Saturday, August 5, 2017

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway.

I am a sucker for historical fiction done well, and this is written remarkably well.

Burial Rites is a fictionalization of the last year of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman executed in Iceland in 1830.  Over the last year of her life, Agnes was placed with a family in lieu of prison and assigned a priest to help her come to terms with her death sentence.  The novel imagines the interactions between Agnes and the family and her priest. 

Each chapter begins with translated case documents up to and including the record of her beheading and burial in unconsecrated ground. While these documents are factual inasmuchas they tell the government’s side of the case, they leave a lot of room to imagine Agnes’s side of the murders of Natan Ketilsson and Petur Jonsson.  This is where Hannah Kent has applied her creative license in imagining this last year of Agnes’s life.

The story captures Agnes’s difficult life from her childhood.  Born a bastard and abandoned at an early age by a mother seemingly incapable of providing a stable life for her children, Agnes works hard to overcome the associated stigma and become a young woman capable of supporting herself. Kent is able to humanize this murderer, a difficult task even in the best of circumstances, and allows readers to see the other side of the story that the courts either refused to see or didn’t care to acknowledge. 

Through Agnes’s social and literal isolation, the story evokes the isolation of Iceland itself, geographically and socially. The social mores operating in the early 1800s in Iceland were truly not much different from those in other parts of the European and American world at the same time, but the geographic isolation of Iceland emphasizes the social isolation experienced by those marginalized by that social system.  Kent includes an interview at the end of the novel that I greatly appreciated for its assistance in helping me understand a culture I knew virtually nothing about prior to reading this novel. 

I highly recommend Burial Rites. I truly appreciate burial rites for introducing me to a new culture and a strong woman whose side of the story may have been ignored by history. I appreciate that Kent looked more deeply into this intriguing case. And, I appreciate the care Kent has taken in crafting a remarkable piece of historical fiction.


Kent, Hannah. Burial Rites. Back Bay Books,2013.

(Published originally on

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Become-A-Student Strategies

Become-a-Student Strategies
Jodie Brown, M.A.
January 19, 2016

Several semesters ago, I became increasingly concerned about my students’ unrealistic expectations about how to succeed as a college student.  In fact, many of my students lacked any understanding of the expectations college instructors have for them.  I began to compile a list of behaviors that I knew helped students become more successful and develop realistic expectations for how to become a college student. 

It is one thing to take a class; it is another to be successful in that class.  While I realize that “success” in a class has many definitions and I understand the need some people have to be happy with a C, I also know that with just a few purposeful maneuvers, all students can achieve their vision of success.

The following is a list of strategies and behaviors any student can adopt to become ready to succeed in not only an English class, but all classes:

Ø  Sit toward the front of the class - There is a lot to be said for your choice of where to sit.  Choosing where to sit in the classroom actually communicates a lot to the instructor and to your peers.  Those who sit at the back of the room are often reluctant to engage in class discussions and activities, while those who sit closer to the front of the room are generally more enthusiastic.  Often your classrooms will be full and you may not be able to choose where to sit.  When this is the case, making a conscious effort to appear and become engaged in what is going on will make a world of difference.

Ø  Take notes – It seems a lost art, especially with the way that technology has intervened in the classroom, but taking notes (handwritten!) is still a practice that is powerful in your learning.  Neuron and synapse connections in the brain develop with the act of writing.  When you snap a photo of the notes on the board, it may be a good resource for you to consult, but if you want to learn something, handwriting notes is the strategy you should adopt.  Even if you never look at your notes again, the simple act of writing and organizing notes supports learning.  Taking notes daily in each class also provides “proof” if you need it that you were actually in class. 

Ø  Engage your body – Body language is important in any classroom.  Adopt a posture that appears to lean toward whoever is speaking (instructor, guest speaker, peer, etc.).  This posture is a small thing to become conscious of, but leaning in is a posture of engagement, while leaning away is a posture of disengagement.  It may seem silly, but just like leaning in toward the speaker, nodding your head shows engagement.  Additionally, frowning can show confusion, and shaking your head shows disagreement or bewilderment.  These body language cues communicate a lot to instructors.  Additionally, crossing your arms indicates you are “closed off” to hearing what the speaker has to say.  But, nodding your head shows you are considering and may even be agreeing with the speaker.  Do not underestimate your ability to communicate with your body how much or how little you are engaged.

