There are warning signs: I have too much else going on which suggests I may disappear for a while. But my six degrees chain was put together a while back so perhaps I’ll let it leapfrog to the front of the queue. Six Degrees of Separation is organised by Kate and the background can be found here.
We begin with How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, who is an artist as well as a writer. I have not read this one but it’s been flashing insistently on my radar for a while. Odell argues for interiority and for directing our attention towards our natural surroundings as a means of resisting the technology-driven, ‘time is money’ society which draws many of us onto a relentless treadmill. The more I read of her argument, the more it resonates.
Jumping off the treadmill and into my own chain was easy. We shift sideways: from How to Do Nothing to The Art of Rest by Claudia Hammond. The subtitle is ‘How to Find Respite in the Modern Age’ which dovetails nicely with Odell’s discourse although perhaps Hammond’s book will be easier reading. It discusses the 10 most popular activities which people find restful, determined by a global survey of 18,000 people across 135 countries. I haven’t read this one either but I do have it ready. Both these books feel personally relevant: life with CFS is not something I choose to discuss on the blog but I will say that it involves a lot of resting and choosing where to use precious energy (and is invariably the reason for sudden extended absences from the blogosphere).
I learned about Claudia Hammond’s book through an online discussion at the wonderful Hay Digital in May, which already seems a long while ago. I still have plenty more from that festival to catch up with on Hay player. My favourite session from that festival was watching the artist, Jackie Morris, work as she talked about her art and her books. Because I have it here, I shall choose The Lost Words for my chain, but I’m looking forward to treating myself to her most recent book, The Silent Unwinding.
In the Hay session that I watched, Jackie painted a hare – one of her favourite motifs. Thus it was an easy hop to my next link, The Hare with the Amber Eyes – particularly because its author, the ceramicist Edmund de Waal, was a panellist on another fascinating Hay session discussing what it means when libraries are lost in conflicts. De Waal created The Library of Exile – ‘a space to sit and read and be’ – an exhibition which I notice was due to open at the British Museum at the end of this month. The British Museum remains closed; I hope one day I’ll visit it.
Several paths opened up for the next link but I’m going with the one which shouted loudest despite it also being the most obvious. Kit de Waal is the professional name of a writer I need to read more of. Her first book, My Name is Leon garnered much praise and publicity but it is her second – The Trick to Time – that I have read and loved. Mona is a sixty-something lady who creates dolls with the help of The Carpenter; dolls which are bespoke and are made for a special purpose. It’s a book which stayed with me for many reasons, perhaps in part because I remember well the horrific incident in 1974 around which the story revolves and yet as I read, I didn’t see it coming. I found it truly shocking.
Still linking through names but also more, Masquerade by artist, Kit Williams, caused a sensation on publication. Beautiful illustrations and cryptic clues – who would find the golden hare, crafted and hidden by Williams himself? (It was eventually discovered three years after the book was published. The story of the discovery itself and the subsequent scandal is here.)
Kit Williams produced another book, originally with no title. Readers were invited to uncover its title from clues in the book and send in their answer without using the written word. It seems then, that I made the right choice in going for The Lost Words earlier. There is also another thread connecting many of these books. Art in various forms and artisan craftsmen and women all feature amidst the subject matter, the characters and the writers themselves. This made my final link easier to find.
The title of Kit Williams’ second book was eventually found to be The Bee on the Comb. Bees (and the odd wasp) in my bonnet is by Cornish artist Kurt Jackson. Technically, this is a catalogue from his 2017 exhibition but with the production values of a beautiful book. It’s a book primarily without words, a book which celebrates nature through image and artistry, a book which, like Odell’s at the start of the chain, invites us to focus our attention on details in the natural world. Plus, it’s always good to squeeze a Cornish reference into Six Degrees.
Next month we begin with Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel, Rodham which at the moment leaves me stumped. Hopefully, between now and the next Six Degrees, inspiration will strike and hopefully before that I’ll have a few other posts up. No promises!