The Record

Book Day author presents at assembly

Megha Nelivigi, Staff Writer

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Author Emily St. John Mandel spoke at this week’s assembly about her writing process and background, in advance of next Thursday’s Book Day, which will feature her award- winning novel Station Eleven.

Mandel was unavailable to visit on Book Day, but Upper Division Librarian Caroline Bartels felt that it would still be important for Mandel to visit, Bartels said.

“What’s kind of nice with her coming ahead of Book Day is that she can talk about things and bring up stuff that people may have been thinking of about the book,” Bartels said.  “What kids and teachers can come away with is new things to think about before Book Day, and if kids haven’t quite finished the book, it can spur them to read or finish the book.”

Each year’s Book Day book is completely different from any other year, Bartels said, and “Station Eleven” is no exception. “People always say, ‘choose a book for Book Day that could cover all of the departments,’” she said. “Emily St. John Mandel covered just about all of them.”

The assembly took place in an interview format, with Dean of the Class of 2021 Dr. Susan Groppi moderating and three students asking questions, with other students given the opportunity to ask questions later on in the assembly.

Mandel covered a variety of topics, answering questions regarding the novel’s plot, the writing process, character development, the path that led her to become a writer, her writing style, and more.

Mandel’s explanation on character development and how she viewed her main characters added to Claire Yoo’s (11) understanding of the novel, she said.

Other members of the community had mixed reactions. Josh Benson (11) felt that the assembly would have been more effective had Mandel came in on the actual day of Book Day.

Because the book  “doesn’t immediately lead into wider issues,” Benson said, he believes Mandel’s visit may have made more sense “after people had done various workshops, and were conditioned to understand the book better.”

“I thought the assembly was good, but I don’t think enough people actually read the book to have a thoughtful assembly, especially with Book Day being next week,” Menon said.

On the other hand, David Shen (11) felt that Mandel was an “interesting speaker with an interesting life story.” Hearing about Mandel and her own experiences gave Shen insight on the characters within Station Eleven; for instance, hearing about Mandel’s writing process connected with the way Miranda, a character in the novel, writes her own book, Shen said. However, Shen felt that the assembly “would not have made any sense if you didn’t read the book.”

Groppi, who had originally suggested the novel as a Book Day book for 2017, felt that the assembly went well.

“I didn’t know much, if anything, about her background, and I liked hearing how she got into writing and how it fits into her life,” she said.

Even though it is her first Book Day book, Jordan Ferdman (9) felt that Station 11 was not all that accessible to the student body, because “science fiction in general caters to a very specific group of people.”

One of the reasons Groppi suggested the book is because  “we’ve had a lot of books with this huge social impact, but this is a book that I wanted to celebrate just as a book,” she said.

Apart from her writing, Yoo was intrigued by Mandel’s life story. Homeschooled until 10th grade and intensely focused on dance, Mandel graduated without a high school diploma and ultimately realized that writing was her passion, she said in the assembly.

“It was surprising that she was homeschooled and went to a dance conservatory instead of getting a traditional education, and yet still found her passion,” Yoo said.

Emma Jones (12) enjoyed hearing Mandel speak as well.

“She was really articulate– she answered all the questions asked in really specific ways, and talked about her writing in a very clear way, which is a skill not everyone has,” Jones said. “Station Eleven is such an abstract book, so it was helpful to hear the author talk about it.”

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Book Day author presents at assembly