Six Degrees of Separation: from Form and Emptiness to a Pink Rabbit

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: Kate W

The starting point this month is Ruth Ozeki‘s The Book of Form and Emptiness. I’ve reserved it in the library, but unsurprisingly, my turn hasn’t come yet. I understand that it’s a tale of a boy coming to terms with loss.

My first link then in Carys Bray‘s The Museum of You. I don’t know why I didn’t connect more with this book. It’s a cleverly written account of twelve year old Clover Quinn and her dad Darren, and their attempts, their very different attempts, to come to terms with the death of Clover’s mother Becky when Clover was only about six weeks old. Clover is a sweet child, but a bit isolated from her peers. She likes her dad’s allotment, and museums. In fact she decides to make a museum to her mum, in secret. Gradually her story unfolds. Darren’s story unfolds. Becky’s story unfolds. This book is very skilfully done. It’s well written. Why didn’t I engage with it more? I don’t have an answer. I’d recommend anyone to read it. Just …. not me.

To make my next link, let’s stay with Carys Bray. When the lights go out. Though very readable, for me it suffered the same problem as her previous book. The subjects: eco-aware Emma versus eco-warrior husband Chris feel rather overdone now. Chris learnt to be a warrior during his now-rejected fundamentalist Christian childhood, and his warriorship consists in being a prophet of doom, rather than in action. We’re meant to find him tedious, and we do. We’re meant to like busy, community-minded Emma, and we do. We’re meant to feel wry sympathy with the Emma and Chris as they parent their teenage children, and deal with Chris’s interfering-in-a-humble-way mother. So it’s an engaging enough read, but one in which I didn’t fully involve myself. 

Ecological matters are a bit of a theme these days, and so is The Pandemic, which is what allows me to make the link to the next book, The Fell, by Sarah Moss. A reminder of a time – a recent time – when our home was our universe. A time when Kate and her teenage son were confined to their house on a two week quarantine because a contact has Covid. I was isolating with Covid when I read this, so I could identify well with Kate’s frustration and longing to be out – to get up there on the moors, at a moment when there won’t be a soul about, and be back in time for tea. Except she isn’t. She gets disorientated, and falls … This story is told in stream of consciousness through the voices of Kate herself, her son Matt, her neighbour Alice, and mountain rescuer Rob. And frankly it got as tedious as Lockdown itself. The ending was suitably shocking, inconclusive and cliff-hanging, which redeemed it somewhat, but I was glad to finish this story. The wrong book at the wrong time for me probably, but I doubt if this book will wear well.

And so to another lockdown book, The Rome Plague Diaries by Matthew Kneale. I loved this. Having many years ago lived in Italy, though not in Rome, this put me back in touch with many aspects of Italian daily life and culture. It also revived memories of Lockdown. Kneale, who with his family has lived in Rome for 20 years, puts us back to that odd period of genuine fear, when cities were empty of life, shops were closed, as was everything else that makes a city a city. But he dwells on so much more as he looks at Rome’s history and culture. If you’ve enjoyed Kneale’s other writing; if you love Italy, I recommend your reading this vivid account of a resilient city going through yet another test of its mettle.

Let’s stay in Rome. Early One Morning by Virginia Baily. An involving story initially set in Rome in WWII, of a woman, Carla, who finds herself, in one life-changing moment, with not one word spoken, taking charge of a Jewish boy whose family has realised how bad things have become for the Roman Jewish population. The narrative goes back and forth from war time Rome to the same city in the 1970s. It shows us that boy Daniele growing up sullen and resentful of his step-mother, an eventual addict. It introduces a Welsh teenager, Maria, who discovers in an unfortunate way that the man she thought to be her father isn’t. Instead it’s Daniele. She comes to Rome, to Carla, to recover her equilibrium and find out more. An absorbing well-told story, painting a picture of Rome, its sights and foods and characters in a way to relish. A good read indeed.

My last book of all focuses on the dislocation caused, particularly to Jews, by the Second World War. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is a largely autobiographical account of the author’s journey as a nine year old child from Germany via Switzerland and Paris to London, where the family finally settles in pursuit of safety. And it’s written by Judith Kerr of The tiger who came to tea fame, and who is also the mother of Matthew Kneale. I read this book many years ago, so greater detail not forthcoming!

It appears that this last book will appear at the head of my chain next month, as we’re invited to use our last book this time as our starting point in September. I wonder if I can make a sturdier, more consistent chain from that?

69 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from Form and Emptiness to a Pink Rabbit

    1. Hope you can access them fairly easily. This was always my biggest difficulty in France as buying every book that you fancy can become prohibitively expensive.

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  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your links Margaret and how you wrote them. I’ve read none of them though have heard of most of the authors.

    I was intrigued to read about Matthew Kneale. I’ve only read one of his, English passengers, which I really enjoyed, but haven’t heard of him since. This pandemic one, though, does interest me.

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  2. I still don’t get how this works but as always I admire your readings list! I read tons of 📚 books but sadly never make it to review them. Mostly because I then am already in my next read…. Greetings from 🇨🇭

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    1. I learnt a few years ago that someone with my atrocious memory should keep a record of what I’ve read, so I include a short review on Goodreads as soon as I finish my current book. Greetings from a rather chilly UK.

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  3. I love your book reviews, even or especially over breakfast in a cafe in Chapeltown, Leeds. A characterful little spot. Love your 2 Rome suggestions. Haven’t read Kneale but feel I should. Happy weekend 🤗💗

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      1. Mizzika555. Good coffee and a very cheerful friendly owner. Better still I’ve found Cracovia Taste of Poland in the Polish Centre up near Harehills Lane. How the other half live! Discovered a bus to Ripon on that route too. Will see how it goes. Saltaire meeting friends tomorrow then we’ll have the little lad in tow. 🤣💝

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      2. Oh, we used to love a meal in the Polish Centre, though it didn’t give itself fancy names back in the day. Yes, our lovely 36 bus passes through Chapeltown and Harehills – we know it well. Give our love to Saltaire. Presumably you’ll be at Salts Mill?

