Six Degrees of Separation

It was Sandra who got me into this.  I love her blog A Corner of Cornwall. She’s a big reader, and often joins in Six Degrees of Separation.

On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.

Books are my favourite and best.

I’m a big reader too – less so during Lockdown, for some reason I can’t explain – but rarely blog about my reading choices.  It got me thinking…

The given starting point this month is the only book I haven’t read:  Jenny Odell’s How to do Nothing.  I will read it, because according to the summary, it shows us a new way to connect with our environment and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about our selves and our world.

It made me think of the first book I read when Lockdown began:  Katherine May’s Wintering. This book, part memoir, part researched observation shows how winter can bring strength, and inspiration as we bring different ways of coping to this most demanding of seasons. May looks at the animal world (bees for instance), at different cultures who know a lot about winter (the Finns for example), and at her own experiences to show that winter can be far from negative. Instead, it can be one of healing, renewal, acceptance and a source of strength.

Near Pendle in Lancashire.

From wintering to winter.  Elisa Shua Dusapin’s Winter in Sokcho takes us to South Korea, to the dreary life of a young woman living in a dreary seaside town on the border with North Korea.  She meets a French comic book illustrator, a guest at the hotel where she works.  We never get under the skin of the characters in this story. But this distance, this cold, this feeling of the characters being trapped in their self-appointed roles, these vivid descriptions of an unwelcoming chilly town, overshadowed by its proximity to North Korea is what gives this book its power.

Our heroine’s mother worked in the fish market. Perhaps she looks like this woman, taken at Busan’s Jagalchi fish market.

And still in South Korea, we go from Sokcho to Busan, a city my daughter was lucky enough to call home for a year, and which we were lucky enough to visit. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee is a family saga which takes us from early 20th century southern Korea, in a fishing village not far from Busan, to Japan in the late 1980s. This is a troubled period of Korean history, dominated by its difficult relationship with Japan. The book begins with the story of Sunja, who comes near to bringing shame on her family by becoming pregnant to a rich wheeler-dealer before marriage.  It’s about resilience and emotional conflict passing down through the generations. It’s about well-drawn characters making their way in the world, sometimes with great success, but rarely able to escape from the shadow of their past. It’s a real page turner, from which I learnt much about this period of Korea’s history.

This is the coastal area of Busan. Now, as it probably was then when the story began.

From one family saga to another.  Laura Cumming’s On Chapel Sands isn’t so much a family saga as a family mystery. Laura’s mother Betty was adopted, was briefly kidnapped, and set Laura sleuthing to uncover the whole story, never taking bald facts at their face value.

I’ve never been to Chapel Sands. But this stretch of Yorkshire coast isn’t so very far away from there.

Another mother takes centre stage in Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet.  O’Farrell imagines the story of Shakespeare’s marriage to Agnes, and the devastating death of their eleven year old son Hamnet. Reading this book during the time of Covid 19 gives this story of love and loss a very particular immediacy.

I think Shakespeare would have appreciated this production of Romeo and Juliet: in the open air in Wensleydale, just four players, all women, riding from venue to venue on a bicycle: the Handlebards.

We remain in a similar period for my last link: The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel. There is a denseness to this 875 page book, with its enormous cast of characters, some of whom merely have walk-on parts which gives this tale its richness. We all know the story. We all know what happens to Henry’s queens. We all know what happens to Thomas Cromwell. And still we want to turn the page.

Thomas Cromwell still had Henry VIII’s favour when Fountains Abbey was dissolved in 1539: its roof destroyed for the valuable lead, and to prevent the monks continuing to live and work there.

I’m looking forward to seeing where all the other chains lead – from the single starting point.

Six Degrees of Separation

50 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation”

  1. Ah, I’ve got the full post by going directly to your blog, not via this morning’s entry in the Reader, and it’s worked. Great selection of books, some of which I shall look out for

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, I’m so glad you’ve seen them too! We’re going in a fortnight to a three person (mixed team for once) version of Romeo and Juliet. Which could tax even their inventiveness.


