My fave non-bookish things of 2018

My fave non-bookish things of 2018

This post is inspired by Book Riot’s “The Podcast” episode #292, “Our Favorite Non-Bookish Things of 2018.” What’s charming about this podcast is the chatter between Jeff and Rebecca, usually about books and the publishing and book worlds in general, but this time about Things.

My fave things of 2018? It has been fun to think back and decide.

What I Learned and Loved in May and June - Creations by Kara

My Wet Brush Pro! No more tangles. Yay! These brushes are great, but be sure to opt for the “pro.”

Four-wheeler luggage, in general. Finger light travel. No more shoulder pull!

Fountain pens! I’ve converted to writing with fountain pens this year — unless I’m writing on computer, that is. For a dependable, but guilt-inducing disposable, I have favoured Pilot Varsity.

Then I graduated to the cartridge Pelikano Up, which has a very comfortable grip, but a lid that doesn’t stick on when you’re writing and a sometimes scratchy nib. (I’ve bought several, so it’s simply hit and miss.) Too, it sometimes dries out on me. I do very much like how light it is, how comfortable it is to grasp, and how bold the line (my preference).

Inspired by an article in New York Magazine rating all sorts of pens (100!), I ordered the Pelikan Stola III, which I like very much — even though it, too, doesn’t have a lid that stays on when writing. It was rated 4.6 out of 5.0 in the article, a high rating indeed.

Then, for Christmas, I got a lovely Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen, which uses cartridges or ink, which I will likely convert to in time. (Less plastic, and the pen itself is metal.) It has a nice weight, reliable ink flow, smooth nib, and writes a pleasing not-too-fine, not-too-bold script. Plus, its lid stays on when I’m writing. It came in a classy box and is, all-in-all, a beautiful pen. From the review in the New York Magazine article and online, I gather that the newer models are less pleasing, so I’m going to treasure this one.

By the way, none of these pens are expensive.

The new Microsoft Word online picture search feature. (I never thought I’d have a rave thing to say about Word.) You may already have it and don’t know: go to Insert … Pictures … Online Pictures. It’s a great feature, especially if you’re writing a blog with illustrations.

Speaking of which, I adore the Mammoth doc.x converter plug-in for I’m not fond of writing a blog post online. With Mammoth, I write a post in Word, and then easily upload the file to my blog and presto: there it is.

MasterClass on-line courses. These are extremely well done. I indulged in an all-access pass for one year: James Patterson, Judy Blume, Malcolm Gladwell, Margaret Atwood. The only drawback? Now I’m caught up in my one subject of interest: writing. Although … that new Dan Brown course looks tempting. :-)

Staples (Canada) ARC line of notebooks and accessories. I’ve long been a fan of Levenger CIRCA notebooks and accessories, but they are expensive to have shipped to Canada. I was euphoric to see that Staples in Canada has brought out a similar product that’s very reasonable in price. It’s not nearly as extensive, but what they offer is of exceptional quality. Consequently, I went just a little ARC crazy this year.

What are your fave Things of 2018?

The 10 best audiobooks of my year

The 10 best audiobooks of my year

My father became an avid “listener” of books at the end of his life as his eyesight gave out. The player and an endless supply of books on tape (in his category of choice) came to him free of charge thanks to an association for the blind in California. It was a lifesaver! My father liked to boast, “I’m a slow reader, but a fast listener.”

I’ve become an avid “listener” of books now as well. I listen to them while exercising, driving in the car, doing chores, and as I’m falling to sleep (see below).

Where to buy audiobooks

I mainly buy my books from and listen to them on the Audible app on my iPhone. One nice thing about is that you can return a book if you don’t like it, so I’ve become more experimental in my choices. (To return, go to the help menu on their website. It’s easy.) I’ve recently discovered and its app, and like it very much, as well.

Falling to sleep to an audiobook

I’ve become fond of listening to an audiobook while falling asleep. (I use a Bluetooth eyemask.) To listen to a book before sleeping, set the app to turn off after a period of time. I usually choose 30 minutes. Ideally, I will fall asleep before it clicks off. Often, the next day, I will backtrack back to a point I remember.

For falling to sleep, it’s important to choose a book that isn’t too dramatic and that has a soothing narration. For me, it’s best to choose books I’m already familiar with.

The most popular audiobook of the year?

No surprise here: it was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale.

