Six Degrees of Separation: from Tales of the City to …

I so nearly didn’t post a chain for this month.  I made a start but the second half had several false starts and then when the final link came, I was aghast at how I could have missed the last few.  By then I’d taken a step back from the blogging world for a short while, and it’s been such a long time since I’ve posted about anything other than books; I thought, maybe I’ll just let this one pass …. But here I am: posting about books.

51+T0KpkmDL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_Thanks again to Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest for hosting Six Degrees and giving us the starter book:  Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin.  For me, Tales of the City means a tv series that I caught snatches of every so often many years ago, when I never knew who anyone was or what was going on, yet it felt like I ought to be watching it.  I knew there was a series of books but  I haven’t read any of them and almost certainly never will.

But the title gave me an easy start for my chain.  Does anyone remember Tales of the Riverbank?  Another tv series, this time for children, which was first broadcast in the UK in 1960 and of course, in black and white.  I loved it.  (I hasten to add I would have been very young and I must have been watching repeats rather later in the decade.)  Hammy Hamster and GP Guinea Pig – neither of which strike me now as likely creatures to be messing about in boats – it was the gentlest and most delightful little programme; I can still hear their ‘human’ voices and see Hammy’s twitching nose…

Gratuitous picture of Hammy Hamster and GP Guinea Pig aloft. They didn’t just mess about in boats…

But forcing myself back from this nostalgic reverie, of course there is no leap at all from Tales of the Riverbank to Kenneth Graham’s anthropomorphic classic The Wind in the Willows, which I re-read just a few weeks ago.  My favourite character in the book is Mole and I tried very hard to forge a link using dear, gentle, timid Mole as the connection, but to no avail.  Instead I thought about the many and various locations claimed for the book – one of which happens to be the river Lerryn – just a few miles from me.  I have walked this stretch of the river; it’s a beautiful and peaceful place.  Certainly, Graham was no stranger to the area and it’s said that the character of Ratty the water rat was based on that of Arthur Quiller-Couch, who lived in nearby Fowey.


When I first walked beside the Lerryn I was unaware of the connection with The Wind in the Willows but I certainly felt the timeless and unique atmosphere of the place.  Quiet, peaceful, secretive: my mind was taken up with the creeks running off the river – and the book in my head was Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier. Although Daphne would have known well the riverbank that I walked along, Frenchman’s Creek was not set here, but further into Cornwall, off the Helston River.  But it was nice to dream.


My thoughts were now focusing on animals and boats, which brought to mind a very different book.  Unlike Frenchman’s Creek and The Wind in the Willows, Jamrach’s Menagerie will never be a favourite.  In fact, I don’t think I finished it – or if I did it was only because it was a book club choice.  Starting in 19th century London, when a young boy is rescued from the jaws of an escaped tiger, the book moves on to a harrowing voyage involving madness, starvation and cannibalism.  It may have been listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2011 but that didn’t make me want to read it and I didn’t enjoy what I read one jot.

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Man Booker, quirky animal collection, shipwreck, marooned at sea, tigers, young boy…. There was no problem with where to go next.  Everything pointed to Life of Pi – which went one better than Jamrach’s Menagerie and had won the Man Booker ten years earlier in 2001.  I loved the early part of this book: the zoo in India, and I never lost interest in the rest of the story even when I wasn’t quite sure what was going on at the end.

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And here is where I got stuck.  Ridiculous really.  I had a book in my head, but I could not get anywhere further from that book.  I almost gave up.  Yet it was obvious.  As soon as I gave up on the problem book and went back to start again from Life of Pi and tigers, there it was.

I haven’t read Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively but I very much want to.  It’s in the running for the Golden Man Booker Prize, having won the Booker in 1987.  It doesn’t have a tiger in it so far as I know but it sounds wonderful.  The winner of the Golden Booker – the best of the fifty years of Booker winners – is announced today (July 8th) so perhaps by the time I publish this, Moon Tiger may have won.  Either way I shall be reading it soon.


And it leads me into the ideal book for my final link.  A more recent offering from Penelope Lively, and one I’ve had on my list for a year or two.  If I was more on the ball, given my love of reading books in the appropriate season, I ought to be reading this one right now.  Heat Wave was published in 1997.  Its title makes it an ideal end for July’s chain as we in the UK swelter through the summer of 2018.  In fact, given the long stretch of sun symbols on my weather app, I probably still have time to read it now before the weather breaks…

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My chain has travelled from sunny San Francisco via quiet Cornish creeks and deadly seas to a seemingly quiet backwater in sunny Middle England.  Thinking about it, the sun features heavily throughout these choices.  I can’t imagine why!

Next month’s starter? Yet another Booker shortlister:  Atonement by Ian McEwan.  One that I’ve read and read recently, and which featured in my six degrees chain in May.  I’m going to have to think differently for next month.  And hopefully I’ll have managed a few posts not involving books before it’s time for the next Six Degrees.


