Strategies for Time Management

This is my seventeenth year of schooling, and I like to think that at this point I have learned some tools of the trade. 🙂 Over the years I have experimented with a few different ways of managing my schedule, which I have outlined in order that my experience might help people who are struggling with their own turbulent schedules.

1. Bullet Journal

The only thing that kept my sophomore year of college in any sort of order was my bullet journal. This particular strategy is most effective for those that function better with analog methods than any sort of technology. The website hyperlinked above can explain with more detail, but a bullet journal is essentially a notebook that helps you keep track of both long term and short term goals. One can buy the fancy and tailored notebooks that the creators of the bullet journal sell, but I personally used a simple purple moleskin from my college bookstore. A bullet journal is catered to the needs of the user. I personally used mine to keep track of my homework, my paid work, commitments for clubs and organizations that I participated in, as well as fitness and food tracking. With my bullet journal I was able to keep up with my daily and monthly goals, and in addition to its practice uses in my behavior tracking, I could use it to take notes in class when I forgot my normal notebook, or even just personal writing that came to me in a given moment.

“Talia, wait” I can hear you asking “If you liked using this bullet journal system so much, why did you stop?”

My sophomore year of college ended abruptly, as mono, combined with multiple concussions, meant that I could not participate in my classes properly, and had to end the semester early. Stuck in an incoherent haze, there were a few months of my life where I couldn’t do much more than sleep and listen to audio books. Once I finally recovered it was summer, and while I was taking one class, as well as finishing up the courses I had to take an incomplete on before I could start my junior year, I simply didn’t have the energy to restart my bullet journal again. That summer was one in which I was particularly worn out, still recovering from my concussion, and while I muddled through, I haven’t used the same method of bullet journaling since.

2. Digital Note-taking (OneNote, Evernote, or Similar)

When I stopped using my bullet journal, I didn’t stop using physical notebooks (see section four) But I did up my digital note-taking game. My favorite application for digital note-taking is Microsoft’s OneNote. Using OneNote without the Office 365 subscription, limits its functionality, though I am not sure how much since I do have a subscription and didn’t start using it until I added the student discounted plan to my computer. If one can afford to get the Office suite, I recommend it, and if not, that’s OK, because there are other digital note-taking services out there. Before I got a Office subscription I used Evernote, which has a tiered system, but Evernote Basic is free of charge and usable. I used Evernote before I got the Office Subscription for OneNote, and I never had any serious problems with it. Evernote has similar features to OneNote,, but the basic (free) account limits how many devices you can install Evernote on to two, which wouldn’t work for me since I use OneNote on both of my computers, my tablet, and my phone. Evernote basic also limits offline access to desktop only, which is not ideal since it means that if one was in a dead zone without Wi-Fi the application wouldn’t work.

The great thing about OneNote (and Evernote) is that you can divide the app in to separate notebooks, which are individually stored on the cloud, so while they are all completely accessible online, some can be removed from the computer, tablet, or phone to save space, but still within reach with Wi-Fi. I typically create a new notebook each semester to keep track of classwork and current projects, with a separate section for each class and each short-term personal project. I also keep a master to-do list, bullet journal style. OneNote is the application that I use to save draft emails, keep track of long-term assignments, as well as writing projects. In fact, Word-for-Sense even has a whole notebook dedicated to it. That said, one thing that I don’t use OneNote for is daily, weekly, and monthly agenda tracking for which I use…

3. Google Calendar (Or Similar)

Free with a Google account, Google calendar is my go-to for when I want to keep track of a doctor’s appointment, track when I’ve made lunch or meeting plans, and especially when I block out time for studying. Just as important as putting in what time I have to be in the classroom is scheduling what time I need to be in the library. An important part of making sure that my time is used wisely is knowing when and where I am going to be and what I am going to be doing there. For example, I do my best to schedule at least an hour of Latin practice every day, because with languages, especially in the beginning, memorizing and internalizing the basics is crucial. At the same time, I know that in addition to my school and professional work, I need to have a creative outlet and so a minimum of 15 minutes a day is spent on a creative writing project, even if it is just adding a paragraph or two to a blog post like this one. All that said, leaving wiggle room is also important, and while planning is crucial, setting aside a couple hours a week where one has time to themselves is also essential.

