Six Degrees of Separation: from Memoirs of a Geisha to …

It’s been a busy couple of weeks and this month’s Six Degrees of Separation caught me by surprise.  Hosted every month by Kate at books are my favourite and best, we each begin with the same starter book and link a further 6 books to make a chain.  Each book only needs to link to the one immediately before it.  Being late to the party this month, I managed to resist reading any other chains until I’d got my own links in place. 

downloadWe begin with Arthur Golden’s bestseller, Memoirs of a Geisha, published in 1997.  I read this book a few years after it was published and I loved it.   Chiyo Sakamoto is sold at the age of nine to a geisha house in Gion, the premier geisha district in Kyoto.  Her sister, Satsu, is sold alongside her, but is deemed less suitable and is forced instead into becoming a prostitute.  The story is told in retrospect when Chiyo has retired and is living in New York.  Like many, I’m sure I was seduced by this immersion in a culture both shocking and exotic.  I’ve just learned, through this month’s Six Degrees, about the ‘other’ book, written by the geisha on whom Golden’s story was based.  Her book shows a very different version of geisha life.  As a result, I am very tempted to reread Golden’s book and follow it up with the autobiography, Geisha of Gion by  Mineko Iwasaki.  But I’m also hesitant.  I read Memoirs of a Geisha at a very specific moment in my life and my experience of the book is very much linked with that period.  I suspect that to reread it may be a backward step.  That said, I’m still tempted…

51p-96Y+0aL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_But on with the chain.  Following this line of thought, the book that immediately came to mind was The Time-Traveler’s Wife, the debut novel by Audrey Niffenegger, published in 2003.  I read this a couple of years after Memoirs of a Geisha, also at a very particular point in my life and it is another book that I loved at the time but hesitate to return to.  Claire and Henry’s complicated love is played out against his unpredictable time-travelling.  The book jumps backwards and forwards with each of them appearing at different ages as he catapults through the years.  I remember finding it so difficult to grasp the chronology to begin with, but having got to grips with it, reading on compulsively with an impending sense of doom.  I finished the book high above the ocean, flying home at night, with tears streaming down my face.  Just as well everyone was asleep…

51WWKFjjo-L._AC_US218_From here I mused briefly on the seemingly vast numbers of books entitled “The (insert descriptive word of choice) Wife”.  There are hundreds!  And my choice for the chain is The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, published in 2011.  The book is a fictionalised account from the perspective of Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway, and depicts their whirlwind marriage and their years living in Paris.  It may have been the first of these fictionalised lives I read.  Along with books called “The (insert descriptive word of choice) Wife”, fictionalised biographies of real people also seem very popular at the moment.   Reading The Paris Wife made me determined to read some Hemingway and I duly bought several of his books – still unread.  Oh dear…

61PUUNonBWL._AC_US218_But my next link didn’t lead me to Hemingway or to another ‘wife’ book or a fictionalised biography.  Perhaps because I’ve recently finished it, my thoughts settled on The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George and published in 2013.  The Paris connection is obvious.  I expected to love this book.  A book about books: quirky, very French… what’s not to like?  Jean Perdu owns a barge, moored on the Seine, from which he sells books in a very particular way.  His bookshop (book barge?) is known as a literary apothecary.  He helps many of his friends and customers through his instinctive selection of books for them but is unable to mend his own broken heart.  Casting off on a sudden whim, Jean takes the barge through the rivers and canals of France, encountering various weird and wonderful characters along the way.  He is traveling to Provence, home of his beloved and long-lost Manon, and where he hopes to find peace of mind and the closure which will enable him to move on in his life.  An easy to read book and I did enjoy it, though it left me just a touch disappointed.  I couldn’t help feeling that it could have been much more.

101243-MMy next choice is A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett which was published in 1905.  An aunt and uncle very dear to me gave me this book when I was young, and I know my aunt had picked it out for me with great care, just as Jean Perdu selected books for his customers that he knew would speak to their hearts.  My life was of course, nothing like Sara Crewe’s, but oh, how I identified with her!  It was an inspired choice! Quite why I identified with this orphaned girl who was so badly treated at a boarding school is lost to time.  But I notice that Amazon describes Sara as an exceptionally intelligent and imaginative student: that’s probably the reason! 😀

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707Musing on childhood reading brought to mind a very recently published book that has appeared on one or two blogs lately and which I am very much looking forward to reading:  Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan.   I was a dreamy, voracious reader as a child and childhood books still hold a special place for me.  I know I will love this trip down memory lane, both for books that I loved as a child and those I loved reading to my own children.

