Six Degrees of Separation: to Write a Book, or to Cook a Bear?

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: Katc W

This month’s starter book, Beach Read by Emily Henry is one I had no desire to read. However, one summary I read describes it as being about two very different writers. ‘she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast‘ Goodreads).

Somehow, that put me in mind of Maggie O’Farrell‘s The Marriage Portrait. In 15th Century Florence, Lucrezia, third daughter Cosimo de’ Medici, finds herself betrothed, then married to Alfonso, heir to the Duke of Ferrara when her older sister, his original choice, dies. The story flits between her early life in Florence and her early married life. Underneath, throughout her marriage, her conviction that she will be killed by her apparently loving husband bubbles away. This is a tale, sumptuously and evocatively told. It’s a mixture of fact, of weaving in allusions learnt from Browning’s poem My Last Duchess, from myth and fairytale and from gothic horror to create an engaging and highly pictorial story, which goes a long way towards helping us understand what it might have been to be Lucrezia: child, noblewoman, wife.

From one woman’s life to another.in this case a wholly fictional one, as told in Laird Hunt‘s Zorrie. This is the story of an ordinary woman living in rural Indiana, born during the 1930s Depression years. It’s quietly, beautifully told, from the days when Zorrie is orphaned and put in the care of a resentful spinster aunt, through the years of her adolescence, marriage and beyond to old age. Zorrie’s is a narrow world, but she has the same struggles with grief, with loneliness that befall most of us at some stage. But she also experiences love, and deep friendships, and reaps the rewards of steadfast hard work. I was moved by and involved in the story told in this short book. 

From one simple life to another, in Limberlost, by Robbie Arnott. Set in rural Tasmania towards the end of WWII, , this book ‘s earlier pages chronicle the life of young Ned, son of an apple farmer. As the book moves on, episodes from his whole life interweave the narrative, and indicate how events from his boyhood inform the adult he became. What makes this book special is its sparse yet luminous prose: its ability to make readers care for Ned, who has difficulty articulating his feelings and aspirations.  The novel isn’t plot-driven. It relies on various episodes such as his caring for a fierce marsupial, a quoll, whom he has inadvertently trapped to illustrate his character, his inability to trust himself to explain and justify. The one real drama in his marriage isn’t really explored. This quiet, understated book may well be my book-of-the-year 2022.

We’re still crossing continents in my next book: to Europe – to Italy. I’m staying here, by Marco Balzano. A powerful, understated novel sweeping us through much of the twentieth century. Trina narrates her story to her missing daughter. She lives in Curòn, in the German-speaking Italian Tyrol, and witnesses Mussolini’s attempts to Italianise it and stifle its German heritage; the impact of the Nazis and war on their lives; and finally sees their community destroyed by the building of a – it turns out – inefficient dam which drowns Curòn and surrounding villages. Important moments of history are told here through the lives of ordinary people, few of whom are described, other than as, for instance ‘the fat woman’, ‘the old man’ – they become ciphers for us all.. That is what makes this book, so simply told, so potent.

Now we’re off to Spain. I picked Barcelona Dreaming by Rupert Thomson from the library shelves for no better reason than that Barcelona is a city I know well since our daughter moved there ten years ago. Yhis is a book with a strong sense of place. Not Tourist Barcelona, with its must-see monuments, its busy cafes and its omni-present pick-pockets: but the varied city which all kinds of people from dyed-in-the-wool Catalans to ex-pats and immigrants call home. Here are three interlinked novellas, each with a very different character at its heart. They never meet, but are linked loosely through neighbours, colleagues and unconnected events. The book explores themes such as immigration, racism, nostalgia, lack of self-knowledge: old relationships that linger on. Thomson conjures up people whose complicated lives are utterly plausible, and a city that lives and breathes without reference to the tourist haunts so many travellers see. An immersive book.

These first five books all have a single character at the story’s heart. My sixth does too in many ways. To Cook a Bear, by Mikael Niemi. But is the hero the narrator, Jusi, or the pastor? We’re in northern Sweden in 1852, within the Arctic Circle – an area where Swedes, Finns and the Sami people all live. Revivalist preacher Laestadius, an avid amateur botanist is pastor in a community here, and takes in an abandoned Sami boy, Jussi, who’s suffered much abuse and poverty. This pastor is astute and observant – more so than the local sheriff, and it’s he who continues his pursuit for the truth when first, a local girl is killed, then another is grievously attacked: the easy, but incorrect answer is – a bear. The pastor teaches Jussi to read, write and use his brain, and it’s largely the boy who tells the story, though he remains, as do the Sami people generally, disregarded and despised by the local community. This is a good story and well told, portraying an isolated community, reliant on gossip, tradition, religion and superstition to get by. There are twists which bring the pastor (who is an actual historical figure) and Jussi into real danger. This is Scandi Noir introduced into the history books, and emphatically not a detective story with added costume.

So I’ve come full circle, by beginning and ending my chain with two stories inspired by the lives of real people. If I’m honest, this was also driven by my wish to include my very favourite book title of 2022: To Cook a Bear. The other factor making this list into a chain is that – quite exceptionally, I read all six of these books straight after one another (though not in this order) since the last appearance of Six Degrees.

And next month’s starter? Trust, by Hernan Diaz. I’ve reserved it at the library already.

Author: margaret21

I'm retired and living in North Yorkshire, where I walk as often as I can, write, volunteer, and travel as often as I can.