4. Physical Agenda

While I no longer bullet journal, I do make sure that I have a physical journal, because there are some places in life that a computer or phone is either impractical or prohibited. For example, over the eight semesters I spent in undergrad, I can count on one hand with fingers left over how many professors did not appear somewhere on the spectrum between snarky comments about texting during class and outright banning the use of electronic devices in their classrooms. A physical agenda is the easiest way to keep track of what homework assignments are due when, and marking one days of the month I have an exam, presentation, or paper due. Keeping track of those is very important. There was one semester where on a particular day I had a test, an essay due, and a short story due all on the same day. Since I knew ahead of time, I was able to negotiate with my professors to shift the due date of my essay and short story, and thus I gave myself more breathing room in terms of what I was focusing on each day.

5. Not Sleeping

This is a bad idea. Even though it worked when I was younger, ever since my concussion I need seven to eight hours of sleep every night, and I have to say that I’m more productive when I do get my rest. That said, if one does insist on not sleeping a full night, I recommend the following:

6. In Bed Early, Out of Bed Early

Some people are night owls, and I respect that. I used to be one too. That said, I was astonished when I realized how much I can get done in the wee hours, not by staying up into them, but by going to bed as early as nine, and waking up as early as one or two. Staying up for an extra two hours, I could maybe get fifty, sixty pages of reading done and perhaps a two or three paragraphs of an essay. Waking up two hours early, that would be more like a hundred pages of reading and at least five more paragraphs.


I hope that my listing some of these key strategies that I employ will be helpful, and if anyone would like further advice or assistance, as I noted before, helping people with their problems helps me with mine, so feel free to comment or send me a message through the contact form.




P.S. For those who may want tutorials on study skills in general, I suggest watching and internalizing the Crash Course Study Skills videos, and especially as it pertains to this post, their episode about Planning & Organization, which I watched about a year ago and while most of what I have talked about here was stuff I already knew, the video undoubtedly shaped some of the ideas in this post, for all that I had not watched it again until after I finished writing this.

On Academic Intersections: Knowledge Stacks

One of my favorite things about taking multiple classes in different disciplines is how everything still manages to link up in ways that I did not expect. A large part of why I chose the Comparative Humanities program is because throughout my time at Brandeis I have noticed and enjoyed these intersections, and so as a graduate student, and to some extent I did this even as an undergraduate, I seek out these intersections and do my best to think about them critically.

An example of how I did this last semester is that my final paper for my Queer Readings course was about how three different translations of the myth of Iphis and Ianthe, each translated in distinct centuries, represented the queer themes of the story. I could not have done this were it not for my previous readings of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in both my Classical Mythology course and Classical Myths course, which each used a different translation of the text. I found myself further qualified to talk about comparative translation from the Literary Translation course that I had taken in a previous semester. I would have found myself more qualified if I had taken Latin the semester before writing this essay, rather than the semester after, but so it goes.[1]

 As another example, I do not think that I could have written my essay on Dante’s representations of Limbo and Paradise for my Modernity course last semester were it not for the course I took on Hell, the afterlife, and poetry in my junior year. I could go on, but my point is that at some point or another, every class that I have taken at Brandeis has informed at least one other class, creating what I strongly believe to be a richer experience.

Two weeks into my career as a graduate student, I am finding that even in the short time since the semester has started my classes are already starting to connect. My course on Witchcraft and Magic, for example, at first glance might not seem at all connected with Millennial Latin American Fiction for someone who is not familiar with either topic, but in actuality our readings on the theories of magic and its connection to religion and science are very much informing my fiction course, due to the fact that much of what we have been studying is magical realism, and in fact the first text we are reading for the class is titled El mago  (The Magician) by César Aira, which, as one might imagine, is about a magician.

My courses of study at Brandeis also inform my general interests outside of the classroom and vice versa. As readers of this blog well know, I enjoy writing book reviews, and thus I enjoy reading books. One of the great things about reading broadly is that I get to engage with topics and perspectives that I might not have otherwise had the opportunity to experience. Each book that I read varies in a multitude of ways, but a common factor is that in reading diversely I often come in to contact with vocabulary that I then need to add to my personal lexicon. I’ve always said that my life would be easier if I learned Latin, and even with having just attended four Latin classes and read two chapters of the textbook, I’ve already lost count of the amount of times that I have found use in understanding vocabulary that would have confused me not even a month ago. That said, what I find amusing is how my previous knowledge of what may seem like extraneous vocabulary is doing the reverse, in that I am remembering my Latin vocab better because I know English words that are derived from the Latin originals that I am currently studying.

