Six Degrees of Separation: from Rodham to …

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!

70 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from Rodham to …”

    1. The differences are astonishing aren’t they! Mine went off all by itself in part because I didn’t take the time to read up on Rodham properly. But that’s the fun of six degrees; there’s such freedom and variety! I’m building up to 451 – I think I’ll love it when I finally take the plunge!

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  1. This is a great chain Sandra. I absolutely loved Lincoln in the Bardo. It is a bit Marmitish, But repays the effort of getting into it. The Mawer sounds really interesting, and a good counterpoint to the Levi, which I read many years ago. I’ve never read Frankenstein though. I’m not very good at Gothic horror, so I’m not sure I ever shall. The same applies to dystopian fiction, so Bradbury may not make the cut either. Aren’t everybody’s choices so very different? Fascinating.

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    1. I’m delighted to hear you loved LitB, Margaret; it gives me hope! Later books by Mawer are readily available and stronger in many ways than Chimera. I read Frankenstein with reluctance and was pleasantly surprised. Epistolary and very much of its time of course, linguistically, but not what I think of now as gothic or horror. But I’m with you on sci-fi and dystopia in general. That said, I shall make an exception for Bradbury 😊 (I seem to think you are a fan of Atwood? I know it doesn’t apply to all her books but I bracket her firmly with dystopia.)

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        1. Ah ha! My mistake; I stand corrected. And you now know another – I also struggle to understand what everyone else can appreciate about her. I’ve tried; I’ve failed. I didn’t bother with The Testaments…

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  2. Wonderful chain! I knew you would find something to link to Rodham and it’s even a great link. I’ve only read The Book Thief and Fahrenheit. I hope you give the latter a chance, it is somewhat depressing, but a great story!

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    1. I will definitely give it a chance. I love Bradbury’s writing and there have been plenty of encouraging comments here. It’s always great when a book proves to be much more enjoyable than anticipated. Frankenstein was like that for me and also The Bell Jar.

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  3. What a tour you’ve taken us on with your choices, Sandra. I love it!

    I flipflop with science fiction. I think I like it but often when I get down to reading some it leaves me feeling unsatisfied. It’s a while since I read Fahrenheit 451, but I remember enjoying it. The central character is sympathetic. I could imagine being in his shoes and making the same choices. It’s broadly about the threat Bradbury thought McCarthyism posed, but you can read it as commentary on any threat to learning, freedom of thought, or these days freedom from the monocultures screens trap us into.

    I didn’t mind Lincoln in the Bardo. I found the playlike structure too strange to feel comfortable, though. I’ve had friends tell me that it works better as an audiobook, because you get the full effect of the Greek chorus of characters.

    I shy away from reading Levi. In my head I have the notion that he’s a very grown up writer who writes about big, important things. Your description here makes me want to read him, though.

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    1. As a young adult I read a fair amount of sci-fi – I still have my John Wyndham books. But his is a particular type of sci-fi; I’ve never been into space stuff really. I suspect 451 will be more like Wyndham’s books. It’s encouraging to hear that you found Lincoln in the Bardo ok. I must make a real effort to read/listen – to do something with it! As for Levi, I’ve only read the one book of his and I think others are better known and highly regarded. He writes beautifully and I plan to read more from him. Knowing how widely and ambitiously you read, Jan, I can’t imagine you having a problem with his writing!

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      1. I love John Wyndham. Bradbury’s Sci-Fi is in a similar vein – projections into the future of how science might change the way we live on earth, rather than exile from earth into space.

        I’m a puzzle to myself sometimes – I think the way I view Levi is a hangover from my teenage years. I shall remind myself that I’m a grown up, too, now, and give Levi a try.

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  4. I enjoyed your connections between your choices, Sandra. I’ve even read 3 of your 6 titles, which I think ties my record for the number of books read in any given chain. And you’ve reminded me that Lincoln in the Bardo has been on my TBR shelf since I asked for and received it last Christmas. I should try to read it before that holiday rolls around again.

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    1. Oh, I know what you mean, Mary; I have books which have waited for so long – years! Those which have waited the longest are hopefully not gifts, but now you have me thinking and there are certainly quite a few I asked for which are still waiting. Oh dear!

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    1. Apparently it’s a reimagining of her life had she not married Bill, Laurie. I’m not sure what I think of the concept but I would certainly like to know what Hillary herself thinks. I don’t think I would want my life ‘reimagined’!

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  5. That is an amazing spread of themes you have flitted across. Many of those names I have often heard about, even own some. Like Lincoln in the Bardo. That doesn’t mean I have read them. I suspect I own a copy of Fahrenheit 451 too. I was once addicted to science fiction, consumed Isaac Asimov like a jombie. Last I read was Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. The next two books of the series await in the silence of a bookshelf. But I have begun reading, thanks to the proddings I receive here.

