Sara Zimmermann


4 reasons you should bullet journal (and tips for how to start)

Bullet Journaling is a tried and practiced technique which recently became trendy — and for good reason. Bullet Journaling is the name given to a “mindfulness practice” designed by Ryder Carroll, who has also published a book on the topic. The book and its outlined method aims to help people to be more productive, meaningful and intentional with their schedules and daily lives. For more official guidance, the Bullet Journal website is helpful. The great thing, though, is that you don’t need rules! To Bullet Journal, all you have to do is determine which aspects of your life are important to keep track of, and then you systematically arrange them in a way that is conducive to your needs.

  • Organization: I certainly have experienced an improvement in my organization and proactivity since moving to this method. I began Journaling in May 2018 and still regularly consult and add to my journal. As a student, part-time employee, and a TA, there is simply too much going on in my life for me to remember it off the top of my head. My bullet journal is simple to follow and easy to read, so with a quick glance I can visualize all my obligations for that day, week and month. Many of you are in the exact same position. It’s overwhelming to try to tackle all of our responsibilities without guidance. The Bullet Journal, for me, has been the most effective method of organization above other pre-formatted planners and agendas because I am the one originating all of the information. Instead of buying a (probably overpriced) planner that has already done all of the work for you, Bullet Journaling is an exercise in taking control of your schedule and how you maintain it, and I genuinely believe that I have more precision, clarity and discipline when it comes to organizing my life.


  • Personalization: The best thing about the bullet journal is that it is completely personalized. One of the most frustrating things is buying a planner that already has the dates laid out for you but being unable to use half of it because the months don’t line up with the school year. When my classes start in August, why is it so hard to find a planner that doesn’t start in January of that year? Bullet journaling allows you to determine your own timeline. The majority of store-bought competitors have pre-determined templates with categories that many of us won’t find necessary and which simply waste space and paper, sitting unused between the pages we actually utilize. Most students in 2019 have no need for an address book or phone number section, and yet they are repeatedly shoehorned into all planners. Bullet Journals, on the other hand, allow you to optimize the usage of your journal by allowing you complete freedom on what to include and what not to. You can simply keep it to a monthly spread or you could dedicate pages to mood tracking, goals, fitness, reading lists and other such things.
  • Therapeutic: Another underrated and often overlooked reason for bullet journaling is that it tends to be very relaxing. It is productive, and doing something productive always boosts my self-esteem. It is also a quiet and reflective time, something I don’t get enough of these days. There is a sort of relief that comes with finishing a page in your journal and being freshly aware of the days and weeks to come and what they hold. In taking such command in organizing my tasks, I often find that my mind has also been clarified. It is certainly refreshing to have a grip on my life for that brief moment, something that is very rare for me.
  • Aesthetics: Another wonderful aspect of bullet journaling is the full control of the aesthetics. You do not have to be an artist to make journaling fun and pretty. I cannot draw a distinguishable stick figure to save my life, but with tape, stickers and pretty markers, I am always proud of the finished product. Bullet Journals can be any type of notebook you like. You don’t have to worry about shopping around for a planner that suits both your needs and which also appeals to your stylistic tastes. Often I have to either sacrifice style or content with whatever I purchase. You can buy a notebook of any size, color or texture. Most bullet journalists use notebooks with dotted pages rather than lines which allows unimpeded (yet subtly guided) utilization of each page. However, many others use grid lines, blank pages, or even lines if that is what they find most comfortable. It is entirely up to the creator to choose color schemes, layouts, drawings, decorations and more.



  • Know your needs: you do not have to include the parts of your life that are not priorities to you. Just because you see other people tracking their diets does not mean you have to!
  • Practice: there is nothing worse than having to rip out a page in your journal because you forgot that February only has 28 days and you drew out 31 squares in black ink. I often lightly pencil in my basic layout while looking at my phone calendar to make sure I know what days of the week correspond with each date. This isn’t necessary, but something I have found useful nonetheless
  • Inspiration: While I don’t suggest that you copy other people’s art or steal their ideas, many people like to post their bullet journaling so that others can become inspired. Instagram and Pinterest are great places to get ideas for materials, color schemes, themes and fonts.