In a similar vein, my personal interest in mythographic and pagan traditions has led me to being prepared for my Magic and Witchcraft class, as even though I have not studied Mesopotamia with much depth, I am familiar with how to approach this field of study. What little I did know about Mesopotamia prior to this class is enhanced by having taken a course a couple years ago regarding the Ancient Silk Road. That particular course, in conjunction with my Historical Linguistics course and my general interest in languages, enabled me to grasp with greater clarity my readings which discuss the translation of the ancient mesopotamian texts, as well as appreciate the difficulty in doing so.[2]

I suppose what I am ultimately saying here is that knowledge stacks. I could not be in the place that I am today were it not for all that has happened in my past, and while my four years as an undergrad were tough, I do feel that they, and all the years of schooling I had before then, have prepared me for my current environment as best they could. If you’ll excuse me, that environment includes reading a whole bunch, so I’d best be off working through my to be read pile.

Happy Friday!



[1] I am not unaware that this would have been a better point had I studied Latin earlier in my life but, alas, this is but one of the many reasons why I have frequently stated that my life would be easier if I knew Latin.

[2] If any of y’all are interested in how deciphering dead languages can add to historical knowledge you might also be interested in reading my essay about how the discovery of Tocharian languages has contributed to historians’ understanding of some of the migrations and changes throughout the Silk Road.

Words of Wisdom: Sh*t My Professors Said in 2016

I pride myself on being a dedicated note taker, capturing every last detail, and over the course of my time at Brandeis, I’ve sat in a whole host of Lectures. I decided that in addition to sharing some of what I’ve learned about my course subjects, I would also share some key words of wisdom shared by professors both current and past. This is the first post in a series, and includes words of Wisdom from professors that I took classes with in 2016.

Fall 2016

What if in 10,000 years people thought that American Idol was literature?

We are not as judgmental as Russian intellectuals.

Dropping Tibetan names makes things sound much more beautiful.

People often ignore Hellenistic influence on Romans, which is stupid because it’s the period in between Greek and Roman.

Never think that all of the work has been done.

If you don’t know what it is, it’s probably religious.

If you are into philosophy you will like Manichaeism.

Annoying as in they put up a pink flamingo, or annoying as in they are going to kill you?

Spring 2016

I’ve decided to give up my job as a Professor of Shakespeare to write 50 Shades of Grey.

If you know how to have a good time why don’t you?

Would a Roman call that unfaithful? No, they’d call it Tuesday.

It will kill me, and I will take you with me.

I am the grammarian about whom your mother warned you.

I maintain this to the death (and I mean yours). I’m old and sneaky and fat.

Why don’t you just shoot yourself in the leg? It seems kinder in the long run.

He was writing a paper on the Aeneid and misspelled it five times.

I actually sat in my TA’s office and whimpered.

Let this be a lesson about being a philosopher and trusting German kings.

Since everybody dies, I don’t think of it as a punishment … We’re all kind of sinful, so I guess we deserve it too.

How many times do you have to be forgiven before people say no? That’s a logical solution which no one ever goes for.

There’s no logic in religion.

The poor man’s just trying to do his job, why are you trying to make him kill you?

They used to write home and say “please send socks.”

Golf is a good walk spoiled.

What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is not.

He was wearing a suit, why does it matter?

Doesn’t even give frequent flyer miles for the guilt trip.

Any sentence that starts with “if you love me” you don’t want to hear the rest of it.

Like my father says “opinions are like assholes, everyone has them and they smell.”

You need to make sure that they are old enough to not kill each other, or torture each other, or whatever they do at that age.

Monks had way too much time on their hands.

He really needs to get out more.

Do you like poetry? Would you rather be nibbled to death by ducks?

The Romans were like “yes, blood, good.”

“Kids these days” has been going on literally since 2300 BC.

Usually the person who says “gather thee rosebuds while ye may” is the one who wants to have wild passionate sex with you.

Sometimes when I talk about the 60s, I really mean the 60s. Nero.

Purple and Cerulean Blue Sheep, just what I wanted.

I have brothers, why would I fight fair?

There’s a guy whose got his shit in a pile.

External Book Review: The Great Passage by Shion Miura

Happy Monday! I’m switching it up and posting on Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week instead of the normal Tuesday/Friday schedule. Why you may ask? Well because, what some of you may know, and others don’t, is that Word-for-Sense isn’t the only place that I publish book reviews. I also write occasional reviews for Three Percent, a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester which is affiliated with Open Letter.

