"Station Eleven" author Emily St. John Mandel

"Station Eleven" author Emily St. John Mandel

In “Station Eleven,” Emily St. John Mandel imagines a near future in which the population has been decimated by a fast-moving flu. In the aftermath, we follow a touring group of actors and musicians who aim to keep Shakespeare – and hope – alive in bleak times. We talk with Mandel about the appeal of dystopian fiction, the endurance of beauty and her National Book Award nomination.

Guests

  • Emily St. John Mandel Author, 'Station Eleven'

Book Excerpt

Excerpted from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Copyright © 2014 by Emily St. John Mandel. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Transcript

  • 12:25:26

    MS. JEN GOLBECKWelcome back. I'm Jen Golbeck, sitting in for Kojo. Popular post-apocalyptic landscapes have a way of capturing our imaginations, often full of zombies, cyborgs, and societies where death matches, a la "The Hunger Games, are the new norm. They draw readers by being both frightening and illuminating. But sometimes a dystopian future looks and feels a little more familiar and is affecting for what's absent and remains, rather than what's risen and new.

  • 12:25:50

    MS. JEN GOLBECKIn her novel, "Station Eleven," author Emily St. John Mandel imagines a North America with no planes in the sky, no swimming pools or ice cream cones and no cohesive society outside small bands of survivors of a fast-moving flu. World War tattoos, religious zealotry and the lyrical beauty of Shakespeare remain. Here to tell us about the world she's created in this National Book Award nominated novel is the aforementioned Emily St. John Mandel. It's great to have you here.

  • 12:26:17

    MS. EMILY ST. JOHN MANDELThank you for having me on your show.

  • 12:26:18

    GOLBECKAnd if you'd like to join us, you can give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email to kojo@wamu.org. Emily, there's so many interesting threads and characters with "Station Eleven." How do you explain to people what it's about, both overall and at its core?

  • 12:26:36

    MANDELWell, what I tell people is it's a novel about a traveling Shakespearian theater company, in a post-apocalyptic North America. And that's kind of my elevator pitch. I have to say I always feel like I'm selling it a little bit short when I go down that road because it's also set largely in the present day. You know, it moves back and forth in time. And in addition to being about that theater company, it's also about some very present-day concerns. You know, friendship, the impact of art in lives, what it means to devote your life to art, our obsession with objects, terrible dinner parties, celebrities. But, yeah.

  • 12:27:10

    GOLBECKI did feel a lot of kinship to the characters in this terrible dinner party that happens kind of early in the timeline.

  • 12:27:16

    MANDELRight. We've all been there, right?

  • 12:27:17

    GOLBECKYeah, I've definitely have been there. Dystopian works can foster a greater appreciation for our current world. How much of the challenge when you create a world like this is deciding what remains after the apocalypse?

  • 12:27:29

    MANDELThat's the major challenge. And when I first started writing this book -- see, that would have been, I believe late 2011, maybe very early 2012. I remember describing the premise of the book to my husband. You know, I think I'm gonna write this book, there'll be a traveling theater company in a post-apocalyptic North America. And he liked the idea. And he said people would want what was best about the world.

  • 12:27:50

    MANDELAnd that really stayed with me as a really important guiding light for me as I was writing this book. And I did try to think in those terms. And that's really what I see "Station Eleven" as being about to a large extent, is what was best about this world. What would remain if all of the trappings of civilization, the electric light, the running water, the garbage disposal, the airplanes were to fall way? What would we try to recreate in an altered world? So, yeah, that was really a guiding principle of the book.

  • 12:28:17

    MANDELAnd I really see it as being a love letter to this world we find ourselves in, where there is electric light and airplanes and trains and all of these extraordinary things that I think we sometimes take for granted to the extent that we almost don't notice them anymore.

  • 12:28:32

    GOLBECKAnd, in fact, Chapter 6 is an incomplete list of what's gone from the world after this pandemic.

  • 12:28:36

    MANDELYes, it is.

  • 12:28:38

    GOLBECKDo you think you could read from that list for us?