  • A notebook! This can be anything you like. I use a small sized hardcover notebook with dot gridded pages.
  • Good pens (or pencils, markers, etc.). If journaling is going to become a useful part of your life, treat yourself to some nice materials!
  • A ruler (because even with the dots to guide me I still can’t draw a straight line).
  • Washi tape. This is not necessary, but I have an addiction. Washi tape is life-changing and it comes in a seemingly infinite variety of patterns and colors. I love to use this tape to border my pages and help guide my themes.


On Christmas 2018, I received the present to rival all presents. To say that this was the gift that keeps on giving is no exaggeration. I am almost constantly misplacing one thing or another, and if I could tally up how much time of my life has been spent looking for things to no avail, I’m sure the numbers would be shocking. If it’s not my wallet I’ve lost, it’s my phone, or my keys, or my sanity. There are few first world problems which rival the frustration of being unable to locate your wallet when you just had it, or imagine that you’re at a party and you can’t remember where you sat down your keys. This can lead to instant frustration and frenzied searching around in increasingly obscure places until you’ve either found the lost thing or you’ve given up out of exhaustion.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way anymore. Technology has been paying attention to our needs, and the creators have developed a small piece of technology and an accompanying app which can allow you to “ring” whichever object it is attached to. It can act as a key ring, fit into a small pocket, slide into a space in your wallet, or be attached in a number of inventive ways. Some people have even reported through reviews that they were able to attach them to pet collars to keep track of evasive cats. Even better, if you have access to your tile hardware, you can ring your misplaced phone by pressing the button on it.

Technology’s answer to our pleas for help is the Tile, released in September of 2016.

The tile is available in black and white to suit your aesthetic needs and it is small and unobtrusive. They are also fairly inexpensive when one considers that you might never have to waste your time looking for keys again. Their basic option is $25, but when bundling you can save up to 50 percent. Plus, if you’re buying in the United States, you don’t even have to worry about shipping. Further, they offer a one year warranty automatically as well as the promise that your battery will last the full year as well.

The Tile consists of two components: the hardware (the physical device that you attach to an object) and the software (the accompanying app through which users can edit their experience). Once you have attached the Tile, you can then download the free app from the App Store. The app is very user friendly and provides easy-to-follow instructions on how to connect with your tile. There are also options within the app to control the type of ring, it’s volume, etc. If your phone is on silent, you need not worry. Double-pressing the small button on the center of the app will ring your phone even when the volume is off.

And if Tile hasn’t already proven its worth to you, there is an inexpensive premium feature ($2.50 a month) which alerts you if you leave your keys behind. This means that if you get a certain distance away from your keys, the app will let you know. The premium feature also offers free replacements on the battery.

User satisfaction seems to be generally high. With a 4.2 rating on Google, this app leaves little to complain about. Some people have posed concerns about battery draining due to the app running GPS in the background of your phone, but luckily, that can be managed through settings. Ultimately, it seems that the good outweighs the bad for this product.

Five reasons to study philosophy

Philosophy can be daunting and confusing to take on. Many people find it convoluted and difficult to grasp on even a basic level. Further, a lot of us don’t necessarily see the point of it. When our friend tells us they’re a philosophy major, the first thing we want to ask is: “What kind of job can you even get with that?”

Each person stands to gain something from delving into this form of study. Philosophy comes from two root words which come together to mean “love of wisdom,” and this is a very accurate term. Philosophy is a way of approaching the problems in humanity that science and math cannot answer. Philosophy is a way of trying to understand what is referred to as the human condition. In this article, I provide five reasons why I think philosophy is valuable and even necessary.

