This question is directed at the students in the Vive la France! FIG but everyone and anyone is invited to comment.
A key sentence in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven says: “Survival is insufficient.” What does this mean in the context of the novel? What connections might we make between this statement (and Mandel’s novel) and the ideas about cultural legacies that we are exploring in our FIG (Vive la France!) which pairs French 150 (Cultural Legacies of France) with Humanities 101 (Introduction to Humanities)? Why are we concerned with cultural legacies?
What does active, critical, or even creative reading look like? Send a photo of an analytically—or artfully—annotated passage of Station Eleven. Use a page of the novel as the canvas for art inspired by it, or show us the “close reading” questions and observations you’re making about a single passage. Make Station Eleven your own. Tweet images (#UOCommonReading) or email CommonReading@uoregon.edu. Prizes for best images. And here is our advice for how to approach a text as a critical reader.
Station Eleven opens with a scene from Shakespeare’s King Lear: “The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.”
How would your apocalyptic novel open? Submit the first lines at here, or Tweet #UOCommonReading. Hook us or haunt us. What is the style, perspective, and setting of your end-of-days story? Does your opening hint at key themes you’ll explore? Prizes for the best openings: tickets to special event with the author, lunch with new UO President Michael Schill, or beautiful editions of Shakespeare’s plays. Also: last chance to vote for Week of Welcome apocalyptic film—Interstellar is in the lead!
Station Eleven takes us to a future in which civilization as we know it has been destroyed by a flu pandemic. Mandel’s focus on the beauty that remains—and is preserved in plays, music, and other cultural forms—is unusual; but her novel joins scores of fantasies of destruction in television, film, and literary fiction.
Why do we love to imagine the end of times so much?
In “Is Dead the New Alive?,” Brooks Landon considers a range of reasons a sub-genre of apocalyptic story—zombies, of course—remains popular: perhaps, in a world of difficult to understand threats—terrorism, global climate change—zombies give us something reassuringly concrete to imagine “fighting.” Or maybe they’re just escapist fun. Or perhaps the end of of the world as we know it gives us the chance to imagine starting fresh. He writes:
Overwhelmed by the increasingly abstract complexities of contemporary life?… Got some pent up anger and violent tendencies you know are not cool? Imagine the satisfaction of that ‘thwack’ when your baseball bat/machete/shovel/hockey stick connects with a zombie head. And then there’s that old lure of the ‘cozy catastrophe,’ the really unfortunate apocalypse which—on the bright side—lets us start over with a clean slate. (8)
In an article about the rise of apocalyptic and dystopian Young Adult fiction, Forbes‘ magazine Debra Donston-Miller interviewed YA authors and media critics who claim that teens are highly aware of inheriting a planet “trashed” by their elders and beset by inequalities: it’s no wonder imagining teen heroes overthrowing a terrible status quo is so satisfying for young adult readers, they claim.
Why do you think stories of civilization’s collapse are so enduring, so popular? Tell us in a comment to this post.
Don’t forget to vote for an apocalyptic film to show during Week of Welcome. So far, Zombieland and Interstellar are running neck and neck.
We’re very excited to hear what you think of this year’s Common Reading! Once you’ve read the opening chapter or so, we invite you to share some of your first impressions here: for example, what clues has Mandel given you
about what’s going to be important in this novel? What characters, themes, and issues are you on the alert for? What questions do you have? Why is a celebrity actor’s death of a heart attack rendered so spectacularly, with such detail, on the opening pages, when the deaths of millions and collapse of civilization is depicted glancingly—“alluded to,” rather that presented in its pain and suffering, as New York Times reviewer Sigrid Nuenez puts it?
Any first thoughts? Welcome to the conversation!
And don’t forget, we’d love to see photos of you with the book—or just the book—that give us a sense of hometowns and summer holidays and favorite reading nooks… of all the varied places Ducks are turning their Station Eleven pages.
Send us a “traveling gnome” photo of you with Station Eleven (or just of the book if you prefer) in a location that matters to you—say, somewhere in your hometown, or with you on holiday. Tweet #UOCommonReading or email CommonReading@uoregon.edu. Most artful or farthest from Eugene photos can win tickets to VIP event with Emily St. John Mandel, lunch with new UO President Michael Schill, or beautiful editions of Shakespeare’s plays.
What happens when civilization as you know it comes to an abrupt end?
In the 2015 Common Reading selected book, Station Eleven, a pandemic called the Georgia Flu wipes out 99.99% of the human race in a matter of weeks. Twenty years later, a band of knife-wielding musicians and tattooed actors help ragtag communities remember what is important. This riveting story moves back and forth in time, taking us from Toronto to British Columbia, from Los Angeles to Michigan, and from Shakespeare to Star Trek. Learn more about the book,Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel.
Get Involved in the Common Reading program:
Would you like to get your classmates, students, or colleagues involved?
Are you an instructor interested in receiving a copy of Mandel’s book?
Are you a first-year student starting at UO in fall term 2015 and did not receive a book at your IntroDUCKtion session?
Contact the Office of the Vice Provost to get involved or get a copy of the book: email@example.com.
Station Eleven author Emily St. John Mandel said this about her book, “[It’s] about a traveling Shakespearean theatre company in a post-apocalyptic North America. It’s also about friendship, memory, love, celebrity, our obsession with objects, oppressive dinner parties, comic books, and knife-throwing.” The book highlights both pop culture and the classics, such as Shakespeare’s plays. If you were to preserve a few great books, movies, or pieces of music for the ages, what would they be?
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