Who can you trust to recommend a good book?

I’m an avid reader and I’m always keen to talk about books and swap recommendations. After you’ve read a few books that someone recommends, you get a pretty good idea of whether or not you have the same tastes. It can be quite tricky when a friend tells you that a certain book is fabulous and you hate it.

In my book group we don’t always agree on the books we read, and we certainly have different tastes, but since we’ve been meeting for about 20 years we have a very good understanding of the sort of books that each member enjoys reading. One of my friends is a huge fan of Louise Penny and Nordic noir, and another really likes historical fiction and British murder mysteries. We often recommend books to one another, rather than suggesting that the whole group read them.

I tend to like books that move along quickly, but are well written. I often read contemporary fiction, for example Paula Hawkins’ book The Girl on the Trainbut to be honest these type of books don’t really stay with me after I’ve read them and I often can’t really remember the plot line or what happened in the end. I don’t particularly like books with long descriptive passages and I tend to like books with likable (but flawed) characters. I like books that make me feel and think.

I was overjoyed when I discovered the podcast What Should I Read Next? Each week the host (Anne Bogel) talks to a different guest about what books they like (and dislike) and then recommends what they should read next. If your reading tastes align with the guest, then its worthwhile tracking down their recommendations and giving these a whirl.

On top of this Anne Bogel has an online book group and every year she releases a list of recommended reading for summer. She also releases a list of her top five books and I’ve come to really trust her judgement. One book that she recommended during the year was The Mothers by Brit Bennett. I really enjoyed this book which is set in a contemporary black community in Southern California. Brit is currently in Sydney appearing at the Sydney Writer’s Festival which is on this week, so I’ll be looking out for a chance to hear her interviewed around the town.

I’m planning to read all of her top five books over the next six months. I’m already reading The Dry, by Jane Harper and I’m looking forward to reading the next one on the list. If you borrow most of your books from the local library, you might like to work your way through last year’s shortlist as these are likely to have hit the shelves of you library.

So do let me know if you have read any good books lately. I’m always keen to swap ideas.

What should you be reading?

You can always learn something new about presentation design, even if you have been doing it for some time. I have read quite a few of the presentation design books on the market so I thought I would talk briefly about a few of my favourites and you can decide for yourself if they would be useful for you to read.

My number one pick for people starting out in presentation design would definitely be The Non-designers Presentation Book  by Robin Williams (not the comedian).

This is a fairly short book and covers clarity, relevance, animation and plot as well as the fundamental design principles: contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity. So basically it covers CRAP + CRAP.

I particularly like what Robin has to say about handouts. Rather than advising presentation designers to avoid providing handouts because they distract the audience, she advises us to create handouts that augment the content. This can be a good way to provide attendees with additional useful content as well as a permanent record of your presentation. However you can’t simply convert your presentation slides to a handout and hope that this will do the trick. It won’t. You need to craft your handout in the same way that you craft your slides and use the same design rules. This can take a heap of time and is not something that you can realistically do for every presentation, however it’s a great idea for a presentation that is going to be used across an organisation or that you are planning to deliver on multiple occasions.

There are many other fantastic tips and hints in this book, so if you want a really well written book on presentation design and can only afford one, you should think about purchasing this one. It’s not as flashy as Presentation Zen and Presentation Zen Design (both of which are beautiful) but it’s good.

Look out for next week’s post on good design books and please let me know if you have any personal favourites.