My most recent review for Three Percent is of The Great Passage by Shion Miura, which can be read here. I cannot post the full review here of course, that is what the link is for, but as for a snippet of what the book is about, The Great Passage is a book that centers around a fictional book, also called The Great Passage, which is to be a groundbreaking new dictionary of the Japanese language. The Great Passage (that is to say, the real-world book I reviewed) is an excellent novel, and while I am unable to read the Japanese original, and thus could have very well missed much of the nuance that comes with editing a Japanese dictionary in particular, Juliet Winters Carpenter did an excellent job of making the text feel just as invigorating as I image the original text would have felt.

Please do read my review, linked above as well as here, and let me know what you think, either on the comments here, or on the original post on the Three Percent site.

Happy reading!




Complete URL for the review:


P. S. Be on the lookout on Wednesday for the 2016 edition of a new type of post I’m creating called Words of Wisdom: Sh*t My Professors Say


A New Semester Begins! (An Update, Announcements, and a Translation)

Wednesday was the first day of classes and I am so excited to have started my first semester as a full-time graduate student! While I loved my time as an undergrad, I’m excited to learn and participate in an advanced course of study. With the start of the semester comes more content in line with what I had originally envisioned my blog to be, that is to say, a record of the many fascinating and intriguing fields of study that I am undertaking during my time at Brandeis.

This leads in to my first announcement which is that I am reincorporating academic posts! My old blog had academic posts, and to explain, these are going to be posts where I talk about what I am studying that week, including snippets about my classes and my independent study. Only the interesting stuff, I promise. You’re more likely to enjoy content from my course on Magic and Witchcraft in the Ancient Near East than my Latin synopses! These posts will alternate on Fridays with my reviews, and I may throw one up on an occasional Tuesday.

From the previous sentence you may surmise my second announcement which is that book reviews are shifting to being posted every other Friday instead of weekly, because I am an uber-busy grad student now and I simply don’t have as much time for pleasure reading/binge watching as I did this summer. 🙁

All that said, I’m looking forward to exploring new avenues of content as I build this website, and I especially want to know what readers think, are curious about, or want more of, so please do not hesitate to drop me a line via the contact page, or contact me also through my new Facebook Page, which (minor plug) I would super appreciate if you go and like! Right now it is primarily just a way to forward my posts on here to Facebook, but I am planning on posting more content on there soon!

The Translation

As an example of my more academic postings, the following is a translation I completed in my Millennial Latin American Fiction and Graphic Novels class of the famous (and untranslatable) short story The Dinosaur by Augusto Monterroso.

El Dinosaurio (Spanish, Original)

Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.

The Dinosaur (English, My translation)

When they awoke, the dinosaur persisted.

To read about why I translated this story the way I did, click here, or better yet go investigate my translation page.

Note on the featured image: My roommate baked me first-day-of-school muffins! Isn’t she sweet?

TV Review: Season One of Sense8

Considering the fact that Sense8 as a series has already been completed, I am a little late to the game in writing a review of it. That said, I binge watched season one in lieu of reading a book this week, so this is what you get. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I suppose that it would be disingenuous of me to say that I binge watched all of season one this week; I had already seen the first couple of episodes, and I also skimmed the wikia page for each episode before watching it and skipped certain scenes that I knew would probably be triggering for me. I greatly recommend this tactic, not just because it lead to me knowing what to watch out for, but also because the show can be quite confusing, and the ability to know what to expect and how things connected allowed me to engage myself more fully with what I was seeing on the screen.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, Sense8 is a show about eight people around the world who together form a cluster of sensates. I’m not entirely clear on the science of it all, but basically, they maintain a connection between them that leads to experiencing what others in their cluster do or visiting them in their different locations although they are in different places around the world. The episodes are quite long, each of them being around 50+ minutes, and so even though there are eight protagonists, each with their own set of supporting characters, everyone feels quite rich and developed. Although the eight are connected and their lives are growing closer and closer as the episodes go on, they still have distinct lives and distinct struggles. That said, certain characters feel more isolated than others.

