2015 Archives

SMU’s 2015 Common Reading explores the end — and beginning — of civilization with Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven

May 29, 2015

This story originally appeared in the SMU Forum.

By Kathleen Tibbetts

Station Eleven coverSMU’s incoming class of 2019 will read and discuss the first work of speculative fiction chosen for the University’s Common Reading program – Emily St. John Mandel’s acclaimed fourth novel, Station Eleven.

Mandel’s book explores a post-apocalyptic America in which a deadly strain of influenza has wiped out 99 percent of the world’s population, mere days after A-list actor Arthur Leander has died of a heart attack during a performance of King Lear. Leander’s fellow cast members who survive the pandemic band together as the Traveling Symphony, bringing music and theatre to the small and struggling human settlements that remain. The novel tells the story both of the global disaster in real time and of its survivors 20 years later.

A New York Times best-seller and 2014 National Book Award finalist, Station Eleven received the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel of the year in May 2015. George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and FireGame of Thrones) chose it as his favorite book of 2014, calling it “beautifully written, and wonderfully elegiac.”

“This is a book not as much about apocalypse as it is about our human society, particularly the objects and technology we live with but take for granted on an everyday basis,” said Associate Provost Harold Stanley in an e-mail to faculty and staff members dated Thursday, April 16, 2015. “…[T]he book enables readers to consider how art can create meaning and value in the most constrained of human circumstances.”

Station Eleven is the third work of fiction chosen for the University’s Common Reading since the program began in 2004. The first, How to Be Good by Nick Hornby, was the Common Reading book in 2007; We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulaweyo ’07 was the 2014 selection.

Emily St. John Mandel
Emily St. John Mandel
Past SMU Common Reading books also include Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman (2004), Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich (2005), The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (2006), The Devil’s Highway by Luís Alberto Urrea (2008), Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama (2009), Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (2010), The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2011), The Big Short by Michael Lewis (2012), and The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (2013).

The Common Reading Selection Committee is now seeking leaders for the pre-Convocation reading discussion on Sunday, Aug. 23. Discussion leaders will receive a free copy of the book. Active and emeritus professors from all SMU schools are invited to take part, as well as University staff members.

In addition, St. John Mandel will give a public lecture for the entire community at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9, in McFarlin Auditorium.

To volunteer as a discussion leader, or for more information on this year’s selection, contact David Doyle.

> Watch for more information at SMU’s Common Reading homepage: smu.edu/commonreading