  • It provides valued job skills: What a lot of people don’t always understand is that college isn’t just a direct ticket to a job in your field. For many employers, what they’re really looking for in a degree is evidence that you’re a capable learner and that you’re dedicated and well-rounded. A philosophy degree is no less indicative of this than a degree in anything else. Further, it hones many of the skills that make people attractive options to employers. Philosophy provides discipline, a deep understanding of ethics and morality, and it shows a depth of cognition.
  • It helps you to understand yourself: Many of us go through our lives experiencing confusing and conflicting phenomena. People are tricky and contradictory, and they create situations which are both complex and baffling at times. Philosophy seeks to understand the way humans think, feel and behave. Through reading this work, we can better understand through the words of dedicated scholars just what we’re feeling and doing and why it happens. For example, through reading Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay “Existentialism and Human Emotions,” I was better able to understand much of the guilt and frustration I experience on a daily basis.
  • The issues are enduring: Philosophy is not an outdated study from the days of old and it is not best left to the people who have already come and gone. The issues tackled by philosophers are timeless in the sense that they are still present in our daily lives. Struggle, despair, conflict, war, peace and other deeply complex components of society are not going away anytime soon. Philosophers work hard to make sense of these things, especially with regards to the time they’re living in. Life is constantly progressing forward into the future, and it is incredibly important that we are constantly modernizing and updating our ways of thinking to help us better understand issues of humanity in the context that they’re occurring in.  
  • It helps us hone skills of logic and reasoning: Many of us are deeply introspective and enjoy doing this kind of thinking already. Philosophy helps us exercise those parts of the brain in a more sophisticated and structured manner. Philosophy also provides us with the appropriate and fitting language so that we can discuss things logically and accurately. It helps us to think more abstractly, but also helps us to apply the abstract to real and tangible scenarios.
  • It is politically relevant: I don’t think it’s too controversial for me to say that morality and politics are deeply intertwined. Many great works of philosophy were published on the tail end of war, political occupation and other social tragedies. Much of this work is revered and still referenced to this day because of how profound and illuminating the critiques were. The world is currently undergoing insurmountable levels of political turmoil and it can feel difficult for even the most astute political science student to make sense of everything going on. Philosophy can help all of us to have a more nuanced and in-depth examination of current events.

BOOK REVIEW: “Kafka On The Shore” by Haruki Murakami

Every once in a while I pick up a novel that I really want to enjoy, only to find myself disappointed. “Kafka On the Shore,” in many ways, was that novel for me. I love Murakami’s work and I’ve been reading him for years; ever since I discovered some of his short stories in the New York Times. “Kafka” is one of his most highly-rated novels and widely considered a classic. I was buzzing with excitement when I bought the novel, which took me several years to finish — and not because of how long it was.

I feel that it’s necessary to first acknowledge that this novel is not without its strengths. Some of the plot points were fascinating, if not preposterous. Spoiler alert: there is a scene involving Colonel Sanders and a dead cat that I may never forget for as long as I live. The genre is one of my favorites and Murakami should be given a lot of credit for his contributions to magical surrealism as a genre. He has an uncanny way of combining mundane reality with the magical and mystical into something intriguing and familiar. “Kafka” hits that mark, but keeps going until it falls over the edge.

The characters are miserably simple and flat, made worse by the ridiculous nature of the plot. This is certainly a matter of opinion, but I felt that his plot either deserved better characters or that his characters should have been given a plot that matched their pace.

This story follows two seemingly unrelated plots surrounding two characters who are very different but who are both embarking on a journey to find something. Kafka, the teenage boy who the novel is named after, is fleeing his emotionally dormant home where he lives with his father. He is searching for his long lost mother and sister. Nakata is a mentally-disabled old man who has an uncanny ability to track down missing cats. One lost cat takes him farther than he’s ever traveled before when he then teams up with a jaded trucker.

The plot picks up when Kafka’s life becomes unexpectedly dark. All at once, he begins being visited by a ghost and becomes the subject of a murder investigation. He has to go into hiding in the woods where he experiences all levels of surreal delusions. All of this seems fascinating enough, but it falls flat. The characters are bland and unsympathetic, making all of the things happening around them feel insignificant and detached. As a reader, you want to find out where everything is going, but it felt difficult to proceed with this one.

I think it is worth mentioning that some of this may have come from cultural differences between reader and author. Haruki Murakami is Japanese and writes in his language. All of the copies of his novels in publications and novels have been translated into the preferred language. I do not doubt at all that some of the meaning is lost in translation; however, I don’t think this fully excuses the novel, as I have enjoyed his work before.

