Station Eleven

Check out Book Talk's first video! Book Talk blogger Sarita brings to life Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Take a few moments to hear more about this literary tale of survival which imagines the downfall of civilization due to a flu epidemic

This hugely popular novel was a finalist for the National Book Award and Literary Orange is honored and excited to have Emily St. John Mandel as this year's keynote speaker. Literary Orange will be held on Saturday, April 11, 2015. Attendees will have the opportunity meet keynote speakers Emily St. John Mandel and Anne Perry as well as over 40 other authors! Visit the Literary Orange website to learn more and register for the event!


Marriage at Midlife

David Nicholls built layers of romance and nostalgia with his time-jumping star-crossed lovers in OneDay. Nicholls returned last year with another look into personal histories with Us (Audio).

Douglas Petersen, scientist, punster, and all around mild-mannered regular guy, is on a mission to save his family (from himself, as it turns out, but he’s only able to see this in small glimpses of self-awareness). His wife of over 20 years thinks she just might want a divorce, and his only son, Albie, alternates between ignoring his father and despising everything he stands for. What’s a beleaguered man to do but plan an old-fashioned grand tour of the great art of Europe to bring the three of them together?

As the family crosses the English Channel with Douglas’ carefully planned and detailed itinerary in hand, their fragile peace begins to dissolve almost immediately, and Douglas takes the reader back to the beginning, when the sweet but decidedly uncool biochemist won the heart and hand of arty, beautiful Connie. Despite their differences, marriage eventually followed, and family. Douglas is a sympathetic character, but his honest narrative of their lives together shows that he is not a victim, but an active participant in the rift in his family. Like real life, there is little black and white here, only lots of gray. Connie and Albie, with their artistic interests and temperaments, have a bond that Douglas can’t crack, often excluding him in a way that can seem almost cruel. But later, we learn how Douglas’ own inability to appreciate Albie’s strengths and accept another point of view has played a large part in driving in the wedge between them. The grand tour becomes a farce when Albie runs away with an accordion-wielding street performer and Connie returns home, leaving Douglas alone abroad, trying to redeem himself.

It can be difficult to find novels about marriage – not the bloom of love that leads to a ring that drives so much chick lit, and not the deeply wounded spiraling in infidelity and divorce – but the more quotidian ups and downs of married life. Us does this, acknowledging that whatever happens between Douglas and Connie today has deep roots in their past, as well as repercussions for the future.

I also enjoyed Wife 22 (Audio) by Melanie Gideon for its portrait of a marriage gone not exactly wrong, but definitely ready for a tune-up. Gideon blends up to the minute social media references with humor and heart as Alice explores her early days with William through an anonymous online survey, contrasting the budding romance with the middle-aged challenges of teenagers, unemployment, and the distances that can accumulate across a queen-size bed.


Because survival is insufficient.

Melancholy, lyrical and subtle is not how you would typically describe a science fiction novel, but Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is precisely that, this literary tale of survival imagines the downfall of civilization due to a flu epidemic. The key storylines are set before and after the pandemic, jumping around in time and place. There is a cast of characters connected somehow to a middle-aged actor named Arthur Leander. The pre-pandemic story focuses on Arthur, his three ex-wives, his best friend Clark, and Jeevan, a paramedic who tries to save Arthur’s life. Arthur’s ambition to be famous causes him to lose touch with those dearest to him and live a lonely life. At the beginning of the book, Arthur has a heart attack while playing King Lear on stage. Ironically, like King Lear before his death, Arthur transforms as he comes to terms with reality and chooses to make amends with those he loves. Unfortunately, his transformation transpires too late.
In the world after the epidemic, the story centers on Kirstin, a young woman who witnessed Arthur's death as a child actor. She is now part of The Travelling Symphony, a theatre company that travels the post-apocalyptic wasteland bringing music and Shakespeare to the limited number of people who survived. Kristin clutches on to the memory of her brief childhood and a graphic novel, Station Eleven, Arthur gifted to her the night before the pandemic altered her world. It turns out the book’s creator was Arthur’s ex-wife Miranda. Miranda’s book is about a group of survivors who scramble to live on a manmade exoplanet that has slipped through a wormhole. Copies of the graphic novel and its plot resurface throughout, as do the characters from Arthur’s life. Moments from both the past and present are woven together to reveal the big picture of what occurred. Undoubtedly, the collective stories, from Shakespeare to graphic novels, connect everyone.

The disturbing and haunting narrative is remarkably tender, eloquently unfolding themes of survival, the fleeting quality of fame compared to the longevity of art, the impermanence of human life, and discernibly the love of the existing world and all its conveniences. It is refreshing to read an innovative approach to the genre and see the success of this novel, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Emily St. John Mandel is a keynote speaker at Literary Orange 2015.


Literary Orange 2015: Lauren Miller

There is a stellar lineup of authors at Literary Orange this year. Case in point: Lauren Miller, who will be part of the Young Adult: Oh, the Drama! panel.

Her second novel, Free to Fall, is on the 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults list put out by YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association). It deserves to be.

Set in the near future (2028) this dystopian story supposes that people have become very dependent upon their handheld electronic devices, particularly an app called Lux that will make everyday decisions for you. (What to wear, what to eat, what music to listen to.) What they don't know is that a powerful secret society is plotting widespread mind control and the elimination of free will. Intuition has been labelled "The Doubt" and suppressed as a form of mental illness.

Main character Rory Vaughn discovers the conspiracy while she is a student at Theden, an elite academy that her late mother had also attended. With the help of clues left by her mother and the technical expertise of her "townie" boyfriend North, she gets ever closer to the dangerous truth. Suspenseful, romantic and thought provoking, this book deserves a wide readership.

Come to Literary Orange on April 11, 2015 to hear more from Lauren Miller.


Back on the Farm

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” ― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

Have you ever wanted to run away from life in the city and find work on a farm? Sunshine on your shoulders? Mud under your feet? A 360-view of nature? Okay, maybe I’m alone on that one. Well, Rochelle Bilow and I. She gave up life in the city, spent a year working on a farm in central New York, and then wrote about her experiences in The Call of the Farm: An Unexpected Year of Getting Dirty, Home Cooking, and Finding Myself. Bilow was a budding food writer looking for her niche. She had been to culinary school and had worked at Aldea, a highly-rated NYC restaurant. And yet something was missing in her life. Something she found while researching an article for Edible Finger Lakes magazine. She spent a day volunteering at Stonehill Farm, hoping to get enough information for her piece and then go home, but she ended up diving into a new way of life. The day of volunteering turned into over a year spent working at the farm: cooking, hauling hay, planting seedlings, feeding animals.

Stonehill, being a “full-diet” farm, produces not only vegetables, but also meat, dairy, and eggs. Bilow is immediately enchanted at the prospect of eating and cooking with milk straight from the cow and vegetables still warm from the field.  She says, “Suddenly given a field’s worth of fresh, quality ingredients and nothing before me but time and hungry farmers, I relished the opportunity to create elaborate meals layered with flavors and seasoned generously with fat.” (My mouth is watering just at the thought!) 

Though Bilow writes about the hard, but rewarding, work that is part of running a farm, hers is an extremely personal story about taking chances and jumping headlong into change, even when you don’t know where it will ultimately lead you. (Romance is also in the cards for Bilow, when she meets Ian, a tall, blonde farmer who works at Stonehill. She writes with deep honesty as she chronicles their relationship, both the good and the bad.) This is a great book for someone on their own personal journey who needs a little motivation to take the next step, but also for the readers of Michael Pollan, Bill Buford, and Michael Ruhlman, who enjoy reading anything and everything about food.