Six Degrees of Separation: from How to do Nothing to …

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 CombBees (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!

 

50 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from How to do Nothing to …”

  1. The first two would resonate with me I think, I’ll try and get copies although I’m trying to return to fiction reading at the moment. With that in mind, I have The Trick to Time buried in the TBR and you’ve made me very keen to get to it Sandra, it sounds wonderful!

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    1. I found The Trick to Time to be a haunting, melancholy read, Mme B. Worthwhile but sad. I would certainly read it again. One to pick up when one’s mindset feels settled enough to accept the emotions it may evoke 😊

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  2. Thanks for the link to the Hay Festival digital. I was able for a small amount of money to gain access both to the talk you mentioned with the artist(amazing)but also many other things.

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    1. Elizabeth, that’s great! There is a mass of material available for that fee; it’s well worth it. I’m glad you enjoyed Jackie Morris’s session; I was mesmerised by watching her. Plenty more for you to enjoy there!

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  3. How to do Nothing and The Art of Rest sound like excellent books. I’d say I’m pretty good at it even without having read any of them! At the moment with 35C+ in London, doing nothing is pretty much the only option to avoid melting away! With book festival going virtual, I really have no excuse for not participating and yet…

    I enjoyed reading your chain and for next month – well, perhaps it is too obvious, but since I just finished Becoming by M Obama, I know what I am linking to 😉 Hope you manage to participate, but as I always say: life has to take priority!

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    1. Would you believe, Becoming hadn’t occured to me! 😆 Evidence, maybe, that my thinking is rather compromised at the moment. I feel for you folk in the S-E. Most of my friends and family are in Kent and Sussex and I can imagine how unbearable it must be in London 🥵 Still a couple more days to go, I think, before that temperature begins to fall. Hang in there!

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      1. Well, my brain has gone into complete melt down during the recent heat wave, so I can believe anything 😉 Today I considered going to Tesco, or even – believe it or not – to the office in search of efficient air con! 😆

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  4. Thanks for reminding me about Hay Festival Digital: I subscribed, but it’s been a few weeks since I accessed anything. But I loved the session with Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane, and the book which brought them together. The Kit Williams reminds me of my children’s childhood, when we had his book at home. I read My Name is Leon, and you encourage me to seek out The Trick to Time. Just as you encourage me to try the Hare with Amber Eyes. This was first recommended to me by a friend whose reading choices I generally don’t share. I get on better with yours! Such an interesting chain, and so very different from mine. But it is fun isn’t it? I’m already thinking about next month, despite the fact I haven’t read Rodham, and probably shan’t, though I normally love Sittenfeld’s work. I didn’t realise you have health difficulties: when you can, please continue to blog. Your posts are always so worth reading, so enjoyable.

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    1. I too, need to get back to Hay Digital. There is so much material to explore. The Trick to Time is melancholy but is one of those books which has stayed with me. Partly I think because the protagonist is similar in age and her experiences as a young woman resonate in some ways with my own, but also because the losses and resilience – which are not close to my experience – illuminate the human spirit. And yes, I love these chains for their variety. Even if the tbr suffers every time!

      (You’re very kind, Margaret, in being so encouraging about continue to blog. I’m wary of mentioning the health problems; think it’s the first time I’ve made any reference to it here. I’m still wary of labels even if I’ve accepted the nature of beast and all the baggage it brings. But I certainly intend to continue to blog – I do love it. Still have umpteen posts I’d like to write and I shall do so as and when. Hopefully sooner rather than later 😊 )

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        1. You’ve hit the nail on the head: establishing and maintaining that balance between physical, emotional and also cognitive energy, which is where blogging suffers. Trying to fulfill obligations (parents especially), keep a normal life going and squeeze in some personal choices…. Those obligations are a massive drain but I can’t turn away from them. Anyway, I’m in danger of rambling! But thanks for understanding, Margaret. You’d be surprised at how much it’s helped by allowing me to ramble just a little bit! 😊

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  5. This is such a gorgeous chain, Sandra, I have enjoyed wallowing in it! The Lost Words is just incredible isn’t it. And I can vouch for the loveliness of The Unwinding and the accompanying The Silent Unwinding – I was one of the Unbound funders for that project, so already have my copies and they are so very beautiful. I completely agree with you about that JM film on the HayPlayer – so incredible to see her working, and very moving too, I thought, to see that lovely hare emerge from the page. And I am keen to get a copy of the Edmund de Waal book sometime, which looks like just my kind of thing. Have you come across the BBC podcast Only Artists? It is the most marvellous series where two artists from totally different disciplines talk to each other about their work. Edmund de Waal is on one episode talking to author Tracy Chevalier and it is really super. I hope you manage to find the right mental and physical space for whatever is on your horizon. You are so right to prioritise your own boundaries. I send you lots of love and virtual hugs and will look forward to seeing your posts again when you are ready. Xxx

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    1. I seem to have produced a run of six degrees posts which feature lavish beautiful books, Liz! Never the intention, just what emerges. It’s always fun 😊

      Thank you for the heads-up on Only Artists, it is very much my thing and I’ll check it out when I can. I’ve only just discovered Unbound – remarkable that I’ve managed to not see it until now! Now I have found it, I’m very excited by the premise and have been reining myself in hard since I seem to want to pledge for practically everything that’s going 😣

      I hope I’ll be posting again later this month. Fingers crossed!