That being said, despite the low rating I’m giving it, don’t think this novel was necessarily a waste of time. It certainly touched on some interesting themes in unconventional ways. I only wish that it had been done with more passion and energy.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

(Fall Fest) Podcast Review: The “NoSleep” Podcast

Our tradition of listening to spooky podcast stories came from our desire to kill time while we roomed together freshman year. Both of us have a love for things morbid and haunting, and while searching the depths of YouTube, we discovered someone who did readings of spooky stories found on the internet. YouTube user Cryaotic primarily makes videos about games but has a small collection of videos in which he voice-acts scary stories he finds on Reddit. His lack of content lead us to the NoSleep podcast. This sparked a ritual that we still enjoy years later. We spent many nights picking stories and then failing to find enough peace to fall asleep afterwards. Based on experience, we can both say that the title of the podcast is very accurate.

The NoSleep podcast is an online series that features original horror stories. This podcast boasts 11 seasons, each season containing upwards of 20 episodes with each episode featuring a handful of similarly-themed stories. The NoSleep podcast is expertly done. There is a talented and experienced cast of voice actors, atmospheric music and immersive sound-effects which bring life to the haunting readings. One of the strengths of this podcasts is that it pulls stories from a diverse batch of authors. Amateurs, published authors, hobbyists and career writers have all been featured on the podcast. Even better is that the NoSleep podcast seems to have no boundaries or limits to its horror content. Each story seems to be more haunting than the last. 

The website for the NoSleep podcast is very user-friendly and provides suggestions on where to start if you are new. Many of these stories are great places to begin if you are unsure of your limits or do not have a particular taste or preference for horror. You can start there with any of the episodes they have listed, but if you’re interested in delving deeper, here are our suggestions based on what we have heard so far:

Courtesy of

Borrasca was written by published author C.K. Walker and it can be read in its entirety online.

Episode 25 of Season 7 is a special full-length episode clocking in at 2 hours and 17 minutes; this one is a whirlwind. What draws you into this story at first are the characters and the childlike nature of their interactions. This eventually lulls you into a false sense of security as the ending of the story is far from innocent. Main character Sam lives in a small mountain town which exists under the shadow of an urban legend. When Sam’s best friend Kimber goes missing, the legend becomes more of a reality. We found this story to be incredibly memorable due to its intense plot twists and realistic use of horror content.

Soft White Damn: 

Courtesy of

Season 5, Episode 18 is a shorter listen, but it is no less terrifying. The main character is a disgruntled single man staying in a cabin alone during a snow flurry. As the night progresses, he begins to hear noises outside. These sounds, combined with the amount of alcohol the main character has been consuming, lead for a terrifying and convoluted night during which the main character must confront both the monster outside and the monsters in his past and in his mind. The voices and sounds in this episode are particularly important to the story. Over a year later, we can still recall the chilling noises from this particular story.

The Smiling Man:

This story, featured in Season 2, episode 5, won the NoSleep horror writing contest of 2012 and for good reason. This story centers around someone who, when walking alone at night, encounters a terrifying and intimidating individual. From there, the story only gets more and more disturbing. This one stuck with us because of how simple it is. It’s one of the shorter stories featured on NoSleep, yet it still has a chilling storyline that leaves listeners feeling uneasy.

Honorable Mentions:

We found the following three stories featured on the podcast memorable and felt they were too spooky to be left out. Each (for their own reasons) left the two of us unable to sleep, yet again allowing the podcast’s name to ring true.

The Disappearance of Ashley, Kansas (Season 2, Episode 5)

The Penpal (Season 1, Episode 11)

Butcherface (Season 1, Episode 4)


For anyone interested in checking out the NoSleep podcast, all of their stories can be accessed here:

‘In The Lake In The Woods’: A Book Review

“You know, I think politics and magic were almost the same thing for him. Transformations — that’s part of it — trying to change things. When you think about it, magicians and politicians are basically control freaks.”