My personal top ten audiobooks

All these are great books, but listening to an audiobook edition adds another dimension of pleasure to the experience. Some I end up buying in print as well because I want to savour the book on a sentence-by-sentence level. I also like being able to share a book I adore with friends.

I listened to dozens of audiobooks this year, and it was difficult to cull it down to only 10. Here they are, not in any particular order:

H Is for Hawk - Audiobook | Listen Instantly!

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, narrated by the author.

This is my current fave to listen to while falling asleep and the first from I’ve ordered. I’ve read the book once in print and once as a Kindle e-book, so it doesn’t matter if I gap out now and then. Macdonald has a wonderful voice.

10 Canadian books we're excited to read in September | CBC ...

All Things Consoled; a daughter’s memoir by Elizabeth Hay, narrated by the author.

I adore this memoir about Hay dealing with her ageing parents, and her voice is low and soothing. It’s a good one to fall to sleep to, but you might want to listen to it twice, in order to catch every word. Hay is a wonderful writer.

Becoming, by Michelle Obama, narrated by the author.

Frank, honest and inspiring. This is a good falling-asleep book, but you’ll want to repeat chapters you missed.

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar, narrated by Juliet Stevenson,

I love most any book narrated by the actor Juliet Stevenson; her voice is golden! This is a knock-out historical novel (with just a little fantasy). It’s one of the ones I ended up ordering in print, as well, because I loved it so much.

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty, narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

This mystery novel of sexual obsession is unusual for Juliet Stevenson — and me. Not recommended for sleeping, however!

David Sedaris' 'Calypso': Essays of humor, melancholy, and ...

Calypso by David Sedaris, narrated by the author.

I’m a Sedaris fan, and I think Calypso is his best yet. He’s a charming reader.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, narrated by Cathleen McCarron.

Room With a View by E. M. Forster, narrated by  Juliet Stevenson.

I listened to this twice and plan to listen to it again. It’s a beautiful novel and an excellent audio edition for falling asleep.

Note: there are a number of audio editions of this classic. Be sure to choose the one narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, narrated by Juliet Steveson.

Another Juliet Stevenson recommendation! Henry James is certainly the last author whose work I would describe as compelling or gripping, but this novel is both. I could finally understand why it’s considered a masterpiece.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, narrated by the author.

I adored this memoir about the science life — and learned a lot into the bargain. Eccentric, moving, extremely well-written. The author is an excellent narrator.


Happy listening! What were your favourite audiobooks this year?

My take on HARD CHOICES, by Hilary Rodham Clinton

My take on HARD CHOICES, by Hilary Rodham Clinton

Hilary Clinton’s HARD CHOICES was a game-changer for me. It’s going on my “Best of the Year” list.

Many dismiss this book as campaign positioning. I see it as far more. I think it’s a valuable historical document, a very detailed account of what one term as US Secretary of State entails. I also think it’s Clinton’s “for the record” legacy.

I came away extremely impressed with what she accomplished—or tried to accomplish—and impressed, as well, with the role of the US in attempting to keep world peace. The world is a tinder box of explosives; the job of the US Secretary of State is critical!

Hilary’s “Smart Power” approach—diplomacy being the most important part of the equation—strikes me as sound. She makes very strong arguments for environmental protection and equality for women worldwide being key to both US security and economic development. She is a tireless advocate of Democracy. She’s a little more of a Hawk than I like, but that’s easy for someone not in the thick of it to think. Her humanitarian values are front and centre.

I came away from reading Hard Choices wanting to campaign for Hilary for President. I’m no longer a U.S. Citizen, but the U.S., like it or not, has an enormous effect on the well-being of the world—my world—and whoever is running that country will have a profound effect on my life and the lives of those I hold dear.

I highly recommend this book as an overview of the extremely serious problems in the world today. (It would be a worthy task for any book club to take on. The discussions would be heated, without a doubt!)

I’m both heartened and alarmed after reading this book: heartened because of the worthy work being done, and alarmed at how how fragile things are. A party less inclined to effective diplomacy and one that does not recognize key dangers (one that denies global warming, for example!) could spell disaster for our world—my world.

I rarely speak out on political issues. Some of my wonderful readers and very good friends are not in agreement with my views, I know, and would be inclined to dismiss anything written by Hilary Clinton. I urge you to read her book, and then let’s discuss.

