Organising Queen’s best books of 2018, just in time for summer/ winter reading


I thought I’d go ahead and post my best fiction and non-fiction books of 2018, just in case you want some backlist titles for summer/ winter reading.

Just like in the Northern Hemisphere, I also read a lot during our winter because I completely indulge myself in all that is good about winter (reading with tea under a blanket).

So here we go, first my top fiction reads and then my top non-fiction reads.

Fiction

Still Alice – Lisa Genova

Still Alice is 10 years old this year! If you get the physical copy, you might find the lovely 10th anniversary edition.

I loved this book so much but I’ll confess because I lean to the dramatic (!), it made me super paranoid that I was getting Alzheimer’s. That’s not a spoiler – it’s in the book blurb that it’s about a woman who gets early-onset Alzheimer’s. To this day, if I walk into a room and can’t remember why I’m there, I freak out a little inside.ย 

I gave this book 4.5* because it was so uncomfortable to read in places, but it is my own issues. It’s actually a 5* read.

The Ensemble – Aja Gabel

This was a debut novel spanning about 20 years in the lives of a string quartet. It is beautifully written, has interesting, compelling characters and still moves at a good pace. You don’t need to know anything about music (I don’t!) to appreciate and enjoy this book.

I still can’t believe this is her debut novel – it’s so, so good and was my absolute favourite book of the year (5*). I loved it so much I plan to listen to it in June on audio. And….ย  if you’re like me, once you’ve read the book,ย 

As an aside, Beth also read this book (the only one of my friends SO FAR!) and loved it, and we generally read completely different genres, other than psychological thrillers which we both enjoy.ย 

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

Like Still Alice, this was also a book club pick. I loved everything about this book and I loved the mom character too, who I am sure is an enneagram 1.

This was a 5* read but I chopped off 1/2* due to a small detail near the end.

If you’ve read any of these three books, do let me know what you thought in the comments.

Non-fiction

How not to hate your husband after kids – Jancee Dunn

I know this is a clickbaity title but the research is so solid, and this is a fantastic book. She covers all the important parts of marriage – especially the ones that cause… disharmony…. and I loved every single chapter.

Lab girl – Hope Jahren

This was the book that made me see nature in a different way. I wrote so much more here.

The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin

And I wrote more about this book here

And if you want to get inspired to get organised and nest, I’d love you to grab a copy of one of my books here.

Do you have any great backlisted titles to recommend to me?

PS These are affiliate links – it costs you exactly the same price and I get a few cents on each title for recommending it to you.

{reading} How I track my reading and January books read


So let’s talk about book tracking.

This is a big deal in the bookstagram world, and if you know me at all, you know I love tracking anything and everything. I learned since reading The Four Tendencies that upholders do well with monitoring, which is really what tracking is for me.

I first started tracking my reading straight after my last matric exam. For those outside of South Africa, it’s your last school year. That day was on 18 November and on that very day after my Biology exam, I went to the library, took out all the books I could and started tracking from that day nearly 27 years ago.

At some point once I’d started working, I started keeping an Excel sheet.

Fast forward to when I discovered Goodreads, and little by little but only back to 1998, I entered most of that notebook into Goodreads.

Well, how do I currently track my reading?

I track in 3 ways:

Goodreads (if Goodreads ever goes away, I don’t know what I’d do)

I use Goodreads for recording books I’ve read and to check when I’m at the library or bookshop whether I’ve read a certain book before borrowing or buying it. After thousands of books read, I can’t keep it all straight in my head ๐Ÿ™‚

There’s an app which I use for on-the-go tracking, but I write reviews at my laptop as I need a proper keyboard.

Excel spreadsheet

I track my monthly goals on an excel spreadsheet. In the past I’ve done an exercise at the end of the year to see how many fiction vs non-fiction reads I had, and other such interesting stats, which took me hours. Hours of pleasure, but hours nonetheless. Then I got clever. So since 2017, as part of my monthly goals, I also track the numbers of non-fiction vs fiction, physical/ kindle/ audible books and so on. It’s so much easier to enter the totals in less than a minute every month and my Excel sheet is set up to total, and do % of goal, etc. so I have the annual totals quickly too.

Bullet journal

This year I started writing down the month’s books in a special notebook I call my book bullet journal. I also have notes at the back of books I want our book club to read, books I want to read on Audible, books I need to borrow through Overdrive, and so on.

