Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

King Lear, 1950. Artist: Goncharov, Andrei Dmitrievich (1903-1979)

King Lear by Andrei Dmitrievich Goncharov (1950). Photograph: Alamy

     Any novel that begins with an actor in a blue spotlight raging as King Lear will catch my attention.  Ending the first chapter with the line, “Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city,” will hold my attention.  And Emily St. John Mandel’s apocalyptic vision of a post-worldwide flu epidemic did not let it go for the two days it took me to finish reading the novel, despite the near hopelessness of the narrative in Station Eleven.

     Station Eleven begins at Lear in Toronto.  That night and over the next few days, most of humanity is wiped out by the Georgia Flu, a killer that begins in the Republic and is shipped worldwide via a series of flights containing numerous patient zeros.  With minimal contact, the flu is transferred and victims die within two or three days.  St. John Mandel picks up the threads of civilization twenty years later, when Kirsten — who had performed as a child in the original Lear — is on the very perilous road with a Shakespearean/musical company called the Travelling Symphony.


     Station Eleven is a National Book Award finalist and frankly, couldn’t be more timely given the press attention and world fear of Ebola.  It’s a haunting vision:  no electricity, no running water, no telephones, no gas, no cars, no grocery stores, no food.  The only thing left in Mandel’s world after twenty years are the shells of fast food joints, Wal-Marts and Motel 6s.  So much for great architecture.  Tractor trailer trucks are pulled by horses, people hunt and fish for their food or they don’t eat and suspicion is the first emotion experienced when greeting a stranger.

    The most hopeful thing about Station Eleven is the existence of a Travelling Orchestra with a Shakespearean troupe of actors.  In all things and despite all things, art still exists and the humans who remain crave it.  Performing on a stage set with candlelight and in costumes dredged from the poached houses of dead people, the actors carry their own weapons and defend themselves as conscientiously as they perform the words of the Bard.  Yet, the lead caravan’s motto comes not from the Shakespearean canon but from a most-unlikely source:  Star Trek.  “Survival is insufficient.”

Station Eleven Logo


     One could be quite literal and design a book club menu of canned items, spam and beans and olives.  Or put together a Georgian menu in honor of the flu.  My preference would be something grand and Shakespearean.  Roasted turkey legs, great grogs of mead, loaves of bread, hunked at the table and slathered with fresh butter.  If it’s the end of the world as we know it, might as well enjoy it while we can.


End of the World as We Know It, R.E.M.

1999, Prince

Ground Control to Major Tom, David Bowie

Watchtower, Jimi Hendrix

Calamity Song, The Decemberists

End of the Innocence, Don Henley

Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones

station eleven

Indigestion: The Dinner by Herman Koch


   In The Dinner, Herman Koch creates a masterpiece of tension and horror over a family dinner at an upscale restaurant.  Paul and his wife Claire meet Paul’s brother Serge, a politician, and Serge’s wife Babette for one of those dining experiences where the wait staff looks down on the patrons for their failure to recognize the difference between nouveau riche and nouvelle cuisine.  If such exists.  From such a blank page of mundanity, Koch builds a pyramid of devastating revelations made by the increasingly unstable and unreliable narrator Paul Lohman leading to the pinnacle of the actions Paul and Serge’s children have undertaken in tandem.

   Nature or nurture?  Friend or foe?  Genetic mutation or unrestrained ego?  What is behind the psychosis of Paul and Serge’s children?  Or is it just modern life that has driven them to the extremity of action?  The questions are raised but not answered and the novel itself, like some modern Cassandra, calls for all of us to look discriminatingly at our attitudes, and actions.

Cassandra1 Cassandra, by Evelyn de Morgan

   Herman Koch frames the narrative in The Dinner in conjunction with the meal served.  Paul’s contempt for his brother Serge appears frequently revealed in his criticism of the unctuous and prissy service.  The novel is an ideal one for those wishing to pair a menu with a novel.  Here is the menu, paired with some quotations from The Dinner.

