Lessons, by Ian McEwan

The latest of Ian McEwan’s novels, Lessons, explores the pivotal decisions humans must make either to achieve their dreams, or to conform with society; the unsought experiences – personal and historical – that shape our futures; and the regrets of mundane, unfulfilled lives.

We are introduced to Roland Baines, the protagonist, when his wife abandons him and their newborn son. Alissa (the wife) experiences the first stage of a lifetime dedicated to husband and baby, her own mother’s unsatisfied life, and resolves to vanish in order to pursue her dream career as a writer.

In his thirties, Roland is an aspiring poet who carries the weight of a decision he once made: at the age of sixteen he left school, even though he was a promising student thought to become the first in his family to get a university degree. Now, the intellectual ambitions that used to fill the void of his nonachievements give way to the demands of baby Lawrence postponing, again, Roland’s brilliant future.

But this sense of lacking has deeper roots, and soon the reader is transported to Roland’s teenage years at the boarding school where his piano teacher, Miriam Cornell, seduced the boy in a secret affair that would last two years. Miriam took advantage of Roland’s search for a sexual experience, and the spiral of obsession and lust that followed would shape his relationships onwards.

The parent who chooses a career over family life, the sexual predator who possesses a young and inexperienced victim; both roles are archetypically male, but performed by female characters in Lessons. The reader has to question these women’s decisions: is it possible to achieve success and be a devoted mother and wife? Alissa becomes one of the greatest writers of her generation, but her inner life turns into reclusion and resentment. When her mother, Jane, did the opposite, she was confronted with the unsatisfaction of a too-conventional life, regretting the departure from her adventurous previous self, who was starting her career as a journalist when the pregnancy happened. Regarding Miriam Cornell, mystery will surround her until the last quarter of the book. Was she a serial abuser of young boys, or did it happen only once? Does Roland’s search for her as a sexual object make her less of a predator? And, finally, would the matter have been as severe had she been a man? I enjoyed this game with gender paradigms and the discussions they arouse in the novel.

Meanwhile, Roland’s role is the one of a prototypical female: passive, taking what life throws at him, and somehow feeling inadequate and incomplete. After the generation who fought in the war, his existence lacks collective purpose and his merits are quantified by his professional success – none. But McEwan tells his story as that of one of the anonymous people who sustain families and friendships, whose wealth is measured by the seats occupied at the dinner table at Christmas or by the eagerness with which children and stepchildren come to visit after the restrictions of a pandemic. It only takes a life to recognize.

Through a slow but steady pace, the reader’s patience will eventually be rewarded with meticulous descriptions of the character’s determining moments. Lessons is a lifetime of events, history, and human emotions; a search for our own purpose, the eviction of our own regrets.

Ian McEwan
486 pages
Vintage – Penguin Random House

Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller. An analysis

The last of my courses in North American literature is focused on the works written after World War II and Arthur Miller, with his Death of a Salesman (1949) inaugurates the semester.

The play starts off with Willy, our salesman, returning home unexpectedly after an inexplicable episode in which he felt his mind wandering while driving, almost causing an accident. It is late at night, Willy’s sons are paying the parents a visit and the eldest, Biff, has already had an argument with Willy.

The plot circles around two conflicts: one between father and son, which reignites with every visit, and the other Willy’s inner sense of failure, after all the years  dedicated to the pursuit of success.

In a series of flashbacks, or daydreams, the reader/spectator dives into three motifs of Willy’s past, which will help to understand the present.

We encounter his brother, Ben, who left when Willy was a teenager, in the same fashion their father had previously abandoned them years before. Ben became rich and, to Willy, his adventures are the “road not taken” which would have provided everything he was longing for. Ben is in possession of “the secret” that has not been transmitted to Willy, and he goes back in his mind to ask an absent Ben about it. The desertions of father and brother linger throughout the play, they being the reason behind Willy’s wish to be well-liked and mourned by many after his death.

The second set of daydreams takes us back to the time when Biff and Happy were kids. We find two boys adoring their father, trying their best to impress him, admiring his lifestyle, the places he visits and the people he meets. The devotion of young Biff is meticulously depicted, and it’s reciprocated with the pride of a father who believes his boy is on the road to success thanks to his teachings and example.

WILLY: You nervous, Biff, about the game?

BIFF: Not if you’re gonna be there.