Ø  Stay organized – Organizing and handling the numerous pieces of paper and ideas a student collects is tough.  Being disorganized often helps one give in to procrastination—it’s simply easier to push off a task if you have to hunt to find the materials you need to get started!  So, using binders, tabs, Post-It © notes, highlighters, three-hole punches, and staples can be a lifesaver.  Don’t put all papers into the same place and think you will be able to quickly find “that one paper” when you need it.  Begin and stay organized.

Ø  Ask questions – Instructors know you have them!  Don’t pretend you don’t. J  While the idiom there is “never a stupid question” may not always hold true, when you are genuinely confused, lost, or need clarification, asking questions is a way to show you are engaged and interested.  And it is true that if you have a question, it is probable that others have a similar question.  Be brave:  engage!

Ø  Talk to the teacher – Believe it or not, most instructors like to talk to their students.  Conversing with the instructor helps you understand we are human, just like you, and were once in your situation.  While I would caution you about becoming too “familiar,” asking questions and sharing ideas is a positive behavior.  Use our office hours.  All full-time instructors hold office hours, and many part-timers try to hold office hours that are designated for conferencing or chatting with students. 

Ø  Read actively – I hear from students all the time that one of the most powerful strategies they learn in my classes is how to annotate text while they are reading.  We typically spend 13 years in school being told that writing in books is bad, when the truth is that writing in books is a potent strategy for not only remembering what you read, but making sense of what you read.   Even if you are renting or planning to sell your books back, there are ways to annotate texts that will help you read more efficiently and effectively.

Ø  Use study groups or tutors – Creating and meeting in study groups or utilizing tutoring services (usually free on campus!) is a great way to not only make friends, but to remember and prepare for your classes.  Networking is one of the benefits of attending college.  This is also an opportunity to meet people of other ethnic, cultural, religious, socioeconomic backgrounds and people with differing interests than yourself.  College is all about meeting new people and learning new things.  Broaden your horizons!

Ø  Set short-term and long-term goals – Goal setting is important.  As my son’s taekwondo instructor used to say, “Goals you set are goals you get!”  Think about what you want to accomplish on a daily, weekly, monthly, or semester basis.  Write those goals down and check them off as you accomplish them.

Ø  Manage time effectively – Procrastination is the kiss of death in college.  Yes, there are lots of other things that most college students would like to do than study or write papers or solve math problems.  But, unless you have all the time and money in the world, you will want to make good use of the time and funds you have available.  Remember to schedule time each day or week to exercise, sleep, study, work, and socialize.  Being well-rounded is important.  Also remember that if you are prone to procrastination, setting up a reward system for completing school study tasks is a great way to beat the “instant gratification” cycle we can fall into.
Even though these strategies do not guarantee success for anyone, you should see results with implementing two or three of them and then adding to them over time.  Start simply, perhaps with paying attention to where you choose to sit and your body posture and mechanics.  Add in things like note taking and asking questions.  Certainly, don’t try them all at once.  As with any new strategy, practicing it frequently improves it and making adjustments is key.   

Book Discussions Moving

After much thought, I am moving my discussions of books to a new blog.  Check out my new book blog at

Join me in responding to polls about reading and books!  

My musings about teaching and faith and life will continue here on  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Refocusing and Rebooting

The beginning of the 2016 has me thinking about my blog again and why I seemingly abandoned it midyear.  In truth, I let my teaching load overrun my creative my detriment.

I took on a summer teaching semester for the first time at the college level.  While I truly enjoyed teaching my students, I found this summer session wreaked havoc for my creative energies and left me feeling depleted emotionally and mentally.  The ensuing fall semester met with personal challenges I had not anticipated prior to September, and so my blog fell by the wayside.

Until now.

I want to reinvigorate my blog and I want to refocus my energies in this blog on my book reviews.  I read so much and that is one thing I did not allow to become disrupted during the last half of 2015.  I read voraciously, jealously, devotedly, and I need an outlet to share some of my thoughts about the stories I have encountered.