 Aperitif:  Pink Champagne

The floor manager stuck out his little finger and pointed at something on our table. At the tealight, I thought at first — instead of a candle or two, all the tables here had a tealight — but, no, the little finger was pointing out the plate of olives he had apparently just put there.

“These are Greek olives from the Peloponnese, lightly doused in first-pressing, extra-virgin olive oil from Sardinia and polished off with rosemary from . . .”

Appetizer:  A bottle of Chablis

“The crayfish are dressed in a vinaigrette of tarragon and baby green onions,” said the manager: he was at Serge’s plate now, pointing with his pinky. “And these are chanterelles from the Vosges.” The pinky vaulted over the crayfish to point out two brown toadstools, cut lengthwise; the “chanterelles” looked as thought they had been uprooted only a few minutes ago:

Main Course

“Grapes,” said the manager. . . .

The grapes were lying beside a deep-purple piece of lettuce, a full two inches of empty plate away from the actual main course — filet of guinea fowl wrapped in paper-thin sliced German bacon. Serge’s plate featured the tiny cluster and the shred of lettuce too, but my brother had ordered the tournedos. There’s not a whole lot you can say about a tournedos except that it’s a piece of meat, but because something had to be said, the manager provided a brief account of where the rounedos came from. Of the “organic farm” where the animlas “lived in freedom,” until they were butchered.


 “The blackberries are from our own garden,” said the manager. “the parfait is made from homemade chocolate, and these are shaved almonds, mixed with grated walnuts.”

His little finger pointed to a few irregularities in the brown sauce, a sauce that in my opinion was much too thin — in any case thinner than what one toughtou of as a parfait” and had leaked down between the balckberries to the bottom of the bowl.

Serge himself had chosen the dame blanche.   . . . My brother always chose the most ordinary desserts on the menu. Vanilla ice cream, crepes with syrup, and that was about it.

I looked at my plate: at the three wedges of cheese, to be exact, that were still ying there untouched. The manger’s pinky had hovered over each of the three pieces in turn; I had listened to the names that went with them without letting any of it register.”

Digestif:  Grappa

     The Dinner seems to be quite ideal for a Halloween book club, in the vein of Poe or Hitchcock.  The longer you wait at the table, the worse the outcome becomes.


Image courtesy

Date Like a Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends by Heather Dugan


