Repent Nothing

“I repent nothing.” This is a phrase that is repeated constantly by Miranda in Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. She uses it as her shield against the world. She says this whenever she feels she is doubting herself, so in other words, she says is constantly. In a way it is a good way to look at things.

It is good not to regret things, like choosing a career path that you love and your friend doesn’t or picking out that ice cream that you really like but your sibling doesn’t. You need to follow your heart and work towards it like nothing before. For example, I tried Dungeons and Dragons for the first time at one of the Big Read events. I don’t regret that, it was really fun and I made some new friends. Of course I know some people I told about that event were not ecstatic and told me to go to a different event with them. But I thought it would be fun and I was not about to make a decision based on their opinion.

You should always live life the way you see fit as long as you are not hurting anyone(especially if the epidemic is going to happen!). There will always be things in life that will put you down and make you feel like you should give up. But if it is something you are passionate about, work for it and don’t give up.

 

Contributed by Ellie Dykema, a 9th grade student at West Ottawa High School.

“For All the Children to Whom We Entrust the Future”

“What happens to the children?” Dr. Jesus Montaño asked this question as part of the opening to his lecture which took place Monday morning in the rare books room of Van Wylen Library. “I’m serious,” he continued when nobody answered, “what happens to the children?”

The answer to this question is, in one sense, simple when one reads Station Eleven. Children, even ones growing up in a world ravaged by a pandemic and its resultant chaos, will eventually grow up and inherit the world they are left. They will inherit the land itself and whatever resources they can glean from it; they will inherit cherished tokens and names from their family. Perhaps most importantly, though, they will inherit a collective memory of the world and people that came before them.  

“Memory is foundational to our identities,” Dr. Christiana Salah said in the opening of her discussion of The Giver, this year’s middle-grade novel, on Wednesday evening in Howard Miller Public Library. Memory serves as a mirror through which we see and construct the image and narrative we present; it is how we come to know ourselves. Memory has another purpose, too. It is closely tied to our emotions; it allows us to feel. When Dr. Salah asked the audience to name something which seemed good about the community depicted in the story (where nobody except The Giver has any memory of a world different than the one in which they live), one young reader murmured, “there’s no pain.” The community of The Giver is made up of children who weren’t told of all they had lost, and while, as the reader correctly said, they feel no pain, the loss of collective memory, of emotion and identity, seems almost more grievous. Dr. Salah pointed this out and ended her talk by sharing that Lowry wrote The Giver “for all the children to whom we entrust the future,” and that the novel holds a powerful message for them. It says that willful ignorance is not a solution, and that anybody, at any age, can have an impact on the world.

When we take this message and look back to Station Eleven, the question shifts from “what happens to the children?” to “what do we pass on to the children?” Throughout the novel, we see two different answers. Either leave them this collective memory and tell them what has been lost, or don’t. The reader hears of children who don’t know that the world was ever different from the way they know it; they don’t know that cars used to run, that swimming pools used to be filled with water, that credit cards were used daily. For some, the memory of the old world, the world that was lost, is unknown, because someone else deemed it too painful to remember.

Station Eleven acts as a reminder, too, that memory takes form in stories. Clark’s Museum of Civilization begins the process of bringing forward and preserving the recollection of the old world, making sure that the past is not rendered obsolete. But the objects showcased are just that: objects. Without the stories and experiences behind them, anchoring them to the present, they are meaningless. It is talking about the past, sharing anecdotes and narratives, that keeps the memory alive.    

When I first heard these two lectures, I thought I was in a unique position as a twenty-one-year-old college student; I thought it was something special that I could count myself both as a child to whom the world is entrusted and an adult who bears some of the responsibility of passing that world along. But after a day of reflection, I realized that is not the case: I share this position with every other person in this world. How often do we speak of children, of what they will grow up with, what we must give them? We forget that we do not inherit the world or the future in one instance, or with one experience, but we receive it gradually and continuously with every story we collect, every memory we hear. What is more, we do our part to pass it on from the day we learn to speak, as we tell our own stories and share our experiences with others. We are all, in a sense, the children to whom the future is entrusted, and we hand part of it off each and every day.  

 

Contributed by Annika Gidley

Annika is a senior at Hope College, studying English and Spanish, and this year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore student intern. When not at the library or talking about Harry Potter, you can find her at a local coffee shop or the nearest Big Read event.

“Survival is Insufficient”

The morning of November 1st was cold and brisk on Hope College’s campus; remnants of Halloween still hung about porches and windows while students bundled in winter jackets drifted down sidewalks. Inside the Kruizenga Art Museum, a small group of readers had gathered in a cozy conference room located immediately behind the front desk. They were there for a gallery talk by Charles Mason, the museum curator, and a book discussion led by Dr. Tatevik Gyulamiryan, a professor of Spanish literature at Hope College.

Mr. Mason began the gallery talk by pointing to the framed paintings which lined the perimeter of the conference room; they represented a variety of styles, movements, and artists, but all had one thing in common: they all prominently featured ruins. As he described the different pieces and the links between them, he talked of the catharsis that art offers; viewing it can allow us an opportunity to acknowledge or release emotions we may not have previously understood, while creating it allows us to rework those emotions and give them physical form. He pointed to some of the painters featured on the walls and detailed how they had turned to art as a means to make sense of their own emotions, to represent them physically and share them with others.