Photo by Sara Zimmermann

“In The Lake Of The Woods” has become an odd favorite of mine. This novel doesn’t particularly bring me joy or comfort, but it has left me with a lasting intrigue which inspires me to revisit it frequently. Tim O’Brien is a knowledgeable author whose firsthand account of the fictionalized subject matter lends itself to a very genuine and believable story. The subject of war (namely, the Vietnam War) is heavy in this novel, and Tim O’Brien is a veteran. Many people may know his name from his novel, “The Things They Carried,” which is based on some of his experiences in the 23rd Infantry Division. I have read “In The Lake Of The Woods” several times now and I have suggested it to many people.

“The Lake Of The Woods” owes a lot of its magic to the protagonist, John Wade, who happens to have a strange fascination with magicians and tricks. This is only one of the many somewhat bizarre facets of John Wade, who is a politician running for higher public office. His character is very appealing, but he is surrounded by an air of mystery from the very beginning. He is a driven if not troubled man, and he seems to have high chances and an already impressive history under his belt. The plot of the novel doesn’t hinge on this, though. Instead, the plot immediately kicks off when the public is informed of war crimes involving John Wade. Instantly, whatever expectations readers have change into something completely unpredictable. John’s wife goes missing and no one has a clue about what happened. From this point on, Tim O’Brien drags readers down a very dark and convoluted path of twisted outcomes and possibilities.

One of the other strengths of the novel is its eerie tone. Even the mundane seems heavy and tense with Tim O’Brien’s touch. Things that shouldn’t be unusual seem horrific by nature. Readers will be left with a combination of fascination and distrust in the characters, the plot and their own mind. Much of the true grittiness of the novel lies within the imagination. Tim O’Brien does a fantastic job of creating horror with implication — he tells you just enough to lead your mind in uncomfortable directions, and it is up to the reader to imagine the worst.

What makes this novel interesting is its alternating points of view. The story is told in many ways and it is not always linear. In this way, reading this novel doesn’t feel much different from solving a puzzle. The story is told by John Wade (both past and present) and by many of the people involved in his life, be it through testimonial transcripts, flashbacks or interviews. The reader must ultimately pick who to believe and which story to trust. This is by no means an easy feat, and many people may not want to believe some of the things they are reading.

I suggest this novel to anyone who likes to have their minds challenged and who also finds mysteries to be satisfying. The book is heavy with politics, magic and war, but readers need little knowledge or interest in those topics to enjoy the experience. The real point of “In the Lake Of the Woods” I believe is to examine the conscience and the darkness of relationships. The truest form of horror I’ve found is in what real people can do to each other. Tim O’Brien doesn’t need ghosts or ghouls to show what it’s like for someone to be haunted.

Rate: 5/5 stars

“Philosophize This!”: A Podcast Review

Podcasts, I think, are the perfect medium for busy students who may struggle to balance studies, entertainment and ultimately their attentions. “Philosophize This!,” a free podcast dedicated to sharing the ideas that shaped the world, is the perfect informative yet amusing podcast. It can be listened to for free on several websites, which is great for students on a budget. It can be accessed from the main website and is also available on Spotify and iTunes. It is perfect for listening to on its own or as non-distracting background listening while doing homework or studying. It could even potentially be supplementary to your classwork. This podcast is best for explaining complex social, political and philosophical issues in a way that nearly anyone could understand. If you are struggling to understand a concept in one of your lectures, there is a high possibility that this podcast may have an episode that could help you out. The episodes can be watched alone, but the host has done listeners a favor of uploading his topics in the chronological order that they shaped our world. And while much of the philosophy is interconnected, each topic can be listened to as a stand-alone episode. What’s better is that it isn’t all Socrates and ancient Roman theories. Much of the philosophy is applicable to the modern age.

Courtesy of

Another reason this podcast is so great is because of its accessibility and its pacing. You do not have to have prior knowledge to understand the concepts at hand. Stephen West is an excellent orator and a great teacher. He is clear and concise, but also careful to explain things to his audience to the fullest degree. Not only will you be given a philosophy lesson, but oftentimes you will also learn about history and the greater social context. Stephen West is also fair and objective. Students worried about being mislead or being given biased information need not worry; the goal of “Philosophize This!” is to educate, not to pander.