Daeandwrite:  Hello Heather Dugan!  Thanks so much for joining daeandwrite to answer a few questions about your book, Date Like a Grownup:  Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt and Advice Between Friends.
Heather:  Smiling and waving at you, Pam!
Daeandwrite:  First question:  Is that even possible?  When do we grow up?  21?  35?  50?
Heather:  To be grown up in all segments of our lives? Probably not. certainly haven’t crossed any finish line yet! Think you have to be changing your furnace filter regularly and planning more non-microwave based dinners… The maturing process is more of a bar graph—we surge up with color-spiking achievement in some areas and barely splash the white background in others. Most of us grow on an “as needed” basis—with life experiences serving as the building blocks for further development. In our twenties, we grow careers and relationships. We may feel “grown up” because of the contrast between college and career—Haha, weren’t we adorable back then when we—“Seriously!”—knew it all? In our thirties, there is often a family focus as we begin to better grasp our ties to past and future. It’s more “throw up” than “grow up.” By our fifties, most of us are beginning to realize that many of the things we’ve already learned are suspect. Because we didn’t really learn them—we simply accepted them as truth. Once we begin taking inventory of our actual beliefs, we start growing up for real. We’ve less to lose and more to gain by being genuine—and we’re aware of the smaller space ahead. And often—we’re back to pursuing relationships. After the grief and/or anger we feel with a midlife breakup or death, there can be a sense of urgency—we did some things wrong, we have second or third chances…but we’re running out of time. Gotta grow up and get on with it!
Daeandwrite:  What trips up so many of us in the dating world?  Do men and women face the same issues? 
Heather:  The biggest roadblock—by far—is neediness. Prime examples would be the “I gotta check and see if he got my text” text and the “I can’t sit at home this weekend!” consolation date. Because even with our Internet-driven, social media-crazy lifestyles, more of us are isolated...more of us are alone. Our Google search skills are often better than our interpersonal ones! And many expect dating to be this magical fairy godmother gift that will transform a lonely life. That’s untenable pressure for a new relationship. Neediness also leads to “anyone is better than no one” space filler choices and the desperate fanning of embers that are better left to flicker on out—which is why it is so important for adult singles to build other connections into their lives! And yes, men and women do “needy” equally well. We see it—and run from it—in others, but have a hard time recognizing it in ourselves.
Daeandwrite:  How did you develop the idea for Date Like A Grown-Up?  I know a lot of the examples you give have happened to you or your friends, but how did the idea come about to put it all in a book?
Heather: I’ve written a lot of articles on business and interpersonal connection and have an advice column at Even before the book, I fielded a lot of questions on relationship situations and choices. And I kept repeating myself! Realizing that I had learned concepts that were beneficial to many of us kind of stirred up my nurturing instincts, and I expanded the one-on-one conversations into Date Like A GrownupThe dating anecdotes you mention are the “pictures” in my book and seemed essential for a couple of reasons. First, they illustrate what it looks like when we stray from dating like a grownup. Secondly, they help us move from “I can’t believe I did that” to “I’m not the only one… I can do better next time.”
Daeandwrite:  Since the book has been out, what kind of reactions do you get from people who’ve read it?  Do they tell you their successes or failures? 
Heather:  One of my favorite reviews came from a guy who said it was really about “living” as a grownup—he nailed it! I hear from men and women reevaluating their approach—walking away from space-filler relationships that kept them unavailable for a “right fit” match. They’re excited about personal revelations and resolved to change their own futures. That kind of feedback is truly thrilling. And I hear a lot of great—i.e. awful!—stories of unbelievably bad dating experiences that would be implausible in fiction! Just got a text (seriously—right now as I type) from a friend whose blind date wore a red clown nose so that she could spot him waiting at the bar. Yes, an adult male on this planet thought that would be a good idea… 
Daeandwrite:  You and I have been friends since college (and I’ll thank you not to mention how many actual years ago that was) and you always seemed to be a pretty successful dater.  What do you think it is about women that men look for when inviting someone on a date or in accepting one?  What do women look for when inviting someone on a date or accepting one? 
Heather:  It’s funny how “busy” can play as “successful”… in business and in our personal lives. Sometimes, we’re just dancing from foot to foot. I met a lot of two or three-date guys in college, but I didn’t really connect with anybody back then—I was more into the “conceal” than the “reveal.” But our base needs don’t change that much… Men are drawn to women they want to see in the dark, but will build a future with the one they can talk to over a turkey sandwich. Appreciation is one of the big ones for guys—they want to be with a woman who makes them feel good about themselves. And self-confidence is a huge attractant for all healthy adults—both sexes. Women vary a little—we love a good spark but can be warmed to a boil by a good man who nurtures and takes out the trash. For us juggling types—love may flow easier toward the sexy smart guy who also helps make the bed and the coffee.
Daeandwrite:  What’s next?  Marry Like a Grown-Up?  
Heather:  Good thought, Pam! But I’m starting before that and expanding on a key element in the Date Like A Grownup life strategy. It’s ironic that we start with girlfriends, gravitate to a “get the guy” focus (often at the expense of our friendships) only to wander on back to seeking women friends when we’re single again. A big part of growing a strong love relationship is maintaining a larger life platform that includes strong supportive connection and our own grownup pursuits. So, I’m writing a Cabernet Coaches book that explores the value and power of connected friendships.  I’m also finishing up Profile on Page Nine—the next Angie Wharton book to follow Pickup in Aisle Twelve—and getting ready to start recording the audio version of Date Like A GrownupTesting…testing…(ahem… is this thing on?).
Daeandwrite:  OK, here’s the challenging part.  Plan a menu for a book club discussion of your book and if you have any recipe(s) you’d like to share, please do! 

