ASIDES: A Semester in Review

Hello all! Happy Tuesday! I’m coming at you today with something a little different, because today is one of the most bittersweet days of the year for me. As I write this, my walls are bare of posters and photos, and my floor is covered in bags and boxes filled with everything I’ve used for the past 8 months. When this goes up, I’ll have finished my second year of college and headed home for the summer. I am more than excited to be home (read: see my dog), but I really do not want to leave all of my friends here at school. Still, it’s not like I have much of a choice, and besides, 3 months of no classes means plenty of time to read. Anyway, I wanted to give a quick overview of how my semester went. 

the academics

I was in two very different English classes this semester. The first was a weird combination of a history, sociology, and English course about the history of books. It was more than a little bizarre but way more interesting than I would have ever anticipated. Sure, it had its moments when I was almost falling asleep reading 30-page articles about the pros and cons of engraved versus printed text, but those were few and far between. I learned a lot of cocktail party facts, including but not limited to: 

  • An em-dash is called an em-dash because it’s the same length as a printed letter “m,” and an en-dash is called an en-dash because it’s the same length as a printed letter “n.” 
  • Capital letters are also called uppercase letters because, when print had to be hand-set, the capital letters were in the upper part of the case. The small letters were in the lower part of the case, hence lowercase. 
  • There are two different versions of David Mithcell’s Cloud Atlas. The American paperback and eBook are significantly different from the British paperback, particularly in the middle portion. The basic story is Mitchell’s US editor left the company, but Mitchell continued the editing process with his British editor before it was picked up again by the US publisher months later. At that point, Mitchell and the UK office had made alterations that did not get copied to the US publisher. You can read more about it here.
  • Pretty much everything about the state of music printing in the 17th and 18th centuries in London.  

This last one was the most interesting thing we did. We had a semester-long project that focused on a book each student selected from our library’s archive. Being a music minor, I chose to study a 1731 edition of William Holder’s A Treatise on the Natural Grounds and Principles of Harmony. It culminated in a 12-page paper on the history of the author, printer, publisher, and book itself, as well as the context in which the book was written and published. It was really interesting to be able to study the history of a single title and to handle a book that is nearly 300 years old. Here are some photos I took of it: 

 LastShareCollage (1)

The other English course I took focused on the relationship between literature and the environment. It should have been the perfect class for me as an English-Environmental Studies double major, but unfortunately, it was really quite boring. A lot of the reading was ridiculously dense, which I guess should be expected, but it wasn’t even an interesting kind of dense. I was also disappointed that we only read 2 novels: Louise Erdrich’s Tracks and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. The latter was by far my favorite, and I highly recommend it, particularly if you enjoy dystopian settings that focus on social issues. We also read The Tempestwhich I had read for a previous class, so I didn’t technically read it this semester (because I wasn’t willing to reread it), as well as Gary Snyder’s poetry collection Turtle IslandI’m still not a huge poetry person, especially when assigned for a class, so I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had read it on my own. Still, I’ll take it over Rennaissance poetry any day. We also read significant portions of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, both of which I now want to pick up and read on my own.  

the books

Okay, now for the stuff you actually care about. The most important thing I did this semester was figure out ways to work reading for fun into my busy-as-heck schedule. I found that if I got ahead on my work early in the week, I had plenty of time in the evenings to read what I wanted. It really goes to show that if you plan ahead, you usually have time for fun stuff. I think it was also really beneficial for my motivation in general, because I used pleasure reading as a reward for doing my work. I generally rely on intrinsic motivation, but giving myself something to look forward to (other than being done with work) really encouraged me get ahead on work, which is a great feeling regardless of the situation. I’m hoping to continue this practice next year, especially since my schedule will be almost exactly the same. 

Despite all my commitments to school, work, and swimming, I managed to read 17 books for fun this semester, compared to the 8 I read last semester. I’m super happy that I managed to fit that many in, even if I read fewer full books for classes. Here are the books I’ve read for fun since classes started in the middle of January: 


I have some new favorites, specifically The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller because, damn, that book is something else. Iron Gold shattered my heart, as I expected it to, and Vicious helped remind me why I absolutely LOVE V. E. Schwab. 

I also got some of my closest friends hooked on some of my favorite series. I lent Nevernight and Godsgrave to one of my close friends, and she was just as amazed with them as I was when I read them at the very end of last year. I also convinced her to read An Ember in the Ashes and A Torch Against the Night, and she loved them too, so I’m 2-for-2 on recommendations. It also means I have someone to freak out with when Reaper at the Gates and Darkdawn are finally released, so it was a little selfish, too. 

looking forward

As I said in my May TBR post, this month is my least-busy month until August. My summer job starts at the very end of the month, so I’ll be a little busier, but it won’t be unmanageable. Last summer, I blew through books and series, and I really hope I can do the same this summer. There are so many amazing books coming out this summer that I cannot wait to get my hands on, specifically War Storm (next week!), Legendary, and Reaper. I’ve also subscribed to OwlCrate, which is my first ever book box, and I’m really excited to see what the May box brings!  

Here’s to a great summer full of books! What books are you most looking forward to reading this summer? 

Keep reading, 

 Francesca M. Healy (1)

7 thoughts on “ASIDES: A Semester in Review

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