  • 12:28:39

    MANDELOh, I'd be delighted. Absolutely. All right. So Chapter 6 of "Station Eleven," which comes in in the narrative, right around the point when the flu pandemic is arriving in North America. "An incomplete list. No more diving into pools of chlorinated water, lit green from below. No more ballgames played out under floodlights. No more (technical) lights with moths fluttering on summer nights. No more trains running under the surface of cities, on the dazzling power of the electric third rail.

  • 12:29:12

    MANDEL"No more cities. No more films, except rarely, except with a generator drowning out half the dialogue. And only then for the first little while, until the fuel for the generators ran out because automobile gas goes stale after two or three years. No more screens shining in the half light as people raise their phones above the crowd to take photographs of concert stages. No more concert stages, lit by candy-colored halogens. No more electronica, punk, electric guitars. No more pharmaceuticals.

  • 12:29:48

    MANDEL"No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one's hand, a cut on a finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite. No more flight. No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows, points of glimmering light. No more looking down from 30,000 feet and imagining the lives lit up by those lights at that moment. No more airplanes. No more requests to put your tray table in its upright and locked position.

  • 12:30:15

    MANDEL"But no, this wasn't true. There were still airplanes here and there. They stood dormant on runways. They collected snow on their wings. In the cold months they were ideal for food storage. In summer the ones near orchards were filled with trays of fruit that dehydrated in the heat. Rust blossomed and streaked. No more countries, all borders unmanned. No more fire departments, no more police. No more road maintenance or garbage pickup.

  • 12:30:45

    MANDEL"No more space craft, rising up from Cape Canaveral from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, from Vindenberg, Takashima, burning paths through the atmosphere into space. No more internet. No more social media. No more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship status updates with heart icons, whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies, dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween.

  • 12:31:20

    MANDEL"No more reading and commenting on the lives of others. And in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars." So that was Chapter 6, which kind of sums it up a little bit. That's, you know, a very brief and, as it says, incomplete list of some things that might disappear.

  • 12:31:40

    GOLBECKAnd it's such a sadly, beautiful passage. And you've spent a lot of time immersed in this book obviously, writing it…

  • 12:31:46

    MANDELI certainly have. Yes.

  • 12:31:47

    GOLBECK…put together. So I wonder -- and I was reading that passage -- I wonder what is the thing that you would miss most in this post-flu world of "Station Eleven." Is it on the list or is it something else?

  • 12:31:57

    MANDELIt is on the list, indirectly. I would miss electricity very much. I think that's the first thing I jump to.

  • 12:32:01

    GOLBECKYeah.

  • 12:32:02

    MANDELThe world without air conditioning and electric heat, electric lighting is much more difficult. But what I really come down to is I would miss airplanes because I live in New York City and my family still lives where I grew up, on the far west coast of British Columbia. That's a six-hour flight. So you have to imagine in the absence of flight and in the absence of fuel for, say, trains and busses, it would be hard to imagine seeing them again. So that's a chilling thing to think about.

  • 12:32:29

    GOLBECKSo I didn't spend a lot of time thinking over that issue myself, but sticking with me from the novel was one guy who talks about like how he can't even think about chocolate chip cookies because he misses them so much.

  • 12:32:39

    MANDELBecause it's torture after they're gone, right.

  • 12:32:42

    GOLBECKYeah, so I think that's going to be mine.

  • 12:32:44

    MANDELYeah, no more chocolate chip cookies. Right.

  • 12:32:46

    GOLBECKYou can join the conversation. Are you a fan of post-apocalyptic novels? Tell us what draws you to them or what keeps you away if you're not a fan. You can give us a call at 1800-433-8850 or send us a tweet to @kojoshow. So our guide through this landscape, if you will, is Kirsten. Tell us who she is when she -- when we meet her, a bit about who she becomes and how she came to be the figure around who much of the story unfolds.

  • 12:33:12

    MANDELSure, absolutely. As I was putting the story together, I knew that it would be a non-linear narrative, moving back and forth in time. And it seemed to me that it was really important, just for the cohesion of the book to have a character, at least one, who kind of moves all the way through. So you see her life in the before and the after. And in 2007 I saw an absolutely exquisite production of "King Lear," at the Public Theater in New York.