Heather:  Oh please! Can I just clean out your basement or something? OK… I can do this. The Cabernet Coaches—who are basically my book club on wheels—are big on happy hour appetizers—small plates and ample beverages. So… let me troll through some of our favorite happy hour specials.

Beverage: For most of us it’s a decent Cabernet (or I’ll take a dry Riesling in the summer) and water (for whiter teeth!). 
Appetizer(s): Our meals usually come off the happy hour menu. The perfect happy hour appetizer will be: shareable, eaten with fingers or one eating utensil (using both knife and fork leaves no hand for gesticulating or reaching for the wine glass) and will not require much focus—never order something that requires a mental departure from the conversation… pasta is risky… if the story is good, that linguini will land in your lap.
Better alternatives from Columbus area restaurants include:
Spicy tuna rolls with wasabi, soy and ginger (use chopsticks for best flavor) —Molly Woo’s Asian Bistro

Bang Bang Shrimp (fiery pile of oceanic protein) —Bonefish Grill

Mussels with jalapenos and tomatoes in a white wine broth (with grilled toast) —J Lui
Thai Chicken Skewers (with mini-cucumber salad and spicy peanut sauce) —Brazenhead Irish Pub
Flatbread pizza with arugula, mushrooms and tomatoes (more than enough for two) —Marcella’s Italian Kitchen
In a notable departure from “heat and eat,” I’ve actually improved upon the Flatbread Pizza and will—for the very first time—offer up my ever-evolving recipe…sauce pan clatter, please
Heather’s Fabulous Flatbread (serves four)
Ingredients: Naan bread (four)
4 Tbs pesto
Fresh or packaged arugula
1 pkg of diced sun-dried tomatoes 
1 diced red pepper 
1 can of quartered artichokes, pieced into  
Diced cooked chicken (optional)
Sliced banana peppers (optional)
Crumbled feta cheese]
Shaved parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Place Naan bread onto pizza stones or cookie sheets. Spread with thin layer of pesto. Add sun-dried tomatoes, and then, a generous amount of arugula. Brush lightly with olive oil. Top with red pepper, artichoke and banana peppers or chicken if desired. Sprinkle with feta and parmesan. Bake for 6-7 minutes, until cheese begins to melt and bottom of bread begins to brown. Remove from oven and cut with pizza cutter.  *I’ve made these with anything and everything—asparagus, mushrooms, pineapple pieces…, and always keep Naan bread, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto on hand for desperate improv dinners.
Daeandwrite:  Thank you so much for joining us here today, Heather.  Date Like a Grown-Up is a blast to read and will make a very fun book to discuss over one, two or several glasses of wine. 
Heather:  Thank you, Pam! I really hope you can come to Columbus and join the Cabernet Coaches on a Wednesday evening some time soon!
Find more Heather at
date like   Get your copy at

Jane Gentry Vance

Jane Gentry

Kentucky’s shining literary world dimmed over the weekend.  Jane Gentry Vance, former Kentucky poet laureate, University of Kentucky professor, poet, died Thursday after a long battle with cancer.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jane Gentry in June of 2008, during her tenure as poet laureate.  She read from her lovely book of poetry, A Garden in Kentucky, and we talked briefly about the upcoming Lincoln Celebration in Washington, D.C. in which we both would be participating.

The Lexington Herald-Leader’s obituary says that Jane Gentry’s family lived in Kentucky since Boonesboro was settled, around 1775.

Her poetry not only reflects, but develops from her love of the state, the people, the flora and the fauna, the lifestyle, the lives of Kentucky.  If you want to understand Kentucky, read Jane Gentry Vance.

The Old Place, from A Garden in Kentucky

Sun pools

under the high trees

in the leafy rooms

birds crisscross

their songs.

Up the cliff, crows

fire war cries

at each other.

Men and women slap

cards on the table,

laugh, holler.

