjoyable. The first book I finished was “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas, and author I deeply respect (I am a massive Throne of Glass fan!).

But this book was soooo haaaard to finish… I would get lost so easily! Don’t get me wrong, the narrator was very good, she just couldn’t hold my attention with the semi-poetic narrating melody of her voice, and I guess first person POV didn’t help at all…

I almost gave up right then and there. But then I picked up Noah’s autobiographical book. The important thing I learned about this book is that I truly love non-fiction and that it is a better choice when it comes to audiobooks – for me.

I emphasise the – for me – part because it is important to acknowledge that we are all different readers and there is no universal way of consuming information and stories. But try to experiment a bit before ditching a media as useless and uninteresting!

This book was incredibly written and incredible read. Trevor Noah outdid himself telling a very intimate story about his unique upbringing in a country where his entire existence was considered a crime. He approaches this subject with care, humour and a positive outlook.

You may enjoy his comedy and his current job, or you may not, but this book is a gem in its genre, and almost everybody will recommend the audiobook version over printed edition – it is really THAT good!

Since then I consumed more non-fiction titles on Audible and loved them!
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot was one the last titles I “read” on my commute or in the tram by listening to it on my phone. What a time to be alive! 😀

Charlotte by David Foenkinos

The gift of gifted books!

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Most of the titles I recommended on this list are well-known titles, at least in the genre communities. This one is less known, yet bear with me…

Imagine you had a book where every sentence and sentence are always very short, occupied a single line in the book. Sounds nightmarish, right? Like a book that isn’t poetry but wants to be poetry so ends up in this awkward space in the middle.

But what if it works? What if the wonderful storyteller explains that this was the only way to tell a powerful story of Charlotte?

And it is. Charlotte was an incredibly talented Jewish girl who died during the WWII. What made her special was her amazing artistic talent that is relatively unknown outside of the artist circles. At a very young age, Charlotte developed a painting style completely unique, different and extraordinary. It told the story of Her. Of her life.
Of her difficult childhood, her parents, her love. It eventually told the story of war and her flight from a country of hatred.

Her life was lost, but her art remained. And I would like to think that this book is a part of her legacy. This little book told in a particular manner, that moved me, touched me and will continue to haunt me.

This book was a gift to me by a new friend, who learned on Facebook I liked books. On our next business meeting, she brought me “Charlotte”, thinking I might enjoy it!
To be honest, I usually do not trust other people when it comes to their book gifts.

Sure, they like what they like, but I do too! I sometimes wish they would either ask me which titles in on my reading wish list or just give me a gift card. But this friend nailed it with her gift!
This was a book I probably wouldn’t think of getting on my own, so I am eternally grateful for friends who push me out of my reading comfort zone and grateful I decided to follow the trail this friend laid in front of me – in a shape of a very peculiar book.

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Pick your titles wisely! Research! Sample! Investigate!

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I am a mood reader, which doesn’t help if you also want to be a pickier reader. So I just decided that no matter my mood, I will not finish a book unless it is a good book. 
Yes, I am aware many of you already learned this lesson. It took me and my reading habits 30 years to get to this place, though…

I know some of you might disagree, a lot of people I know approach reading like their momma taught them to approach a meal – always finish your plate! Even if, after an only couple of bites, you realise it is the most boring piece of broccoli loaf in the history of broccoli loaf. Meaning? They always finish a book they start. Even if they hate it.

My philosophy was always different. With food and with books! Life is too short for bad books! But I grew a tad tired of having a pile of unread titles I know I will never finish. Isn’t it better to just learn how to pick titles better?

What helped? Sampling!!!! At least when it comes to my Kindle.
The option to download a sample on my Kindle and read a bit before buying was always there, I am aware. I just never really used it! I would throw my money (like I’m a freakin’ zillionaire) on Amazon, ending up with books I couldn’t manage to finish.

A proper success story when it comes to sampling is “Children of Time”. For a while, this books was on my Goodreads “Want to Read” list. I loved science fiction since I was a kid, but in the past decade, I started to struggle more and more in finding right titles.

The first book I ever read was A. C. Clark’s “2001: A Space Odyssey“, and it was love at first read with the entire genre! It really became more and more difficult to find titles that would evoke that sense of space wonder, with the same elegance, complexity, scientific research and poetics of Clarke’s “Childhood’s End“, Herbert’s “Dune” or Sagan’s “Contact“.

Well… after sampling a dozen or so titles that day – this was the title I decided to buy with my hard-earned money. And my god – was it worth it!

I finished the book just last night and I am still in awe, deeply emotional and just blown away! This dystopian story follows the post-apocalypse travels of the last group of humans in the Universe. Earth is inhabitable, they (we) have destroyed it, and they crave to find the world that will welcome them, perhaps one of many colonies that were being terraformed for human life almost two millennia ago.

And the world like that is out there, holding a secret – a society of unlikely creatures, that already claimed the planet as their home. The collision of two people is imminent, the war is imminent.

The author introduces both groups in a manner that is both scientifically curious and emotionally engaging. Man, I cried in the end! And that really does not happen often. Thank you, Mr Tchaikovsky, for such a great book! And also, Mr Amazon, for the Kindle sampling option. ❤

You both made me a better reader.

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5 thoughts on “Reading in 2017: 5 Books That Made Me a More Effective Reader

  1. Great choices! I’ve always wanted to read the Millennium Trilogy, never got around to it yet. Must do this. I really enjoyed World War Z and Children of Time, great books those 🙂

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  2. I’m glad you liked the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy. I tried to get into it but I think the translation I was reading wasn’t very easy to follow and I couldn’t keep up with the plot 🙂 Maybe I’ll try again one day. I’ve found more than one translation of Anna Karenina before, and each was very different, so it makes sense that the translator can make or break a book.

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    1. Oh, yes, definitely! The number of times I almost gave up on a title cause it was unreadable. Then I tried it with a different translator or in its original language, and suddenly everything worked! Of course, not every title is for everyone, but it is not a bad idea to check if the translation might be the problem. 🙂 Good luck with the Millenium trilogy! 🙂

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