It’s really lovely to have a beautiful, fun notebook, and to physically write down books I’m reading again, especially since I haven’t done so for about 15 years, if not longer.

How do you track your reading?

And as for the books I read in January…

I finished 10 books – 5 of them during the first week while I was on holiday ๐Ÿ™‚

My final tally is 8 fiction; 2 non-fiction with 5 physical books, 1 audible and 4 Kindle versions.

Favourite reads of this month: The Friend – Dorothy Koomson (my first 5* read of the year!) and The Sunshine Sisters – Jane Green

What were your favourite reads in January?

{reading} Why I read fewer books in 2018 than in 2017

In 2017 I read 120 books. You can read how here (that’s one of the most popular posts on the blog, by the way).

Last year I passed 100, didn’t hit 120 but ended up on 112.

Let me tell you why:

  1. I read longer, more challenging books

One of my reading goals for 2018 was to read books that would stretch me, some more literary fiction. I specifically set a really low Goodreads goal of 80 books. This means I still needed to be reading almost two books a week, so I had to prioritise reading but I could read longer books during a month and not choose ones I’d finish within 4 days instead of say, 6.

2. I worked from home more

I listen to audible books on the way to work. A standard non-fiction read is about 8 hours long and a standard fiction read is about 10 – 11 hours long, so let’s average out at 9 hours.

Given these stats, and my commute being about 45 minutes, in 2017, I’d get through a long audio book in 3 weeks, but on average this year it was taking me 4 weeks because for many weeks, I’d work from home two days.

(no complaints; I’d gladly sacrifice books for focussed deep work time)

3. my reading slump

I won’t go into the whole thing here again but when you’re in a reading slump, you’d rather do other things than read, so I organised, took jacaranda photo walks and had other kinds of fun ๐Ÿ™‚

It was really helpful analysing why I read less this year. The bottom line is I’m an upholder and it’s still best for me to make my own rules about reading (and everything else) and uphold those rules.

Read more about my reading rules here, and on re-reading them now, it’s so obvious the commenters are not upholders ๐Ÿ˜‰

How did your reading life compare from 2017 to 2018? Have you noticed any trends?

The life-changing magic of not giving a f**k

Despite the title of this book (I’m not a fan of sensational titles), to my surprise, it was a really good book.

If I were asked, I’d say that it’s a book about boundaries… and you know how much I love talking about boundaries. But if you’re super sensitive to swear words, I’d give this a miss because you won’t get her message. That said, I don’t like a lot of swearing too and I found I became numb to it after a while.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k: How to stop spending time you don't have doing things you don't want to do with people you don't like (A No F*cks Given Guide) by [Knight, Sarah]

In this book, Sarah Knight gives her readers permission to stop wasting our time doing things we don’t want to, without feeling guilty about it. And without being that rude person no-one wants to be around. It’s about being firm, polite but being honest.

The nice thing is she gives lots of examples about places in all our lives where we do or pay for or attend things due to obligation without questioning, when in fact, the world will continue just fine if we stop doing these things we hate.

  1. like responding to rude people’s obnoxious questions (whether they be complete strangers or family!)
  2. attending baby showers and other social norm events
  3. doing things at work that no one cares about

Some of my favourite quotes:

“when I stopped giving a F about going to baby showers – an activity I positively loathe – I gained untold Sunday afternoons of freedom” (I had no idea anyone else in the world felt the same as I do about baby showers!)

โ€ฆ it’s all about prioritizing. Joy over annoy. Choice over obligation. Opinions vs feelings. Sticking to a budget. Eyes on the prize”

and my favourite

“Your time, energy, and/ or money spent should result in greater happiness for you.”

One thing I really LOVED in the book was the concept of a personal policy. E.g. you get asked for a loan from someone. You just say, “I have a personal policy that I don’t give loans. So sorry” (polite, firm and they can’t argue – it’s your personal policy)

You can do this for many things…. go wild ๐Ÿ™‚

The overarching theme is that we all think other people care much more than they do (so true). And so we do things to make people happy when they really don’t/ won’t care that much.

So stop twisting yourself in knots, just be honest about your feelings in a kind way, and you and they will be much happier.

I think I have good boundaries but I also learnt a lot from this little book. If you need a little kick-in-the-pants (especially for the obligers and then upholders), grab a copy from the library and get reading in preparation for your Christmas events… or for a New Year refresh ๐Ÿ™‚

Do you need a boundary refresh? Where do you need to set a personal policy?