These happy family memories contrast with the current situation: at some point, Biff estranged himself from “the dream” and now leads a life of fresh-air and low-waged jobs farming in the west that, against all odds, appeals to him. However, his happiness still depends on Willy’s acceptance of his choice, an acceptance that will never come.

But what about Happy, the younger brother? He has followed Willy’s advice and he is making good money, but he is candid about his dissatisfaction. Happy has assumed the hollowness of his existence as a given, and he doesn’t seem to care.

What is the secret to success, then?

The last of Willy’s flashbacks concern “the woman”, of whom we know nothing other than she and Willy seem to be having an illicit liaison. His worries about other people laughing behind his back are balanced by this woman’s compliments of his personality, symbolizing the acceptance of who Willy tries to be. But she is also the reason for Biff’s departure: his discovery of the affair shows him who his father really is and makes him reconsider his own path in life. He is not to follow the steps of a liar.

The reader can’t avoid noticing the different approaches of men towards women in the play. Biff, the man who rejects the American dream and lives true to himself, is not interested in chasing women at nights, as it’s his brother’s habit. He is also concerned about Willy’s erratic behavior in behalf of his mother, and he bluntly defends Linda before Willy in the scene where the latter gets angry at her for participating in the conversation. Willy treats his wife in accordance to his own mood but Biff is a man of principles who does not need to be above somebody else.

WILLY [with hatred, threateningly]: The door of your life is wide open!

BIFF: Pop! I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!

WILLY [turning on him now in an uncontrolled outburst]: I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman!

BIFF: I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You were never anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash like all the rest of them!

In the end we have two brothers: a charismatic Happy, who knows what to say to please people; and Biff, a man who remains truth to himself but will never get the acceptance of the father. The division between the two is the illusion Willy created for himself and, after all these years, can’t sustain him anymore.

Details from the British edition:

Death of a Salesman
Arthur Miller
Penguin Modern Classics /1174
Published: 10/09/2015
ISBN: 9780141182742
Length: 128 pages

Birth of a Unicorn, by Heather Wilde


I received this book thanks to Virtual Author Book Tours
in exchange for a honest review.

I will start on this occasion by pointing out what the synopsis of this book promises because, having finished it, I think I have read a totally different book:

In this book, you’ll find the true story behind one of Silicon Valley’s famous companies on its rise to the top. Peek behind the curtain as you see the highs and lows from an insider perspective, on the roller coaster that is the startup life. What emerges is a lasting friendship, a billion-dollar company, and an understandable framework of success for you to replicate.

How to find the balance between your career and personal life.

Why emotional awareness and critical thinking are as important as specialized knowledge.

How to identify the real skills you need to build a «Unicorn» team.

What is supposed to be a tale about the origins of Evernote, is actually an autobiography about a woman who worked for this app from the start, but managed to do so in an unconventional way: her own.

The Wildes were an ordinary couple living an ordinary life, usually miles away from each other because of the husband’s job as a pilot, when the attack on the Twin Towers occurred. I suppose that there are times when an external or internal event makes you pause and reflect about the mindless routines that shape our lives; it could be a terrorist attack, an illness, a killer pandemic… And, thus, the Wildes decided they wanted to live together, and to do so on a boat in Mexico. When Heather was asked to join Evernote, she put two conditions: one, to work remotely; two, to be paid (!!)

You need to read between the lines to know that Heather had already been in contact with the intricacies of Silicon Valley’s startups and that she knew that there were times and enterprises where you just had to show up and work not for money, but for a promise of a better, more profitable future, if it finally comes. She also had already made a name for herself, thanks to previous jobs, that led the founder of Evernote to want her in the team, and the road to gain that position in which her own conditions for the job are accepted is one of the points that are not really explained in the book and I would like to know more about.

In any case, both Wildes joined Evernote and they went to live on a boat in Mexico. The rest of the story goes back and forth in time with anecdotes of their time there: the problems when travelling with pets across borders; the good relationship with their neighbours; cultural shocks with the Mexicans, of course; and the intricacies of working endless hours for a startup that keeps growing.

The line that promises to teach you “how to find the balance between your career and personal life” is what I found most utterly misleading, even purposely deceiving, since the author explains in detail how they worked for more than 12 hours a day, worked every day also on holidays, and went to marathon sessions of in-person meetings, to finally collapse crying in an elevator in Evernote headquarters and decide to quit her job. Work-life balance? Sure.