  • 12:33:36

    MANDELThe director was James LaPine. And he did a really unusual thing, which is he had three little girls on stage as the audience filed in. And it was -- they were non-speaking roles. They were just coloring in a map of England, which was kind of perfect for the play.

  • 12:33:51

    GOLBECKRight.

  • 12:33:51

    MANDELAnd then those little girls return as hallucinations in the mad scene. When King Lear is losing his mind he thinks that he sees his daughters again as children. And it was so moving and such an interesting touch to have a glimpse of those little girls, as they would have been before two of them became evil. It just added such dimension to their characters. So I used that production idea in the novel.

  • 12:34:15

    MANDELAnd the book opens with an actor, Arthur Leander, dying of a heart attack on stage in the fourth act of "King Lear." He's in the title role. And I have a little girl there on stage with him, Kirsten, playing the role that I saw in the Public Theater, a non-speaking part. And then she's one of the very few people in the room that night who survives the flu. And 20 years later we see her with a traveling symphony, which is also a Shakespearian theater company, moving between the settlements of this post-pandemic world.

  • 12:34:46

    MANDELAnd she's, you know, she's someone who's devoted her life to her art in a very focused way, which, to me, is a major theme of the book. She was one of my very favorite characters.

  • 12:34:56

    GOLBECKAnd there's an interesting conflict with her because she is the Shakespearian actor and she sort of has acted as a kid. And she says when she's little in the book, you know, I've been in a lot of things.

  • 12:35:05

    MANDELShe has. She doesn't remember any of them, but she knows she was in them.

  • 12:35:09

    GOLBECKThat's right. And so she grows up like this, but at the same time she has a little bit of a hard time adapting to this new world and some of the violence that comes along with it for her.

  • 12:35:17

    MANDELAbsolutely. One of the themes I was interested in exploring in the book was memory. And thinking of what a burden memory could become in a situation where the world's changed completely. You know, on the one hand, you want to remember the past, your heritage, your family, what the world was. On the other hand, how do you reconcile your memories of what, in retrospect, almost seems like a magical world with the reality of this world with no electricity and no running water and vastly reduced population?

  • 12:35:45

    GOLBECKSo, as you mentioned, in year 20, which is the new method of tracking time after the flu, Kirsten's part of a traveling symphony who does Shakespeare and classical music at different settlements of people who've survived this. Why do you think these works -- Shakespeare and the classical music -- remain and become so central to the lives of this group?

  • 12:36:04

    MANDELWell, for me personally, when I was thinking about what the repertoire of the symphony would be at first I had them performing plays from a whole range of eras, so everything from Shakespeare, before Shakespeare to very modern works and even teleplays, "How I Met Your Mother," and "Seinfeld." And then as I began to refine the book further, it seemed to me that perhaps it would make more sense for them to focus on works from before the age of electricity since modern plays are so much a product of the modern world.

  • 12:36:33

    MANDELAnd it seemed a little bit in congruous that at the age of candlelight they'd be performing "Seinfeld." And then, as I began to read more about Shakespeare's life, it began to seem to me that there was some really interesting parallels between his life and time and the life and time of this post-pandemic world of a book. You know, the most obvious one being that in his time, theater would of course so often have been a matter of these small symphonies traveling from town to town, these companies of players.

  • 12:36:59

    MANDELAnd I loved the idea of that parallel, of a world where such a company might again set out on the road with the modern age having come and gone. But then something else that I began to realize as I read about his life was that he was really deeply affected by the episodes of bubonic plague that swept across England, again and again during his lifetime. And it seemed to me there was a really interesting parallel there, too. That in his time I think people would have been somewhat haunted by their memories of these awful epidemics in the recent past.

  • 12:37:31

    MANDELAnd that was such an interesting parallel to me, to this post-apocalyptic, post-pandemic world I was thinking about. So it just began to seem more and more fitting to me that the company would only perform Shakespeare. And I kept on thinking about what my husband said when I told him the premise of the book, that people would want what was best about the world. And this is obviously a completely subjective value judgment on my part, but I think what was best about the world would include Shakespeare.

  • 12:37:55

    GOLBECKSo we're going to get a little bit more onto the plague aspect of this, but first I'd like to take a call. And if you have questions for Emily St. John Mandel give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. But let's go to Salell, in Arlington, Va. Did I say your name right?

