Book ReviewEducationLearn

When I first picked up Station Eleven, the newest novel from Emily St. John Mandel, it was definitely on a whim. I’ve read some post-apacolyptic and dystopian fiction before (see: McCarthy’s The Road, Collins’ The Hunger Games and Orwell’s 1984), but if I’m being totally honest, I don’t love it. This time though, it was getting late, the bookstore was about to close, and the woman behind the counter pointed it out as I was about to pay. I’d heard some rumblings about the book, so I decided to give this genre another chance. Plus, the cover and the title were definitely intriguing.

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Station Eleven begins on a night that several things, including civilization, end. The novel opens on a stage production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, with the famous Hollywood star Arthur Leander as the titular character. In the wings, an eight-year-old aspiring actress, Kristen Raymonde, witnesses the great actor suffer a heart attack and die onstage. As chaos ensues within the theatre, the outside world faces a threat of a different sort. Within a matter of weeks, nearly all of the global population has been wiped out by a lethal flu. Flights are grounded, borders dissolve and cars are left where they die as the survivors attempt to escape the pandemic.

Fast-forward 20 years and Kristen is still an actress, touring the country in horse-drawn pickup trucks and performing Shakespeare for the various communities her troupe, the Traveling Symphony, come across. On the road the troupe has long discussions about the things they can barely remember; wi-fi, the faces of family members, airplanes and movies. While Kristen travels, she remains fixated on Arthur Leander, looking for old gossip magazines and newspapers to add to her collection. In her pack, she also carries two issues of a comic book named Dr. Eleven, given to her by Leander on one of the nights of their performance.

As they journey through the wilderness, the troupe comes upon a mysterious fanatic known as “the prophet,” who has taken over a town they had visited some months prior. They meant to pick up two members of the troupe who had wintered in the town to have their baby, but when they arrive, the couple and their newborn are missing. In the meantime, rumors of a Museum of Civilization reach the troupe, and they decide to make their way to this mythical settlement where artifacts (laptops, credit cards, phones and other electronics) on supposedly on view. With the Prophet on their heels, the Symphony’s journey is intersected by flashbacks of Leander’s life, the strange comics Kristen carries, and the history of “the Prophet.”

Mandel has written a beautiful, lyrical novel. While some have criticized her representation of the “disaster” that ended civilization, I found it refreshing not to focus so much on the epidemic, but the events that both preceded and followed it. Throughout the book, we are given more of Leander’s life story, his connection to the author of the Dr. Eleven comics, and a twist at the end to tie each of the threads together in a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion. The author inserts subtle, occasionally disturbing clues that make the reader question the meaning of art, music, life and civilization in ways that other dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels do not. Perhaps the most lingering take-away is the motto of the Symphony, “survival is insufficient,” a line taken from an old Star Trek episode, that many members of the Symphony repeat throughout the story.

This motto, “survival is insufficient,” drives the core of the book, and I found myself thinking a lot about it even after I put the novel down. Can art save us? That seems to be the idea, and it is definitely a more hopeful conclusion than the one many other novels of this genre come to. Mandel has created a dystopian novel that is not horribly violent, does not scare us or condemn humanity and even manages, at times, to be uplifting. This is definitely a piece that will stay with you, and I can honestly say it’s one of the best novels I’ve read in a while. My two pieces of advice, then, are to pick up a copy for yourself, and always listen to the people at your local bookstore, because they seem to have a knack for suggesting just the story you need to read.

Image: Pexels and Amazon

Skills

People tend to not be concerned about issues that don’t ‘hit close to home’ because they feel like it’s something that could never happen to them, but even if most of us never experience war or lose our homes, it is important that we try to be a little more aware of what happens to other people around the world, even if we don’t see the relevancy of it to our lives.

Awareness is the first step, in my opinion, to understanding the kind of world we live in. Some people have the privilege of traveling to other countries to see firsthand how other people live, others can take classes about different cultures or can talk to other people who have gone places and have experienced things that they haven’t experienced. I understand that not everyone can travel to different places, but you shouldn’t have to leave your country or even your hometown to become aware of the different ways that people around you live and the kinds of things they experience.