The philosophy — pun intended — of this podcast, as stated by Stephen West, is: “The world could be a better place with more education and acceptance…I am an agnostic on every issue of substance I can think of. It’s the only honest way of living I’ve come across so far.” I find this podcast incredibly important and relevant, and I appreciate it for more than just its educational value. Philosophy is an interesting and important subject, but one that many people are hesitant to delve into for many reasons. People tend to view philosophy as unhelpful or useless. Many modern people think that philosophy is outdated and that there is no place for it in our current world. Another idea that many people have is that there are no jobs for philosophers and so it is a waste of time. However, philosophy can help many people. It teaches us how to think abstractly. There are so many concepts that we witness and experience in everyday life, but it is incredibly difficult to put these things into words. Philosophy can help you to understand the idiosyncrasies of the human experience, and, just as importantly, philosophy can teach you how to describe and communicate. Philosophy helps us to question the world that we live in and to evaluate things critically and deeply. Our thinking becomes so much more nuanced and open at the same time. Philosophy is fascinating because it is a study that simultaneously complicates and clarifies all of the people, constructs and events in our past, present and future existences.

Philosophy, I believe, enriches our experience with reality, and this podcast is a great place to start.

Rate: 5/5

(Fall Fest) How I’m Celebrating Halloween (And How You Can Too)

Halloween, as I see it, is not a day but an entire season which should be celebrated from the first cooled off days of September until the day that your RA takes down your spooky decorations over Christmas break (yes, this did happen to me). SCarowinds, which has been open for business for weeks already, seems to agree with me here.

As adults, it’s a lot harder to know how to enjoy the creepy seasonal spirit without being an actual creep. As sad as it is, we can no longer trick-or-treat; if we did, we’d have a lot of doors shut in our faces. And frankly, most adult Halloween parties just don’t hold a candle to this beloved childhood activity. It seems like the older we get, the more we are excluded from nostalgia. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t dress up and have fun, and more importantly, this doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy candy and all things macabre.

For me, my celebration of the Halloween season will consist of a ritual of, first, buying candy — which I realize isn’t as fun as being given it for free, but at least we have the option to opt out of candy corn and instead buy as many bags of reds-only Starburst. Next, and most importantly, I will devote as many of my October evenings as possible to watching movies, reading books and playing video games, all of which will be creepy and haunting in nature. Here is my list of books, films and games that I’ll be enjoying over the next month. Some of them are classic no-brainers, while others may be titles you’ve never heard of.

Photo Courtesy of Pxhere


Stephen King’s “IT:”
I am suggesting this in its novel form rather than suggesting the movie or TV show adaptations. It is a novel I have read before and I find it to be much more haunting and simply better overall than any of its counterparts. Put simply, seven childhood friends bond together while being haunted by a formless being which taps into each of their greatest fears.

Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell’s “Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark” (Volumes 1-3):
Horror fanatics may already know that there is a film adaptation of this short story series coming out in the vague future. The directing role has been given to Guillermo Del Toro, who is highly esteemed in the horror and greater film community. This compilation of short stories and illustrations is perfect for people who want both a hit of nostalgia and a refresher in anticipation of seeing it on the big screen.


“Silent Hill:”
This series is quintessential to the genre. These games are horror classics that are highly revered as some of the bests. They are immersive and atmospheric, and the series has a large variety of installments with varying plots and styles to choose from. I suggest the second game in the series, but each continuation has a unique exploration into the haunted town of Silent Hill.

This game is fun to play with a group of friends watching along. I certainly haven’t been able to play it alone. In “Outlast”, follow a reporter along his descent into corruption as he investigate a seemingly abandoned asylum.


“The Last Shift:”
“The Last Shift” is a low budget Indie horror film with a small but strong cast. As a rookie police officer finishes out the last shift at a closing-down police station, she alone must confront supernatural and occult forces.

“Black Mirror:”
“Black Mirror” is a TV series rather than a film, but the seasons contain many very lengthy episodes. Each is eerie and thought-provoking, and all of them confront a very pressing issue prevalent in modern society: pervasive technology. My favorite episode is Play Test, which has many classic horror elements and a rich plot.

