Psychology Student Reviews The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

As a Psychology student, it was compelling to dive into this prequel already knowing who Snow will become. This was a chance to use a retrospective look to see what happened in someone’s past that led them to become the person they are today. Oh, Dr. Gaul.

I’ll dive right in with a number of things that planted red flags along the way:

  • How Snow views Lucy Gray as his creation, his possession. His. Be prepared to riot at this next line:

“In some ways, it had been better to have her locked up in the Capitol, where he always had a general idea of what she was doing.”

  • His suspicions of everyone can turn a simple person into the devil by his overthinking. People with anxiety tend to interpret negatively things that aren’t quite clear. He takes that anxiety and turns it so much so that it can almost be painted as paranoia.
  • His lack of empathy when people suffer. Biggest red flag: his friend gets hurt and his main worry is getting blamed and punished if something worse happens. And when the parents of the friend rush in, which is when most people would go to reassure them, Snow is thinking first and foremost of himself:

“He didn’t know what the Dovecotes had been told, but he had no interest in talking to them, especially before he’d worked out his story.”

Big red flag. Huge.

  • He imitates emotions he thinks people expect him to feel in that moment, instead of sitting to uncover his real emotions. This is especially evoked in front of the cameras where he can make up a whole new persona.
  • He excuses his actions to clear himself of all guilt. He’s a great lawyer; the devil’s advocate. I was especially shocked when he dared to say this next line after the unthinkable happened to Sejanus: “And who knew? Maybe the cookies would keep coming.”

We’re rioting.

It was equally concerning to read the class discussions like, “How do we get more people to watch the Hunger Games?” And the one voice of reason, Sejanus, is being pushed aside like a madman. I had to actively remind myself that Sejanus is the good guy in a sea of bad. It’s all about who controls the narrative. This story is being told through Snow’s eyes. Don’t get distracted.

It’s disconcerting that the message of this book is either you riot against someone like Dr. Gaul and end up [redacted] like Sejanus, or you become her pet like Snow.

Which brings me to the point that we’re here for characters like Lucy Gray, not for Snow’s class homework 101 on how to be a dictator.

“Afraid of Dr. Gaul. Afraid of the Capitol. Afraid of everything. If the people who were supposed to protect you played so fast and loose with your life . . . then how did you survive? Not by trusting them, that was for sure. And if you couldn’t trust them, who could you trust? All bets were off.”

More point on the other characters:

  • The one thing that kept circling around in my mind was how Tigris would view Snow’s presidency. We see how much she sacrifices of herself for her cousin Snow. Yet in the end, we’re left with barely any mention of her. Unfortunate. I have a tiny sliver of hope that she would actively disapprove because she was always the voice of reason when he talked badly about people.
  • Lucy Gray is like a poor Disney princess who has to act graceful with the Capitol’s children even though she’s starving because of their families. This book should’ve been from her perspective. She deserved more page time, or at least her own POV. Her games were so rushed over, especially the ending. She deserves better.
  • Oh, but the loveliest moment of them all: “Hey, you found some katniss.” “Some people call them swamp potatoes, but I like katniss better. Has a nice ring to it.”

I do have to say after a certain point in the book, I couldn’t wait to finally escape the boring everyday routine of academic life. Luckily, the author immediately replaces it with everyday military life… Help. I can’t read any more details of the meals they ate and how everything had to be organised. Oh, and the amount of songs featured in this book? No, thanks. I’m good. It was like each chapter featured at least one, if not four. But I do have to add, the history on The Hanging Tree song was a nice touch.

All in all, I do appreciate that the author returned to this world. Now, when I catch Catching Fire references on my timeline or any talks about the Capitol or the games, I feel like I have insider information thanks to this prequel.

Midnight Sun might be next on the list.

Check out the prequel to the Hunger games through this excerpt:

My Most Personal Review: Einstein and the Rabbi by Naomi Levy

My interest was piqued regarding Einstein and the Rabbi simply with this featured post:

And the book recommendation did not disappoint one bit, upon starting.

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe, ‘ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings as something separate from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness…” –Albert Einstein

When Rabbi Naomi Levy came across this poignant letter by Einstein it shook her to her core. His words perfectly captured what she has come to believe about the human condition: That we are intimately connected, and that we are blind to this truth. Levy wondered what had elicited such spiritual wisdom from a man of science? Thus began a three-year search into the mystery of Einstein’s letter, and into the mystery of the human soul.

Back in late 2016, looking desperately for a way to reinvent myself or, at the very least, like when I heard myself talk, I overheard a lesson by Rabbi Reuven Fierman on TV that would come to change the course of my life over the next two years.

