What makes a good memoir?

Bryant Park, New York City

When people tell me they don’t like to read non-fiction, I get what they mean with business-y or other types of non-fiction.

But I do feel like there’s a beautiful segment of non-fiction that is very overlooked, and that is the memoir.

3 reasons to try a memoir

  1. A good memoir reads like a story, especially if told well, and if you generally read only fiction, this is an easy way to access a genre you usually don’t read in a fun way.
  2. Good memoirs usually have an interesting story and you don’t need to know anything about the author’s life to enjoy it.
  3. If you don’t have a lot of time, get a book on audible, preferably read by the author.

5 favourite memoirs I heartily recommend, especially if you listen on audio

  1. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – Amy Chua
  2. Stories I only tell my friends – Rob Lowe (you don’t need to be a fan – I wasn’t!)
  3. Born a Crime – Trevor Noah

Then there’s a subgenre of memoir that I love – it’s one where there’s a project for a certain length of time – and the author then writes a book about it.

3 of my favourite project memoirs are:

The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin (I’ve read this one twice and enjoyed it even more 6 years later)

The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell

Year of No Sugar – Eve O Schaub

Do you read memoir? What were some of your favourites?

And now, onto my reads for August.

I decided to only read books I wanted to seeing as it was my birthday month and my word of the year is FUN, and it was indeed a lovely, lovely reading month.

Interestingly, when I took photos for Instagram on Tuesday, I noticed that I read 5 non-fiction and only 4 fiction. I have to give a shout-out to The Year of Less, which is exactly the kind of project-based memoir I love. Those 5 non-fiction reads pushed me over my non-fiction reading goal for the year, which was 24. I’ve now read 27 non-fiction this year.

I’m still thinking through all the insights but I will add that I had $55 worth of stuff in a shopping cart, and after finishing this book, I clicked the X and told myself I don’t actually NEED any of those things. YAY Cait Flanders 🙂

My favourite fiction read was The Good House by Ann Leary. I did ask in the book club if people were interested, and there was no reply, so I read it on my own. And now I’m sorry I didn’t push a bit more because this would have made an excellent book club read. So many things to discuss.

What were some great books you read in August?

How I read 120 books last year

At our last book club meeting of the year, I mentioned that I’d probably reach about 120 books and the question came:

How on earth do you manage to read so many books?

It’s not rocket science but I thought I’d put it here just to remind myself too.

I set a goal (of 72) for the year

I’m a big goal setter and I honestly believe that without goals life is a lot less exciting 🙂

My reading goal means I need to read 6 books a month, that’s one every week but another two built in somewhere else. Just knowing that I have to get through a book a week means that I have a focus.

Have a good list of books to read

I admit, I took this one too far. At one point I had about 40-odd fiction and 20-odd non-fiction waiting for me.

But… you read a lot when you have a lot to read. If you have only 3 books you want to read, you’re going to drag out those 3 books.

It’s Pareto Principle in action – work expands to fill the time available for it.

I actually proved this in December – I could have read more than 8 but I knew I only needed to get to 8, so I slowed down when I got to 6 books for the month, and spaced out those last 2.

Use Audible or Overdrive for audio books

If you haven’t yet listened to an audible book, leave a note in the comments and I’ll send you my favourite one of all time 🙂

I easily get through one audible book a month, some months two. Truth be told I could get through about 4 audible books if I didn’t listen to as many podcasts as I do. One of my goals is to listen to just one more audible book every month.

For those that say they have a short commute, I have a 6-minute commute to my gym and my dance class, and I use those short distances to listen to essay-type books like Present over Perfect.

Use the library

You are much more likely to try books if there’s a low risk involved, in other words, you don’t have to pay for them. There are some books I dithered over, but when I saw they were available at the library, I had no hesitation in trying them. Granted, I did try books that weren’t for me, but I also found about 3 new-to-me authors, all at the library.

I use my physical library (I’ve been going to this one for 16 years; the librarians knew me waddling in while pregnant, and now they know my kids too) and last year I discovered Overdrive. Overdrive alone helped me read 23 of my 120 books. 