The creek

cold, mud-sucking

fresh and mossy

arcs with crawdads,

minnows. Boys

and girls skate

its slick floor

balancing like

tightrope walkers

arms outstretched.

Pepsi-Colas frosted

in the ice chest.

Warm sweet beans,

Mary’s potato salad.

Chicken fried

to crumbled bites.

Across the valley

the red-and-white barn

breathes cool

silky tobacco dust.

Around the white-

washed outhouse

mud daubers write

in terrifying loops

the script of this day

so bright, invisible.


Monkeying Around: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler


Vintage Photo

     Karen Joy Fowler is an author with range.  The Jane Austen Book Club.  Sarah Canary (Pacific Northwest, 1873).  Sister Noon (Gilded Age, spinster and charity work in San Francisco).  Now, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, a novel about a family who raises a chimp as a child.

     Unfortunately, by telling you the premise of the book, I give nothing away.  The flap copy, the back jacket tell you this.  And it’s a mistake.  Because if you just picked up the book and began reading, it would take you until you were about 1/3 of the way through before you realized you were reading about a chimp.

     In her New York Times review of the book, Barbara Kingsolver expresses the same frustration.

To experience this novel exactly as the author intended, a reader should avoid the flap copy and everything else written about it. Including this review. The last writers to be unscathed by spoilers were probably the Victorians, who pounded out the likes of “Great Expectations” in weekly, serialized installments. No reviewer could blow the surprise of a convict benefactor or Miss Havisham’s cobwebby cake when these were yet unwritten. But in modern times, literary fiction presents a conundrum: The more craftily constructed its suspense, the more it tempts its advocates — in the interest of airtime — to reach into a serious tale and pull out something resembling a tabloid headline. Such as: “Girl and Chimp Twinned at Birth in Psychological Experiment.” That’s the big reveal in Karen Joy Fowler’s “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” a novel so readably juicy and surreptitiously smart, it deserves all the attention it can get.

0609-bks-KINGSOLVER-cover-popupMatt Dorfman for the New York Times

     In the 1970s, Indiana University Professor Cooke and his wife bring two new members into their family simultaneously:  Rosemary and Fern. Rosemary is their biological daughter.  Fern is adopted; she was the child of a chimpanzee slaughtered by poachers in Africa.  Rosemary narrates the story, beginning in the middle.    Along the way, Rosemary and author Fowler raise hugely disturbing questions about the ethical treatment of non-human animals in our society.  Rosemary remembers being sent away by her family at age five; when she returned, Fern was gone.  Where she went and why is the puzzle at the heart of Rosemary’s story and Fowler’s novel.


IU Sample Gates.  GO  HOOSIERS

     Ultimately, it’s a novel about the truths we tell ourselves.  The issues we believe in more than self-preservation.  Memory, family, transformation, joy and grief.

     We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves won the Pen/Faulkner Award for 2014, and was recently short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.  It will be the topic of discussion at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning’s Brown Bag Book Club the weeks of October 30 and November 6.  By the way, The Carnegie Center is the recipient of this year’s Kentucky Governor’s Award for the Arts.  Here’s a very interesting article with Ms. Fowler about her father’s career as an animal behavioralist and some of her thoughts on the novel:


I would have a lot of fun with this book for book club night and for the menu, there is no question I would go as vegan as possible.

Golden Raisins mixed with peanuts

Peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches.  Grilled.  Yummy.

Plantain chips

Banana Cream Pie


You know where I’m going don’t you?

Oh yeah:  monkees-logo


Rosemary:   Elle Fanning  Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences' 2nd Annual Governors Awards

Dr. Cooke:   Alexander SkarsgardAlexanderSkarsgard_900-600-05-14-12

Mrs. Cooke:  Drew BarrymoreDrew Barrymore

Lowell:  Joseph Gordon-Levittjoseph-gordon-levitt-feminist

Harlow:  AnnaSophia RobbAnna

Happy Reading!