Sometimes something breaks through to you. It may be an unexpected feeling of ease or even holiness while you are simply enjoying a moment with a loved one. Or it may be the power of the words you read or a melody you hear, the power of being at one with nature, the power of praying in community, the power of a teaching, the advice someone gave you long ago. Suddenly the lesson you need to hear isn’t just washing over you—it hits you deeply.

At the time, influenced by every culture but my own, I was startled to hear a Rabbi state: “Not all that is written in the Torah is the real physical truth as it is,” which was eerily similar to what I’d told my mother before, who was by then already deep into returning to our roots. “The Torah writes what we can understand, not what specifically happened.” And that’s all it took to hook me in.

I started listening and delving deeper into the Jewish philosophies the Rabbi shared, which include lessons on parenting with joy, the truth of love, exposing classic writers and artists for the antisemitism in their works, positive psychology, the different levels of the soul, wartime, Holocaust culture, and so much more that came to shape all that I am today.

It’s become this phenomenon in every book I read or any lecture I listen to, where it all circles back to, “Oh, that’s like Reuven Fierman said in that one lesson.” Or, if I disagree, “Oh, that’s like Reuven Fierman said in that one lesson on how not to act.”

The past year I’ve delved deeper and deeper into the roots of Judaism, and I never thought it would come to save me as much as it did.

Have you ever wondered: Why do I say stuff I don’t agree with? Why am I so quick to turn to anger? How do I establish more meaningful relationships? How do I turn the world around me into a better place?

The other day, my mom viewed this powerful scene from the film The Edge of Seventeen that clicks everything together about sensitive souls stuck in a place that doesn’t accommodate them.

“And I don’t know how to change it” captures best the feeling of isolation I experienced throughout my growing up, like there was this invisible bubble serving as a buffer between me and the outside world with no handy tools to pop it; I could poke and move the bubble around but it was still very much there.

And I need to remember my contemplative thoughts about how I got through that stage, in case the memory slips away with time, so I’m writing this personal post. In a way I owe it all to my mother; it always comes back to my roots. My mom was the one listening to that fateful lesson by Rabbi Reuven Fierman on TV that I managed to walk right by as he said the puncturing sentence that stopped me in my tracks.

I’ve grown and learned so much about the power behind choosing to be who you want to be, thanks to these valuable and encompassing life lessons. AND IT’S AVAILABLE AT THE CLICK OF A BUTTON… FOR FREE.

My personal favorite lessons in Hebrew (Available for English listeners here and Russian listeners here):

You’re not unnecessary. It’s not all or nothing.

  • Being grateful and voicing it so the other side can feel it too. Saying ‘thank you’ because it is a recognition of the light of Hashem that appeared between you. Also: How do you appreciate what happens to you, not what actually happens to you? It’s not the reality that determines, it’s your absorption: http://www.meirtv.co.il/site/content_idx.asp?idx=22657&cat_id=3702.
  • The biological origins behind anger, the rush of adrenaline it provides, and identifying tiny triggers that sets your body on alarm, all of this revolutionized my perception regarding my anxious thoughts. You’re mind is essentially going through all these loops when little things happen that can spiral down to receiving the rush of adrenaline and anger of “I’m in danger.” So it’s up to you to research yourself in modes of anger: what triggers it (heat, crowds, etc.), what’s the root, how do you react… http://www.meirtv.co.il/site/content_idx.asp?idx=22668&cat_id=3702

And with all that off my chest, this is where Einstein and the Rabbi by Naomi Levy steps in. It took me quite some time to fully complete this reading journey, only upon reaching the chapter Knowing You Are the Right Man for the Job did I realize what kept me from reaching for this book throughout the month: the author spent half of Einstein and the Rabbi, talking about neither Einstein nor the Rabbi, but rather focuses on themes and ideas they represent.

I came to cherish this book for the vulnerable tales from the author’s personal life or from the people she encountered, so it took me quite some time to push through those chapters that are just full of advice. I do have to say, the author knows how to tell a story expertly and make us live through it, instead of revealing all the details ahead of time.

Key moments from the book that stayed with me:

  • Judith and her Buchenwald boys. This chapter made me blink back one too many tears, starting with this passage:

“The adults were expecting to receive pitiful, well-mannered children grateful for any drop of kindness. That’s not at all what they got. The boys were exploding with rage. They were suspicious of everyone. They were petrified of doctors, who reminded them of Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous sadist of Auschwitz. The boys hardly spoke at all. They were violent, and they obsessively stole and hoarded food.
Many of the boys couldn’t even remember their names. Whenever an adult asked a child, “What’s your name?” he’d answer by calling out his concentration camp number. The boys all looked alike, with their shaved heads, emaciated faces, and the black circles around their cold, apathetic eyes. They didn’t know how to laugh or smile or play.”