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  6. What a great selection of books, Sandra. I remember buying Masquerade when it was first published but own up to being totally stumped. I bought it in a small bookshop in Abergavenny – I still have it. I love the pictures

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  7. What interesting books you’ve linked, Sandra. I feel as if I want to add all of them to my list but am particularly drawn to the novels in the middle of the chain.
    I’ll miss your posts but will be thinking of you and wishing you all the best. Sending hugs ooo

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    1. I don’t think I’ll be gone for long, Rose, and I hope I’ll still be reading your posts and others. (I must post on A Month in the Country for a start, or FF will have something to say 😉) Thank you for those warm wishes though – they will help! 😊

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      1. Yes, you’d better, or the wrath of the entire Clan McFan will be unleashed and war will be declared between Kirkintilloch and Cornwall! (Though if you don’t feel up to it, we can easily delay for a while – don’t feel under pressure. 🙂 )

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        1. 😱 Yikes! 😱 The idea of Clan McFan waging war on Clan Kernewek is enough to have me take to my bed for weeks…. But there again, will there be kilts? And a young Mel Gisbon look alike? 🤔 👍 😆
          Seriously, I think we’ll be ok for our agreed date. But if I’m proved wrong I will let you know 😊

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  8. Lots of wonderful books on your chain, Sandra. I’ve bookmarked The Art of Rest at the library. It sounds like just what I need at the moment, as I suddenly find myself back in a work mode that doesn’t let me switch off. Maybe it’s a book I should buy, actually!
    And good news – the British Museum reopens on 27 August. I saw on Grayson Perry’s Instagram that he’s preparing The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman for display, and Edmund de Waal’s exhibition is on, too. The thought of making a long train journey to London doesn’t fill me with joy, though, so I’m going to hope they’ll still be on display when we’re down for another exhibition next February.
    Take care of yourself, Sandra.

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    1. That is great news about the reopening, Jan, thank you! Like you, it’s unlikely I’ll be making the trip any time soon but hopefully the exhibition will be available for a while yet. And thank you for the good wishes 😊

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  9. A fascinating mix Sandra- and I confess to most of them being unknown to me- and sadly, likely to remain that way at present in view of the pile on the shelf waiting to be read! I have read ” The hare with the amber eyes”, although I have little recall of it at present; and, of course, I had ” Masquerade” and the unknown title. I never found the clues, although I loved the pictures, and they only went to the charity shop a couple of summers ago. Sad- so many books remembered, but so many forgotten too. I put it down to the boundless wealth of material we have had in our lives, and the infinite combinations of those 26 little shapes- surely, a miracle, if ever there was one.xxx

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      1. Yes – there is also a musical interpretation of some of the poems titled ‘Spell Songs’. As the title suggests, it’s a spell-binding collection of folk songs involving a diversity of collaborators and voices, breathing new life into the poetry and art. I saw it performed live in the Birmingham Town Hall (before lock down) with Jackie Morris painting live while the songs were performed. Sounds like I’m selling it a bit but it is great!

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        1. Oh my goodness, it does sound wonderful! I’ve heard a few tracks from Spell Songs and from Jackie’s latest , ‘The Silent Unwinding’ which in book form is available with written words or with no words but with songs instead. I’m not explaining that properly! Anyway, I love this collaboration between wordsmiths, artists and musicians. And to see a live performance would be great. Hopefully they will be able to resume the planned tour eventually!

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  10. The first two sound just up my street in terms of turning inwards. I have to say I may be the only person in the world disappointed by ‘The Lost Words’. It’s had such a lot of good publicity but I think it will just languish on a shelf. I do love Kit de Waal. Penguin books held a session in London for writers under-represented in publishing and I got a place, where I was lucky enough to meet her and chat with her. This was before I read any of her books and I came straight back and read Leon but I haven’t read the new one yet.

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    1. I must read Leon though I think I need to be in the right frame of mind for it. TTtT was written before Leon won all its acclaim. I read that KdW was thankful to have completed it before that happened as she felt she wouldn’t have coped with the pressure that so often comes after a well-received debut. Interesting about your reaction to The Lost Words, Andrea; I would have guessed you would be a fan. That said, you’re right: mine also languishes much of the time although it is in a prominent and visible spot along with other books which are visually beautiful. But I get pleasure from catching sight of it as I pass and knowing that it’s there and the mission/message attached to its publication.

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  11. The Library of Exile sounds wonderful, I hadn’t heard of it but must look it up. I love the British Museum and Masquerade – I had completely forgotten about it and yes what a storm it created!

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    1. Masquerade feels so very seventies looking back! Do look into the Library of Exile, Jane. I love the concept of preserving these precious books somewhere safe – for both books and bibliophiles alike. Should you ever get to visit the exhibition, I’d love to hear about it.

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  12. I haven’t, and probably won’t, read any of your picks but I must say you’ve come up with a selection of gorgeous covers! I took the advice of the starter book this month, and did nothing for the Six Degrees, but, political animal as I am, I’m spoiled for choice with Rodham as a starter. Take care and be well, Sandra – you’ll be missed as always, but be welcomed back warmly when you feel ready to put up with all us again… 😀

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    1. Awwww, thanks FF 😊 Whenever I’ve disappeared before I’ve always just vanished – poof! This time for a variety of reasons, I’ve signposted it and – life being what it is – I now think (hope) I’ll only be gone a week which no one would have noticed at all! 🤦‍♀️ 🙄 Unnecessary drama! But we shall see. I’ll miss everyone regardless, though !

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  13. Oh I am so envious you got to see Jackie Morris work and talk. I was very affected by The Lost Words, both paintings and words and am thrilled Morris and MacFarlane are collaborating again. The Lost Spells comes out the end of October.

    I wish you well as you manage all the activities of your life. I can relate!

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  14. Such a fascinating chain, Sandra. Shamefully, I’ve read none of them. Though I have read another of Kit de Waal’s books, Six Foot Six, a penguin quick read. It was very good. I do like the sound of The Lost Words.

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