The main drama concerning their connection seems to center around Will, a cop from Chicago who discovers the scene of the crime where Angelica, the woman who birthed their cluster[1], killed herself; his love interest, Riley, who is an Icelandic DJ who lives in London; and Nomi, who is a hacktivist living in San Francisco and is the first of the characters to be forcibly hospitalized and nearly lobotomized because of their particular brain patterns. Those sections of the first few episodes were always the ones that I skipped because I had a very hard time watching Nomi be mistreated, especially since her mother was constantly encouraging the hospital staff to misgender Nomi and using her position as a legal family member to keep Nomi isolated. Other scenes that I skipped had to do with Riley’s backstory, which is much more tragic than I could have ever expected.

Sometimes I feel like so much is going on in the show that I can barely process it, though I do mean that in the best way. I’ve never watched something that so richly combined so many stories without making me feel either overwhelmed with information or underwhelmed by unnecessary characters. Lito, Kala, Capheus, Sun, and Wolfgang are the remaining sensates, and each of their stories feels like it could have been its own show or movie.

Kala is a scientist living in Bombay and struggling with the confusion of whether to marry Rajan, who she does not love. Her story, which could be billed as its own romantic film, is the one that connects most intimately with Wolfgang’s, whose own life is more of a crime drama, as his family operates like a mafia and he is in competition with his cousin over a particular heist.

Meanwhile, Lito is in Mexico City, living a double life as an heteronormative action star by day, and going home to the love of his life—who happens to be a man—at night. His life is relatively separate from those of the others, as his troubles are much more local, though there is one scene in particular that I find quite beautiful where he bonds with Nomi at the Diego Rivera art museum.

I find Sun’s character to be particularly intriguing, as she seems to dart in and out of everyone’s narrative, while she herself is isolated and faces many troubles—including prison—for her family. Sun is a complete badass, and her most frequent position in the cluster is as the one that everyone calls in for backup when they need to fight off a group of attackers. Although Wolfgang and Will are also good in a fight, when in doubt it’s best to have Sun at your back. (Or possessing your body, as sensates are wont to do.)

The character that makes me feel most conflicted is Capheus, a matatu driver in Nairobi, whose main attribute (as it sticks out to me) is his positive and generous demeanor. Capheus has a strong sense of morals, and is quite likable. He is also unafraid to let Sun take over his body and carve up attackers with a machete. In terms of what he gives back to the group, Capheus seems to act as a voice of reflection and as a great getaway driver. That said, Capheus feels a bit inconsistent at times, and it was not until later episodes when I saw more raw emotion in him that I was fully engaged with his character. Something about Capheus made him feel distant to me. I’ll admit, though, that a great deal of my hesitancy with regard to Capheus is due to something that in theory shouldn’t affect the internal story of a work but does, in that I have the outside knowledge that the actor who plays him in the first season left the show on rushed and bad terms. I’m not quite sure what happened there, but I do know that it made me feel weird about the character.

On the whole though, I really enjoyed my time watching this show over the past few days. I love sci-fi, I love drama, I love diverse storytelling, and I’m really happy that this show exists. I’ll admit that the rather steamy orgy scenes threw me for a loop at first, but at least now I know not to watch this show with my mother. (Sex positivity is good, but I don’t need to be in the same room as my mom for it).

If you haven’t watched Sense8 yet, go do so! It’s on Netflix.  Meanwhile, I’m on to season two, which I’ve heard has even more sex scenes, so I’ll probably watch it with my window shades closed.

Happy watching!




[1] This is a show term which essentially means that Angelica is the one who activated the connection between the sensates.

Personal Note: A few years back I got a series of very serious concussions that have caused me to struggle with watching excessive amounts of TV, which is why I rarely binge watch anything, but something about Sense8 got me hooked enough to keep watching and ignore the protesting parts of my brain. I’m not certain that such a development is actually good for my neurons, however I was happy to get engaged with a show again. My attention span for consuming visual media had drastically shortened, but Sense8 captivated me to an extent that TV shows rarely do.

Book Review: The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

I am going to be upfront and say that I will probably never read this book again. The Dinner List is not a great book, but that does not necessarily mean that it is a bad one either. I certainly do not regret having read the book, but I have to admit that it is not the most intellectually thrilling read I have ever had. The Dinner List has been a great vacation book for me, in that I found it a quick read, and the premise was fun to entertain. The idea is that Sabrina, the protagonist, has made a list of the five people (alive or dead) that she would like to have dinner with one day, and lo and behold, readers are witness to that very dinner.

Before I read The Dinner List, I would have said that the premise is also a good one, which is still true, however I feel that it was disappointingly carried out. I am all for a mystery, but the lack of explanation as to how these five people ended up all sitting together around the table with Sabrina feels like a cop out. There exists so much more depth that could have been given to what could have been an excellent story that ends up feeling like merely a good one.

