Welcome to the fourth installment of Holding History’s Bookbag: a series discussing the books - and the forms they take - that are getting us through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. This time, Megan E. Fox interviews Kaylee Sorrells.
Kaylee is a junior double majoring in Evolutionary biology and Spanish. She’s starting to think about applying for medical school and works with dementia patients as a CNA (nursing assistant).
Could you tell me a little bit about a book you’ve been reading? What's it about, who the author is, etc.?
It's called Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel; it's a book that is about a pandemic— a flu goes through the world and it deals with specific people who survived the pandemic and how their life functions afterward. It’s a fiction book, no heaviness beyond dealing with the flu. But it’s more focused on how “survival is insufficient” which is a tagline from Star Trek. One of the characters is an actor in an acting troupe that's going around after the pandemic— this is like years after the major wave of the pandemic— bringing back culture in a way. In the lives of people who are struggling to survive it's not enough just to have food and water, you need culture too.
How did you come across this book? Did you pick it up because we are living through a pandemic now?
No— I have a Kindle, which is how I read the book— and I share my Kindle library with my family and so sometimes things my brother downloads onto his Kindle pop up and he downloaded some books onto his Kindle so that book showed up, and then Station 11 was a recommendation from that book. I was looking for a new book to read and it sounded interesting so I downloaded it.
That's so interesting! It speaks to the affordances of form— you wouldn't have come across this book if you haven't been reading on a Kindle.
It wasn't even my books that made it a recommended choice, too, it was my brother’s.
Do you and your brother normally have a similar taste in books?
Both of us really like history; we like to read a lot of biographies or just historical books. There was a series about the British monarchy that we both read. We do tend to share each other's interests, so that's why we shared our library— now we don't have to keep buying the same books.
What drew you to the book? You said it was a recommendation— was there anything about the cover image or the little blurb that drew you to it?
I don't remember seeing the cover image, but I think what drew me to it was the “survival is insufficient” tagline that they used to advertise the book. I also like trying to find an author that I like and read a lot of their books, so the blurb said something like “this an award-winning author with these other books” so I decided to give Station 11 a shot, and then the next time I want a light book to read I'll know I like this author, so I can get her other books. I really liked Station 11 so actually, I’ve already downloaded her other book The Glass Hotel.
Was there a favorite character, or favorite scene, or something that you really liked about it?
I really like Shakespeare, and I didn't actually know it when I downloaded the book, but the actor that I mentioned previously is a Shakespearean actor. In the book, Shakespeare really represents the human psyche—the fact that everybody's kind of familiar with his plays without actually knowing them— meaning that people are more receptive to Shakespeare's works than others. I really enjoyed the acting troupe going around to different communities— they don’t have cars anymore— trying to figure out how to present Shakespeare to people. I liked the details of imagining what would it be like to put on a Shakespearean play— they talk about costumes, lighting— when you don't have really any resources post-pandemic.
How do you think this book will reach into the future? It came out in 2014 so it's obviously not associated with COVID, but do you think into the future people will read it differently? Could you see it ending up in a rare book library?
I definitely think that it's gonna have a different life now with the COVID pandemic than it would have had. I think a lot of fiction doesn’t have a super long shelf life— just because there is a lot of fiction that comes out every year and only a couple of books can become really popular. It’s kinda cynical to say that Station 11 won’t hang around, but I don’t think it’s gonna be that important going into the future.
Would you recommend Station 11?
I don't think it was written recently but is pretty topical right now. It’s not too heavy— it's not that depressing!— it’s a good relaxation book, but it’s still dealing with something that obviously we’re dealing with although on a much lesser scale. The author is a really good writer, it’s a good read.
About the Project
"The Bookbag: What We're Reading...and How" is a series where we discuss books—and the forms they take—that are getting us through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
The Bookbag is edited by English PhD Student Megan E. Fox. If you're interested in contributing, reach out to us at email@example.com.