This is the September selection for the APDO Book Club, and, to be honest, I wouldn’t have chosen to read it otherwise - I really dislike issues-based fiction and avoid it if I can.

At least in this case the author is writing from a place of some knowledge. Kathryn Erskine lives in Virginia, and was local when the school shooting at Virginia Tech took place. Her daughter, like the narrator of Mockingbird, has Asperger’s, and Erskine says she was interested in the ways families reacted after the school shootings - and particularly how they were explained to children with special educational needs.

The book is well-written and well-paced, covering a lot of ground in its 151 pages. I think the author achieves everything she set out to, so it’s definitely worth three stars. However, the genre of necessity is quite heavy-handed in pointing out the issues - that’s what I don’t like about it - and Mockingbird sticks within its conventions. If you like issues-based fiction, you’ll probably love this book. I don’t, so while I can see the author’s skill and tell it’s a brilliant book of its kind, it, and other books like it, just aren’t for me.

This month, my fellow APDO Book Club organiser, Nicola Austin, selected three fiction books with neurodiverse lead characters and asked members to vote for their favourite. Mockingbird won hands down, and led to a lively discussion on Autism, its representation in fiction, and our experiences working with clients living with it.

APDO Book Club: Work Like A Woman

Don’t be fooled by my read dates (16 May-23 July) – I borrowed this on the Libby app, missed the return date and had to wait to reborrow 🤦🏻‍♀️. I loved this book, and would have sped through it if I’d started reading earlier during my first loan period.

In fact, I couldn’t agree more with Sali Hughes’ pull quote on the cover – “Ideas, solutions, wisdom, kindness, and zero whining.” This Last is really important, because as a working class woman who made it into some of the top board rooms in the retail industry, Portas has had her fair share of fuckwittery and bias to face down, and while she doesn’t pull any punches in sharing it, she always does so with a good lesson and often a killer punchline attached.

I also like the way she acknowledges her ex-husband, life partner and home staff who provided her with the space and time to focus on her work whilst at work. The people who looked after her kids are clearly very important to her, and it’s appropriate in a book that argues for better acknowledgement of the labour exchange in retail that she should demonstrate those principles as an employer of child care, cleaning and household management professionals.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given my own circumstances, my biggest takeaways are that it’s absolutely OK to walk away from work that others see as successful and set up independently; that the workplace really is tough for women (and especially working class women), and that it’s tougher the more old boys’ rooms you have to enter to do business. And, above all else what matters is being true to yourself and your values. Follow your gut instincts. Be kind, but take no s**t. “Work like a woman.”

APDO Book Club: Deep Work

Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Piatkus, 2016.

Is there an irony in my having finished reading this book as a shallow relief from finishing writing my own current book and finalising preparations for a training on rare books cataloguing? Possibly. Possibly not.

Essentially, this is a book about how the author and other people whose work he has read or whom he has interviewed manage their lives to prioritise the tasks that stretch them. As such, it’s a 3-star read for me because he’s achieved what he set out to do, but there’s nothing in either the information he shares or his writing style that I actively love.

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APDO Book Club: The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide

I’m really glad that APDO Book Club chose this book as this month’s read, because, I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have read to the end any other way.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s worthy of its 3 stars, which in my rating means the author has achieved what they set out to do – there’s just nothing in it that I personally loved or found inspiring.

Jen Gale presents us with lots of useful links, and to that extent it’s worthwhile getting hold of a copy. There are also a few nice soundbites that I’ll use on the Tidy Beginnings Instagram at some point in the future. I’m certainly not discouraging anyone from reading this book, which has the solid aim of demystifying green issues and I guess achieves that for the sort of person Jen Gale was herself before she spent eight years reading and blogging on these topics.

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APDO Book Club: Death & Decluttering

Nancy McGovern, Death & Decluttering (Sparks & Joy Mystery, 1), McGovern Books, 2020.

The latest APDO Book Club choice, this should have hit my sweet spot – a cozy crime with an organising bent.

Unfortunately it felt to me like it was trying a little too hard to be funny and the characters were a little too exaggerated – some of them like ostrich-riding Uncle Beppe were real caricatures.

As such, although the book achieved what it set out to do, it fell flat for me. I simply didn’t care about murder victims Lauren and Chip because they weren’t realistic enough people.

Probably one for the Agatha Raisin fans. My sense of humour just isn’t a match for the author’s, sorry.

APDO Book Club: An Introduction to Coaching Skills

Christian Van Nieuwerburgh, An Introduction to Coaching Skills. 3rd ed., Sage, 2018.

This was the February APDO Book Club read.

Caveat: I haven’t accessed the video content that comes with the book. Despite providing online learning myself, including video content as appropriate, I don’t enjoy watching educational videos for pleasure, and always, always prefer reading.

I did learn new techniques from the book, and I suspect would / will learn more via the videos. However, a lot of it replicated learning during my Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, focusing on listening skills, asking open questions, and keeping the “coachee” (hideous term – “person being coached” is longer to say but sounds better) thinking, talking and taking action.

My reading was also marred by my context – this isn’t, in my opinion, a book club read, but rather a mini-course. I’ll be interested to see how our discussion goes tomorrow – perhaps if lots of APDO colleagues turn up who are qualified coaches there will be debate, but for me, it was a case of “Yeah, useful technique … yep, another useful technique … yep, I can see how this might help in some circumstances.”