In addition, the book ends with a Heather’s many-times-postponed visit to the doctor only to discover she had a tumor, having had an emergency operation while her husband was in another country for work (obviously).

There are parts of the story that soothe you into the graciousness of these businesses which were once managed by a few kind persons like you and me, like when she talks about the policy of providing premium access to homeless people and to people in areas affected by natural disasters. There are also truly interesting insights from a psychological point of view, such as the discovery that female tech supporters needed more interactions with the users to solve a problem and, therefore, they were less productive because they spent more time in solving one ticket, only to catch up with their male counterparts when they began to use men or gender-neutral names.

However, I cannot say this book really penetrates into the foundations and the development of Evernote. As I said before, this is a memoir of the time she worked for the company, with anecdotes of their time and routines in Mexico, as well as their trips to the headquarters in California; and the feeling that lingers after finishing the book is that, yes, they managed to work from what they consider paradise but, no, if you have two people working twelve hours per day, you really need three employees to do that job, and you are burning people out.

I have no doubt that the author loved working for the startup and seeing it grow, since she and her husband were an important part of it, and I have no doubt either that it was very remunerative for them after the increased popularity of Evernote; but I am positive that they should have had the chance to do so in another way—in a way in which she does not quit due to an anxiety breakdown, or neglects her health due to lack of time. After all, the only people to be remembered in a company like this, if any, are just the CEOs.

You can follow the tour and enter the giveaway to get a copy of the book here.

Book on Amazon.

Book on Goodreads.

30 days of Digital Minimalism


Cal Newport is an author I have been following for some time, as I am interested in his books and posts about study techniques, career advice, and deep, concentrated work. Now, with Digital minimalism, Newport has produced a manifesto to encourage people to be more conscious of their use of digital services while reducing it to the minimum.

As an unaware user of social media, I knew I was spending more time on it than I should, but what brought me to the book was the radical change of circumstances right after the coronavirus outbreak: I was working and studying from home but I couldn’t get anything done since I was spending my waking hours scrolling on social media and reading every piece of news. This is not the whole truth, I must say, because I was keeping many of my good habits regarding waking up and going to bed at the same time as ever; exercising once or twice every day, now without leaving the house; doing a bit of spring cleaning; and even trying some recipes and making crafts. I was actually enjoying the situation, safe at home and spending time with my partner, after months of different work timetables that prevented us from seeing each other much, but the struggle came every time I sat down with a screen, computer or phone, because I would open social media and news sites, as always, but I was now getting caught in a loop that kept me scrolling and refreshing to the point of not even opening the document I was supposed to be working on until 2 or 3 hours had passed by. So I read the book, I acknowledged I had a problem, and I tried Newport’s approach: I got rid of social media for a month.

In the book, you will find plenty of ideas about how necessary it is for our brains to be “bored” from time to time, to spend time alone, to engage in hobbies that make us be creative, to maintain face to face conversation with others… All those things that social media has transformed into interactions based on likes and shallow comments that have stolen our attention and have only brought anxiety and a lack of time for the things that we really value.

So I started the 30-day challenge by posting on my social media accounts about my endeavor, and then I deleted Facebook, Twitter and Instagram apps on my phone and I used Cold Turkey to block them for a month on my computer. I kept free access to WhatsApp, to communicate with family and friends; YouTube, my source of workouts during the confinement; the sports watch and its app, because it keeps me motivated to move; and GoodReads, a service as necessary as oxygen for a reader. I also blocked news sites so I could only access them at lunchtime, and I did nothing about Netflix or TV because I don’t use these services (and it would have actually been nice to find time for a good film or TV series, but it didn’t happen in the end).

I have to say that the first day was glorious: I finished the first draft of my End of Degree Project by working all day on it and writing about 9 pages without distractions, a huge accomplishment for me. Of course, I couldn’t keep that level of performance, but on the subsequent days I started to get work done and get on track with my studies, which was really stimulating. The number of books I read was joyously increased that month, and I started to resume writing on my Spanish book blog, which led me to announce my very first newsletter. Had I known how easy and satisfying my time away from social media was going to be, I would had become a digital minimalist much earlier, for sure!

