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!

Cheers,

Talia

On Writing About Harry Potter

It is with regret that I tell you all that I do not have a book review for this week. The book that I was so excited to write about is lost in the chaos that is my half-unpacked bedroom and I didn’t have time to finish it by my Thursday night deadline, a combination of physical therapy, work, and travel getting in my way. In lieu of a proper book review, I would like to discuss my favorite book series, Harry Potter.

Writing about Harry Potter is difficult these days. Things were much more straightforward when we only had the seven books, but with the advent of Pottermore, what is and isn’t canon has become more and more of a question. In the beginning, I tried to keep up, but recently I have been more of an advocate for returning to the original seven texts whenever I am in any sort of doubt.

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I’m not sure that I would pay them to stop, but I do think that the situation has gotten slightly out of hand.

When I write about Harry Potter, I try to stick to the main text as my base of evidence, though I will admit to a certain amount of cherry-picking when it comes to the extended Harry Potter universe. The fact of the matter is that I had to come up with a system, because I do tend to spend a great deal of my time thinking and writing about Harry Potter.

One of my primary missions while I was in college (other than simply graduating) was to make sure that every semester I made a significant Harry Potter reference in at least one of my graded assignments every semester. I am pleased to say that I succeeded, and my final Harry Potter essay was worth 60% of my grade in the last class I needed to complete my major. I’m quite proud of this paper, which I worked on with no small amount of dedication (as anyone who had an essay worth 60% of their grade would) which is why I posted it on this site in the first place. The paper is concerned with the representation of fate and free will and agency as a concept in the Harry Potter universe, and is very much tailored to the religious philosophy that predated modernity, which was the primary focus of that class. If you would like to read the entire essay you can do so here, though I recommend setting some time aside to do so, since it is on the longer side.

While I wrote many papers about Harry Potter during my undergraduate career at Brandeis, the only other one that I felt was worth posting is an essay that I wrote for my Introduction to Global Literature course, which I took spring of my sophomore year. The essay compares how morality is conveyed via fantastic literature versus how it is conveyed in realistic literature, contrasting the Harry Potter series with Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. If you would like to read that essay you can find it here, and I do promise that it is shorter than the other one, having a different length requirement and being worth a much smaller portion of the grade – 20% I believe, but I’m too lazy to track down my old syllabus.

I’m considering digging up some of my older Harry Potter essays that I wrote back in middle/ early high school, when I felt the pain that many teenagers feel of the world having turned its back on me, which is when I turned to the Harry Potter series. Depending on how much I agree or disagree with the thoughts of my former self – not to mention my former self’s attention to grammar – I might end up posting them, or at least my revised commentary on them.

In any case, don’t expect this to be the last discussion of Harry Potter on this blog, and tune in next week for mystery topic on Tuesday and a guaranteed book review on Friday.

Cheers,

Talia

A General Update

They say that time flies, but I didn’t quite believe it until I woke up this morning and realized that we’re already halfway through July. So much has happened in my life in the past few months that I feel as though I’ve got whiplash. So many good and bad things have happened since I graduated college a little over two months ago.

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Our engagement rings!

I can confidently say that the happiest news is that my girlfriend is no longer my girlfriend because she is now my fiancée. 😊 That said, it is a bittersweet happiness, since it comes on the heels of the death of my aunt Malika, who I continue to love even though she is no longer with us.

Meanwhile, I am still in the process of unpacking from my big move, and my toaster continues to be evasive, but I will find it eventually. 🕵🏾‍♀️ I suspect that it and the waffle iron are conspiring to stay hidden together.

I’ve been spending a fair bit of time working. Especially since due to a series of events I’m not going to talk about on the internet my hours for my internship have increased. So I am spending more time at the office than I was earlier in the summer.

As the school year inches closer and closer I am both nervous and excited. The excitement comes from my usual source of anticipation when it comes to the fall, the start of a new semester. The nervousness comes from the fact that a significant portion of the people that made Brandeis home for the past few years will be gone, as only a handful of my fellows from the undergraduate class of 2018 are staying for graduate studies at the university. I’m not overly worried about the rigor of classes, since I have been taking graduate level courses since my freshman year and specifically took some as a graduate student my senior year, but I will miss my friends. Those of you who subscribe to this website can expect to see some of the contents of what I am studying as I full intend to discuss what projects I am working on through this website.

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My library before I organized it aka proof that I have plenty of books to write about 😎

For those of you looking for more book reviews, don’t fret! I’m still reading and writing about it afterwards, and I’m quite excited to write my review for Friday as I quite like this book! No spoilers about which one it is though.

In any case, I’m about to catch a train so I must bid you adieu!

Cheers,

Talia