Use all those 5 and 10-minute blocks of time

If D and the kids are upstairs doing bedtime reading and I’m cleaning the kitchen/ packing my lunch, I listen to a book.

If I’m waiting in a queue or at the dentist, I pull out my phone, and read on the Kindle app. Non-fiction works best for these tiny blocks of time for me.

You know that if we all stopped scrolling Facebook or Instagram, we’d instantly be reading a book a week. Just saying.

Read books you really, really want to read

I abandoned 5 books in 2017. This is huge for me 🙂

However, you can read a book you really want to read in half the time of struggling to read something. This is different from books that are a hard read because they’re challenging your thinking (which is good for you!) vs books that are awful that you’re forcing yourself to read.

Also, in this same vein, don’t feel bad about the type of books you read. Granted, romance is not my thing, but if you want to read romance novels and nothing else, you go ahead 🙂

If you’re an Upholder, put “read” on your daily and weekly to-do lists

I started reading dramatically more books when I started adding a simple item – read a book – to my weekend to-do list. It became a fun task for me and was easy to then sit down and relax in the middle of the day, even while there was work to be done.

Surround yourself with readers

I haven’t ever had a problem reading a lot but I know for a lot of the ladies in the book club, just all of us talking about books and our Whatsapp group has pushed/ prodded/ encouraged all of them to read more.

Listen to readerly podcasts like What Should I read Next? and sign up to Modern Mrs Darcy’s blog where they discuss bookish things – it’s sure to keep your reading list full.

Bonus – I asked my husband if he had any tips for my readers and he rattled off 5 tips so quickly before the kids interrupted us that I think I need to do another blog post, just with his tips 🙂

(he is also an upholder but he leans to obliger so it may be more interesting to some of you :))

Now, did you reach your reading goal for 2017?

What did you do that made it happen?

The Year of Living Danishly – a review

I know many of you are like me in that you love a good project. Even better when someone else does a great project and writes about it, right?

Examples of this genre that I love are The Happiness Project (for a few years after, some of my clients did their own happiness projects which I coached them through, and then I could re-live the book many times over – LOVE!!!), Happier at Home and the one I want to talk about today, The Year of Living Danishly.

In a nutshell, Helen Russell’s husband gets a job in Denmark at Lego (!), they go for the year. Helen is a journalist and during this year, she freelances while doing her Living Danishly project, one focus area each month. The Danes are known to be some of the happiest people in the world so the book explores that too – each person she interviews gets asked for their happiness score on a scale of 1 – 10.

I read the book through Audible and it was fabulous – the narrator is really, really good.

There’s a lot of talk about hygge – one of my favourite topics – because the Danes do this really well.

I wrote about hygge here and here, if you’d like to have a read.

The 10 concepts she explores in the book, and why Danes are so happy are:

  1. Trust more
  2. Live Hygge
  3. Use your body
  4. Address the aesthetics
  5. Streamline your options
  6. Be proud
  7. Value family
  8. Equal respect for equal work (I’d heard some of this research before from “Overwhelmed” – Brigid Schulte, a book I gave 5 stars)
  9. Play
  10. Share

I don’t want to say too much more, except if you’re going to read it, I recommend the audible version if you like a good English accent. However, if you’re not sure about audible, then get the kindle copy.

Hope you enjoy reading.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Which of the 10 do you most resonate with?

PS if you know of other similar project/ memoir-type books, do leave me a comment so I can check them out.

All links are affiliate – at no extra cost to you, I get a few cents for each book purchased via this blog

My no-spend-on-books month

I’ve done a no-spend month once before, years and years ago, when I joined Beth for her no-spend month.

That was a really great experience because it broke my Exclusive Books habit of spending hundreds of rands on books every month .

This time, I had an idea that my book-buying habit was getting a bit out of control because I was buying a title from Modern Mrs Darcy‘s list almost daily.

Even $2 – $5 Kindle deals add up… and fast.

Amazon also sends those almost-daily emails with their recommendations based on the titles you’ve viewed.

One day I looked and I had 31 unread titles on my Kindle – real books, not samples. And I’ve been reading on average 10 books a month.

I then decided this book-buying thing was getting out of hand and I decided March would be a no-spend month on books.