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  4. I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who sometimes puts a book (or two) in my chain that wasn’t a WOW 5/5 star book for me! Good luck with next month’s chain… I hope it won’t be depressing, given the book you have to start with!

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  5. Great list as always; you give me so much food for thought. I’m just about to nip off to the library for a book I reserved. I may just see if any of your choices are on the shelves…

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    1. Good luck with that. This happens to me week after week, and my tottering pile of so-far-unread library books can lead to a rash of fines if I’m not careful.

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  6. Your reviews make excellent reading even if, as this month, I end up not fancying reading any of the books myself. I’m struggling through a book another blogging buddy I also trust recommended as a page-turner, or at least I think she did, although I can’t work out why. Page-skipper would be more my thinking!

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  7. I haven’t actually read any lockdown books yet, but I’m sure I will eventually! The two Carys Bray books sound interesting as well, particularly The Museum of You, so it’s a shame you weren’t able to connect with them more.

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    1. I may have been too hard on it. I took the review I used here directly from the one I posted on Goodreads at the time, but now, a year or two on I find I have much warmer feelings towards the book. Well, the Museum of You anyway. I stand by my criticisms of When the Lights Go Out.

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  8. Hello Margaret! Wow! I love how handled this post and your links are all excellent. I am intrigued by most of them. Especially The Museum of You. Sorry it didn’t work for your. Your Covid books also look quite good, I’ll take a look!

    Have a wonderful August!

    Elza Reads

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  9. I also love your book cover/photo couplings. And I enjoy reading your reviews though none particularly appeal to me this month. I do however have one to read from a previous review, ‘Bitter Wash Road’ which the OH has read and enjoyed. Fortunately our libraries have stopped fines though I still feel guilty if I have to keep renewing books! My reading seems to have slowed again this month and unusually I have been feeling very anxious about the car problem. I don’t normally do anxious.

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    1. Oh dear! Are you still carless? That must be tricky. Fancy your library stopping issuing fines! Why I wonder? I used to keep the library service funded single-handed though I’m much more organised now. I think I ought to give Bitter Wash Road another go. I seem to be out of step.

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      1. Thought I would return to comment on the book. I really enjoyed it, though not so much the culture of the perverted cops, but it certainly took me to that outback country town in Australia. I suspect many tourists never venture far from the popular metropolis, but I like to explore what makes Australia different. Now got the two follow up books from the library.

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  10. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is an excellent choice – one of those children’s books I would always have recommended to adults (unlike blimmin’ Harry Potter!)

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  11. Just returned from a 3 day family wedding that was held in nature with intermittent Wi-Fi. Your Six Degree post was a welcome beginning to my day. So many great books and so little time, which means we will never, ever run out of adventures.

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  12. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit was my favourite book as a child. I borrowed it from the library around half a dozen times. I didn’t know Matthew Kneale was Judith Kerr’s son. I read and enjoyed his book English Passengers a couple of decades ago. I don’t know Italy, but I’m always happy to travel through the pages of a book, so I’ve made a note of The Rome Plague Diaries.

    I’m also tempted by The Fell. You’ve made it sound appealing somehow, despite telling us that you found it tedious!

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    1. Yes, I don’t think it’s necessary to know Italy to enjoy Kneale’s book. And I’m interested that an unenthusiastic review turns out to be just the thing to reel you in!

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      1. Your lack of enthusiasm isn’t total, though. There’s enough in your review to say, while it might not be the greatest literary work, it’s not a total write-off. Maybe a potboiler, but a change from my usual fare. I’ve reserved it at the library, anyway.

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      2. I can appreciate that – the state of editing at some publishers these days is woeful! I’ll make sure I have my metaphorical red pencil at the ready when I read it.

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  13. I’ve been anticipating this post – you are much more voracious reader than I. I am still reading Owls of the Eastern Ice from July’s Six Degree post and I should finish before summer ends next week. I am enjoying it and learning as I read and listen. As for your August post, the first book looks interesting, but like you I have picked up books that I never connect with, I have a couple on my nightstand, that I started, but got lost and never finished. I have an unfinished pile to read before I get any more books. Keep making your days (and reading) count! Peace.

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    1. With all those photos to take, you can’t have much time for reading 😉 . But I hope you do find something to enjoy in the odd moments of downtime: and have a great holiday!

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  14. I think all of these books are new to me, and that is always good, to learn about new books. And two lockdown books. I have only read one book about a lockdown, and that one was written before Covid-19. I especially like the photos you pair with the cover of the book.

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    1. Thanks Tracy. This Six Degrees thing always produces a mountain of suggestions. It’s hard to know whether it’s inspiring, to have so much choice, or annoying – so much to read, so little time.

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  15. The only one I’ve read is The Fell and I am afraid, I agree with your opinion. Very disappointing after loving her previous books. Early One Morning sounds good – who can resist an Italian setting? Did I mention, I read Death at La Fenice on your recommendation? I enjoyed it very much.

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  16. Ah yes ‘the wrong book at the wrong time’ I’ve had to stop several recently as real life news is so negative. ‘Shuggie Bain’, which I recall you did finish, is one such example. I admire your tenacity in ploughing on to the bitter end a Covid novel whilst in Covid isolation.

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      1. I have had a couple of moments thinking this might be it, but no positive line so far. I don’t know if that’s good or bad with the ongoing natural immunity discussions.

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