Alamance Reads is a tradition meant to draw our community together around a shared reading experience with a common book. The selection for this year is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The summer is packed with book discussions and programs designed to encourage thought and discussion around different themes in the book.
Station Eleven opens with a scene from King Lear. The actor playing the lead role, Arthur, dies onstage of a heart attack during the play. Within hours of his death, word begins to spread of a terrible flu pandemic that devastates much of humanity. The book doesn’t dwell much on this time period, instead skipping ahead 20 years as society is beginning to rebuild into primitive cities and towns. Though Arthur does not live to see even the start of the flu, his memory lives on as all of the main characters are tied to him in some way.
The main character is a young woman named Kirsten. She was a child when the flu hit, and performed with Arthur on the night that he died. She now lives with a group called the Traveling Symphony, a troupe of musicians and actors bringing Shakespeare and music to settlements that have formed since the collapse. Through a mix of flashbacks and current events, readers also get to know Arthur’s best friend who takes shelter in an airport with a group of stranded travelers, his first wife who takes solace throughout her life in an extensive writing and drawing project that she keeps hidden from everyone, and a rich cast of others whose lives weave together in surprising and meaningful ways.
Station Eleven does not have much of the non-stop adrenaline that typifies books in the dystopian genre. Instead, it is a thoughtful exploration of community, the way we draw together in difficult times to support each other, and the importance of the arts, culture and remembrance. The main character’s reflection that “hell is the absence of the people you long for,” emphasizes the importance the author places on community and our connections with others. The motto of the Traveling Symphony is “Survival is Insufficient,” which raises the question, what is sufficient for a meaningful life? What do we struggle to remember and preserve? What is important to us and how do sometimes unexpected things become even more important in times of loss?
Copies of Station Eleven are available at all 5 library locations in regular, large print and audio. Ebook and eaudiobook copies are also available. Alamance Reads, along with our children’s Summer Reading Program, will host a combined Kickoff Concert at the Burlington Historic Depot on June 16th with bands, games and activities. From June – August each of the libraries will have programs that reflect the book’s themes of theatre, music, memory, emergency preparedness and resourcefulness. Find a full schedule and more info at http://www.alamancereads.org/.
Melissa Kammerer is the Programming Librarian with the Alamance County Public Libraries. Contact her at email@example.com or (336) 229-3588.