  • 12:38:12

    SALELLYes, you did.

  • 12:38:13

    GOLBECKGreat. Please go ahead with your question.

  • 12:38:16

    SALELLOkay. Well, two questions actually. The first is -- and I plan on picking up your book because it sounds fascinating. But the first question is it's a -- in this post-pandemic world why is there an electricity shortage if the population has been much reduced?

  • 12:38:31

    MANDELOkay. As I was researching what might happen in the event of this kind of apocalyptic event -- and of course it's a little difficult to research the future. But what began to come up over and over in my research is that the grid goes down pretty fast when people stop going to work, when nobody is going into the power plants in the mornings. They don't keep running by themselves indefinitely -- when trees fall over power lines and nobody fixes them, etcetera. So…

  • 12:38:58

    SALELLOkay.

  • 12:38:59

    MANDELYeah, yeah.

  • 12:39:01

    SALELLThat's interesting. And then the second question is I -- have you read any or is this informed at all by Orson Scott Card's "The Folk of the Fringe?" There was another science fiction post-apocalyptic future with a traveling Shakespeare company.

  • 12:39:18

    MANDELOh, that's so interesting. No. I didn't know that. I should obviously read that book. I think the major influence in the book is "A Canticle for Leibowitz," which is a book that came out in about 1960, that I read as a teenager. It really stayed with me. Just -- in that book it's a nuclear holocaust that ends everything. But the image of that depopulated sort of wasteland is definitely something I was thinking about as I writing the book.

  • 12:39:45

    GOLBECKSalell, thanks for your call. We're going to take a quick break. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." And I'm Jen Golbeck, sitting in for Kojo. We'll continue our conversation about the new novel, "Station Eleven," in a moment. Stay with us.

  • 12:40:42

    GOLBECKWelcome back. I'm Jen Golbeck from the University of Maryland sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I am talking with Emily St. John Mandel about her new novel, "Station Eleven." Emily, there's no way you could have anticipated that your novel would publish around a time of a major disease outbreak and we certainly know you'd rather it wasn't the case. But I wonder how headlines about Ebola have shaped the conversations you're having with readers at events as you travel.

  • 12:41:06

    MANDELThey -- yeah, those headlines definitely shape the conversation and Ebola comes up at every single event. And…

  • 12:41:12

    GOLBECKRight.

  • 12:41:12

    MANDELYou know, I find myself spouting these sort of reassuring things. You know, for example, no human virus has ever changed its mode of transmission, i.e. gone from spread via bodily fluids to going airborne and retained its lethality. So that's -- that's a reassuring thing, I like to tell people. It's not terribly easy to catch. You're more likely to die of flu. But, yeah, no, it's a terrible thing and unfortunate timing.

  • 12:41:36

    GOLBECKBut it does capture a lot of fears we have about these issues.

  • 12:41:39

    MANDELIt does, yeah. And, you know, it's such an interesting thing, our fear of disease. As I was reading about pandemics and my research for the book, it became clear that there was always going to be another Ebola, you know, or another flu or another something, because the history of humanity is, in many ways, a history of successive brushes with epidemics. And there's a story that I keep thinking about, and I apologize to anybody listening who'd heard me say -- tell the story at Kramerbooks last night, but it just really haunts me.

  • 12:42:09

    MANDELIn the 18th century, Captain George Vancouver sails up the West Coast to the land that will later become Canada. And as they traveled north, he and his crew become increasingly disconcerted because here they are in this temperate climate, a rich and fertile landscape, but there's nobody there. It's strangely deserted. They go ashore and find native villages that could house hundreds of people, but they're empty.

  • 12:42:33

    MANDELAnd they begin finding skeletons on the beach. And then when they eventually do encounter the very much reduced population, the people who still live there, they have terrible scars and awful stories because small pox already came through a few years earlier. So, there are so many stories like that from every region of the earth. And, you know, a disconcerting thing about writing a novel in which civilization is wiped out by a pandemic is you do begin to realize that this is basically an exaggeration of a nonfictional premise.

  • 12:43:05

    GOLBECKRight.

  • 12:43:05

    MANDELYeah.