What did I do differently?

I unsubscribed from MMD’s list. It’s the same way I don’t ever take a catalogue or brochure from a store – if I don’t see it, I don’t want it. I will subscribe again when I feel more caught up with my current reading and I have told my book club to let me know if Small Great Things goes on sale 🙂

How did I do?

I’ve been waiting for Alec Baldwin’s memoir, Nevertheless, for over 6 months so the minute that became available on Audible, I pre-ordered it with a credit I had.

I somehow forgot about my no-spend March when I went to shop for the 2017 Library project and I picked up some books. It honestly didn’t even occur to me that I was buying books because in my head I had DIGITAL books as my goal. Aside from the 4 books for the library, I bought 1 for a friend and about 5 for me (!).

So I was successful with Kindle and Audible purchases; not with physical books 🙂

What now?

I’m back on the no-spend wagon. We have a mini-break coming up and I wanted some books for lazing at the pool so I bought some books on Amazon last week. Coming to an instagram feed near you 🙂

I do think I’m set for at least another 3 months so let’s see if I can keep up the no-spending challenge for books for at least another 2 months.

How about you?

Have you ever declared a no-spend challenge on buying books? Or make-up? Or clothes?

Speaking of which, I haven’t bought a watch since December 2012 and I now have only 3 working watches left. I’m going to treat myself for my birthday though (4 months away) or sooner if I see something I really want.

I want to tell you 7 things about reading

Reading is one of my favourite things to do or talk about. When you couple this with my passion, time management, I especially love it when people tell me they don’t have time to read, or enough time to read, and so on.

So not true, guys. I’m not buying it 🙂

You see, I think we all underestimate the amount of time we waste, and more importantly, how much time we have that we fritter away. Someone I follow, Laura Vanderkam, decided to stop scrolling the internet and read instead. She read 14 books in a month. She found 1.5 hours a day and more on the weekend, totalling 13.5 hours a week, without working or parenting less.

Why you and I are not reading more books

How I find time for reading

Another way to find time for reading – this one is probably unpopular

Then, the new thing is people tell me things like they don’t think audio books will work for them without even trying. I know audio is not for everyone.

Like how video is not for me. But I have watched a few Youtube videos, vlogs and such, tried it first and now I can give you reasons why (slow download speed/ impatience/ I like to be doing something and with video I have to actually sit there and watch, for example :))

Back to audio books.

If you have a short commute, remember all those 15 minutes add up. If you have a 15-minute commute, you can easily finish one audio book a month. That’s 600 minutes a month just to and from work.

However, there is also cooking time, cleaning time, editing photo time, scrapbooking time, walking time, gardening time.

I would love you to tell me you listened to a book and then decided it’s not for you. But please try! You can easily add 1 – 2 books to your “read list” every month in this super-simple way.

You may like this post on how I use audio to work for me. One major trick is to find a narrator you like.

Here’s where I shared my love for the Kindle at the 3-year mark. I just passed the 6-year mark two days ago!

When it’s worth it to buy a book

Bonus – free books with Overdrive

How do you prefer to read your books?

Have you tried an audio book yet?

What makes a podcast fun, and when to listen to them


I write about my 5 favourite podcasts recently but I want to talk a little more about this subject.

First, a few things that make a podcast a good one for me:

  • not too long – my commute is about 40 – 45 mins so that’s my preferred length. One hour just seems too long (mindset?) and then I always have these bits left over (I don’t mind if it’s Alec Baldwin, but then again, not everyone is Alec Baldwin!)
  • a great voice or great banter between the presenters
  • they need to get into their advertised subject within a minute or two. I stopped listening to two (I’m told) great podcasts because they take way too long to get into the topic. The one had ads/ filler for 7 minutes, and the other one I actually timed and took 19 minutes to get into the subject. No thanks, life is too short. Now I don’t mind Jess Lively’s one because her 5 mintues of advertising are at the end of her podcast, so I just stop the podcast at that point. The Simple Show asks filler-type questions at the end of the interview but those are interesting and fun, and not long at all (minutes at most).
  •  an Irish accent won’t hurt 🙂
  • For audio books, a good voice is key (I’ve returned books with annoying narrators) and I LOVE when the author narrates their own books.