However, I would also like to address the difficulties that I found during those thirty days:

  • The days prior to the shutdown were the worst: after reading the book I was getting to the false conclusion that I was an addict and, therefore, I would suffer without my dose. On the contrary, from the first day, being unable to access social media was actually a relief.
  • GoodReads has a feed resembling Facebook’s, and it might tempt you to scroll down, which I did at first but soon stopped, as I was aware of the danger.
  • When I baked something nice, or when we were allowed to go for walks after the lockdown, it was strange to take pictures and not to post them on Instagram. You really miss it! So I made the decision to post them after the thirty days, and that delay gave me clarity about how we have been deceived to post and seek recognition from unknown people that cannot care less about us.

This leads me to the final step of the process: going back to social media. The proposal of the book is to think carefully about how you want to use the services and make the proper arrangements: delete accounts, unfollow people you are not interested in, establish timetables and rules, etc. In my case, my desired strategy consists on, first, unfollow people and leave my account with a feed showing my real interests, books and all kind of crafts; and, second, keep the blocking during the week and access social media only on the weekend. I haven’t got around to do the former yet so, for the moment, I only allow myself to check social media on the weekends, but I don’t spend much time on it anymore.

I would like to end this long post with two final notes. On one hand, a warning: don’t rely on willpower to overcome the use of social media. That means don’t just turn off notifications or leave the phone inside a drawer; block and delete apps mercilessly instead of depleting your energy by constantly exercising self-control. I know this because I have had the notifications on my phone turned off for years, and look where I was. Above all, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are cured, reformed, after the thirty days: recently I had two-week holiday with free allowance to social media and, from the first day, I was back to my old habits of checking and scrolling. These services are designed to get you hooked, so the best approach is to make them disappear from your life.

On the other hand, I have noticed that, without social media, your brain is naturally inclined to engage in new endeavors, and sometimes it is a bit overwhelming to have all these ideas when you are already engaged in other pursuits. It is as if your head is constantly producing unexpected and enticing projects now that it perceives you have more time and you spend it more consciously. This is definitely a positive outcome, though: to have lots of ideas plus the freedom to finally focus your time and attention on them.

Would you abandon social media for a month?

Black people don’t write

This is the conclusion you would come if you took a look at my bookshelves [1].

Due to current events, one fellow blogger proposed July as a “Black literature month” here in Spain (the Black History Month is in February/October — if you are live either in the UK or in the US — but is not yet widespread here) to which I gladly joined, ready to immerse myself in search of black authors among my shelves… Only to realize (to my horror!) I don’t own any book written by a black person. My library as a whole is pure whiteness and a bit Asian, except for a couple of books that specifically talk about black people but written by white authors, and that, guys, makes me feel ashamed.

Like men who don’t realize there are no women among the CEOs or World Leaders pictured on the news, I wouldn’t have noticed the lack of diversity in my shelves if it hadn’t been pointed out by the protests all around the world and my social media feeds filled with fellow readers recommending antiracism books.

What’s more, my utter dismay came when I couldn’t think of any book written by a Spanish black author. A quick search on the internet gave a grand total of five books, and one is actually a photo book [2] to which, surprisingly, I leafed through last autumn visiting a museum. Being a black woman in Spain [3] is the only title available in my public library, and I already made a reservation to go and borrow it tomorrow.

I can only guess the challenges a black person must face here in my country… You see, I have grown up in a city where there was not a big black community: in my primary and high schools (both public) there were only three black children studying at the same time as me, none of them in my class and to whom I never talked. By chance, I worked with one of them for a brief period of time in our twenties but, apart from a strange surname from her father, I never even thought about asking what role her race had played in her life. Because I wouldn’t have thought there was any issue! Privileged whites don’t occupy our time with problems we didn’t know existed and, maybe, with exception of the big cities, I guess, this is the background of my country; a place where black people are thought to be either immigrants or tourists, but certainly not Spaniards.

So here I am, feeling embarrassed, but ready to learn the lesson and start paying close attention to my literary choices. After all, I just aspire to be well-read, and that requires embracing all the literary voices.


[1] You can also come to the conclusion that I am a privileged white a**hole, but I was trying to emulate the “White people can’t jump” statement for the punch.

[2] It is “And you, why are you black?”, by Rubén H. Bermúdez, and it is available in English here.