  • 12:43:07

    GOLBECKThe news has been unsettling lately and against that real backdrop, it seems we've really embraced fictional stories with this post-apocalyptic bent. What do you think our appetite for these dystopian tales tells us about where we are as a culture?

  • 12:43:21

    MANDELYou know, it's such an interesting question and something I've thought about a lot. You know, on the one hand, there's a temptation to say that our appetite for post-apocalyptic stories is a reflection of the anxiety we feel at this fraught and perilous world in which we find ourselves, climate change, political unrest, et cetera. And there's something to that. But the counterargument to that is when has it ever not felt like the world was ending?

  • 12:43:45

    GOLBECKRight.

  • 12:43:45

    MANDELSeriously, like you think about, say, even just the 20th century in this country alone, how apocalyptic it must have seen in moments during the first and the Second World War as the Spanish flu, 1968 riots in the streets, political assassinations, et cetera. There were so many moments when it seemed like everything was falling apart. And then you think about times that were even seem like they would have been much less dangerous, you know.

  • 12:44:12

    MANDELI had a conversation with my mother recently, where she talked about how guilty she felt about bringing children into the world in the late '70s and early '80s in Canada, which you look back and you can't really think, well, what was that about? But, of course, they were afraid of nuclear annihilation. They're afraid of the Cold War. So I don't know if it's pessimism or narcissism or both, but it's likely always feel like our time is the most dangerous time.

  • 12:44:37

    MANDELYou know, it's the most perilous or the closest to the precipice that we've ever been. So, yeah, the short answer is I don't know why now, why there's such an appetite for post-apocalyptic books.

  • 12:44:47

    GOLBECKSo we have a call on that note from Matthew in Herndon, VA. Matthew, you're on the air, go ahead.

  • 12:44:54

    MATTHEWHi. How are you all doing today?

  • 12:44:55

    GOLBECKGood. How are you?

  • 12:44:56

    MATTHEWThanks for taking my call. Oh, fine. I wanted to weigh in on something you said a little bit ago about why you might or might not like apocalyptic fiction. I like it to an extent, but I have to be in the right mood to read it. I think part of the reason that is, when I think of positive thing that it does and to translate sort of these maybe half intuitive fears that people have into a context that they can understand a little bit clearer.

  • 12:45:22

    MATTHEWAnd I think you could argue that, one, as you look back over the last, you know, hundred years, they start with "The Masque of the Red Death" or even "The War of the Worlds." I don't know, it's just in the last 50 years, it's been communism, nuclear annihilation, nowadays it's pandemics, zombies. I mean, take your pick. Now, you know, it's artificial intelligence, robots taking over, alien invasion. Everything has been touched on. And it seems like these are trends that people get scared about. They might not even realize that, oh, crap, everyone is scared about this.

  • 12:45:54

    MANDELI completely agree. And, you know, it's fascinating when you look at post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction to see how the mode of destruction, you know, whether it's totalitarianism in "1984" or "Animal Farm" or, you know, the flu in a book like mine or in other books how that mode by which the author chooses to end the world reflects our current anxieties. You know, now we're afraid of pandemics. At earlier times, we were afraid of totalitarianism. It's an interesting thing.

  • 12:46:21

    GOLBECKThank you, Matthew, for your call. If you'd like to join us, we'd love to hear from you. Do you think the arts would be kept alive if our society's population were decimated? Let us know why or why not. You can give us a call at 1-800-433-8850 or send an email to kojo@wamu.org. Emily, this is your fourth novel and I understand many critics classified your earlier work as crime fiction.

  • 12:46:45

    GOLBECKThere are certainly some mysterious elements in "Station Eleven," some are resolved and others remain at the end. But I wonder how you think of this novel in relation to your earlier work.

  • 12:46:54

    MANDELOh, that's a good question. Yeah, that whole genre marketing and labeling thing is -- it's so subjective. My earlier works were sometimes classified as crime fiction. They were sometimes classified as noir, sometimes as literary fiction. They were usually called literary fiction in North America. But in France, I'm a full-on thriller writer, it's kind of funny. You know, they're the same books, it's just these labels that people put on them.