So, over the course of the next few weeks, I am going to reengage my blogging discipline by revisiting some of my favorite books of 2015.  I'm looking forward to this!

Join me!
SOURCE:  "Reboot."  Knuckleballs.  Knuckleballs.  28 Oct. 2015.  Web.  10 Jan. 2016.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rethinking My Thinking

I'll confess it loudly:  I'm too much in my head a lot of times!  I think and rethink, and rethink again, sometimes until I no longer know what it is I think.  Obsessive?  Maybe a little bit.  Productive? Sometimes...

Well, this is one of those times when my rethinking has produced some decent fruit...I think...

After a wonderful semester with LOTS of learning and tremendous progress, I have come to the realization that one of the main things my freshmen students struggle with is knowing how to be a college student.  With the best of intentions and, perhaps, because of all the social messages telling them they have to go to college or be a lifelong loser (another topic for another day!), I consistently find my students arriving unprepared with the soft skills they need to be successful college students. I'm sympathetic to their plight, truly and deeply sympathetic, but I cannot be empathetic for a few reasons.

First, being the precocious teen I was, and being quite unlike many of my college freshmen, I was excited and mentally and academically prepared for the demands of college.  It's true, I actually started taking college classes (French, since my high school refused to bring a French program to our school until my senior year!) at the age of 16.  However, my soft skillset was highly developed even then.  Due dates?  Check!  Reading assignments?  Check! Essays?  Bring them on!  My excitement buoyed my learning and I did well in all my classes because I respected the demands and rigor of the college classroom.

Second, also unlike my college freshmen, I was always quite realistic about the various demands on my time I was dealing with, especially after I graduated high school.  I knew I worked a lot of hours and I knew that was not optional, not if I wanted to keep eating and not have to trek around naked.  I knew the demands of the classes I was taking.  And, I knew that I had to find balance among work-social-academic burdens.  It was a fact then and it is a fact now.  We simply cannot have time to do everything we want to do, unless the earth mysteriously moves significantly farther from the sun any time soon

I have decided that my realization of my students' unpreparedness for the demands and rigors of college and their unrealistic expectations of how much they can do in one day's time must be met head on.

So, our first assignment in both my transfer-level and pre-transfer level courses will consist of reading about college skillset expectations, examining the time demands of their classes vis-a-vis their social lives and their job schedules, and their realization that there is only so much time in anyone's day.  I've got several articles and essays for them to read, some simple mathematical calculations for them to perform, and an essay for them to write through which, hopefully, they will make adjustments to their course schedules BEFORE the drop dates.

Hopeful outcome? Students better prepared to deal with the realistic expectations they should have of their first semester(s) in college and a professor better able to help students manage their expectations.

Will it work?  Who knows.  But, at least I will feel, even if only temporarily, like I've made another attempt to help prepare my students, which is, after all, my beloved job!

McCabe, Colin Patrick.  "Time and Time Agagin."  Web log post.  Time and time Again.  N.p.  09 Feb. 2012.  Web.  27 May 2015.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Keeping the Plates Spinning

People who know me would agree I have always been an optimist.

But, I am feeling incredibly optimistic at the beginning of 2015.  I am not really sure why, but I have a feeling it has to do with an incredibly important project I am currently working on (hush-hush for now, but hopefully more info to come soon!).  That project is propelling me to become more invested in other projects I have sidelined for far too long.

The creative bug has been biting me for quite some time, but I have not allowed myself to become infected.  Mostly this is due to demands of family and chasing an education and career.  However, I can no longer deny the reality that I need to create something!

So, without giving in to the cliched New Year's Resolutions concept, I am renewing my dedication to projects I have ignored for too long.  I am refocusing my vision.  I am choosing to remain positive, even when the opportunities I am chasing do not immediately materialize.  These opportunities WILL yield results even if it is not on my perception of the right schedule.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Time has really flown!

Wow!  I knew I had been busy, but revisiting my blog to discover it has been five months since I last even logged in has me shaking my head.

My resolution:  Among all the other things I plan to tackle in 2015, I will be sure to not neglect my blog!

Keep checking in for updates as 2015 promises to bring great happenings!

Burial Rites  by Hannah Kent I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. I am a sucker for historical fiction done well, and this is...