Six Degrees has come around very quickly as always, with very little to see on A Corner of Cornwall between this chain and the previous one. Hopefully I’ll get some non-book related posts up this month! Meanwhile, Six Degrees of Separation is organised by Kate and the background can be found here. After a hesitant start I found my stride. The finished chain is darker than usual for me. A reflection of the changing seasons perhaps? Maybe I’m preparing for those dark autumnal reads…
The starter book for September is Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. I’m embarrassed to say that although the title and the author’s name sounded familiar, I couldn’t place either of them. Once I’d checked them out I forgave myself. I’m not a political reader and I do not see myself picking this one up. I was stymied for a while on where to go next. But although she didn’t succeed in her own bid, of course a book about Hillary Rodham Clinton had me thinking about presidents.
In keeping with maintaining a wide berth around all things political, my first link is indeed about a president but with an emphasis on other than politics. I still haven’t attempted Lincoln in the Bardo and it seems to be a marmite book: people either love it or hate it. As he deals with the ongoing Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln mourns the loss of his beloved son, Willie, visiting the cemetery several times to hold the body. The cemetery houses numerous ghosts, caught in the ‘Bardo’, unwilling or unable to move on to the afterlife. Reminding myself of this prize-winning novel has revived my intention to try it. But I’m wary. I’m wondering if the audiobook might be easier than the written form. Or maybe both together?
Death is a significant theme in George Saunders’ novel and Death is a significant character in The Book Thief, another award-winning novel also set against a backdrop of war. This time we are in Nazi Germany in WW2. Another boy’s death opens the book and we follow the story of his sister, Liesel, as she finds her way through the horrors of war. Liesel is the book thief of the title, stealing books which the Nazis seek to destroy. At the end of the book, as Liesel, now an old woman, is dying, Death’s final words – strengthening the link with my previous choice – are, ‘I am haunted by humans’.
Books and Nazi Germany offer an immediate association with book burning: one of the books Liesel steals is from a book burning, held to celebrate Hitler’s birthday. Thus from here I go to Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 which depicts a society in which books are burnt to prevent the spread of dangerous ideas. I very much want to read this one, but again, I’m wary. I’m not a fan of dystopia or science-fiction but I love what I’ve read of Bradbury’s Green Town series. Life in Green Town is utopian rather than dystopian but his writing has me enthralled and perhaps he can take me across the divide.
My next link is to The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. I was initially thinking about books with numbers in the title but this is the one which attached itself. Elements in the periodic table are of course known by a sequence of letters and numbers but it also links to Bradbury’s Green Town books which are in part a series of vignettes, as is Levi’s book and as with the first two books in my chain, war is a major theme. Levi’s vignettes are autobiographical and cover his early life in Italy, then as a prisoner in Auschwitz and finally as a post-war industrial chemist. Each vignette is connected to and thus named for an element in the periodic table.
Thinking of chemistry, alchemy and different elements led me to the next link: Chimera by Simon Mawer. This was Mawer’s first book and is not widely known. I was fortunate to be leant a precious copy by a dear friend. The Chimera of the title is a mythic monster comprised of several creatures but also refers to the archaeologist/explorer who discovers an ancient Etruscan bronze chimera – he is himself a man of many parts. The chain is strengthened by the Italian background against which the novel unfolds, both contemporary Italy but also occupied Italy in WW2.
And so to the final link: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. From the mythic chimera to a mythic god: The Modern Prometheus is the novel’s subtitle. A man/monster created by alchemy and experimentation, death strides through Shelley’s gothic horror as surely as Frankenstein himself strides through the world, seeking acceptance and extracting terrible revenge in lieu. A book that would surely be on the bonfires of previous links in the chain. I expected not to like this book when I read it and was surprised by how much I took from it. When I finally get to Lincoln in the Bardo and Fahrenheit 451, I’m hoping I’ll find them both as rewarding.
Next month’s starter is Henry James’ A Turn of the Screw. Perfect choice for October!