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Book Club newsletter: Emily St. John Mandel on books, pandemic cooking and ‘Station Eleven’ tattoos

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

As her May 19 book club chat approaches, author Emily St. John Mandel shared her current obsessions, from favorite reads to tattoos inspired by her bestselling pandemic page-turner “Station Eleven.”

Here’s what’s on her mind:

The last book that kept you up at night: “The White Book” by Han Kang. I found it so beautiful that I didn’t want to put it down to go to bed.

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The book you wish you had written: Maybe Colum McCann’s “Let the Great World Spin,” or Tove Jansson’s “The Summer Book.” I think they’re both spectacular.

Your favorite book to re-read: I actually almost never reread books. Life is so short, and I’m painfully aware that there are more books I want to read than I’ll be able to get to.

Must-watch TV show: Season 1 of “True Detective.”

Favorite music right now: Two albums by Max Richter: “Sleep” and “Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.”

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Something surprising you’ve discovered in quarantine: If you’re cooking some kind of vegetable-based dish, it turns out frozen vegetables are way less of a hassle than fresh vegetables and taste just as good. I’m never going back.

Your favorite (unexpected) reaction to “Station Eleven”: I’m aware of at least seven “Survival is insufficient” tattoos. They never fail to astonish me.

Your role in the upcoming HBO Max series: None whatsoever! It took a long time for that (“Station Eleven”) project to happen, and by the time it became real, I was so immersed in writing “The Glass Hotel” that I didn’t really want to be involved in a different project. Having no contractual involvement means no pressure, so I’m free to just enjoy the show as an audience member. I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

Something that might surprise people about you: People are often surprised when I tell them that I have no MFA, no college degree, and no high school diploma. It’s a long, boring story involving homeschooling and questionable life choices.

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The inspiration behind your new novel,“The Glass Hotel”: I was fascinated by Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, which collapsed way back in 2008. Every character in the book is fictional, but the crime is the same. I wanted to write about people caught up in a massive white-collar crime — the victims, the perpetrators, the bystanders — and also incidentally I wanted to write a ghost story that played with the nature of reality, so “The Glass Hotel” is the result of those two interests.

Your next project: I’m working on a new novel, and also working on a TV adaptation of “The Glass Hotel.”

Author Emily St. John Mandel
(Sarah Shatz)

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Our next meetup


Mandel joins the L.A. Times Book Club on May 19 at 7 p.m. for a virtual conversation with Times reporter Carolina A. Miranda.

Her best-known book, “Station Eleven,” is a fictional account of life 20 years after a pandemic. She takes readers to a dramatically changed world: No cities. No countries. No internet. No more Facebook. No more email. “I don’t see anything particularly prescient in ‘Station Eleven,’” Mandel protested in mid-March in an interview with the Times, as the coronavirus began sweeping across America.

Sign up on Eventbrite for the free meetup. We’ll send you a reminder before book club night. The virtual event will be live-streamed on the Los Angeles Times’ Facebook page. You can also find it on YouTube and Twitter.

Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena has a limited number of copies of “Station Eleven” and “The Glass Hotel” with signed bookplates for this event. Mention the L.A. Times Book Club in comments at checkout to receive a signed copy.

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Share your questions for Mandel in advance. Send a message to bookclub@latimes.com.

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Eighty-five years ago this week, President Franklin D. Roosevelt saved American writers. David Kipen recalls the Federal Writers Program and asks: Could it ever happen again?

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Works Progress Administration into law 85 years ago, on May 6, 1935. The Federal Writers Project followed on July 27.

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Writers who cook: In the latest installment of PEN America’s online series, “Little Fires Everywhere” author Celeste Ng shares her favorite recipe for peasant bread. “This is my favorite bread because it’s ridiculously easy — extremely important in comfort baking,” she says.

Quintessentially Californian: “Man of Tomorrow,” Jim Newton’s sweeping new biography of Jerry Brown, captures California’s longtime former governor and his footprints on the state’s cities, suburbs, coasts, rugged uplands and arid deserts during a lifetime in public office. Reviewer David M. Shribman says “there is plenty of commentary in these 448 pages, and people too: Willie Brown, Henry Waxman, Richard Nixon, Alan Cranston, Mario Savio, Warren Christopher, Joan Didion, Ken Kesey, Charles Manson, Linda Ronstadt, Cesar Chavez, Patty Hearst, Harvey Milk, Jim Jones and the medfly. Newton has produced a history of California as much as a biography of Brown.”

Finally, take a break from worry. Escape to the #UltimateSummerMovie Showdown, another Times virtual event series. Each week readers pick a favorite summer movie, watch it and then join a Thursday discussion hosted by film critic Justin Chang. “What if we took this summer — set to be the worst summer at the movies since the dawn of the medium more than a century ago — and instead used it to celebrate the best?”

Like the May 19 book club event with Mandel, the Ultimate Summer Movie Showdown series is free and live streaming on Facebook and YouTube.

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Vote for your favorite films in the #UltimateSummerMovie Showdown.
(Los Angles Times)


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