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Book Club newsletter: ‘Station Eleven’ finds art in apocalypse

Good morning, and welcome to the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.

Emily St. John Mandel never intended for “Station Eleven,” her bestselling novel about the aftermath of a pandemic, to predict the future.

She had looked to history in crafting her fiction. “I was particularly focused on the smallpox epidemic in the 1790s in North America, explorers writing about its impact on the Native communities around where I grew up,” she says in a recent Times interview.

“Something that became clear to me is pandemics are an inevitability. This is not to minimize the horror or the tragedy in any way. But this is just something that happens every so often. It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again.”

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Mandel will join the Los Angeles Times Book Club on May 19 to discuss “Station Eleven” as well as her new novel, “The Glass Hotel,” which revolves around another issue of great current concern — a financial crisis. She will be in conversation at 7 p.m. with Times reporter and Essential Arts newsletter author Carolina A. Miranda in a virtual book club meet-up live-streamed on the L.A. Times’ Facebook Page and on YouTube.

“Station Eleven,” a National Book Award finalist and winner of the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award, has sold more than 1 million copies and is the basis for an HBO Max series that started production earlier this year in Chicago.

After the novel’s paperback release, Mandel talked about preserving art after apocalypse with NPR’s Scott Simon.

“I very purposely set much of the action 15 and then 20 years after that flu pandemic. And the reason for that is that I feel that most dystopian fiction tends to dwell on that immediate aftermath of horror and mayhem,” she said in the interview. “What I was really interested and writing about was, what’s the new culture and the new world that begins to emerge?”

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Emily St. John Mandel and her novels "Station Eleven" and "The Glass Hotel."
(Sarah Shatz; Knopf)

Reading together

The L.A. Times Book Club began last spring with live monthly conversations featuring a wide range of authors such as crime writer Michael Connelly, actress and singer Julie Andrews, novelist Ocean Vuong, journalist Ronan Farrow and former L.A. poet laureate Luis J. Rodriguez.

Our mission is to get people talking again by making the newspaper not merely something to read every day but something to experience, something that brings us together.

In recent weeks, as the coronavirus has spread, we’ve shifted to virtual book club meet-ups to connect with more readers at home. On Tuesday, we hosted “Always Home” author Fanny Singer and her mother, renowned chef Alice Waters, talking about food, family and life in quarantine.

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Singer was forced to cancel her book tour and has been sheltering at her mother’s home in Berkeley. She talked about making veggie stock from scraps, being careful not to waste food, and the importance of keeping 15 to 20 heads of garlic on hand at all times. “I tend to be more paranoid about running out of garlic than toilet paper.”

Read more, and watch Singer and Waters in conversation with Times editor Laurie Ochoa.

Then tell us: What books would you most like to read together in the months ahead? Send a message to bookclub@latimes.com. Join the daily discussion at the L.A. Times Book Club’s Facebook page.


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