[3] This is my translation; the original title is “Ser mujer negra en España”, by Desirée Bela-Lobedde.

The benefits of breathing, by Christopher Meeks


I received a copy of this book thanks to Virtual Author Book Tours
in exchange for an honest review.

The coronavirus confinement started on March 14 in my country and the subsequent days felt a bit hectic, me being unable to concentrate on anything but the news, so I began reading short novels and also short stories, because they somehow provided a so much needed sense of completion in the midst of those first weeks.

The benefits of breathing is a collection of short stories, all of them set in an urban environment where human relationships are stripped bare. Most of the stories are based on romantic relationships that either are beginning or finishing, and they explore the way human beings mess things up with our own worries and the weight we carry from past experiences, or the difficulty we find when we have to examine and understand our own feelings to make others understand them as well.

In one story the protagonist starts dating a man who is fun and kind but, despite feeling right by his side, she decides to end the relationship because she finds him too devoted to her and this arouses her fear of commitment, even to a good man. In another, we find a man recently separated who tries an online dating app for the first time, only to feel more and more confused by the rules of these encounters – by what date do you consider you are in a relationship? Are you allowed to make friends or do you just need to search for a partner? These are everyday life stories with everyday life people of all ages who are looking for their dream jobs, a loving partner, or just a way to be happy again.

From the point of someone foreign to the US, I felt surprised by some of the customs that are reflected in the stories through the characters, such as the variety of cuisines and restaurants in the cities of California, or the way everybody seems to relay on therapy when facing a breakup.

In a sense, the stories address ordinary events happening to ordinary people, so the reader can put her or himself in the shoes of the characters. They appear in all lengths, which sometimes made me feel some stories were quite long, but I ended up thinking that this was the purpose of the author, trying to show that sometimes life events seem not to have an end while, in other occasions, they end too abruptly for our liking.

You can follow the tour and enter the giveaway to get your own copy here.

The benefits of breathing
Christopher Meeks
White Whisker Books (May, 2020)
Ebook, 238 pages

The benefits of breathing on Amazon.com
The benefits of breathing on Goodreads

It’s Groundhog day!

Have you noticed that every day has a name these days? Poetry day, Star Wars day, rare illnesses day… I learn about them thanks to twitter, as one does, and that was how my feed got filled with images from the film Groundhog day last February 2nd.

In Spain we didn’t know anything about the furry weather forecaster, so the film was translated with a different title (Atrapado en el tiempo, Trapped in time), and the concept of that day was alien to me. Since the film appeared to be already ingrained in popular culture and I felt disconnected for not knowing about it, I decided to put it on my to-watch list, whose time came during the first weekend of the lockdown (the lockdown started on March 15 in my country).

The surprise came when of what I thought was going to be just a comedy I found such a profound story that I am sure would have had a shallow effect on me had it not been for the difficult times we are living worldwide. So, please, let me talk about the film in detail, and beware if you haven’t watched it, because there will be plenty of spoilers (the film is from 1993, so we all agree that I am not breaking any law, don’t we?).

groundhog day

The protagonist is Phil Connors, a self-centered, cranky, and selfish weather forecaster who travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the celebrations and the weather prediction on Groundhog Day. The weather doesn’t let the team go back home, so they stay in town and, the next morning, to Phil’s surprise, it is Groundhog day again, he being trapped in a time loop the rest of the people are not aware of.

At this point, one can’t but notice the similarities with the confinement because all days feel the same. Perhaps not at first, when you try to adapt to the new routine, but after a few days you begin to feel trapped (you are not allowed to leave the house anyway, so it is not just a feeling). And then, if you allow yourself to consider the situation further on, you realize that everyday life might also be a time loop. There are changes, there are special days, but the majority of our days are the same day repeated over and over because it is hard to take responsibility and use our own time wisely.

In the film, Connors is at first enraged with the situation. He dislikes the small town of Punxsutawney and the locals, and he shows it constantly, causing not surprise to Rita, the producer, and the cameraman, who are already used to Phil’s bad temper. Sounds familiar? We all know people whose aim in life is to let others know they are not happy; just don’t be one of them. In these bizarre circumstances of confinement, the only thing I can complain about is being confined at home, which is what everybody else is, at least, experiencing if they are lucky: there are people in hospitals where you can’t have visitors to stop the spreading of the virus; there are people who have lost relatives and they can’t even organize a funeral because gatherings are not allowed; and there are old men and women alone in their houses, terrified to get the virus. The majority of us are in the lucky lot, so just don’t be a jerk and don’t complain.