“Nocturnal Animals:”
This may be more of a thriller to hardened horror fans, but it’s still worth watching. A woman receives a brutal and traumatic transcript about a family tragedy from a man she hasn’t heard from in years.

“The Blackcoat’s Daughter:”
This is a fairly recent horror flick starring Emma Roberts. This one is dark and atmospheric with heavily religious themes. Two girls are left at a Catholic school over the break and are left to the mercy of the nuns there who may be involved in less-than-saintly cult rituals.

Classic Horror Films:
My favorite of the holy-grail classic horrors are “Scream,” “Nightmare on Elm Street,” and “Friday the 13th.” All of them have multiple installments (too many, depending on who you ask) but for each of them, I believe that the original first movies are the best.

This is a genre-defining movie that remains an iconic 1990’s staple. It is simple but effective: A masked killer terrorizes and brutalizes a score of middle class teenagers.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street:”
Freddy Krueger is one of the most terrifying horror villains, as victims cannot even escape him in their sleep. Just like “Scream” (by the same director, Wes Craven), a group of teenagers is at the center of the cast. They must fight for their lives as they figure out how to escape a monster who can kill them in reality by appearing in their dreams.

“Friday the 13th:”
Another horror necessity from the 1980s, merciless killer Jason ranks among the iconic villains like Freddy Krueger (many of you know there is a crossover film). Oblivious camp counselors are stalked and murdered by yet another mask wearing killer.

Book Review: ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold

Photo by Sara Zimmermann

I was introduced to this novel by watching its film adaptation. The story and the characters are heartbreaking in both forms, but the novel takes the brutality and aftermath of the plot to much deeper levels. Regardless, I ended both of the experiences in tears.

“The Lovely Bones,” written in 2002, is one of author Alice Sebold’s earliest works, coming out on the heels of her memoir, “Lucky,” in which the author divulges the details of her rape and assault as a young woman. Though these books are independent works, many readers should know that “The Lovely Bones” is a part of this same, greater story that many women, including Alice Sebold, can relate to. “The Lovely Bones” is a story about a young girl who was raped and murdered and now watches the rest of her would-be life as a spirit. This character, 14-year-old Susie Salmon, is a representation of all the women who are assaulted in their youth and then go through the rest of their lives feeling like ghosts themselves. So many girls find themselves watching things happen around them but never feeling like a part of it. I believe it is important to read this novel with the understanding that, though her story is unique, Susie Salmon could be any girl.

One of the reasons I rate this novel so highly is because of its unique perspective. The main character is dead from the first sentence of the first page, and it is almost impossible, I think, to not instantly fall in love with this character and her family, her journey and her youthful and selfless wisdom. The bulk of the story, however, is about her family and loved ones and it is told as Susie sees and interprets it. This sets the tone for the rest of the novel; each moment is bittersweet when it is viewed through a dead girl’s eyes.Though Susie’s personal journey takes her from a place of vengeance to a state of acceptance, her voice and her being never age. I actually think this is a good thing. Despite her incredible insight and her magical thinking, Susie is first and foremost a girl who never grow up. Very rarely do we see the opinions of young people about such important life issues.

Another strength of this novel is how thoroughly and expansively it explores grief. Mourning is not something that goes away in a few months, or even years. Some people carry it through their entire lives, and yet so few works of literature seem to follow the effects of loss through an entire lifetime. “The Lovely Bones” follows loss through many lifetimes, allowing the reader to see how different people’s lives are shaped by tragedy. Some people crumple and then find themselves while others seem to walk the earth as someone altered by sadness forever. “The Lovely Bones” follows a cast of people who are all deeply touched by Susie and her tragedy. This cast includes her rapist, her family, locals and police, her friends and even complete strangers. This novel also tells the stories of other victims unable to do so themselves.

Ultimately, “The Lovely Bones” is a heartwarming and bittersweet account of the butterfly effect of a young girl’s death. It is an incredibly deep yet charming novel that made me think sincerely about things I’ve never had to consider before. “The Lovely Bones” is a quick and fairly simple read, but it is by no means easy. I will certainly be picking up more of Sebold’s work in the future.