From here I jump to the books of Lucy M Montgomery – a prolific children’s author though I never read any of her books as a child.   I finally came to Anne of Green Gables just a few years ago and I was captivated and read the entire series.  They may be children’s literature but there’s an ageless appeal to Montgomery’s writing: the descriptions of nature, the wonderful characters, Anne’s irrepressible and imaginative spirit.  (On reflection I’d much rather identify with Anne of Green Gables than with Sara Crewe!)  However, the book I’m adding to the chain download (1)is not from the Green Gables stable.  I’m adding The Blue Castle – which I started reading last November and have yet to finish.  Published in 1926, it’s one of Montgomery’s few books for an adult audience.  Valency Stirling, having received some distressing news about her health, turns away from her restricted, repressed family and becomes a rebellious free spirit.  I was enjoying this book last year and can’t think why I got distracted from it.  I’m inspired again now to start from the beginning and read it through before the year is out.

The Anne books are of course set on Prince Edward Island off the eastern coast of Canada.  (The Blue Castle is the only one of Montgomery’s books set entirely outside Prince Edward Island.)  We very nearly got there last year – one day we will make that trip.  As part of the plan for the holiday that never happened I was drawn to a wonderful holiday home on Grand Manan, an island which was also to be a stop on our tour.  Only as I read about this beautiful house did I learn that it was the 220px-TheOldBeautyAndOthershouse used by the author Willa Cather as her summer home.  She would write here through the summers of 1922 to 1939.  I have yet to read anything by Willa Cather despite reading so much about how wonderful her books are.  I could choose from a number of her famous and prize-winning novels as my final link in the chain but I’m choosing instead The Old Beauty and Others: a collection of 3 short stories published in 1948, the year after her death.  One of those stories, Before Breakfast, is one of the last that she wrote, and is set on Grand Manon.  It seems fitting.  And hopefully one day I’ll read on Grand Manon, in her former home.

My chain this month seems particularly personal.  There’s a strong focus on female protagonists and books that have particular personal resonance.  As well as a spot of time traveling, I’ve visited Japan, spent time in Paris, cruised the waterways of France and lingered in Atlantic Canada.  I would never have guessed at any of these titles appearing when I knew what the starting book would be.

Next month’s starter is also a book with personal resonance but for different reasons entirely.  The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is one of my daughter’s absolute favourites and she has tried in vain a number of times to get me to try it.   Why I can’t read it remains a mystery but it will be an interesting starting point next month!

 

 

41 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from Memoirs of a Geisha to …”

  1. I love the way you’ve linked the titles, Sandra, and also your choice of books. There are a couple on your list I would very much like to read. I too like the sound of ‘Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading’. I’ve always found Lucy Mangan’s articles in The Guardian perceptive and extremely funny, so I would be intrigued to know your thoughts. Hope all is well in beautiful Cornwall. The sun is actually shining on North Wales today and there are comma butterflies flitting past my window. Long may it last! 😎

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    1. We had hazy sunshine yesterday, Paula – rain today. But the seasons have definitely turned and we’re promised wonderful weather in a few days’ time. (My weather app is good at offering such promise…) I’m looking forward to Lucy Mangan’s book. I’ve never come across her Guardian articles which surprises me as I read the paper online. I need to search them out!

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      1. Lucy Mangan at one time had her own column in the Guardian Weekend magazine, which came out on a Saturday. Her features were a sort of tongue-in-cheek look at different topics of interest each week (she was particularly keen on NHS-related stuff because, if I remember rightly, her mum worked within the health service). She wrote very amusingly about her family and husband (whom she always referred to as ‘Tory Boy’). There’s a link here to some of her more recent stuff: https://www.theguardian.com/profile/lucymangan 😊

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  2. Apart of course from Bookworm, I’m astonished to find I’ve read none of the books you talk about this month. However, I’m going to go for the Kingsolver as I have exactly the same problem as you with it. It’s in a bookcase and I’m going to look for it NOW!

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      1. I read The Poisonwood Bible with an online reading group when it was first published. I probably wouldn’t have picked up on it if it hadn’t been selected by others. I know people tend to have quite extreme views (either good or bad) about this novel, but I liked it very much as the narrative was so compelling. Fascinating characters, too!

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  3. I was so interested in your chain. My late aunt Sybil had a copy of A Little Princess as a child and an associated doll that she loved. (I think Shirley Temple played the lead in a movie during the 1930’s.) Although my aunt grew up, she wanted to keep the book and doll. But, my grandmother gave them both away and my aunt was bereft with their loss.

    And, ….the Poisonwood Bible. I read it dutifully and did not like it. It has an appeal to women younger than me, but I can’t seem to grasp the reason for the appeal. A dear friend told me that her daughter’s book club liked it so well that they read it and discussed it twice! She and I just shook our heads in amazement that anyone would want to read it twice.

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    1. I can understand your aunt’s sadness, Deb. I went to look for my copy when writing this post – and I no longer have it. Where did it go? I have so little left from my childhood; it really makes me wish I’d been a real hoarder. As for the Kingsolver – you may have helped to answer the mystery. Perhaps it’s simply a book for a younger generation.

