Six Degrees of Separation in November.

Books and reading

Last month, I ended my chain of books for Six Degrees of Separation with Mudlarking, Lara Maiklem’s engaging account of uncovering London’s history through those artefacts she discovers lurking under the silt of the Thames. This month, I thought I’d go dredging too, and try to remember books I’d enjoyed several years ago.  What had stuck in my mind?

Maiklem has her own personal museum collection, I’m sure.  Twelve year old Clover Quinn is making a museum, in Carys Bray’s The Museum of You. She’s a sweet child, but a bit isolated from her peers. She likes her dad’s allotment, and museums. In fact she secretly decides to make her own museum in memory of her mum, who died when Clover was six weeks old. Gradually her story unfolds. Her dad Darren’s story unfolds, and her mum Becky’s story unfolds.  A skilfully constructed tale.

Mary Lennox is a solitary child too. Surely, as children, most of us read about this orphaned girl who’s moved from India to England, and about the children she learns to think of as friends? We read about how their lives become fundamentally changed in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, set somewhere in deepest Yorkshire.

My next choice involves another isolated individual, and in Yorkshire too. SanctuaryRobert Edric re-imagines the tragic and self-destructive life of Branwell, brother of the more famous and successful Brontë sisters in a book I haven’t forgotten since I read it maybe five years ago. Branwell is the ‘author’ of this book, and paints a sorry picture of his stumbling path, in the final year of his young life, towards illness, addiction and death.

Another life cut short: Simon Lambeau dies in a surfing accident, and his parents have to decide whether to allow his heart to give someone else the chance of life.  The journey of Simon’s transplant organ explores the metaphysical zone between life and death, and remains one of the most breathtakingly engaging and unusual books I have ever read.  Mend the Living, by Meylis de Karangal.  Just … read it.

None of these is a light read.  Let’s stay with a sea-related theme: The Penguin Lessons, by Tom Mitchell. I didn’t expect to like this book.  The story of how Mitchell keeps a penguin during his days as a school teacher in Argentina promised to be a fey, sentimental read, I thought. But it wasn’t. Though light in tone and amusing, it highlighted the real challenges faced, and life-lessons learnt from caring for a wild beast in a thoroughly domestic setting. A somewhat thought- provoking and satisfying holiday read.

From a penguin in captivity to a fish in captivity: Fishbowl, by Bradley Somer.  A goldfish falls from his usual home on the 27th floor of an apartment block (where he’s sort of looked after by over-sexed Connor) downwards to the pavement beneath. On his way he passes apartments in which small dramas are being acted out, lives becoming changed.  A quirky read.

We seem to have travelled a long way from the Thames in London: to Yorkshire, to France, to Argentina and America.  And I’ve rediscovered the pleasure I had from some books I first read quite some time ago.

Six Degrees of Separation

70 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation in November.

  1. Thanks for sharing these reads. You’ve whetted my appetite but … I have this pile (several piles) of books I still want to read /listen to. It’s only an imaginary pile but a pile nevertheless (call it a fictional pile if you want) and a large one. One or two from your list will go on top.

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  2. Wow! What a collection! I want to read them all! Well, I’ve read The Secret Garden but I don’t remember it. No surprise- I often can’t remember yesterday 😦 Ably reviewed, Margaret 🙂 🙂

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    1. All this lockdown and so on should make us more avid readers, but I’m actually reading less than usual. I hope you aren’t similarly afflicted.

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    1. Thank you. I hope you’ll enjoy them. I find that on Goodreads I have given them not entirely positive reviews, yet I find both books stayed with me. Time to re-evaluate?

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    1. You too, Frank. I think you might enjoy Mudlarking by the way, even if you know London not-at-all. Slow appreciation of what an urban river has to offer. I’ll be over to read your post soon!

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  3. What an eclectic mix of books you read! I haven’t read any of these not even the Secret Garden. Does that make me a bad person? I am struggling to read at all this year, I seem to manage one page and that’s it! Slow reading… not as exciting as slow travel.