If you didn’t know, I coach women just like you to live more intentional lives. Contact me to arrange your coaching session.

How to get out of a reading slump

I shared in my newsletter and on Instagram Stories a few weeks ago that I’d been going through a reading slump.

What’s a reading slump?

It’s when reading feels more like a chore than a pleasure, and when you would rather do anything else than actually read.

What brought on my reading slump?

  • My standard reading life looks like this: a work of fiction started and finished on the weekend, an audible book in the car to accompany me on my daily commute, and a non-fiction read for weeknights.
  • I had a string of fiction books that I was not finishing in time so it was stretching into the week. My pace became really slow (5 – 6 days per book instead of 3 days) and my reading rhythm was thrown. Some of these books were book club reads that because of the internet noise, I’d been looking forward to, and were therefore disappointing (The Almost Sisters and Eleanor Oliphant). One was a book about a woman dying of cancer which was beautifully written but still, a difficult read.
  • In typical upholder fashion, even though I could have stopped when I saw that people weren’t joining in with Spring into Organising, I carried on relentlessly organising my home, going harder to try and inspire, but instead just burning myself out by doing more, more, more (17 spaces instead of the 9 planned). By the way, if you have suggestions for future endeavours, please let me know in comments what would work better in terms of getting people (or you) to play along. I have many ideas but I’m (honestly) scared to even try again.

I then heard an episode of the Currently Reading podcast where reading slumps were discussed, and when they asked readers to let them know how to get out of one, suddenly I realised what was going on with me and I was full of ideas.

Here’s how I got out of my reading slump:

  1. I decided to read one or two authors that I always enjoy reading (like Cathy Kelly) because I knew I’d read and not want to stop reading.
  2. The weather helped as we had one cold and rainy weekend, perfect reading weather.
  3. I chose a mystery book to increase my pace. I always read mysteries faster and I needed to feel like I was immersing myself in books again.
  4. I picked some fun audiobooks to keep me company on my way to work, not the “next thing” on my to read list, but just books that stood out to me. And yes, I flew through them.
  5. I chose to put down my phone. This was fortuitous as I upgraded and the iPhone helpfully told me exactly how much time I was spending on Instagram. 14 hours in one week is easily 2 – 3 books read, so that was an easy decision. This is not entirely accurate but I will write about this some more once I’ve gathered more stats.

Over to you.

When was your last reading slump? Do you remember what led to it? And more importantly, how did you get out of it?

And then, let’s talk about the books I read last month.

I read three physical books, my first in 3 months ๐Ÿ™‚ and I’ll admit, readers, that it is really satisfying to occasionally hold a real book.

  1. I finished 10 books and I’m now over 100 for the year (101).
  2. Physical/ Audible/ Kindle: 3/3/4

I read some great non-fiction books this month.

The ministry of ordinary places – Shannan Martin

Shannan is an enneagram 8 which means she’s challenging in a good way and in this book, makes you think about what the definition is of widening your circle and doing ministry right there in your small, ordinary world.

I loved each essay and screenshotted (since I read on overdrive) many, many pages to remember some of her words.

The 360 degree leader – John Maxwell

Maxwell is the king of leadership books and this one was published in 2006 yet everything he says is still completely up to date, probably because leadership and interpersonal skills are timeless.

I was in a bit of a funk when I borrowed this one from Overdrive and listening to this book sorted me right out. I can lead right from where I am, no matter my position or title.

This really was a great book to inspire me for the last month of the work year.

I also have two fiction reads that stood out to me this month:

Rainbows never end – Cecilia Ahern

Coming out of my reading slump I was fully prepared to abandon this book if it was in any way weird. I say that because Cecilia Ahern’s books are a hit and miss for me – some of them are exactly my thing and then others (like The time of my life) are just too weird/ “imaginative” for my liking.

This one had me glued to the couch for two days. I remember picking Kendra up from a party and saying to her, “come on, hurry, I’m 20 pages away from the end of my book”.

This year it will be different – Maeve Binchy

I don’t usually like short stories but Maeve Binchy does short stories very, very well. Each story can be enjoyed with a cup of tea or over breakfast and this one is now one of my Christmas favourites. I’d been looking forward to a Christmas read that would leave me feeling warm and hopeful, but not too soppy, and Irish fiction is just that. Real, relatable, flawed characters with stories that have satisfying but not cheesy endings.