It is possible to be a tourist in your own home. All you have to do is put on a different set of eyes and see, for the first time, instead of just looking. Many people judge homeless people because they have never had to experience not having a home or because they automatically assume that the person is homeless because of something they did to themselves. Not everyone is like this, but you may have heard a friend or a family member or someone on the subway blame people who are going through hard times for their current situations. But if they haven’t walked a mile in that person’s shoes, do they truly have the right to pass judgement?

People have the right to their own opinions, but don’t you think that the world would be a much better place if we replaced apathy with empathy? When you place the blame on someone else for their own situation, you are giving up the responsibility that you have to your neighbor. This doesn’t have to be anyone who lives in your neighborhood or even the person next door. If we all look at each other as global citizens and even, as one big family, then everyone you pass on the street is your neighbor in the loose sense of the word.

Let’s pretend for a moment that everyone looked at the world that way. From that perspective, it’s easier to see that blaming someone for their inability to get a job or to keep a roof over their heads is a way of being apathetic. When you don’t show concern for anything that is apathy and when you resort to blaming someone for something that happened to them, you are showing that you don’t care to understand this person’s predicament or even how it affects the people who love them.

It is extremely easy to be apathetic, especially if you don’t pay close attention to the news or if you don’t know what’s happening to other people around the world. You can live out your entire life without opening your eyes and still think that you can see. But once you start looking into what it’s like to wear this person’s shoes or that person’s shoes, the world becomes an entirely different place. Not only because you are aware but because that awareness can lead to understanding if you let it.

Empathy isn’t about feeling sorry for someone, it’s about sharing their feelings even if you can’t completely understand their situation. It’s about stepping outside of yourself and realizing that at the root of all of your experiences are feelings that can transcend any cultural, racial, or religious barriers that exists in our world today. You don’t have to agree with a person’s feelings or even their current situation but don’t let judgment be your first response to that disagreement. In fact, don’t let it be any of your responses. It’s impossible for us to understand what other people are going through because we don’t often take the time to try to understand.

I know that might be hard for everyone to do but empathy is not a foreign concept. We all have the ability to be empathetic; to understand and share the feelings of others. Though our experiences may differ, our emotions are all the same. There is not one emotion that is unique to any one culture, race, or religious group.

Once we all realize that, the world will slowly but surely become a better a place to live in.

Image: Chris Sardegna

Culture

Maybe you didn’t think of your college as haunted when you chose it, but as Halloween nears, let’s take a look at the 10 most haunted colleges in the U.S. Hopefully yours does not make the list, but may the spooks be ever in your favor!

1. Ohio University

According to endless articles found on Google, Ohio University kills the charts. A piece of the campus is a former lunatic asylum where extremely brutal and primitive procedures were once performed. Yikes! More specifically, Wilson Hall, a dorm with its creepy picturesque appearance, is the exact place you want to avoid. Room 428 is locked shut due to repeated ghosts and spirits appearing. Other ghosts have been reported to roam the halls of other dorms within the campus.

2. Fordham University

Ironic that Fordham makes number two on the list, as it is a Jesuit University. Kating Hall and Finlay Hall were both constructed over a morgue. Finlay residents have reported being awakened by cold ghost hands choking grasping their throats. That’s enough to get anyone’s goosebumps up. More apparitions include one in Queen’s Court dormitory where a ghost priest allegedly told a Resident Assistant (R.A.) about an exorcism he performed to rid the hall of spirits. And a little fun fact: a few scenes from The Exorcist were actually filmed on the school campus. In another freshman dorm, there is an apparent infamous ghost who haunts the showers – Moaning Myrtle much?