58 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: to Write a Book, or to Cook a Bear?”

  1. I really want your cast offs, Margaret, or to be standing next to you in a library when you make your selections. The cover of Zorrie is a heart-tugger but I think I’m Staying Here is the one I’d be most drawn to read, and The Marriage Portrait. What a selection! Happy weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had a fabulous reading December – every one a winner, and the non-fiction too which didn’t squeeze in here. Yup, I think both those Italian choices would suit you well. Happy weekend. At last we’re going to ‘do’ Christmas tomorrow with the Bolton Branch. They had ‘flu quite comprehensively the whole time.

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      1. Fantastic! We’re still fighting off germs too and trying to avoid our friends who need to make a visit to Scotland next week to see Mam and brother, both in hospital! Stay fit, darlin, and have a lovely time 🤗💗

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  2. All of your links have such striking jackets! You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m pleased to see Zorrie, To Cook a Bear and Limberlost in your chain. I wasn’t at all sure about the O’Farrell but your description has sold it to me, and the Balzano is going straight on my list.

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  3. I hope you can convert all those virtual air miles to some real travel!
    Barcelona Dreaming and I’m Staying Here have caught my eye – the first is available in the library but not the second. Do you think I’m Staying Here would work as an audio book? I’m trying to curtail book purchases at the moment but do have some credits with Audible I could use

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    1. You’ve probably picked up that I don’t ‘do’ audio books, but I think this would be a perfect read-aloud. Barcelona in April – for a wedding (no, not my daughter’s)

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    1. The Thomson is quite an unresolved read in some ways, with some unusual characters. The O’Farrell is a richly imagined and pictorial book, but the Balzano has quite a lot of bleakness about it. If I had to choose just one, it would be the Tasmanian one.

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  4. Once again, I love the way you construct your chain and to see all your links. The Marriage Portrait is on my TBR (I haven’t seen that cover, but it’s gorgeous) and I hope to get to it this year still!

    Happy New Year to you! I hope it will be a good one for you.

    Elza Reads

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  5. Great chain – and all six of those books sound appealing in different ways. I’ve been hesitant to read The Marriage Portrait because I didn’t love Hamnet quite as much as most other people did, but I’ll pick it up soon and see what I think.

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    1. I think I (marginally) enjoyed The Marriage Portrait more, but all you can do, I guess, is join a vast queue at the library, as I did, and wait your turn to see if the book does it for you.

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    1. Blogger’s not being nice to me and won’t let me comment on your post today. Here’s what I said … ‘Well, how extraordinary! I’ve read – and enjoyed – nearly all the books in your chain. I’d better make it a full hand and read the Calvino and the Shakib. Great choices!’

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      1. Great idea, Margaret, they are all worth reading. The Calvino is especially great for classic lovers.

        It might be Blogger, it might be your site, I can only comment here from Google Chrome whereas usually I am on Firefox. But I know I have to change the provider for you and one other blogger, no idea why. Maybe that would help you, too?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s worth a go. I don’t usually have a problem since I use gmail and they’re all related. There’s one other blogger whom I can never comment on, but he uses Quercus, and it’s a nightmare!

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  6. You always choose such interesting and varied books, though I don’t know any of these authors. I do however love the title “To Cook a Bear” and how you managed to include it in your chain!

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  7. I like how you started on the beach and ended in the snow! To Cook a Bear sounds interesting. After I moved away from Scandinavia, I rarely read Nordic literature anymore, which is a shame. And Trust is on my TBR as well, but I won’t make it before February.

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      1. I would love to. It’s just so difficult to find them in the original language as ebooks or audiobooks and it’s kinda silly to read them in English translation!

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  8. Love this chain, and as always I love your paired images. So beautiful. Most of these books would interest me, but you may be amused to know that two of them are on my reading group schedule for the first half of 2023 – the O’Farrell and the Arnott. I look forward to reading both.

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      1. They love O’Farrell so that will probably go down well. I probably wouldn’t have chosen it but we are a consensus group so went with the flow. (Not because I don’t think I’ll enjoy it but because we did Hamnet recently and like the group to try different authors! As does my closet friend in the group. We try to avoid the same old – to a degree.)

        I’m hoping Limberlost will go down well … I can’t always tell with this group!

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  9. Enjoyed your chain this month; I have Limberlost waiting on my TBR and looking forward o it very much. To Cook a Bear is on the shopping/reading list and from your description, O’Farrell is going on too.

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  10. Great chain, thank you. I was very tempted by ‘Barcelona Dreaming’ if nothing but for some secondhand sunshine, however, it’s ‘To Cook a Bear’ that’s gone straight onto my Wish List. I listened to the sample and the narrator sounds decent, added to the fact it’s a different time and a different place, that’s a win. Thanks again.

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  11. Most enjoyable Margaret and I loved the jackets and photos too. I am hoping to get more back into book reading when settled in our new place that has the most inviting “book nook” under a dormer window in the loft. So thanks for this most inspirational and interesting list.

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  12. Such a great chain, Margaret! While I have not read any of these books, I recall wanting to read The Marriage Portrait a while ago. I love traveling through books and all of the ones on your list sound so appealing that I am adding them to my TBR.. Tasmania first for me….
    Here is my 6 Degrees of Separation

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    1. Oh thanks for those appreciative remarks! I’ve already had a look at your interesting chain. I love the range of different suggestions we all come up with, though getting to read them all is different story …

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