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  4. Margaret, I love to read and have more books than I have time. All of these are enticing, but I took the hook on Fishbowl. It arrives later next week and I look forward to reading it. I don’t know what normal is anymore and I am tiring of hearing the phrase – ‘this is our new normal.’ I read and hear of new lockdowns in Europe including France and the UK. We haven’t reached that stage yet, but I feel it will be coming. I may get the time to read those books…. stay well and safe. Peace.

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  5. What a great post! I’m missing Six Degrees but never mind, I’ll be back eventually. Of your wonderfully eclectic list, I’m most drawn to Fishbowl. Maybe a quirky read would help me rediscover my reading mojo!

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    1. I think that would be a good choice at a time when concentrating’s difficult – the Mitchell too. When you have the head-space, I warmly recommend the de Karangal, which terrified me when I read its first (l-o-n-g) sentence. But not now, while you only have limited spare time. Good luck. Thinking of you.

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    1. Although I don’t know you in any real sense, from what you’ve revealed, several of my choices might suit you. The Bray certainly, but maybe the de Karangal also.

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    1. As you’ll see from my comments, I’ve already taken one of your suggestions to heart. Six Degrees doesn’t help reduce the size of the TBR list, does it?

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      1. Now that is very interesting recommendation as I know you don’t know that I once worked in a hospital lab. I left that job at the point when they asked me if I would visit families of terminal, accident victims and discuss the possibility of organ donations. It is something that I do and did believe in, but I was a young looking 23 year old and didn’t feel I had the gravitas required. Also, I think those types of requests are better being made by doctors or nurses.

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      2. Gosh, that’s a huge huge ask! It’s not really about the parents’ dilemma here – well, not a hugely. It’s about everyone who has a part to play in the drama – the miffed girlfriend, the lab technician, the orderly with the messy sex-life, the surgeon, the ambulance driver. It’s incredibly vivid and thoughtful.

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      3. Oh, I hope it’s available (I don’t do audio books, though I can see why you do) and that it doesn’t disappoint. The first sentence, which is a page long, may be a challenge to read out loud.

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      4. I don’t know how I would manage without unabridged audiobooks, especially this year. An average book can be made good by a brilliant narrator, but a fantastic book can be ruined by a poor one. I have a long list of acceptable narrators, but my top five could make the phone directory interesting! It is a skill that not all our celebrity actors possess! I’ll be checking out to see if ‘Mend the Living’ is available.

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  6. I loved Mud Larking when it was read on the radio; I like being read to and it’s a way of reading while driving. The Secret Garden was one of my all time favourites when I was a child and just before lockdown we went to see the new film which I think is just as good as the old one.

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  7. I really like the sound of The Museum of You – it seems a little quirky, and that is my kind of book. And I think my mother, who grew up in London but now lives in Scotland, would appreciate Mudlarking, so I’ll maybe get that for her.

    Thanks for the great recommendations!

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  8. Every time I read this series of yours I realize that one of the main changes to my life in lockdown has been a creeping illiteracy. I’ve stopped reading. The weekends when I would shut off the world, make pots of tea, lie back on the sofa and read through a pile of books seem like a different person’s life. I hope I snap out of this life and get into that again,

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    1. I completely understand. I’ve only just rediscovered my stamina after months of reading far less than usual. I think the only thing you can do is accept it, and hope that, like the pandemic itself, it will pass.

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  9. This chain sounds fascinating but the choices that stand out to me are The Museum of You, Mend the Living, and Sanctuary. I used to perform electrocardiograms on patients in the hospital. The part of that job I disliked the most was doing them on organ donors who were on life support so doctors could determine if their hearts were electrically viable for transplant. It was the heartbreaking side of that equation. And I can’t imagine being the brother of the Brontes, especially in that time when men were supposed to be the providers and women were supposed to… marry well? Thanks for sharing this thoughtful chain!

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    1. Oh, thanks for this thoughtful comment Jen. From what you say, I think Mend the Living would be a book for you – and I’d definitely recommend the others too.

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