  2. Hurrah, this was worth waiting for! What a great chain of books. I loved On Chapel Sands and Wintering has been waiting its turn for a while. (As is our starter book.) Hament is here too and strangely enough Pachinko has been lurking on the corner of my radar for ages. I shall bring it into the light after your recommendation. I think I missed the boat with Mantel. Should have read the first one. Now it all seems too daunting. Hope you enjoyed putting your chain together, Margaret. Mine will be late. Temporary halt to blogging for parental care. Soon though, I hope.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I hope things go well on the parental care front. Sending positive thoughts! As you see, others have enjoyed Pachinko too, and I’d certainly recommend all the books I included this month. Thanks for introducing me to this fun challenge. Just off to see what others have in their chains.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Don’t be daunted by the Mantel trilogy, Sandra! They’re so well written, they’re a joy to read. I gobbled up the first two when the tv adaptation of the first book started. I haven’t read the final volume yet. I want some clear space so that I can immerse myself in it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s absolutely right. You do need space. Ten minutes grace before you embark on the next job won’t work at all. And you’ll ease yourself in. The first two volumes are much shorter. Tip from husband. Read Volume 3 with a cushion on your knee. I didn’t, and it was physically quite difficult, as it’s so heavy and kept trying to fall off!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this post – thank you. Lately I have got out of the habit of reading partly as I haven’t had time to research interesting books. I’m on holiday at the end of the month so I’m going to pick a couple of these to take along.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t take the Mantel – it’ll weigh more than the rest of your luggage combined and is not that easy a read – though repays the effort you put in. And … enjoy.


      1. All the same, it demands more from you than the average holiday reader may be prepared to give. Whatever you read and wherever you’re going, have a good break from all that renovation!


  4. I now cannot wait to have a go at O’Farrell’s Hamnet. I am a huge fan of her writing and her books I already own are in the large pile of ‘never to give away to fire or undeserving ppl’….. I also like Hilary Mantel but I don’t think that I’ll be in a position to also read her books before I won’t be able to read any longer.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love a selection of books, particularly ones that have been selected by friends, and this one looks good. I think when I’ve finished ‘Small Island’ which I’m reading at the moment, I’ll try ‘Pachinko’, it sounds interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is an excellent chain. I love the addition of illustrative photos.
    I loved Pachinko – I knew very little about the Korean experience in Japan and this novel was eye opening.
    I have Hamnet and The Mirror and the Light on my wishlist, along with the starting book in this month’s chain.
    Wintering sounds my cup of tea, so I’m adding that to the wishlist, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A great chain; isn’t it fun once you start? I am not a big fan of memoirs but Five Days Gone sounds fascinating. I really enjoyed Pachinko (if one can enjoy all that woe) and liked the first two Hilary Mantels. I think I need uninterrupted time for the third but I was a 16th-century history major so greatly admire her undertaking although she doesn’t sound very pleasant herself. I’ve been wondering about Hamnet and wasn’t sure I wanted to read anything so sad (that doesn’t seem to stop me from reading crime novels).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Don’t be put off from reading Hamnet. It is steeped in grief, but ultimately in renewal and in love. Yes, you need time and attention for the Mantel. Rewarding, but not always easy. Yes, this chain idea is fun, isn’t it?


  8. What fun! I’m so glad you were persuaded to take part. I’ve been doing this meme since February and I enjoy it every month. It’s a slightly different way of thinking about books, isn’t it? And you’ve made it your own with the photo illustrations. I’ve read several of your picks, though (as we’ve discussed before) I failed with the Mantel. I especially loved Wintering and Pachinko. It will be interesting to see who wins the Women’s Prize and the Booker Prize this year — Mantel and O’Farrell seem highly likely for the former, and Mantel a shoo-in for the latter. (Don’t forget to add your link at Kate’s introductory post!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did link in to Kate’s Saturday post and it does seem to have had a fair bit of traffic from people I didn’t know, though not Kate herself. I think I’ll be a regular, because as you say, it makes you think in a different way about the reading choices you’ve made. If you ever have the head-space, do give Mantel another chance. I realise I have much more to get from this trilogy.


      1. I didn’t see you on the Mister Linky list when I added mine. (That’s the “official” way to link in.) I do usually get a few comments from new people each month through this meme. It’s neat to see what different directions we all go in.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve just tried to add it, but it wants the whole htttps// thing, and I just can’t find what my full address is – I only know the internet name of my blog. So I feel stuck.


  9. It’s amazing how everyone can create their own six degrees of separation. Love the fact that you’ve added some lovely photos. Just makes it more real.

    I’ve joined for the first time this month, but I’m a week late, because I only saw this feature last Sunday…. But rather late than never! Here’s my 6 Degrees of separation


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