Six Degrees of Separation in January

Blogging challenges, Books and reading

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.’

Six Degrees of Separation meme

I included the starting point in this month’s chain, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell in my own, the very first time I participated in Six Degrees, back in August last year.

This time I’ll link it with Nicola Upson’s Stanley and Elsie.  Like O’Farrell, Upson re-imagines lives:  those of the celebrated English painter Stanley Spencer and his family, and their live-in maid Elsie.  Though this is a work of fiction, she sticks more closely to the known facts than O’Farrell. This story of love, obsession, the thought processes of a painter, the English countryside is written in a way that demands to be read, compulsively.

Stanley Spencer: Soldiers washing. http://www.wikiart.org

Another life – this time entirely fictional, entirely believable. Andrew Miller’s The Crossing has Maud at its heart. This unusual woman, very likely with Asperger’s syndrome, nevertheless has an ordinary enough life till tragedy strikes.  Then it takes a different path, when Maud goes to sea … This exquisitely written book, and Maud herself,  may haunt you, as they did me.

The North Sea – a view Maud might have seen.

A big leap now to two fictional lives. Soldiers from Senegal often provided the French front line throughout the First World War. Alfa and Mademba are two of them.  When Alfa watches his lifelong friend Madeba die in agony, unable and unwilling to kill him to end his suffering, his slow descent into madness begins.  David Diop’s At Night All Blood is Black is both hypnotic and heartbreaking.

Not a Senegalese tirailleur, but a British Tommy in WWI, plodding through the outskirts of Ripon.

I can’t face anything else that’s dark at the moment, but I’ll remain with a West African subject, this time a Nigerian.  The Girl with the Louding Voice, by Abi Daré is written in the voice of fourteen year old Adunni who is married against her will to a much older man. Written in pidgin this lively, involving and often humorous story highlights the difficulties and limitations imposed on many women in Nigeria, particularly those of limited means: forced marriage, domestic slavery. This story, however, has a positive and happy ending.

Possibly acting the part of Big Madam, Adunni’s ’employer’? (Pexels)

Which leads me to another book where the prospect of a forced marriage changes the main protagonist’s life: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, by Elif Shafak. This is the life of Tequila Leila, sex-worker, and her five very special friends, recalled in flashback just as Leila dies, and told in a vibrant, moving and engaging way.  The second half puts her friends centre stage as they attempt a decent burial for their friend, and for me was less satisfactory.  Read it and decide for yourself.

The streets of Istanbul ( Unsplash-Randy Tarampi)

Let’s end with another woman’s life, an autobiography this time: Tara Westover’s Educated. I approached this book with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. But once started, I couldn’t put it down. Tara Westover comes from a large dysfunctional Mormon family. Home educated, her upbringing was tough, Her journey from a rough country childhood to the world of academia  is well-told, as well as giving me some insight into the Mormons. A thought-provoking read.

House in a rural Mormon community ( Jaron Nix, Unsplash)

With the pandemic still raging, I’m in need of uplifting reads: and with the exception of the David Diop, my choices provide positivity in varying degrees.  I haven’t read next month’s starting-point-book, Ann Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road.  It’s very short: that’s the upside when my TBR list is so very long.

Always up for reading, and recommending good reads to others, this post is also my offering for Square Up today. But please visit the Six Degrees link to see what other readers have chosen.

Six Degrees of Separation

52 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation in January

  1. I always love to see what others are reading, and I might look one o two up, but I’m finding easing difficult at present. Good idea to cover two challenges!i

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  2. Margaret, Margaret, Margaret! I don’t have time! I ‘wasted’ a morning reading up on the roof this morning and am now frenziedly trying to gallop through Reader and my comments and possibly write a walk for tomorrow -don’t count on that! Becky’s challenge just gobbles up time! But you read some great books 🙂 🙂 Sending hugs!

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    1. I know! I commend not sleeping to you. That’s when I read. And yes, blog-associated tasks are taking up far too much time just now. Hugs returned – with interest!