Going back to the film, and after some groundhog days under his belt, Connors makes sure that his acts have no consequences and takes advantage of the situation by committing minor crimes, having sex with all the women he is able to, and eating candy like there is no tomorrow. Sadly, I have seen such behaviors these days. As an example, the animal shelters are reporting a raise in adoptions because people are allowed to go out to walk the dog so, suddenly, everybody wants one. I suppose they think they are clever, but NO.


However, Connors changes towards the end of the film: he decides to use his time wisely both for him and for others. He gets to know all those locals that he once despised and helps them: a boy that falls from a tree, a man who chokes in a restaurant, genuine tenderness and care to an old beggar on his last day on earth. He goes (groundhog) day after (groundhog) day to piano lessons and learns how to make stunning ice sculptures, contributing to the beauty in this world. And he is kind with his coworkers and makes the most remarkable covering of the festivities, while his love for Rita grows until, on one last groundhog day, she realizes what a loving and generous man he is, and she loves him back.

This confinement is as close as we are going to get to a time loop like the film’s. Dance in the sitting room, create art, do yoga in the afternoons, enroll in a MOOC, give as many kisses as you can. Let’s use that time wisely.

2019: A year in books

Ready for some bookish statistics? Come on in!


Challenges: as many previous years, I set my Goodreads challenge to 65 books, an amount I easily used to read in a year… Not this one, unfortunately. With so many courses and exams, my reading has slowed down considerably and I fell short of my original plans: I have read only 45 books, of which:

Authors: I have read 18 books written by women (40%) and 27 written by men (60%). In previous years I have been closer to 50% each.

Formats: I have read 7 digital books, 14 audiobooks, and 24 physical books.

Languages: I have read 22 books in English and 23 books in Spanish. All the audiobooks were in English, as always.

Origin of the books: of those 24 physical books, 18 were borrowed from two public libraries, one was a classic epic English poem that the teachers of my literature course provided to print, and the rest came from my own shelves.

Genres: without getting into details, I have read 21 non-fiction books, 6 comics, 4 poetry books, and 14 novels.

Pages: According to Goodreads, I have read 11,840 pages. The shortest book was a short story by Stephan Zweig (75 pages), and the longest was the third book of Justin Cronin’s trilogy The passage (768 pages).

Other numbers: I have re-read one book; I have read 2 books together with a reading group; I have read two classic English poems; and I have read 2 books on writing in English.

Best books of the year

Among the non-fiction books I have read, I particularly enjoyed Becoming, Michelle Obama’s autobiography; Atomic habits, by James Clear; and Learning how to learn, by Barbara Oakley.

I re-read again The princess bride at the beginning of the year and that makes it, of course, one of the best books of the year. It’s amazing how this book ends up in the top list every year, ha! The great alone, by Kristin Hannah, also standed up among my fiction reads.

I have read a couple of classics that surprised me positively, taking into account my reluctance to pick up these kind of books. Evelina, by Frances Burney, was one of them.

Finally, I have discovered another favourite author: Julian Barnes. I borrowed one of his novels from the library and immediately read a second one. Now I want to read them all.


I hope you have had a wonderful 2019, and I wish you an even better 2020.

Happy New Year!

Am I too old to start a new degree?

It is said that you will find time for the things you really want to do, but it is clear that those who agree on this are not working eight hours a day while studying a Law degree.


As an adult, studying is a sacrifice. It is no longer what you are supposed to be doing, and by spending the time and effort it requires you are subtracting quality time from the off-hours you would dedicate to your friends, family and hobbies otherwise. It is also unbelievably satisfying: the thrill of the new books at the beginning of the course; the mastery of your organizational skills (especially if you are enrolled in online courses),;the grades at the end of the semester that mean you are still capable of understanding and retaining new knowledge. And the process of learning itself is its own reward when the motivation comes from within.

