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.

Discover the wonderful world of podcasts

podcastOver the past year I’ve become an avid podcast listener. As a result, I’ve noticed that conversations with friends frequently revolve around great podcasts we’ve discovered recently. We share notes about new and interesting programs in the same way we talk about good books that we’ve read, or would like to read. It’s all enormously entertaining and endlessly fascinating if you’re the type of person who likes interesting ideas (and since you’re reading this blog, that probably includes you).

Quite often though, one of my friends will tell me that although they’ve heard about podcasts, they either don’t know where to start or what to listen to, so I’ve decided to write a little beginners guide for all of you who fit into this category.

Lets start with what a podcast actually is

Basically, podcasts are like radio programs that you can listen to whenever or wherever you choose. It’s like radio ‘on demand’ but the program choices are much wider. Some podcasts feature people rambling on about stuff that they are interested in, others feature in-depth interviews, discussions, comedy and so on. There’s a strong focus on storytelling in many podcasts.

Podcasts are even more intimate than radio because you choose to listen by subscribing. (We’ll get to how to do this in a moment). Podcasts are cheap to produce, meaning that anyone can make their own radio show. This means that the quality varies, but also means that you can find quirky little shows about pretty much anything you are interested in.

Like good radio, the best podcasts are quite well-produced and easy to listen to. They vary in length from 10 minutes to around an hour, although there are some longer ones. The format makes them ideal for people who walk or commute. I often listen to them at night if I’m having trouble sleeping.

Best of all, podcasts are FREE. They cost nothing to download, except for internet access of course.

How do you listen to a podcast?

Listening is easy. You just need a computer or a smart-phone. Apple devices have a built in podcasting app, which is very convenient.

In researching this post, I came across this wonderful and easy to understand description of how to access a podcast.

How to listen

What should you listen to?

If you use iTunes to find new podcasts, you can easily become overwhelmed. The link I’ve posted above tells you how to subscribe to Serial, a very successful podcast that’s been downloaded more than 5 million times from iTunes, but is actually not my favorite, so I’m not recommending that one.

I would start with this one produced by BBC Radio 4 called In Pod We Trust. Listen to the first episode called Welcome to Podland where Miranda Sawyer talks to podcaster Helen Zaltzman. Helen has a  show about language called The Allusionist. You can find episodes of the Allusionist on iTunes or from the show’s website.

My third recommendation is 99% Invisible which is about the design of every day things. My son recommended this show to me and it’s still one of my favorites.

What about you?

I have quite a few other podcasts that I’d like to share, but I’m interested in discovering what you’ve been listening to?

Have you come across any good ones lately? Please share!

Something’s coming between us

I’m becoming more and more of a podcast fan. One of my current favourites is Note to Self. It explores the impact of technology on our lives and how we can make smart choices about technology.

This morning on my walk to work I listened to an interview with Sherry Turkle, a sociologist, educator and psychologist, who has just written a book called Reclaiming Conversation: The power of talk in a digital age 

This is not a negative book, but it does ask some interesting questions about how technology, and smart phones especially, are impacting on our relationships.

One interesting fact is that when two people are having a conversation and there is a phone on the table in between them it will impact on the level of empathy between the two people, even if it’s switched to silent. Turkle says that this is the case even if the phone is in the periphery of your vision. The phone is a visual reminder that someone is not fully focused on you and what you are saying. It’s competing for the owners attention, even when it’s not ringing.

I noticed this yesterday when some lovely friends were visiting. One person’s phone vibrated very quietly and very frequently the whole time she was there and although she never once looked at it, I felt it was demanding her attention in a seductive and insistent way. I really wanted to take it off the table and pop it in her handbag, but I felt that my response was a bit childish or maybe old fashioned. Now I know that my reaction was completely normal which makes me feel better.

I’m as bad as the next person with checking my phone, but to be honest I have all of my notifications turned off so it’s not always seeking my attention. I just don’t think I’d get any work done if my phone was pinging all day. I don’t think I’m strong enough to resist peeking, so for me it’s better to have the notifications turned off.

I have two questions for you..

Firstly, do you ever put your phone away – completely out of sight and out of mind? Or is your phone always on and usually within reach

Secondly, do you have any great podcasts that you’d like to share?

Let me know, I’d love to hear what you think.