The text alternates with time stamped chapters detailing what stage of dinner the four guests are at and a past tense narration of Sabrina’s history with Tobias, her ex who has a place at the table along with her favorite professor, absentee father, best friend Jessica, and the #1 thing that this book has going for it – Audrey Hepburn. The switch back and forth between time periods is something that I have seen done before to great effect, and while I do think that it functions well in the text, I was dismayed upon reading this book at how many plot holes seem to have slipped through its cracks. Small things like the age of minor characters, times at which things happened, and dietary habits were not particularly consistent, and while I was not totally removed from the reading experience, neither was I a fan.

Plot holes and lack of explanation of the afterlife aside, my biggest issue with this book was the lack of diversity. The Dinner List was also incredibly lacking in terms of representation, as all of the non-white characters have a very “token” feel to them. Matty, who is my favorite character who we far too little of, is the only latinx character that I can think of, and while he does serve an important role in the story, that role is more to provide a commentary on Sabrina and Tobias’s relationship, which note that I find incredibly unhealthy. In terms of named characters of color I can only think of two more off the top of my head, and neither have very large roles. I’m not certain that David (Sabrina’s one gay black friend) even speaks or any purpose at all except to act as fodder for Sabrina to talk about how he always has a new man on his arm, and in one instance to act as a counterpoint to Tobias. Similarly, the only mention of lesbians existing in this text is in the context of Sabrina noticing a (non-speaking, unnamed) couple in the background and thinking about their relationship in the context of her and Tobias. This all goes without noting the lack of trans characters, characters with disabilities, neurodivergent characters, or characters who live in genuine poverty, as despite the fact that Sabrina is broke and barely making rent she is still able to afford a $2,500 apartment by herself when Tobias is unemployed, all while still paying for utilities and transportation and food, among other expenses.

I am not at all saying that I hate white heterosexual romance, because I do believe that everyone who wants a chance at love deserves a chance to find it and find it represented. What I am saying is that everyone deserves that chance, and the narrator of this text is remarkably self-centered and as such there is very little representation outside of her sphere, and what little there is I find disappointing. Jessica and her husband Sumir seem to have what to me appears as a beautiful interracial relationship that I would have been happy to see were it not put in such a negative light by Sabrina’s incredibly judgmental lens.

Disheartening amount of diversity very much in mind yet set aside for just a moment, I simply cannot abide the lack of proper explanation in the text of the rules behind how the living and the dead are at once together again. Without that, I couldn’t get behind anything that they communicated to one another and thus struggled with the book.

While I will probably never read The Dinner List again I do believe that many people will enjoy it, just not me. If you’re looking for a quick read and don’t mind a bittersweet ending, you can pick up a copy of The Dinner List when it comes out on September 11th, 2018.

Happy reading!



Book Review: Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner by Michael Hebb

When I told my therapist that I was reading this book and what it was about she was thrilled because, according to her, I needed to adjust my own attitude toward death. Suffice to say Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner certainly succeeded in this purpose.  Despite the universal truth that we are all going to die, death is rarely discussed with the depth and breadth that it deserves.

The premise of this book is to act as “an invitation and guide to life’s most important conversation”. The book begins with two introductory chapters that explain the premise of death dinners and is then followed by a series of prompts for participating in a conversation about death.

As with many nonfiction and self-help books, Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner does not precisely need to be read in order, as Hebb himself acknowledges in the introductory chapters. In a similar vein, the text does not need to be and should not be read all at once. In the introductory chapter the author warns that this book shouldn’t be read in one sitting, and I wholeheartedly agree. Usually, when I read a fiction book I speed through it and then once I know the ending go back and re-read parts that I have bookmarked. With nonfiction such as this I take much longer, and it can sometimes take me over a week to finish a slim volume such as this one. The sheer amount of powerful content makes this a book that takes time to digest. While the first two chapters of the text are traditional chapters, the majority of the book is formatted with sections starting with a question about death that functions as a prompt that one could ask at a death dinner. To supplement each prompt, the author included stories that people had shared at previous death dinners as examples of both how people can answer the prompt and how answering the prompt at their own death dinners had improved the lives of the people featured in each story.

