The novel Station Eleven has left its mark on Red Deer.
The city’s first community-wide book club — Red Deer Reads — announced its literary choice in May and since then the book has been borrowed 640 times from Red Deer Public Library.
That doesn’t include 360 copies that were given away throughout the summer.
Candice Putnam, Timberlands branch manager and chair of the Red Deer Reads committee, said that level of interest tells her residents were well aware of the book club and eager to participate.
“It’s just so great to see so many people in our community come together through a shared reading experience. Like any good book club it doesn’t matter whether you love it, or hate it, or fall somewhere in between. The point is that it gets people talking and gives Red Deerians a great opportunity to connect with others in the community,” Putnam said.
Many also want to meet Station Eleven author Emily St. John Mandel who will be in Red Deer for a reading and discussion about her book on Oct. 27 at Welikoklad Event Centre.
As of last week only about 20 out of 260 tickets remained available for the event. Tickets are free, but required, and can be picked up at Red Deer library branches, or by calling 403-346-4576.
Station Eleven follows the adventures of a travelling theatre company in a post-apocalyptic North America after most of the human population is wiped out by a virus.
The novel was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award and won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction literature in Britain.
Red Deer College philosophy instructor Guillermo Barron, who led a Philosopher’s Cafe on the book as part of Red Deer Reads, said the fragility of our technological society is clear in Station Eleven.
“I really got involved with the stories of people living in the present time. They use cellphones. They jet all over the place. They have problems in their relationships. They have problems with their professional careers. Then you fast forward 20 years and people are really having a hard time surviving this post-apocalyptic nightmare scenario,” Barron said.
He said people often like to reminisce fondly about what they perceive to be ‘the good old days.’ In Station Eleven, the years before the virus were unquestionably better days. But how useful are historical relics that a society leaves behind when those who exist are just trying to survive.
“How much can the past teach us?” Barron asked.
Christina Wilson, Red Deer Public Library CEO, said she doesn’t like science fiction, but Station Eleven is a real treat.
“I started reading it and I just ate it up. It’s not what I expected. It really opened up my mind,” Wilson said.
She said it gave her an appreciation of life as it exists. And from an environmental point of view, it was interesting to read a book where civilization basically disappears, but earth survives.
“There’s sadness. For sure, you experience it. But the world is still good place,” Wilson said.
A variety of Red Deer Reads events have been held since September to get people thinking about and discussing the book, as well as activities relating to the book, like scenes from King Lear performed by Prime Stock Theatre at the book club’s launch party. A performance of King Lear features prominently in the book.
A graphic novel plays an important role in the book so Station Eleven cartoon sessions were held for adults and children.
On Monday, a disaster preparedness clinic will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Timberlands library branch.
Book displays filled with free copies of Station Eleven were set up at the Red Deer Museum, Red Deer Airport, Collicutt Centre and Red Deer College to encourage people who might not visit the library to grab a copy and pass it on to others.
Putnam said people have overwhelmingly preferred the paper format at the library. Of the 640 people who borrowed the book, 594 read the paperback, 30 read the e-book version, 10 listened to the e-audio book, and six borrowed the audio book.
Copies of Station Eleven are still available at the library.
“It’s not too late. It’s a quick read. You won’t be able to put it down,” Putnam said.