I think because I happen to have a commute where I’m in the car for about 40 – 45 minutes each way, three times a week, that you may think you need to also have a commute to enjoy a podcast (or audible book).

Not true.

So here are a few times to enjoy listening to a podcast/ audio book:

1. driving in the car, whether long distances or short, 5-minute drives

I won’t listen to a serious non-fiction book on a short trip, but I would listen to the Happier podcast during that time. The trick is to match the podcast to the type of drive. I love listening to books in the morning because I’m concentrating fairly well (!) but in the afternoons when I want to unwind, I listen to podcasts, nothing where I need to concentrate too hard though.

2. cooking/ baking/ kitchen stuff

There is nothing better than cooking and then tidying the kitchen while listening to a podcast. You don’t even notice the time passing while you’re getting things done. I listen to 1 – 1.5 podcasts and whip up that evening’s meal, plus one other, on at least 1 – 2 weeknight evenings.

For those that don’t like cooking, try listening to a podcast while you cook to distract you 🙂 I used to always burn carrots but now I don’t leave the kitchen so no more burnt carrots.


3. organising/ cleaning/ tidying

I re-listened to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in August (I’ll write a blog post about that process when I’m done), and then I listened to podcasts while I tweaked organising solutions and tossed out a few more things.

4. editing photos

When I’m editing photos, I want to be productive and not too reflective, so I do like listening to a podcast. I can get through 2 – 3 podcasts in a 90 – 120-minute editing session.


5. general pottering

I tend to batch fun, creative pursuits like wrapping presents, so I always listen to a podcast while I do things like this. Also, pottering. Some don’t know what this means. Here’s the definition from the Cambridge dictionary:

to move around without hurrying, and in a relaxed and pleasant way:

I spent the afternoon pottering around the garden doing a few odd jobs.

Basically, I think pottering around my house is one of life’s great (uneventful) joys 🙂 I can potter around for hours.

6. Running or walking

I don’t listen to podcasts while walking (you won’t catch me running, ever, unless I’m racing Connor for 100m) but I know many people (online!) who run or walk who use that time to listen to a podcast. This might work for you too.

When would be the best time for you to listen to podcasts or audio books?

If you’re already a podcast/ audiobook listener, what makes a good podcast/ audio book for you?

When is it worth it to buy a book?

How I read books |www.OrganisingQueen.com

I read quite a lot – a little in excess of 5 books a month. I could read more but we’ve already spoken about how we’re all not reading enough.

Still, when I talk about my reading to people, I get a lot of questions about buying books, Kindle vs paper, library vs owning them, and so I thought I’d put together my thought process in the hope that it might help someone.

(let me know if that someone is you – it’s nice when you know your efforts landed somewhere!)

   How I read books |www.OrganisingQueen.comFiction

I read far too much fiction (and far too quickly) to buy each and every book I read. The fiction I read comes from four places:

  1. the library – I have always loved the library. Always.
  2. Kindle deals (Amazon is amazing at telling me when books I’ve looked at go on sale 😉 so I can decide if I want to wait for the price to drop some more, or if I want to get the book there and then). I do like to have about 3 – 4 books on my Kindle when I go on holiday so I wait patiently til then to read all the Kindle novels I’ve been storing.
  3. secondhand bookstores – if I’m on holiday and I run out of books (this happened in April when we were in Sabie), I dash into a secondhand bookstore and grab a cheap copy of a book by an author I’m familiar with.
  4. gifts from my Amazon wish list

A word on libraries

I’ve recently discovered a new thing – reserving books. You complete a form, they phone you when the book’s in and then you pay R12 for the book. Where are you ever going to get a book for R12 these days?!

I reserved the Marian Keyes book in the top photo and I can’t wait to dig in.