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    1. If Andrew Miller reinterpreted the phone book I’d read it. He’s an excellent writer, with a good tale to tell, drawing believable characters and evoking an atmosphere. Have you read ‘Pure’?

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  3. It’s fun to see what you are reading. Many of the books sound interesting. I just put a hold on At Night All Blood is Black at the library, and plan to read it as soon as I get it.

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  4. The only one I’ve read from your list, besides Hamnet, is Uneducated. I like how broad and realistic the books you linked to seem to be. And, thanks for visiting me at Dolce Bellezza.

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  5. What a great link. You’ve mentioned several books I’m really curious about especially Stanley and Elsie as I love read about lives of painters. Thank you for sharing!

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  6. I read Hamnet because of your recommendation and am glad I did. The book I enjoyed reading most last year was Lincoln in the Bardo, though in truth it’s a strange one. I have made a note to check out the painter one.

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  7. I just love some of the actual titles of the books you list Margaret. I haven’t heard of most of them, but I have heard of Educated, and, unusually, I have read the Tyler. It’s a lovely Tyler-ish read.

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  8. A great book post, Margaret. And you’ve reminded me again that I should join in with this clever chain idea. I haven’t read an Ann Tyler for many years, but I’ve just downloaded it on audible (paperback not available yet so I decided to take a different route).
    I still don’t read as much as I should / want / ought / plan / buy / …… but I had an easy start to the year by reading a few Agatha Christies. I had never really got to know her work and have to say I’ve enjoyed it.
    Of your chain, the only one I’ve read is the Elif Shafak – I really enjoyed it (but I love all her work). Hamnet is on my list since listening to Maggie O’Farrell talking about it. And the Louding Voice is on my list too – I gave it to Rachel for Christmas so I’ll read it when she’s finished 🙂
    Oh for 48 hour days!

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    1. Indeed – but at least you knw several of these books – or at least they’re on your radar already. I’d love for you to join in Debbie – I get the sense we often enjoy the same kinds of book. It does take a while to pull a post like this together, but I consider it time well spent.

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  9. Hmm… Nicola Upson’s Stanley and Elsie reminds me of Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. I do like art history / artist history books a lot, and hope to read a few more this year. Will add Stanley and Elsie to my list.

    And thanks also for telling me about the upcoming Ann Tayler book. Short and sweet is how the TBR sails!

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    1. Exactly. Silly, isn’t it, but my heart does sing when I discover something TBR is short and sweet! I see what you mean about Girl with a Pearl Earring, but Stanley and Elsie is strongly rooted in the known facts. If you discover any more books in this kind of idiom, please do tell!

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  10. Hamnet is a brilliant book isn’t it? I was gripped. I think it’s Maggie O’Farrell’s best, although I Am, I Am, I Am also was outstanding. Also loved Educated, and you’ll love Anne Tyler’s Redhead, but then I love (almost) everything she’s written. Thanks for your recommendations.

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    1. Thanks. It may be that not all these are available to you. Australian book bloggers are always reviewing books I can’t source without difficulty.

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  11. Your list has some really interesting books – I think Uneducated sounds fascinating, I am always hooked by an insight into ‘extreme’ religions. A film I enjoyed very much was Son of Rambow, in which one of the two boys is being brought up in the Plymouth Brethren (apart from that it’s extrememly funny!)

    Stanley and Elise and The Girl with the Louding Voice are also joining my TBR list, thanks for telling us about these.

    (If you have time to read my chain, it’s here: https://sconesandchaiseslongues.blogspot.com/2021/01/six-degrees-of-separation-january-2021.html)

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    1. That’s very odd. I had read your chain, AND commented, because I found it so intriguing. Whatever’s happened I wonder? Although it’s happened to me before on Blogger sites. I used to use Blogger myself, and changed. I think it can’t quite forgive me.

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    1. It does. Let’s hope it makes the TBR list of some fellow-bloggers. And yes, At Night … wasn’t a feel-good read at all, but it felt real enough alright.

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