What to read if you're stuck at home

What to read if you're stuck at home

I’m a person of simple tastes – I just need coffee in the morning, a glass of Rose at sundown, and a nice big pile of books to read and I’m pretty happy. Some chats with friends and family and a bit of light gardening are welcome additions.

But I did have a moment of panic yesterday morning when I got a notice from the library to say that the books I’d reserved were available to be picked up. Should I make an emergency dash to the library in case they decided to close their doors? I briefly considered this, but then decided to take my chances on picking them up on Monday. Also I have a massive pile of books next to the bed so I’m really not going to run out in the next six months. And there’s always digital books. The library has advised that they will be increasing the number of digital books to better serve the needs of the community which is great news.

We did an emergency dash to Aldi yesterday to buy some fresh ginger (??), some curry powder and some of the aforementioned Rose. We saw people coming out with TP and snagged the last four-pack so we were well-pleased with ourselves.

But back to the topic at hand. What should we be reading in this surreal situation? I think there are three options.

Get into the groove with some dystopian fiction.

If you’re up for reading dystopian books, the number one pick for me would be Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s about a swine flu pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s population and a group of nomadic actors and musicians who survive and band tother to travel the countryside bringing tiny glimmers of hope and culture to the remaining people. Despite the gloomy storyline, this is actually quite an uplifting book in many ways. It’s been recently been turned into a TV series, so look out for it on your screens. But honestly, I think the writing is beautiful so I would try to read it first.

Another couple of books that come to mind are quite old, but worth seeking out if you haven’t read them. I can recommend Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953 (before I was born) but still resonates today. It’s well worth the effort of hunting it down. It should be in your library.

Alternatively, you could try some escapist thrillers.

I’ve got a penchant for Stella Rimington books. She writes books about spies (the type of stories that get made into TV series like Spooks). They are definitely page-turners and not particularly memorable (sorry Stella) but quite well written and easy to consume. Other favourites are police procedurals. Try Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent which is also one of my all time favourite movies.

I recently read Anne Cleve’s new book called The Long Call which I enjoyed very much and my son has offered to lend me Dervla McTiernan’s new book (The Good Turn) which I’m excited about. If you are planning the read this, I would definitely go back to the beginning of the series and read The Ruin first. The books can be read out of order, but I prefer to read them in order of publication.

Lastly, you could read something uplifting!

One of the books that’s waiting for me at the library is The Joy of High Places by Patti Miller. This has been recommended by one of my sisters (both are avid readers) so I’m looking forward to diving into this one. Patti is an excellent writer and teaches memoir writing courses, so this one promises to be a good read.

Also on my TBR (to be read) list is a new book by Julia Baird, Australian journalist and broadcaster, called Phosphorescence. It’s comes out tomorrow, March 23 and is described as…

A beautiful, intimate and inspiring investigation into how we can find and nurture within ourselves that essential quality of internal happiness – the ‘light within’ that Julia Baird calls ‘phosphorescence’ – which will sustain us even through the darkest times.  

Review from the ‘Readings’ website

It might be a good choice for the current situation.

Lastly, I just want to say that I hope you are all doing ok. I’m deeply aware that not all of you are seeing this crises as an opportunity to read more books. Many of you will be facing an uncertain future in terms of employment and even health outcomes so if that describes your situation, my heart goes out to you. I hope you keep well and keep your cool. I genuinely think that books can bring comfort and maybe just a few hours of distraction when things are getting too much.

If you have books you’d like to recommend, or just want to touch base, do feel free to send me a message via my contact page. I would love to hear from you and will definitely respond.

Love

Marg XXX

Not enough books!

Not enough books!

I haven’t read enough books this year! I know this because I read this post by an author who said she had read a whopping 81 books as well as finishing her second novel and having a baby. I was impressed but also pretty sure that I hadn’t read anywhere near that many, so I must have been either very lazy or very busy. Let’s go with very busy…

This set me to the task of trying to work out how many books I HAVE actually read this year and I can tell you truthfully that it’s closer to two dozen than 81. I was feeling a bit like an under-achiever until I worked out that this is two books a month, which is not too shabby and also doesn’t take into account the many books that I started but didn’t finish because they were boring, too long-winded or just didn’t grab my attention for some reason. It also doesn’t include books I’ve read but forgotten about already, but in my view, if you can’t remember the plot line of a book then it probably isn’t worth counting.

I realise that it’s not important how many books you’ve read, but how much enjoyment they’ve given you. So instead of impressing you with my amazing reading prowess, I thought I would just pass on a few recommendations about books I actually finished and enjoyed as well.

Top of my list would be The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood. This book tells the story of a 100 year old Lithuanian woman who meets an 11 year old boy obsessed with the Guinness Book of Records. I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did as I’m not always keen on books about old people, but this really is a charming book. It’s message is that it’s never too late to strive for something.

Other books I enjoyed were:

Before we visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. This is a cross generational and cross cultural book about mothers and daughters facing obstacles and making wise and sometimes foolish choices.

Station Eleven by Hilary St John Mandel. This is a science fiction book that I made my book group read despite their reservations. This post- apocalyptic novel tells the story of a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity. I really enjoyed this book and so did my book group!

Extinctions by Josephine Wilson. Another book about old people! What’s going on here?  I read this book mainly because it won the Miles Franklin Literary Award and also because it was written by a West Australian which is where I’m from. And although it’s about old people, it’s also above love, secrets and coming to terms with your past. It also features the work of some iconic designers and it made me happy to think that I actually knew who these people were.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. This is a book for people who like reading books about people who like reading books. It’s not especially profound and is based on a very unlikely premise, but it’s also as comforting as a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winters day.

I could go on and on, but I’m really interested in your recommendations for books I should read in 2018. I already have a TBR list but I’m happy to add more books. There’s never enough time to read all the books on my list so a few extra won’t hurt.

Who can you trust to recommend a good book?

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.