How I read books |www.OrganisingQueen.com


I only read 1 – 2 non-fiction books a month – my goal is 15 for the year – and here are the three sources of my non-fiction:

  1. Books from my bookshelf (I’ve been buying non-fiction at Exclusive Books my whole life and I buy them faster than I can read)
  2. Kindle (since I bought my Kindle nearly 5 years ago, I stopped buying physical books and get them on the Kindle)
  3. Audible – this is a new development since the beginning of this year and is perfect for using my commute time effectively. Since Audible, I no longer buy non-fiction for the Kindle unless the author is not reading their own work. Sadly, not all books are available on Audible but there are plenty to keep me busy for the next year or so 🙂

More on Audible

I have a few rules for myself:

  • I prefer it if the author reads their own work
  • If not, then I need to enjoy the narrator’s voice. One of my favourite books from this year, Overwhelmed, was narrated by someone else but she had a great voice and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it.

Earlier this year I felt a tad overwhelmed by all the books I’d bought and not yet listened to, so I paused my membership for 3 months while I caught up.

And that’s it!

How do you get the fiction or non-fiction books you read? Let me know on Facebook or Instagram.

How I read books |www.OrganisingQueen.com

A friend made me this beautiful Kindle cover. I love it!!!

More posts you might like:

Why I never thought I’d get a Kindle

2 years with my Kindle

3 years with my Kindle

How I’m using audio to work for me

I’ve mentioned before how I’m a visual learner.

60% of us are visual learners, by the way.

It turns out though that if you use audio and visual content together, you can increase your goals effectiveness 🙂

Using audio books, products and podcasts |www.organisingqueen.com
Here are a few ways I’m using audio:

1. Audio books

A few months ago, Modern Mrs Darcy wrote a really great post about audio books answering all the questions I didn’t know I had 🙂

I wasn’t convinced that listening to fiction was going to work for me but I’m always willing to give something a go, so I decided to try getting some non-fiction.

I signed up for Audible‘s gold membership and got my first book, Danielle Laporte’s Desire Map. It was a great one to start off my experiment – Danielle has a fantastic voice and the book is not too long. I think it was about 6 hours.

After that I was hooked.

I couldn’t wait for my monthly membership day (24th of the month) so I bought a book sooner (Overwhelmed) and devoured it.

Confession – I tried listening to a work of fiction too and after about 5 minutes, I was done. I found that I want to read fiction by myself. Maybe it’s because I’m a fast reader? I don’t know.

Using audio books, products and podcasts |www.organisingqueen.com
Some precautionary notes:

1. Download your book in a wifi zone.
2. Turn off “use cellular data” on your phone before listening otherwise the download will use up all your data (unless that’s not a problem for you – it is for me)
3. Make sure your phone is charged before driving anywhere. One afternoon after work, I jumped in the car, turned on my book and my phone lasted just 5 minutes before the battery was flat. Do you know how frustrating that is?

I’m really enjoying my commute these days (something I never thought I’d say) simply because I can learn something while driving and I don’t have to think about the traffic.

This is the crazy part – some days I even hope for a few minutes longer in the car if I need to finish a chapter!

2. Audio Bible

My favourite Bible app, simply called The Bible has an audio built in. I listen in the car and I then read the same chapters at another time.

I’ve found that doubling up helps things stick in my mind much better than just using the one method of learning.

Using audio books, products and podcasts |www.organisingqueen.com

3. Podcasts

Podcasts work for me much the same as my audio books do except they’re “lighter” in content (or maybe that’s just the ones I listen to).

I’m really enjoying listening while driving, and also while cooking or tidying, if I’m alone in a particular part of the house.

I’ll be posting a list of some of my favourite podcasts this Friday. Do come back to take a look.

4. Bonus – Audio products

There are many audio products out there (teleseminars and so on) that can help solidify your learning too. I’ve listened to many on goal-setting and also business products like How to charge what you’re worth 🙂

I have a couple in the store like Break out of overwhelm, 7 steps to organise your office, and there are two audios in the Organise your Time ecourse. Have a look here and take your pick.

Have you joined the audio bandwagon yet?
Which books do you recommend?

P.S. while writing this article, I bought another book, Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before. Can’t wait to listen!

PPS I think I need to join my friend, Beth, on a spending fast in May. Don’t you think it’s a fabulous idea? The last time I joined her I broke my Exclusive Books monthly habit.

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