  • 12:47:18

    MANDEL"Station Eleven," it definitely share some structural ideas with my first three novels. I really like telling stories that move around in time and telling stories with multiple points of view. I think it's an interesting way to get a fuller picture of a story or an event. And also an interesting way to explore the idea of memory, that fascinating thing where three people will see the same event and remember three completely different things.

  • 12:47:42

    MANDELI think it's fair to say that "Station Eleven" has a broader scope than my first three novels, which, you know, I kind of -- I think about the difference between, say, a chamber music quartet and an orchestra. You know, the first three books with these very tightly controlled, intricate stories with three or four major characters. And this one sprawls over pretty broad time -- timeframe. Yeah.

  • 12:48:03

    GOLBECKIt does. Timeframe and also a lot of characters. But it's interesting what you mentioned about perspective because that was a kind of striking and interesting thing to me in the novel that you have a lot of characters who, at first, when we kind of jump to these two worlds, before and after the flu, we have no idea how they're connected. And it turns out that they are all connected to each other, either before or after the flu in interesting ways.

  • 12:48:28

    GOLBECKAnd as we get their perspective on these events in different points in time, it paints this very full picture of the characters that I think would be harder to develop if you just focused on one, in his or her story.

  • 12:48:40

    MANDELOh, good. That's really good to hear because that was what I was trying to accomplish, you know, is to get as full a picture as possible, which is so much easier, you know, as you said, with multiple points of view than with one.

  • 12:48:49

    GOLBECKYeah. To further defy and confound those who might want to pigeon hole your work, there's a graphic novel within this novel that you take the title from. Can you tell us a little bit about "Station Eleven" the graphic novel within "Station Eleven," your novel...

  • 12:49:04

    MANDELSure, absolutely.

  • 12:49:04

    GOLBECK...and how it became such an important touchstone for the larger story.

  • 12:49:08

    MANDELWell, as I was writing this book, you know, you have all of these points of views and a narrative that's jumping wildly around in time. I was trying to think about what I needed to do to make it cohesive and kind of tie it all together. I thought probably it'd be a good idea to have one or two objects that sort of travel through the book. So different characters have them at different times.

  • 12:49:29

    MANDELThey're in both the pre- and the post-pandemic worlds. And one of those objects is the paper weight and the other one is the "Station Eleven" comic book. And what that really came out of is my interest in the form. You know, I really like graphic novels. I haven't read nearly as many of them as I'd like. But I've been trying to pick them up more often lately and I just think it's a really compelling form for storytelling.

  • 12:49:52

    MANDELSo it was that, and it was also my character Miranda who is the author of the comic book in the novel. She's a character who -- I just had very clear ideas about the way she would live her life and the way she was. She graduates art school. She goes on to be administrative assistant. And, you know, she's somebody who does her art in a very quiet way. She has no interest whatsoever in ever publishing her graphic novels, but she likes to disappear into the world of them as she's working.

  • 12:50:23

    MANDELAnd I really just like the idea of that work, created in private with no expectation of publication whatsoever, going on to mean a great deal in this changed world after it collapsed.

  • 12:50:34

    GOLBECKLet's take a couple of calls. We'll start with Betsey in Arlington, VA. Betsey, you're on the air, go ahead.

  • 12:50:40

    BETSEYGreat. Thank you for taking my call. I kind of wanted to revisit for a moment why I think people are attracted to post-apocalyptic novels. And what I mentioned when I called in when I was listening to you read and I was struck by how similar your reading was to things I've heard from children -- my stepchildren and some other children in the neighborhood who are either the product of families that have suffered from divorce or death of a parent.

  • 12:51:08

    BETSEYAnd I think that the attraction to post-apocalyptic work is not necessarily because people are equating it, particularly teenagers are equating it with the flu or Ebola or anything like that, but because one time their world looked one way and within a day it looked completely different. And I think that attracts people to that genre because it feels familiar to them, that huge shift for them in the way the world looks to them.

  • 12:51:33

    BETSEYAnd when you were reading aloud earlier in the program, I was really struck by how familiar what you were saying sounded when I thought about juxtaposed against what some of the children I talked to have said.

  • 12:51:43

    MANDELThat is a fascinating idea. I'm really glad you called in. I hadn't thought of that, but that makes a lot of sense to me.