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  4. I love personal chains, that have a special resonance for you. So I think your chain is quite perfect, and worry not about it being late, as I often am late myself! I absolutely adored A Little Princess as a child too and insisted on reading it out loud to my mother when she was preparing dinner. At which she would tell me that the book reminded her too much of her childhood…

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    1. In writing this post I’ve discovered that I no longer have my copy, Marina Sofia, which saddens me greatly. I went to look for it yesterday, knowing there was an inscription from my aunt on the inside cover – and it’s nowhere to be found. Today, my cousin has reminded me, would have been my aunt’s 93rd birthday. Poignant connections 🙂

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  5. I read Cather’s “Death Comes For The Archbishop” in Santa Fe when I was staying near the cathedral. Grand Manan is wonderful. We just went for the day on a ferry full of all the goods and services going there that early morning. It reminded me of the 1950’s. Got so intrigued in Nova Scotia we never got over to P.E.I either. Cornwall is out this year, unfortunately. Too many challenges here. I’m couldn’t stand that Kingsolver book, for what it’s worth.

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    1. Elizabeth, there seems to be a consensus here among those of us of a certain age, that the Kingsolver doesn’t appeal. Fascinating! Thank you so much for the thoughts on Grand Manon and Nova Scotia – I do hope we manage it eventually.

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      1. Mmm. I wonder if the appeal is age-related? Looking at my copy, it was published in 1998, which would’ve made me about 33 at the time – not exactly a teenager, but young enough, I suppose. I haven’t read it since, so it’s possible I would appreciate it less now. Interesting!

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        1. I would have been almost exactly the same age, Paula. My daughter, who loves this book, would have been just 17. I’ve picked it up several times over the years but it just hasn’t appealed: there’s always been something more enticing. I was glad to hear that Margaret (further down this thread) did enjoy the book though, suggesting it’s more a matter of personal taste than age bias!

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      2. Grand Manon is reached from New Brunswick. We stayed in St. Andrews, a lovely town with lots of artists. In Nova Scotia we went to Cape Breton and stayed in a cottage and explored. Nova Scotia is wonderful. Even Halifax the “big city” is welcoming, full of art and good food.

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  6. A lovely chain as usual, Sandra! I don’t think I ever read A Little Princess, but I probably should have done as I loved The Secret Garden as a child. The Lucy Mangan book does sound good, doesn’t it? I’m hoping to read it soon too.

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  7. Enjoyed your chain as always, and as always have read hardly any of them. In fact, only one, The Time-Traveller’s Wife (which I’m afraid didn’t work as well for me as it did for you). But I did identify with Anne as a child – in fact, I still do! Always on the lookout for kindred spirits… 😀

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    1. Ha ha, I can just imagine you as Anne….. 😉 And I can equally see why The Time-Traveler’s Wife wouldn’t be your cup of tea. Off to read your chain in a mo. (Waaaay behind on reading and writing posts right now)

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  8. A fascinating chain, Sandra. The only ones I’ve read are Bookworm, which I loved and The Time-Traveler’s Wife and I was just thinking I must be one of the few people who didn’t love it and then I read FF’s comment – I’d go further, I found it disappointing and irritating.

    I loved The Secret Garden as a child but haven’t read any of Burnett’s other books although I have got a couple on my Kindle. I’ve read two of Cather’s books, A Lost Lady and My Antonia, both good, although I preferred A Lost Lady. I hope you enjoy The Poisonwood Bible if you do read it – it’s also one of my favourites.

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    1. Margaret, you’re the first here to have liked the Poisonwood Bible; I’m glad you’ve redressed the balance! The Time-Traveler’s Wife is very much a marmite book I think: love it or hate it. But everyone seems keen on Bookworm – and I’m sure I will be too 🙂

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  9. This is a fabulous chain, Sandra. I read the Anne books as a child but didn’t know Lucy Montgomery had written anything for an adult audience. I’m going to seek that one out. I’m also interested in The Paris Wife. I’ve read Mrs Hemingway, which imagines marriage to Ernest from the perspective of each of his four wives. Hadley’s story made me feel sad. I only recently discovered Willa Cather and am keen to read more by her, so that collection of short stories is also going on my wishlist!

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    1. Thank you, Jan 🙂 And thank you for reminding me of Mrs Hemingway; I want to read that one too and it had slipped off my radar. There are simply too many books to keep track of (let alone find time to read)!

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  10. Thank you for the comment on our même. Medicine Walk is a beautiful book, very well written and poignamt. I enjoyed reading your Six Deggrees même, so much detail and so personal. I do hope you get to PEI one day. It is a pretty area of Canada and the people are very friendly.

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  11. I’ve enjoyed the way you’ve linked the books because each of them was meaningful to you at a particular time or age. I’ve read most of these and enjoyed them (at the right time and age for me, too). I’ve never read The Blue Castle, but L.M. Montgomery is one of those authors we will never grow out of, also looking forward to getting my hand on Bookworm sometime.

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    1. It fascinates me how important it can be to come to a book at the right time and in the right place. It makes for an extra special – and more memorable – reading experience when everything aligns 🙂

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