32 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from Tales of the City to …”

  1. I’m so glad you decided to persevere with this – it’s a great list! I’ve got my fingers crossed for Moon Tiger – and will definitely look out Heat Wave as I am keen to read more of PT’s books. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well Moon Tiger didn’t win as I’m sure you know by now. I can’t help feeling that The English Patient – the only one I’ve read from the shortlist – got the win because of the film – which is not at all like the book! I still plan to read MT though – and have reserved Heat Wave from the library. Need to read it quickly while the weather holds. (As if I haven’t got enough books from the library already….)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with you 100% about TEP – I thought exactly the same thing when I heard the news. We’ll have to compare notes on our Lively reading in due course. Like you though I have a teetering pile of library books – somehow their limit of 12 never quite seems to be enough lol!! 🙂

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  2. Seeing your selection, it all seems quite natural, Sandra. And while I read Wind in the Willows, it was when I was a child, a very long time ago. And I do vaguely remember reading the first Tales of the City, but again, so long ago. I never did get around to reading Life of Pi, which sits on a shelf somewhere. Though I think we ended up watching the movie. Go figure.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I know, we do that all too often here. Buy the book, forget the book, see the movie! Only on one occasion has it been buy the movie. Forget the movie, read the book, love the book!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved Tales of the Riverbank, we had a guinea pig, but he was not adventurous. probbaly would not be allowed to make it now, or it would be computer generated pictures. I alos used to watch Johnny Morris on Zoo Time – would presenters be allowed to give sanimals human voices now? We did follow Tales of the City when it was first on, from the first episode, so we did know what was going on, have also enjoyed hearing it read on Radio 4. I would like to read the books, not sure when!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, I wonder if they could make Tales of the Riverbank now. It was so charming; and I loved those Johnny Morris voices. Animal Magic was a favourite too. These days it does all seem to be computer-generated …. I’m feeling rather old now! 😉

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  4. As usual, a lovely eclectic post. I don’t mind whether you confine yourself to books, or reflect more widely on your Cornish life – all your posts are highly readable. From your list, it’s ‘Wind in the Willows’ and ‘Life of Pi’ that evoke the fondest memories. I’m thinking I won’t bother with ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’. It wasn’t on the list anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re very kind, Margaret 🙂 Good to know you won’t be adding Jamrach. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for anyone choosing that one. Though clearly many found a lot to admire in it. I’m just a wimp when it comes to eating people I guess. Even TPB hasn’t got that in it. Yet…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I live in the area where The Wind in the Willows was written, and where Kenneth Graham spent many happy boyhood hours on the river, so yes, this book is imbued with fond memories of reading it with my children,. Like you, gentle little Mole is my favourite, although I also enjoyed the more swashbuckling Ratty too. And I want to reread Moon Tiger – even if it didn’t win, sadly!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I hoped Moon Tiger would win, Marina. Ah well. And I did think of you with WitW. My partner lived near where you are and we had several discussions about which river he drew on for the book. Either way, it’s a charming classic that I still enjoy today, perhaps more so than as a child. Ratty is a wonderful character, but Mole will always have my heart!


  6. I love Wind in the Willows and Frenchman’s Creek- in WITW, my favourites are Mole and Ratty–and besides the Pan chapter, I love also the one where they go to Mole’s lovely little home (how I love that description) and welcome the carolers. Duncton Wood is a quite wonderful book also set around moles (sort of a Watership Down for moles)-that would make a nice link book.

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    1. Yes, I love the chapter with the carollers too; it’s my favourite part of the book. Duncton Wood was a tv series here when my children were small, so I have seen it in parts but never read the book. (I believe there are several books?) And it certainly reminded me of Watership Down – which I read and loved many moons ago!

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  7. What a fascinating mix- chalk and cheese( as I think you said in another post!) for me! Wind in the Willows and Frenchman’s Creek are two of my all times favourites, both read many times; Jamrach’s Menagerie and Life of Pi were way beyond my attention span ( although I trawled through the first, as you did, because it was a Book Group choice.).Of Penelope LIvely, I have only read her biography “Ammonites and Leaping Fish”- an astounding book, highly recommended if you’re past the first flush of youth! I must look to her fiction.
    I see that ” The English Patient” won the Golden Booker Prize. Sadly and surprisingly, I struggled with parts of that too. Maybe I ought to go back to Junior Fiction! xxx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I thought of you in particular with this list, Pat. All the girls of course, when it came to Jamrach, but I know that FC and TWitW are favourites of yours 🙂 It’s good to hear your thoughts on “Ammonites and Leaping Fish”: it’s on my list as one to read. I must bump it up the list! (I’m collecting Heat Wave today.) There’s plenty to enjoy in junior fiction. Or Boyd, Mawer, Faulkes….. just a few of those I have to thank you for 🙂


  8. An interesting list Sandra – I have read a few of these – Tales of the City I enjoyed. I have read Moon Tiger but don’t remember much about it. I feel as though I should read the Wind in the Willows again – I struggled through it, but it’s a book I should like! And I love Daphne Du Maurier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I enjoyed Wind in the Willows this recent time around, Andrea. As with many books, so much depends on the time place and where we are in our lives. Du Maurier is consistently brilliant for me. There are still quite a few of hers that I’ve not read, so she could still slip in my estimation I suspect that’s very unlikely!

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  9. I’m glad Six Degrees lured you back to a bookish post!

    Who knew there were so many books about animals and boats? And yet, your chain unfolds so naturally. I have such fond memories of Wind in the Willows – it’s the book my dad would read to me when I was little (often just telling me the story from memory rather than reading from the book!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s such a lovely image, Kate, your father telling the tales from memory. Perhaps the very best way to hear them. And of course, Graham wrote it for his beloved son, I think at least some of it in the form of letters home to the child, so it all fits 🙂

      As for animals and boats… Who knew Armistead Maupin’s books could be connected to animals and boats! It’s always a surprise how everyone’s chains evolve.


  10. A lovely chain as usual, Sandra. The Wind in the Willows was one of my childhood favourites, and I loved Frenchman’s Creek and Life of Pi too. I have to admit, I also enjoyed Jamrach’s Menagerie, but I can certainly understand why you didn’t! I read Moon Tiger a few years ago and I think you will like it – I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m looking forward to Moon Tiger, Helen. I’ve just collected Heat Wave from the library, which will my first Lively and I’ll follow it with MT. I’ve just popped over to your review of Jamrach, having guessed that the historical context would have caught your interest. Just not for me at that time 🙂


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