Beach Read Rec: Station Eleven IS Science Fiction

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Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven has generated a lot of buzz–not only because it’s well-written, which it is, or because it was nominated for the National Book Award (and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award), but also because of its author’s take on its genre. Back in October, she ignited controversy by tweeting “I actually don’t think of Station Eleven as sci-fi, but am fully prepared to concede that I may be alone in this….”

In and of itself, it’s a fairly innocuous tweet. It’s an author talking about her own work, and expressing an opinion while acknowledging the opinions of others. She followed it up by telling the Washington Post, “My only objection to these categories is that when you have a book like mine that doesn’t fit neatly into any category, there’s a real risk that readers who only read ‘literary fiction’ won’t pick it up because they think they couldn’t possibly like sci-fi, while sci-fi readers will pick up the book based on the sci-fi categorization, and then be disappointed because the book isn’t sci-fi enough.”

My problem is this: when an author says that their work is “literary fiction,” what they really tend to mean is that it’s well-written. The idea that something can’t be science fiction because it’s “literary,” then, doesn’t make sense to me, because that would mean that science fiction itself is inherently not literary; that it occupies a rung below realistic fiction in terms of quality. And not only is that inaccurate, but it’s offensive to science fiction writers and readers alike. It minimizes the profound works of science fiction writers like Octavia Butler and Ursula LeGuin, and it alienates readers who are drawn towards science fiction concepts with complex characters and intricate plots. Lately, so many authors are working to push genre boundaries and create transcendent, well-written works that are unique in story and technique

This being said, I do think that Station Eleven would make a great unconventional beach read. The format of several intertwining stories keeps the action fresh if you’re reading for long periods of time–to summarize briefly, the story revolves around three main characters: Arthur, a Hollywood star who dies of a heart attack while performing King Lear on the eve of a flu pandemic; Jeevan, a paparazzi-turned-paramedic who attempts to resuscitate him; and Kirsten, a former child actress who grows up traveling with a Shakespeare company in post-flu America. There are sequences that take place before, during, and after the outbreak of the Georgia flu, which originates in Russia but soon spreads globally to decimate the global population and create a new world made up of small, isolated communities. The post-flu sections with Kirsten were some of my favorites: the writing is dreamlike and the terrain, and action, feels somewhat surreal. I also loved the plot thread describing where the novel’s title originates from: that of a graphic novel called Station Eleven depicting life on a planet-sized space station far from Earth. I found the reading experience to be itself both isolating and surreal, and in that way very, very beautiful. My only criticisms would be that I didn’t feel that Kirsten’s character was explored in the depth that it could have been, and I honestly think that the book could have been significantly longer and still retained its impact.

Overall, it was at least an 8 out of 10 for me. And I maintain that it IS science fiction–science fiction that’s well-written. Which is exactly how I like my science fiction.

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Library Book Sale Buying Binge

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This post is in celebration of most recent library book sale haul. I love going to library book sales–they’re a great way to find an excellent selection of books for extremely reduced prices. The six books I found above cost a total of $8, and all were new or like-new quality. Even better (or at least almost as good) as the books that you bring home from library book sales is the experience of searching, sorting through boxes of books donated by library members to find the hidden gems. I love finding books I recognize, even if I don’t end up buying them–and I love finding books I’ve never heard of to take home as well. This time I found:

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Goff — about a young woman returning to her hometown in Upstate New York and uncovering its secrets, some of which are supernatural. I’d heard of this one but didn’t remember it in detail, and love the intriguing premise.

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler — Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was one of my favorite reads of 2015 so far, and I’m interested what she does with the concept of a book club reading Jane Austen.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn — I read Gone Girl last year and found it addicting, intricate, and surprising. I initially had checked it out from the library, but when i saw it I couldn’t resist getting a copy for my shelf for re-reading purposes.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri — I’ve read a lot of Lahiri’s short stories and I believe that she is one of the best writers out there today. Her stories are always entrancing, so I’m interested to read her full-length novel.

Possession by A.S. Byatt — I’ve heard this is a challenging read for lovers of literature. I’d like to be up to the challenge!

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov — Less well known than Lolita, this work is supposedly more surrealist than realistic.

Beaches and Books: an Introduction

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Welcome to Beaches and Books, a nontraditional beach reading blog for nontraditional readers. I don’t do all of my reading on the beach–although I wish that were possible–but when I read I try to capture the transitory perfection that comes with immersing yourself in a transcendent read while the sun warms you and the waves crash. I believe that reading can be simultaneously relaxing and invigorating, and with this blog I want to share my passion for reading and talking about books with other readers.

What do I like to read? First of all, I read books that are unique. I like books that take nontraditional approaches with both style and genre, and that can continuously surprise me. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, in all its iterations: speculative fiction, magical realism, slipstream, New Weird. I like elements of the futuristic and the fantastic in what I read, and I especially like books that bend and shatter genre conventions. That being said, I also read realistic fiction, nonfiction, and historical fiction, and I’m always trying to challenge myself with new genres.

I read because I love it, and I want to start writing about books more because I love talking about reading. I love recommending books and getting recommendations from others. I hope that you will enjoy reading this blog as much as I love writing it.