There’s rarely any talk of the survivors right after escaping hell on earth, and this was a gripping account.

  • The author, Naomi Levy, coping with the grief for her beloved father.

“We went to visit the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I walked up to the wall and at first I just touched the ancient stones. Then I got closer and closer and I smelled it.
I smelled the Kotel. And the Kotel smelled like my father. It didn’t smell just a little like my dad, it smelled like my father’s armpit!
There I stood, eyes closed, with both of my arms outstretched, leaning against the wall so hard that I couldn’t tell anymore if I was standing up or lying down. Just lying there with my nose in my father’s armpit. And I began sobbing. The wall melted.”

  • The story shared of her friend Rachel that puts explicitly on the page how one moment can change your life, for better and for worse. From being the one judging people to suddenly “She said to me, “I was hated. I was the evil person. I couldn’t show my face to Jack’s family.” It’s frightening to what extent your actions can lead to accepting a pivotal turning point that’ll finally open up your eyes.

“She began praying the morning and night prayers. She told me, “I love that there are words I can say to guide me into the dream state—night is a scary time. And I love that there are words for waking when that harsh pain of returning to reality washes over you.”

This says so much.

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Review: How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk

I wholeheartedly stand behind the belief that through our interactions with children we can learn how to behave respectfully to our surroundings; patience, kindness, and acceptance should be shown to all.

So, picking up this book at the library (where I coincidentally discovered the shelf full of psychology reads I’m about to devour!!) felt like the natural next step in learning more about our methods of communication. Also, I have a nine-year-old sister at home who I want to feel like she’s being listened to as an equal, which is where this book came in handy.

How can I express my honest feelings in a way that will make it possible for the other person to hear me and even consider what I have to say?

I was beyond keen on making sure I’d implement the many useful pieces of advice offered in this quick read: The emphasis put on simply listening and making sure they know you’re on their side, the importance of acknowledging the kid’s emotions and not brushing them off, accusing vs. describing feelings, giving tips on problem-solving, being conscious in your word choice because truth without morality is not truth. Like this brilliant quote I read from Haim Ginott:

“Truth for its own sake can be a deadly weapon in family relations. Truth without compassion can destroy love. Some parents try too hard to prove exactly how, where and why they have been right. This approach will bring bitterness and disappointment. When attitudes are hostile, facts are unconvincing.”

These instances helped me understand the best:

  • Why our “natural” response tends to minimize their emotions:

“I also think it’s natural,” I said, “for parents to push away painful or upsetting feelings. It’s hard for us to listen to our teenagers express their confusion or resentment or disappointment or discouragement. We can’t bear to see them unhappy. So it’s with the best of intentions that we dismiss their feelings and impose our adult logic. We want to show them the ‘right’ way to feel.”

The ultimate goal of a parent is to reach the stage where their kid will have the confidence to listen to themselves and make responsible choices on their own.

“That’s the big challenge,” I said. “To shift our thinking from ‘how do I fix things?’ to ‘how do I enable my kids to fix things for themselves?’ ”

  • On the negative connotations of punishment; opting to use alternatives such as #1 State your feelings. #2 State your expectations. #3 Show how to make amends. #4 Offer a choice. #5 Take action.”

“When you punish a kid, you close the door on him. He’s got no place to go. It’s a done deal. But when you take action, the kid might not like the action, but the door is still open. He still has a chance. He can face up to what he did and try to fix it. He can turn a ‘wrong’ into a ‘right.’ ”

Also: the four-panel comics really brought the ideas to life:How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk 1-- bookspoils

Instead of Angry Reprimands

How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk 2-- bookspoils

When Praising Kids

Instead of Evaluating …How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk 3-- bookspoils

How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk 4-- bookspoils

In short:

  • Feelings matter. Not just your own, but those of people with whom you disagree.
  • Civility matters. Anger can be expressed without insult.
  • Words matter. What you choose to say can cause resentment or generate goodwill.
  • Punishment has no place in a caring relationship. We’re all people in process—capable of making mistakes and capable of facing our mistakes and making amends.
  • Our differences needn’t defeat us. Problems that seem insoluble can yield to respectful listening, creativity, and persistence.
  • We all need to feel valued. Not only for who we are now, but for who we can become.”

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buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

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