I will whole-heartedly admit that this book caused me to cry a great deal (which was difficult when I read while on my way to work as I got many concerned looks on the subway) and yet I still enjoyed every moment of reading it. Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner made me cry not because of any fault with the text, but because the heavy emotion behind each of the stories tugged at my heartstrings so to speak, and any time that I saw anything of myself or those that I loved in the text, I empathized to an uncomfortable extent. Nevertheless, I did keep reading because the storytelling nature of the text is both compelling and well-written, and I simply did not want to stop at some points. That said, I did make sure to take breaks from my reading – part of why this review took so long to write – in order that I could process everything that I had read in terms of both understanding and settling some of the emotional turmoil within myself.

A major concern of the text is in discovering where our discomfort with death comes from. Avoidance compounds fear, and this text argues that sitting down over a meal and talking about what makes a good death, what we want for ourselves, and how we grieve is an incredibly useful and necessary experience. Not only is an open and honest conversation about death cathartic, but it has practical use in that we can discover the wishes of our loved ones in regard to how they want us to handle their own deaths.

I have to say that I have always been fascinated with death, in particular the impermanence of our existence and the all-encompassing fate that is the inevitable heat death of our universe. On a large scale, I talk about death and destruction in a deadpan voice all the time, but I rarely feel the emotion behind it, acting glib in the face of needing to express genuine emotion. This text forced me to engage with that emotion directly and to confront things I did not want to confront, such as what I am afraid of with regard to death. What I realized is that I am not afraid of non-existence, or even of physical pain at or toward the end, but rather I am afraid of the consequences of my absence and of what actions those who have known me will undertake after my death, as well as the emotional pain that the loss of others causes within my own self and how that pain influences my actions and thus affects those who remain around me in my grief. While I always knew that to some extent, the ability to talk about these emotions without reservation is a great gift that this text has given me.

This book probably isn’t for everyone. I know that, were I to read this at certain earlier points of my life, I would not have liked Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner, and I would not have gotten as much out of the experience of reading it. Nonetheless, I feel that for readers who approach this text with an open heart and an open mind, and give themselves time to process as they read, this text is an invaluable one. Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner will be released on October 2nd, 2018, and I highly suggest that y’all get a copy when it comes out!

Happy reading!



Book Review: Landwhale: On Turning Insults Into Nicknames, Why Body Image Is Hard, and How Diets Can Kiss My Ass by Jes Baker

When I first picked up what became my copy of Landwhale, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. To my own shame, I did not know very much about the body positivity movement, and I’d never even heard of Jes Baker. All the same, I’ve made a commitment to myself to read broadly and engage with my activism intersectionally, and so I committed myself to reading this book. I am happy to say that doing so was one of the best decisions I have made in a while, because Landwhale is not only informative, but also a general delight.

I couldn’t possibly fit everything I loved about this book into one review,[1] though the thing that sticks out to me most as I write this is how Baker embraces the nuance that comes with one’s relationship to their body. By this I mean not only that bodies come in diverse shapes and sizes, but also the belief that one can be confident in themself and yet still have internal doubts and insecurities. This memoir means so much to me, not only because it discusses bodies in such a liberating way, but also because it incorporates meaningful commentary regarding mental health that acknowledges that fatness can be a symptom of mental or physical illness, but does not accuse fatness itself of being a mental illness.

I haven’t been skinny since elementary school, and before reading this book I never realized how much I have subscribed to diet culture since the weight gain that puberty and antidepressants bestowed upon me as a teenager. Reading through Landwhale gave me a profound relief in that it made me feel as though I had permission to both love and hate my body. That it was OK to eat what I wanted because my life is mine, and I can live it by my own rules.

On Sunday I wore a bikini for the first time since I was ten, and as I lounged in my beach chair with this book resting on my belly rolls I read the list of diets that comprise chapter thirteen and thought to myself of all the different diets that I have put my body through in the name of losing weight, and how zero of them have worked in the long term. Right now, the only diet I am subscribing to is the one where I avoid the things that I am allergic to, and I am OK with that.

The tone of Landwhale is conversational, and radiates that perfect medium of sincerity and humor. Baker has a talent for discussing difficult topics with sincerity and without airs. She emphasizes her own insecurities about sharing her life and her experiences, but does not let that stop her from sharing them. Baker pulls no punches when it comes to revealing her vulnerability and pulls back the curtain to show that even idols have their moments of doubt.   The struggles depicted in this book are at times hard to read because of the depth of their truth, but that is exactly why they have a place and are necessary to consider in our conversations and consequent actions.