Tell me about some of the great books you read this month.

Book bossy and my October reads

I learned of a delightfulย  little phrase, “book bossy” this month.

It turns out I am book bossy.

Friends, I was quite taken aback because I don’t see this book bossiness as a negative at all; it’s just who I am. I am a person who is passionate about books and reading.

And honestly, I’m only book bossy when I think it may matter to you too. There are some friends I never talk books with; granted, these are probably not my deepest friendships ๐Ÿ˜‰

I am book bossy when I really love a book and want to press it into everyone’s hands (or ears), or because it is universally loved. Or because I know that the person will, in fact, love the book.

So in honour of my book bossiness, these are some books I am decidedly and unashamedly book bossy about:

The happiness project – Gretchen Rubin

Perfect as we go into the new year. I plan to listen to it in January again – it’s just the perfect start to a new year, or even around your birthday.

Boundaries – Cloud/ Townsend

Still the best book on boundaries out there.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Marie Kondo

Look on my sidebar. I’ve written many posts and it is truly life-changing.

The Four Tendencies – Gretchen Rubin

Listen, read and then if you’re intrigued like I was, take her deep dive course too. Or come coach with me and I will take you through it.

And now, let me show you all the books I read in October, among them the book that taught me about my book bossiness.

I read four fiction and five non-fiction; 0 physical books (!), 6 Kindle and 3 Audible.

My favourite fiction read was the Cathy Kelly – Secrets of a Happy Marriage.

I have three favourite non-fiction reads to talk about. It’s actually a pity of sorts that I read them all in the same month; they each deserve their space in the spotlight.

Off the clock – Laura Vanderkam‘s new release. I enjoyed this book so much and am planning to write a few blogs about it. It’s more philosophical than her previous books, and is my favourite by far.

Dream more – Dolly Parton. This was a short read and I actually listened on audio. It was so fun to hear Dolly singing a verse here and there. I believe that a memoir-ish book needs to make you like the person more than you did before, and this one did. She is utterly delightful and I am so impressed with her work ethic and attitude towards life.

I’d rather be reading – Anne Bogel. I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did because (confession!) I don’t usually like books about books as I find them either too cheesy or trying to be too clever. This one was neither. It was relatable and endearing, and I found myself wanting to either wake my husband to share things with him, or Instastory everything and put polls in my stories to talk about it all.

What was your favourite fiction, and non-fiction (if you read – I realise more and more that I’m in the minority with my 40% on average non-fiction reads)?

And more important, are you book bossy?

On setting reading goals and books read in September

Good news!

I reached my goal of 72 in August, and this month, I reached my Goodreads goal of 80 books.

You may ask yourself why I set such a “low goal” if I read 120 books last year.

My purpose for my reading life this year was to read deeper and sometimes longer books as well as fun books. I saw a tendency in my reading life last year to skip over some books if they were over 400 pages and I wouldn’t be able to finish them if the month had only a few days left. This year, I wanted to create space to read longer books than I had been reading.

It’s working beautifully because I am reading longer books and I’m getting through books I’ve had on my Kindle for a couple of years.

I’ve also surpassed my non-fiction reading goal which was 24 for the year; I’ve read 29 as at the end of September.

I had an audible goal too of 12 books for the year; I’ve read 16. I find that two a month is my comfort number.

Do you set reading goals?

Do you find that it enhances your reading life, or do you feel that it diminishes it?

And now onto my books read during September.

I really loved both non-fiction books I read: Hello Mornings by Kat Lee, and Grace not Perfection by Emily Ley.

I re-read Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty, and again LOVED it!

If you’re a Gretchen Rubin Four Tendencies fan, tell me if you agree with my take on the characters:

Erica and Oliver – both Upholders, one leans to Questioner and one to Obliger

Vid – Obliger

Tiffany – Rebel

Clementine – Questioner

Sam – Obliger

Just some fun ๐Ÿ™‚

Other mentions:

If you can, get Maeve Binchy’s book on Audible for all the beautiful Irish accents.

I am in the minority as I did not love Joshilyn Jackson’s The Almost Sisters, BUT it was a great book club discussion, and that I always love.

I’m reading Off the Clock (35% through – will report back next month) and that rounds up all the books I’d set aside to read in September.

