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Some of my Favorite Books #3

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

I've decided to change my title to "favorites" instead of "best books ever". The competition is too large to lay this moniker on the few that have spoken to me. What of the classics? What of those writers who forged ideas of a generation? What of the works of popular culture, which are not really in my radius? Besides these books I am recommending, I love Steinbeck, Morrison, Munro, almost anything by Salmon Rushdie (yes, I understand and somewhat agree about the misogyny, but adore his books anyway). I could go on. At some point, I may just share the lists I have on my phone, in notebooks, on scraps of paper.

For now, though, I want to talk about Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven.

I found Mandel's book on the staff picks shelf at the library and took a chance with it, even though dystopian novels aren't usually my thing. I hadn't read many, other than Brave New World (a favorite of my young adulthood) and 1984. Some Kurt Vonnegut. Whatever preconceived notions I had of the genre, Ms. Mandel blew out of the water. I was riveted from the opening scene of an actor playing King Lear having a heart attack on stage. The opening pages portray the last hours before a pandemic sweeps the country.

We all remember those days, those last outings in the midst of a crowd, unmasked in an audience or restaurant. Maybe it's not a good time to be reading about a flu that takes out most of the population, but Mandel's surprisingly lyrical, sometimes spare prose, makes this intertwining novel a thing of beauty. A traveling Shakespeare company in a desolate country. Actors carry weapons to ensure survival. A colony of strangers holed up in an empty airport. Religious zealots and warring tribes. This novel has it all. As Mandel writes:

"What was lost in the collapse: everything, almost everyone, but there is still so much beauty."


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