When I started studying Law after my veterinary degree, people used to ask me if I liked it. I just couldn’t understand the question, first because one cannot like or dislike things that they don’t know yet and, second, because as a result of deepening your knowledge about a subject you deepen your interest in it. They also proclaim that, ‘I couldn’t study again at my age,’ which happens to be my age as well. And, you know, when I visit the study room at my university I always find students beyond retirement age engrossed in their books, not to mention some cases among my Law classmates of people who couldn’t afford to study when they were young and enrolled in their first degree at the age of 50. These people are my role models.

After finishing the degree, the masters’ degree, and the Examination for Access to the Legal Profession, I decided to continue studying another degree, a degree in Legal Sciences of the Public Administration, which all Law students seemed to be doing as being complementary to the Law studies, so it felt kind of mandatory.

And now, with the Public Administration degree almost finished – I have only four subjects left – I have decided to finally indulge myself with something I was looking forward to studying: English Philology.

In my university the degree is called English Studies, and includes culture of the English-speaking countries, English grammar per se, translation, communication in Spanish… But the subjects I am more excited about are the ones about Literature. This semester in particular I am studying Medieval literature, submerged in ancient epic poems I had never heard of.


It is still a surprise how much I am enjoying reading about these texts: the historical context, the topics, the structure of the poems… Learning has become a source of pure pleasure again, and I am wondering if I shouldn’t have started the degree in Spanish language and literature first; I feel that I would get much more out from the classic texts now than I did in school, when you only focused on memorizing authors, dates and titles of literary work.

As a result of my new endeavor, these days you can find me walking around the room reading poems out loud so I can appreciate the alliterations on the verses, or inventing kennings following Beowulf’s example. Besides, my partner is incredibly encouraging, so much so that he looks for further readings and radio programs about the poems I have to read, and sometimes I have to catch up with him regarding the texts that he has just acquired all the knowledge about, which makes me laugh because it is supposed to be me who is studying literature!

So, if you are also too old to study, I am pleased to make your acquaintance. We will take advantage of the quietness of the hours before sunrise, or maybe we will be the last in the house to go to bed. We will turn in assignments on time while complaining there is an echo coming back from the fridge. Every single day we will wonder why the hell we are torturing ourselves like this, but no expense will be spared at the exam results’ celebrations. And we will learn. Medieval literature, Microbiology, Criminal Law, Macroeconomics. We will learn.


Learning how to learn, by Barbara Oakley and Terrence J. Sejnowski



I don’t know about you, but I have always felt that the only thing I wasn’t taught at school was how to learn. Is it not ironic?

I’m attending an online English course and at some point we were discussing non-fiction books, when the teacher mentioned Barbara Oakley’s MOOC Learning how to learn. I enrolled in the course that very evening and, whereas I found it really interesting, I started the book before finishing the course due to my preference for the written word.

In the book, Barbara explains the techniques you need to master in order to learn better, and she does it in a didactical manner, even making you practice with her own book through reminders in every chapter about scanning through it first, addressing a series of questions at the end to see if you understood the material, etc.

She talks, among other things, about chunks of time, focused and difuse mode, active recall, memory palaces… And she bases their explanations on research about our brain’s way of working and storing new information. The book is intended to be read by young people or together a child with an adult and, therefore, she uses easy-to-understand metaphors so that all readers can understand and apply the techniques to the subjects and materials they need to learn.

But don’t underestimate the quality of this book: if the first sentence of this post resonates with you, you will get invaluable benefit from the reading of Learning how to learn. The techniques won’t be novel to you, I’m sure, but Barbara presents them in a comprehensive form, adding examples to help you get started, and basically compiling them together so you have the feeling of finally knowing everything you need to know about memory and learning.

Now, I am aware that when you read all this you’ll be tempted to make excuses like «I don’t have time for this, I need to study», and by that you mean coming back to your familiar study routine of opening the book, highlighting half of it in bright yellow, and forgetting most of it the day after. Changing these old patterns is been also a challenge for me who, after 36 years studying, still follows the same unproductive path for learning my subjects at the university, but I’m making an effort now in order improve how I learn. As Barbara says, practice makes permanent, and by implementing the techniques you will end up having more time for other things!

I wish someone had the idea of including a subject on how to learn in schools curriculae when I was a child. It is frustrating when you have to educate yourself years later on the matter; it would have been easier to acquire these habits at a young age but, anyway, this is where we are at the moment. So, please, if you are a person who believes one must learn new things throughout her life, read this book – you won’t be disappointed!