What were some of your notable mentions or favourite books read this month?

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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?

The kind of books I love to read

I’ve only read one book in this pic so far and didn’t really love it ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

I mentioned in this post a few months ago that it’s quite life-changing when you know the types of books that don’t work for you; you can skip right over certain books and know they’re not for you even though many other people might love them!

In the same way that you should now what you don’t want to read – here’s my list – you should also know what you do want to read, so that others start to know your style and won’t miss the mark buying you books.

Funny story – last year and this year for my birthday, two different friends bought me books I’d already read and loved. They were quite disappointed that I’d read the books but I was thrilled because they got me!

I’m reading The Ensemble in this pic

So what do I love?

  1. A hopeful tone (a serious title can have either a depressing or hopeful tone) even if serious subject matter (e.g. Still Alice)
  2. Good relationship dynamics (anything Joanna Trollope)
  3. Project-based memoir
  4. Memoir that is not fan memoir (Lab Girl)
  5. Strong protagonists (there’s at least one in each of Liane Moriarty’s books)
  6. Non-fiction that is solid in concepts but still practical (I know how she does it)
  7. Contemporary fiction that is not soppy (The Ensemble)
  8. Most Irish fiction (Roisin Meaney – but here are my favourite authors)

Do tell – what kind of books do you love to read?

An aside – I was chatting to Dion about a book that sounds like the type of thing I would like, but then I said, “it does say the author was a winner of a Man Booker Prize so probably not”. You see, I also have the dubious honour of not liking Book Prize books or enjoying any Academy award-winning movies, except one (Crash) ๐Ÿ™‚

And if you’re interested, here are the books I read in July.

Fiction/ Non-fiction

8/3

Physical/ Audible/ Kindle

3/1/7

It was a great reading month – I only had two books rated 3 stars. The rest were 4s and 4.5 stars.

For full details, friend me on Goodreads

What was the best book you read recently?

My monthly recap for July

I’m smack-bang in the middle of birthday season at the moment, so I’m not going to wait for the actual end-of-the-month before doing my monthly recap.

As an aside, can you see how this Upholder is breaking loose?! The Four Tendencies deep dive course really helped me to clarify why I do things and question whether I want to continue doing them. When I figure out Instagram TV, I’m going to do a little video on my learnings from the course.

Moving along.

Let’s talk about my highlights for July

1. Our family beach holiday. We were in Ballito for a week and I read 5 books, got to nap on the couch one afternoon, watched Wimbledon, and took many many walks on the boardwalk. Also, something weird happens to my body at the coast – I wake at 6.20 every day (I would wake at 9.00 if left to my own devices in Johannesburg)ย  – so I got to watch so many sunrises.

2. I’ve read 10 books thus far. I should finish on 12 for the month.

3. I crossed off something from the house to-do list which was to put in a shower in the kids’ bathroom. It came about in a really standard way for me which is I became irritated with having a messy bathroom every day when I got home from work as the kids used to use my shower. Dion and I are both very neat in our bedroom/ bathroom so I asked for a quote, changed the hardware out once and then paid the deposit and the shower was done.

4. I’ve done all the birthday planning. Two parties down, Dion’s birthday on Friday and mine on the 6th with a lunch on Sat 4th. Last year we had both the twins’ parties on the same weekend – mayhem – so this year we had 1 per weekend. Of course it feels like I’m entertaining for 4 straight weeks (which I am) but it’s been a whole lot more manageable. I’m only two parties in, but so far so good.

5. And for work, I survived the year-end madness ๐Ÿ™‚ I was also up to date two days after returning from leave which is a feat that I’m particularly excited about.

Noteworthy mentions of the organising kind

  • I made updated travel lists and have put them in an A5 flipfile right down to which little travel pouch to use for my bedside table stuff. I’m super thrilled about this tiny little task that took about 10 minutes because now I don’t need to THINK every time I travel. I will just whip out my little flipfile and follow my lists.
  • We used Uber for our holiday again and it was great.
  • I ran a little giveaway on Instagram for Mandela Day and while I thought there’d be a lot more people putting up their hands for a free coaching session, I only had 4 takers, which means those 4 get 17 minutes each ๐Ÿ™‚

Tell me about your highlights and organising mentions this month.

This is how we feel about beach holidays ๐Ÿ˜‰

 



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