Exactly 90 days before Barnard professor Paula Franzese’s son left for college, she started writing a set of daily letters giving him advice about the next stage of his life.
“It really was a labor of love,” she said. “I was so intent on sharing with him everything I could think of as a mom, but also as an educator.”
About six weeks in, Franzese’s son suggested that she turn the letters into a book. Within a few weeks, she came up with proposals for not one, but two books.
Franzese, who teaches political science and law at Barnard and Seton Hall University respectively, will release two books that offer cheerful, unconventional, and practical advice to college students—how to find inspiring professors, what to do in classes that leave you uninspired, how to handle rejection, how to pick a major.
She said that “A Short and Happy Guide to Being a College Student” and “A Short and Happy Guide to Being a Law Student” were inspired by her children, her students, and her own experiences.
“The books are really meant as a set of guideposts of the daily compendium, because the challenges of school and social interaction and just the rigors of life can cause even the most self-assured people to have moments of doubt and worry and dread,” Franzese said. “They endeavor to make the case for hopefulness.”
From the first chapter, the affirming tone of the book makes reading it feel more like a conversation and less like guidebook.
“It really is a call to define our principles, so each of us has an answer to the question of who we are—rather than let the world answer that most essential question—so that we come to an understanding of what we stand for,” Franzese said. “I am committed to the advancement of progress in all of its iterations.”
In this spirit, Franzese has decided to donate the profits from both books to public-interest law fellowships.
Rachel Simon, a third-year law student at Seton Hall who read “A Short and Happy Guide to Being a Law Student” before publication, said that she thinks the book goes above just talking about college or graduate-school life.
“It’s a guide on how to be an excellent law student,” Simon said. “But I think the larger message of the book is really about how to be a good person.”
The book “is absolutely fantastic,” she added. “For anyone who knows her, reading this book is exactly like having a miniature Professor Franzese in your pocket.”
Melissa Quintana, CC ’16, who has taken two classes with Franzese, said she believes Franzese’s intuitive understanding of her students will make the books effective.
“She understands that we face a lot of challenges, but at the same time she has a very incredible way of prioritizing happiness and helping us see the different ways we can find it as college students,” she said. “I think that’s what’s going to make these books so successful—she’s really able to zero in on ways to have [a] balanced, happy lifestyle.”
Both books will be available by March 14 at the Columbia Bookstore and on Amazon.
Emma Bogler contributed reporting.