Gillian Flynn’s ‘Dark Places’: A Book Review

“Dark Places” is a best selling murder mystery novel by Gillian Flynn. Flynn is famous for her mystery novels, namely for her book, “Gone Girl,” which received even more acclaim for its film adaptation. “Dark Places,” as a novel, has been overshadowed by other works in this author’s catalogue, but it is no less fascinating, grim and gripping. If anything, its subject matter ranks it amongst the darkest novels I’ve read. Clocking in at 349 pages, this book is just long enough to steal your attention away for a while but not so long that you can’t binge read it in a few days’ time (and you certainly will want to).

Photo courtesy of Penguin Random House

On its surface, this novel is a mystery involving murder, family secrets, cults and small-town isolation. The main character, a young woman named Libby Day, is at once unlikeable in personality, but fascinating nonetheless. She is immature, petulant and bitter, but as her story unfolds, it becomes clear why she is like this. The reader will find it hard to hate her entirely as they uncover the traumas of her past, and Libby’s intrigue is one of the many reasons I rate this novel highly. Within the first few pages, readers learn that Libby is the sole survivor of the massacre of her family in a seemingly satanic act. Among the victims were her struggling mother and two younger sisters.

The massacre was highly sensationalized and covered prolifically by the media, something that causes this event to follow Libby every step of her life. As an adult, the protagonist of the novel struggles to find meaning in the remains of her life. She seems, at times, to never have truly grown a day after the event happened, and author Flynn’s portrayal of the trauma pulls no punches.

The plot kicks off when members of a serial killer fanatic fan-club contact Libby imploring her to help them uncover the truth about the past and present facts of the event. Through her eyes and through flashbacks, readers watch the characters unravel what really happened to the Day family. One of the things that makes this novel so strong is the alternation of perspectives. The story is built up of pieces of the present and flashbacks to the past leading up to the massacre. The perspective also switches between key players in the story which challenges the morals and emotions of readers. The subject matter is already dark, but Gillian Flynn wants to take readers to even more convoluted, dark places.

Another strength of this novel is the subtext underneath the scandal. Under the surface, this novel makes some very important social observations. While the murder plot propels the story forward, readers are taken to the heart of Middle America where we see that the real Dark Places are inside of humans and the culture they’ve created. First, this novel critiques America’s morbid curiosity surrounding cults and murderers. This novel is very period-savvy; the massacre occurred in the mid 1980s, a time in our reality that was riding on the coat-tails of similar massacres and killings. People have called this time period the “Deadliest Decade.” America was just recovering from the 14 murders committed by Richard Ramirez and Jeffrey Dahmer. Furthermore, the years after Charles Manson’s crimes had the general population obsessed with cult activities. This novel is an important look at the cruel nature of these crimes and the harmful impact of people who glorify them. Much like in the novel, there is no shortage of people who contact murderers and victims, collect memorabilia and news clippings, and commemorate these events through conventions. “Dark Places” is a warning about what happens when we desensitize ourselves to trauma.

This novel also touches on poverty, broken families and the social risks of living in a small town where word travels fast and is quickly misconstrued. The family grows up in Kansas in impoverished conditions. The strain that this, in addition to the absence of the once abusive father, puts on the mother and son in the story is one of the many things that contributes to the awful fate of the family. While media does scratch the surface of these issues from time to time, “Dark Places” takes it to a level that people are often uncomfortable reaching. One of the things that makes this novel so heartbreaking is the lives that the characters led before their deaths. All of these issues are exacerbated by the small-town mentality, which is ironically similar to cult mentalities. This novel also discusses dating abuse, pedophilia, peer pressure, drug use, masculinity and adolescent depression.

If you are interested in an emotionally challenging novel that tackles dark but prevalent social issues, “Dark Places” does it very well. The writing is sophisticated by nature but can be easily understood. The characters are unique, and there is an array of characters both likeable and detestable. Though the ending may be a bit lacking for some (hence the 4/5 rating), there is not a dull moment from start to finish.