The starter for this month’s six degrees is Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (2002). It’s important to include that first word. I forgot when I looked it up on Amazon and got the popular TV game which I haven’t watched but have a vague understanding of courtesy of family members who all tell me that I’m missing out. I haven’t heard of Gladwell’s book either but having finally found it on Amazon, I now notice its subtitle: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and I think this is a book that I ought to have read and ought to enjoy. A skim of the chapter titles didn’t endear it to me though. I suspect it will remain a worthy book which I shall never quite pick up. (I also noticed his more recent book: Outliers (2007). This one I have heard of, but it fell into the same category: I ought to want to read it but really, I don’t.)All of which is immaterial when it comes to Six Degrees of Separation, hosted every month by Kate at books are my favourite and best. We create a chain of six books leading from the common starter book, each book linked in some way to the book before. A few possibilities came to mind as I thought about The Tipping Point, only one of which resonated.
From Malcolm Gladwell to Malcolm Saville, who was one of my favourite authors as a child. He wrote adventure books in a similar vein to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven but better. I particularly enjoyed the Lone Pine series which featured a group of children solving mysteries and crimes who called themselves The Lone Pine Club. There were 20 books in the series and those I remember were set in Shropshire – and were peppered with romantic place names such as the Long Mynd and Clun – actual places that I was desperate to see for myself. I’ve included the cover of the first book in the series, which was published in 1943. The series ran for over 35 years, though the children aged only slightly throughout the decades. I’m filled with nostalgia now. I’d also quite like to age as slowly as those children! 😉
It’s the lone pine which sent me immediately to my next link. It also happens to be a crime/mystery book – this time for adults – and it’s looking at me right now, waiting for me to start it. Still Life (2011) by Louise Penny is the first in a long series of books featuring Chief Inspector Gamache and the Canadian village of Three Pines. I’m slowly spreading my wings with this genre and although I may be quite wrong, I have the expectation that these books will be quite warm and friendly despite the body count. Maybe I think that because the author seems so lovely. I could be in for a rude awakening!
Still Life for me suggests painting and art works. I had a particular book in my mind that I wanted to link to…. It took some time to dredge it up from my foggy memory but I got there eventually. Peacock and Vine (2016) by A S Byatt caught my attention for two reasons. It’s about the lives and works of two painters, one of whom – William Morris – is of perennial interest, plus it has the most sumptuous cover. It was the cover I had in my memory. I am lusting after that cover.
Of course, now I’m on a roll with painters so I shift immediately to Susan Fletcher’s Let me Tell you about a Man I Knew (2017) which relates a brief episode in 1889, towards the end of the life of Vincent van Gough. A book I have very much wanted to read, which keeps slipping through the net, but I’ll get to it before long. Thinking on my chain, I liked the fact that it also has golden-yellow on its cover, and is set in a period which falls towards the end of Morris’s life. (He died in 1896.)
It was thinking about beautiful golden covers which brought to mind my next book: another one that I am itching to read, yet haven’t quite got around to. The Essex Serpent (2017) by Sarah Perry is a dark tale which I hope to read when the nights draw in later in the year. The book cover has remained clear in my head, and now I’ve looked, I’m reminded that the story begins in 1893. Another book connected by its cover and by its period.
The final book in my chain is rather unique with regard to how it came to be here. It’s no exaggeration to say that it has forced its way onto the list despite me trying not to listen to its pushy arguments.
I’m currently reading the 80th anniversary edition of du Maurier’s Rebecca. (A very different experience to when I read my green Virago edition first time around but that’s for another time.) Because I’m reading it, this book appears to think it has the right to a place here. From the moment I started thinking about this month’s chain, Rebecca has been there, in my head, whispering and cajoling. I tried to ignore it: there seemed no obvious connection to the way my thoughts were going. In no way can I connect it to pine trees, or art, or the end of the nineteenth century. But it’s whisperings were insidious – one might almost say serpentine…
Finally, in a bid to prove to myself that this book doesn’t connect and thus get it out of my head so that I could focus on uncovering a genuine book for my final link, I fetched the cunning thing – and suddenly there were connections everywhere!
The anniversary edition has a beautiful cover, simulating the embroidery on Rebecca’s linen. Of course! We are back to exquisite stitching as with Peacock and Vine. The sleeve of the book is white and the cover itself is red but the typeface and the outline of the famously sinuous initial ‘R’ are in sparkling gold – and the introduction is written by Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent.
Still weaving her subtle and wily influence, Rebecca has earned her place in the chain.
This month’s chain is certainly eclectic. We have sleuths, pines, murderers and mysteries on the Welsh borders and in a sleepy Quebec village There are dark goings on amid the Essex marshes as the nineteenth century closes, and in that same decade there are artists on the banks of the Thames and in the rich countryside of Provence. There are book covers featuring sumptuous golden stitches and intricate brush strokes. And decades later, between new, embroidered covers in a golden Cornish spring, a young bride approaches her new home along a meandering driveway threatened by gnarled and twisted blood-red rhododendrons – portents of sinister events to come.
Next month’s starter book is Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. I’ve not read this series but I remember the tv adaptations. I picked them up part way through and never quite got to grips with everything. I wonder where this chain might take me …