3. Gettysburg College

The story that haunts Gettysburg College is directly related to The Battle of Gettysburg, one of the milestones in our history. Both Confederate and Union troops stayed at Pennsylvania Hall as it was a hospital and signal post. The basement is said to be haunted by blood bathed doctors while multiple residents have all reported to spot ghosts throughout the rest of the dorm. Ready to change your views on cute Smurf-resemblances? There is an apparent “Blue Boy” in Stevens Hall who is a young orphan that has a blue (frozen-like) face.

4. Wells College

Imagine having an entire dorm floor being used as an infirmary for your school? Well, that is precisely what happened. As a permeating flu epidemic infested the area, an entire dormitory floor had to be evacuated to be used as an infirmary. Today, residents state that they have witnessed ghost nurses roam the halls. In Morgan Hall, an ardent security guard strolls the dorms while in Zarbriskie Hall and Glen Park Mansion, ghosts are said to aggressively haunt the halls with palpable weapons. My advice: sleep with both eyes wide open.

5. Pennsylvania State University

Penn-Staters, or, one of every 117 Americans, your lovely campus is haunted. Betsy Aardsma, the most famous ghost on campus resides in the basement stacks as she was stabbed to death there in 1969. Students have described seeing red eyes, hearing screams, and even being gripped by a presence in the library. I would call this a valid excuse to avoid the library. Botany Building is the place where green-thumb phantoms get malicious if the plants aren’t cared for. In Brumaugh Hall, lives an ax murderer ghost – watch out, friends.

6. Kenyon College

A picturesque gothic building is just what it looks like: eerie. In 1949, nine students died in a fire causing there to be nine vexed ghosts in the dormitory halls. There are apparent unexplained toilet flushes and light flickers with screams to make the environment that much cozier. Bolton Dance Studio was once a swimming pool and in turn, students have reported sightings of mysterious wet footprints and showers turning on. In Caples Hall, there is said to be a woman who badgers residents by banging furniture against doors. Now that’s something to report to R.A’s!

7. East Tennessee State University

“The most notable ghost on campus?” Sidney Gilbreath, the first president of the university. She is said to flickers lights and slams doors and windows in Gilbreath Hall. Call her a theatre phantom since she likes to be present in rehearsals in the building’s theatre. Consider that, theatre majors! Other infamous presences include Marble Boy and Sink Girl, who roam the Clement Hall dorms. In Yoakley Hall, a long-gone girl who committed suicide jumping, haunts the halls with her shadowy silhouette.

8. Huntingdon College

In the U.S’s country, Alabama’s Huntingdon College houses the notorious Red Lady who committed suicide in Pratt Hall. She is the epitome of the object of a scary ghost book as she glows the hall with an evil red light… medieval-supernatural-scary, if you ask me. The Ghost of the Green is also the soul of a suicide victim and he tugs at clothes and is any girl’s ultimate nightmare as he tousles perfectly done hair. The last ghost is Frank the Library Ghost who roams the stacks in a towel. Sounds like a bizarre ghost story to add to the books!

9. New York University

Glamorous, respected, and haunted. Preoccupied with busy New York students, NYU also hosts homage to the spirits of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire victims. The building that housed the factory is now NYU’s Brown Building of Science. The 9th floor, especially, is said to be the spookiest as it is heaving with roaming spirits. Lastly, Brittany Residence Hall is also where the soul of a young girl who fell down an elevator chute resides.

10. University of Notre Dame

George Gipp has elevated Notre Dame onto this list. The Gipper was locked out of his dorm after a night of late night party endeavors. As a result, he passed out on the steps of Washington Hall and consequently caught pneumonia and died due to the frigid Midwest night. Ominous echoes stretch down the Washington Hall not by the Gipper, but by an accidental death of a construction worker or music student who had died. Although these are not the only ghosts on campus, they’re enough to keep you stray from Washington Hall this Halloween.

Hopefully this Halloween you won’t come across any of these campuses, but if you happen to, stray away from the sinister halls and libraries aforementioned, as if unnerving Halloween stories weren’t enough. Happy Halloween!

Image: marada