Note: I listened to the Audible edition—all 27 hours of it!— and I highly recommend it, with a few cautions. The lion’s share of this very long and detailed book is narrated by Hilary, and she does a fantastic job. I didn’t care for the other narrator, Kathleen Chalfant; she puts too much emotion into her voice, which, for me, is distracting. Fortunately, she only narrates the short opening and closing sections, which are not the meat of the book.

Dear Santa: the drool-worthy books I lust for (and you will too)


(Yes, this is me, once-upon-a-time.)

I thought I’d mention the books I swoon over—books you might want to consider buying for yourself, or giving to a very special someone.

Lost in Translation

The first book on this list is Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Catalog of Beautiful Untranslatable Words from Around the World. The amazing Marie Popova mentioned it on her blog——and I was immediately captured. Why?

Well, judge for yourself. This is just one example:


 TSUNDOKU: a Japanese noun for leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books.

 Ha! Say no more! I need this book—to pile on all the others.

The Book of Miracles

Another book that sets the imagination afire is Taschen‘s The Book of Miracles.

The illustrations are breathtaking. Click here for a slideshow. Some examples:

Untitled 2 Untitled Untitled3

At one point this fall, I decided that I really must have a complete set of Penguin’s Dropped Cap series—until I remembered that my publicly-announced goal was to begin culling books. ;-(

Even so, I might just give in. These books are luscious and beautifully crafted; a complete set would be something to behold. They are, also, classics well worthy of such care. The cover fabric is velvety: just holding one of these books is a sensual treat. Here are only a few …


I look forward to seeing a photo of them on your shelves.

My last recommendation is a series I know well, for I own (and devoured) two of them. These are the lavishly illustrated and annotated editions of Jane Austens‘ work from Harvard University Press:


I have had the very great pleasure of reading the Pride & Prejudice  and Persuasion editions. Simply superb.

And, as if this isn’t enough to tempt you, there are many, many “best of” lists coming out now. Here are a few lists I found interesting:

The Best Books of 2014, from the Huffington Post

The 24 Best Fiction Books of 2014, by BuzzFeed Books

The best fiction of 2014, from The Guardian

The Globe 100: The best books of 2014

The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2014 This is an unusual list: extremely interesting.

Station Eleven

Two books I’m going to dip into are Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, as well as My Life in Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead.

My Life in Middlemarch

And don’t forget to check out own “best of” summaries for this year:

The best of 2014 in six books, one movie, one plus four podcasts, and three apps

Mags & blogs: my 2014 shortlist


The best of 2014 in six books, one movie, one plus four podcasts, and three apps

I read many, many books this year, but here are the ones I enjoyed the most, in no particular order:

The Paying Guests

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. Kept me up way past midnight. Waters is a master.


Caught by Lisa Moore. Delightful detail, smart dialogue and an intriguing plot. Wonderful! #CanLit

Life After Life

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. Wow. I will read this novel again. If I had to chose one book for the year, this would be it.

The Testament of Mary

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin. I listened to this on, as read by Meryl Streep. Simply amazing.


Longbourn, by Jo Baker. I loved this novel about the servant world of Austen’s Pride & PrejudiceExtremely well done.

They Left Us Everything

They Left Us Everything, a memoir by Plum Johnson. An often-funny yet moving account of dealing with parents’ “stuff” after their death. I wept! I laughed! #CanLit


Of course, I must also mention movies—well, just one, which I watched three times and will watch three times over again, no doubt. It’s the 2005 release of Pride & Prejudice, staring Kiera Knightly. I love this movie so much I can hardly stand it.


Ok, now for podcasts—but again, I’ll just mention one: Serial. It’s a reality-crime-mystery sort of series, and therefore highly unlikely to capture my interest, so trust me on this. It’s very well done—and extremely compelling.

Yet! How can I not also mention the podcasts that have been my daily bread for years? They include: This American Life, Learn French by Podcast, Book Review by the New York Times, and Writers & Company from CBC Radio.


In addition to my standby apps, I became fond this year of: Duolingo and Anki (for learning languages), and Lyne (a game).

And, as if this weren’t enough, here is another 2014 shortlist:

Mags & blogs: my 2014 shortlist

You might also want to check out my last year’s round-up:

My top 5 fiction titles for 2013: virginal and not

My top 5 non-fiction and memoir reads of 2013: a canvas in red, black & blue—irreverent, wise, tragic, and ultimately unforgettable