I do not consider myself an expert in body positivity by any means, and I fully realize that I have my own privilege in that while I am rather pudgy I do have privilege in many things because of my smaller size in comparison to many others. That said, I do feel that I am much better informed, especially as I consider all of the ways that I have contributed to many of the sizist issues that all people are negatively influenced by and that actively hurt fat people, threatening their safety and/or comfort. I’ve stayed silent too many times, and I refuse to do so any longer. The idea that fat people are allowed to exist and be happy with themselves as they are should not be such a radical one, and yet it seems to remain so.

In the past, I’ve absolutely participated in diets, and I’ve even posted about weight loss with selfies on Instagram and Facebook. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with someone changing around their diet and exercise habits for their own personal comfort or goals, but the problem isn’t necessarily with the people who buy in to diet culture themselves. The systemic and insidious nature of said culture is what oppresses people. I am skeptical of diets because, as I have learned from this book and from reflecting upon my own experience, diets can be incredibly harmful to people’s mental and even at times physical health. I know that they can help, but they can also hurt.

The ideal goal for me is that people feel comfortable and healthy within their own realm of being, regardless of size, and that is not what we as a society experience when we participate in diet culture. Our relationship with food and our bodies is treated as inherently suspicious, pitted against one another, and their interaction is seen as a source of shame rather than one of sustenance.

Entire books have been written about these subjects. I recommend that you read this one. Even if you may disagree with the message as you understand it, read Landwhale anyway, and to do so with an open mind.

Happy reading!

[1] My favorite aspect of the book is hands down the footnotes. Many people have varied opinions regarding footnotes, but I promise that even if you are not usually a fan, they are expertly used in this text. Equal parts informative and humorous, the footnotes are balanced in their placement. At times they elaborate, at times they make a joke that doesn’t fit in the main body of the text, but in every instance they are absolutely relevant to the conversation Baker is engaging in with the reader.

Book Review: My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley

THIS is the book review that I’ve been excited to write for weeks. Not just because the author is one of my favorite professors (hi Steve!) but also because My Ex-Life is a genuinely fantastic book. I stumbled across it while waiting for my fiancée at one of our favorite book shops and just from reading the first few paragraphs I was instantly hooked. The primary setting of My Ex-Life is summertime in the town of Beauport, Massachusetts, a fictional locale that has all the characteristics of the North Shore, including and especially the weather.

Filled cover to cover with humor, biting wit, and compassion, My Ex-Life generously but realistically tells the story of David Hedges, a man made uncomfortable by his life falling apart, and his unexpected reconnection to his ex-wife, Julie Fiske, who is in the middle of her divorce from her second husband and the college search for her daughter, Mandy. As it just so happens, the one area of David’s life that hasn’t crumbled (his younger lover has left him and his long-term lease is cancelled by his landlady because said lover and his new beau plan to buy the house) is his profession  helping high school students apply and receive admission to the school of their (parents’) dreams.

David somewhat-successfully escapes his own troubles by trading San Francisco for Beauport and his real estate problems with Julie’s. Her second husband, Henry, is determined to sell the house entirely instead of letting Julie buy him out, and she is having trouble scraping together the funds. As someone who is only just renting her own apartment for the first time, I greatly enjoyed this peek into the world of real estate, though I have no idea as to how accurate it may be. (See previous note about renting my first apartment as of July first). A constant point of fascination for me was the frequent reference to Airbnb, which I have never used, but feel that I know a great deal more about now that I have read this book.

The text exudes life experience, in that every emotion put in to the page  be it sarcasm or sincerity  is one that can be palpably felt, fully formed, as if the character was someone that we could meet on the street, or run in to at a bar. Even the secondary characters had the air of someone who could have a whole book written about them that would be just as riveting.

I wouldn’t say that I particularly identify with any of the characters, but I can empathize with Julie’s desperation at not wanting to lose her house, and appreciate how her marijuana habit plays in to her relationships in ways that at times seem helpful, but in the end are harmful. Similarly, I am not a gay man in my 50s, but David is easily the most empathetic character in the novel as he does his best to take care of everyone and help them to best succeed. For better or for worse, he is a man moved by his heart and prepared to make sacrifices for those that he cares about.

All that said, my favorite character is Mandy, a seventeen year old girl who is being pulled in to so many different directions that she falls prey to making bad decisions because at the very least they are hers to make.

My Ex-Life is a highly recommended read, and I urge y’all to get yourselves a copy.

Happy reading!