  • 12:51:48

    BETSEYWell, thank you very much for doing what you do and for writing. I think it's very helpful for people to process things like that. So thank you.

  • 12:51:54

    MANDELThank you.

  • 12:51:55

    GOLBECKThanks for your call, Betsey. Let's take a call now from Michael in Falls Church, VA. Mike, you're on the air, go ahead.

  • 12:52:03

    MICHAELGreat. I started listening to this and I want to also make a comment on why I think people read these. I think, possibly, it has to do with frustration. You know, to the current of society, you know, socioeconomic stagnation, you know, cultural stagnation to some degree. But I feel like the recurrent theme in a lot of these book is ordinary people getting the opportunity to do extraordinary things and become exceptional. And, you know, to me, I sort of see that that might be one reason why people are drawn to this genre.

  • 12:52:40

    MANDELYeah, that makes sense to me.

  • 12:52:42

    GOLBECKThanks for your call, Michael. And that's interesting because, in a way, it allows us to say, like, let's throw out everything.

  • 12:52:48

    MANDELYeah. What would happen if we just started over and all of this were gone?

  • 12:52:52

    GOLBECKYeah. And if you ignored your husband's suggestion about keeping the best things, do we end up in a world where all the terrible reality TV is preserved and...

  • 12:52:59

    MANDELIt's "Hunger Games," right? Yeah. No. It's -- yeah, it's fascinating. Something that really fascinates whenever this topic comes up is, you know, people talk about what they would do to survive after the apocalypse. I find myself thinking, like, what makes you think that you would be around after the apocalypse? It's like, we all think we would be in that 1 percent that gets to start over. It's just -- yeah, it's interesting.

  • 12:53:22

    GOLBECKIn addition to novels, you write for the literary website, The Millions. A few years back, you wrote for them, with a day job and separately a habit you had picked up of writing on the subway, how has your approach changed at all since? Or is that simply how you write?

  • 12:53:35

    MANDELIt's still how I write. I still have a day job, which I've contemplated quitting. But that's my source cheap health insurance and here we are in this country with, yeah, it's a whole other conversation. Yeah, so I still have a day job. I do still write on the way in the way to and from the job. And, you know, I write on airplanes during tour. I try not to be too precious about my writing space. You know, you meet writers who are like, I have to have exactly this kind of pen and this kind of paper.

  • 12:54:02

    GOLBECKYes.

  • 12:54:03

    MANDELAnd the perfect lighting and the special lamp. And it's like, you just have to do it wherever you can and, you know, spare moments.

  • 12:54:10

    GOLBECKThis is your fourth novel and it's been shortlisted for a National Book Award in fiction. Congratulations.

  • 12:54:15

    MANDELThank you.

  • 12:54:16

    GOLBECKHow has it been for you processing that honor? And do you think it will, in some way, up the pressure for your next project?

  • 12:54:22

    MANDELI assume it ups the pressure for my next project. But it also is a really wonderful boost in confidence to be long-listed and shortlisted for National Book Award. So I hope those two things balance out. Yeah.

  • 12:54:34

    GOLBECKSo we've got about 30 seconds left. But one question...

  • 12:54:38

    MANDELSure.

  • 12:54:39

    GOLBECK...to wrap this up. This novel is making a big splash, but some of your other novels have been called too quiet. So could you talk to this idea about what a quiet novel is and how you think that relates to your writing?

  • 12:54:50

    MANDELI think my previous novels, the problem -- I shouldn't say the problem. The issue was they were published by a very small press. And there just wasn't the kind of marketing apparatus to make them really have a shot at being big splashes, which is why I moved to a larger press for this book. Yeah, you know, the issue of books being too quiet, I think of -- I do often like books that are often -- that are categorized as quiet, you know, where it's a very internal focus, not a lot of plot. But I also do love the opposite. I love John le Carre, Nick Harkaway, writers like that, where the plot is front and center and are real page turners.

  • 12:55:26

    GOLBECKEmily St. John Mandel, author of the new novel, "Station Eleven." Thanks very much for joining us.

  • 12:55:31

    MANDELThank you.

  • 12:55:32

    GOLBECKI'm Jen Golbeck, sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks for listening.

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