Charles Mason, director and curator of the Kruizenga Art Museum, points to different pieces depicting ruins and speaks on the representation of a broken world in art.

In the book discussion which immediately followed, Dr. Gyulamiryan brought up the role of art in the novel. She noted that Shakespeare features prominently, and is often held up as the pinnacle of art. Yet, she noted, the mantra often repeated throughout the novel, “survival is insufficient,” comes not from Shakespeare, but an episode of Star Trek. She posed the question, what are we, as readers, to make of this?

In the conversation that followed, the readers seemed to agree that the appreciation of art of all kinds was a central concern to the novel, and that Mandel uses art as a way to highlight the importance of human connection. To me, it seems that the treatment of art within Station Eleven is critical to the message of the novel and, even more, its selection as this year’s Big Read book.

Mandel lauds Shakespeare’s plays, but she also celebrates the value and power of Station Eleven, the fictional graphic novels created by Miranda. These graphic novels are cathartic for their author; just as Mr. Mason pointed out in the painters, Miranda finds reprieve in the act of creation, and the representation of her own experiences and sentiments is a way for her to come to terms with the past and become a more complete version of herself. Yet the particular power of art which the novel celebrates is not the power associated with its creation or consumption; it is the power of sharing art. The Traveling Symphony’s goal is not simply to read Shakespeare plays or perform them for one another; it is to share them with audiences who may not have heard of or seen them before. The power of the graphic novels does not come from the means or reason of their creation; it comes from the effect they have on the characters who possess them. While only two copies of the work exist, Kirsten has one of them. As she travels from town to town twenty years after the pandemic, she continually searches for others. The overriding feeling which the graphic novels inspire in her is a deep longing for another person with whom she can share them.

The novel suggests that the value we ascribe to works is arbitrary; in this world, the words of Shakespeare and Star Trek are given equal importance; two copies of a graphic novel created by a woman seeking to understand her own life prove central to the development of the story and its characters. Art, in all its forms, can wring emotion from us, offer hope for the future, and bring us into connection with others; art reaches its full potential to change and challenge us, move us and build us, when it brings us community. It is the sharing of art, then, the connection it can bring, that holds value, more so than the piece itself.  

And here the novel answers for us a question which sometimes floats in the background of Big Read book discussions and events: what is the point? Why do we gather in conference rooms on cold mornings with people we do not know in order to discuss a novel we might not have read of our own accord? In short: because we need to.

We need stories, but more than that we need to share them. Dr. Gyulamiryan remarked during the discussion that what makes human beings distinct from other animals is the fact we pass information to one another through stories. Those tales become our connection. While the Big Read encourages individuals to read, and selects wonderful texts that are delightful to read independently, the value and meaning of the program is found in discussions such as this one. To actively share the experience of processing a story, to discuss our thoughts and our emotional responses, to relay personal experience and viewpoints, all of this works to fulfill that desire to find others who have been moved by the same work and can share it with us. “Survival is insufficient,” Mandel reminds us repeatedly, but perhaps it can also be said that when it comes to art, creation and consumption alone are insufficient. Art lives while it is shared. We live while we share it with one another.

 

Contributed by Annika Gidley

Annika is a senior at Hope College, studying English and Spanish, and this year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore student intern. When not at the library or talking about Harry Potter, you can find her at a local coffee shop or the nearest Big Read event.

2018 Introduction

Over the last four years, The Big Read has changed the Lakeshore community and all who have participated in it. We have grown as a community and as individuals through this shared experience. Together, with Harper Lee we witnessed Tom Robinson’s court case in 1930s Alabama; with Tim O’Brien, we fought a long and oftentimes heartless war in Vietnam; with Edwidge Danticat we traveled to Haiti and glimpsed the grueling, sometimes cruel, process of United States immigration; last year, with Julie Otsuka, we saw the pain and turmoil of the Japanese internment camps.  

This year, we go not back in time, but forward. Together we will see what our own home looks like after a global catastrophe shatters civilization as we know it, and observe a broken world begin to put itself back together. In the upcoming month we will learn and discuss the science behind pandemics, the role of art in our lives, and what it means, precisely, to be part of a community.

We hope that the learning and discussion will not be confined to any one event, group, location, or time. As we celebrate the start of another Big Read and welcome you to the 2018 program, we also extend to everyone an invitation. We invite you to read the novel Station Eleven, whether it be for the first time or the fifth, along with our middle-grade novel The Giver by Lois Lowry, and our Little Read selection Blackout by John Rocco. We invite you to reflect, individually or with others, on the meaning these books hold. We invite you to join us, to become another voice at discussions and another integral member of this community. And finally we invite you to speak, to keep the conversation going with friends, family, and neighbors, even after the events have finished and the program ended.

As our program has expanded geographically and thematically over the last few years, we are also expanding digitally. I would like to take a moment to invite everybody to share your experiences and ideas on your preferred digital platform, and be sure to tag @NEABigReadLakeshore or else to use the hashtag #bigreadlakeshore and become part of our digital network.

 

 

Contributed by Annika Gidley

Annika is a senior at Hope College, studying English and Spanish, and this year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore student intern. When not at the library or talking about Harry Potter, you can find her at a local coffee shop or the nearest Big Read event.