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    1. It’s good to hear you have begun reading again, Uma. I always feel such a gap when I’m unable to pick up a book. I read a fair amount of science fiction when I was younger but I was never a fan of Asimov and I struggle with Atwood too. One of the joys of books of course – there will always be one to meet the needs of every individual. I hope you find something to meet your needs at the moment 😊

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    1. Sci-fi was a favourite me too when I was younger. Not so much now. I suppose it’s inevitable that our tastes change with time – and a very positive thing 😊

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  6. Another great chain, Sandra. I actually have Rodham in my reading list. It’s not the kind of thing I would normally gravitate towards, but I’m tempted to try it for some reason. Lincoln in the Bardo also sounds interesting, it definitely seems like something which may work well as an audiobook.

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    1. I’m not sure what I think about the idea of Rodham, Alyson: the idea of reimagining her life while she is still living it! I don’t think I would want my own life used in that way. But I hope you enjoy it and I’d love to hear your thoughts when you’ve read it 😊

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    1. I’ll be over to enjoy your chain later, Marg 😊 I agree, the variety in everyone’s chains is a big part of the meme’s success. Even if it does usually mean my tbr is longer as a result!

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  7. That’s a very thoughtful chain of books. I’ve read The Book Thief and Frankenstein and like you I was surprised by Frankenstein. It wasn’t what I expected! I downloaded a sample of Lincoln in the Bardo and didn’t like it – and I’ve read some of Simon Mawer’s books, but not Chimera. I like his books so I’ll look out for it.

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    1. I had avoided Frankenstein for so long and there had been no need at all. I was the same with reading The Bell Jar. Being his first, Chimera is not as strong as Mawer’s later books. It’s out of print now and copies seem to be preposterously expensive. Although I did enjoy it, I wouldn’t recommened paying the sums showing up for a copy, Margaret!

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  8. Always interesting to see what makes its way on to your reading list. I got put off reading Lincoln in the Bardo by my close friend who is a Head of English at a secondary school. Maybe your Marmite analogy sums it up – will be really interested to see if you receive it differently as I wanted to read it based on the premise and the critical acclaim. Frankenstein is a treat for me and one of those rare books I’ll happily re-read. Possibly my favourite book to teach too.

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    1. I can see the possibilities in teaching Frankenstein. I wish I’d had the opportunity to study it as a student. (Although I personally taught KS1 & 2 so maybe not the best choice for them!) If – when – I get to LitB it will almost certainly appear here. At the comments comments seem evenly divided – definitely Marmite!

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  9. Dark indeed, this month! Frankenstein is wonderful – when I re-read it recently I realised how much I’d forgotten, and how much more is in it than in any of the zillions of movie versions it has spawned. I quite enjoyed Fahrenheit 451, but wasn’t blown away by it. Those are the only two I’ve read from your selection, and I’m not sure that I’m tempted by the others…

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    1. I’m tempted to reread Frankenstein. It was so unexpected that I know I didn’t take in as much as I might have. But it won’t be yet. That said, I’m looking forward to the long dark nights…. And hopefully to Porpy waking up! 😱 Though, frankly, if he decides to snooze his way through this winter I won’t blame him. Thinking about it, I’d be quite envious in fact 🙄

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  10. This is a dark chain, although your comment about Marmite books made me smile. I’m slightly tempted by Lincoln in the Bardo but might wait for your review before committing to read it. The audio book can’t hurt the book’s chances of you appreciating it!

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  11. Personally, I like dark in my fiction, and I’m intrigued by some of your titles. The Book Thief is one that I keep meaning to read, so thanks for the reminder, and I heard some bits of Primo Levi on the radio a couple of weeks ago and realised I’ve been missing something special, so this is a useful reminder. This is such a fascinating chain.

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  12. Well, Sandra, you had me flummoxed here for a while, hence my delay in commenting. But I separated your first two titles ( which don’t appeal to me at all) from the rest and was then enthralled- 4 great books in their own ways ( By the by -is the Rodham book dystopian, or am I reading something into the erudite comments which isn’t there? Like you, I don’t do dystopia- the world news provides us with enough without writers adding to it, neither do I like Sci fi, but there were books in my past reading similar to yours- Wyndham, Orwell and Shelley’s Frankenstein- which were riveting in their own right).
    Back to your list or my list of 4. I enjoyed them all for different reasons. Of the Book books, I appreciated Fahrenheit the most. Read a long time ago the destruction of free thinking and reading has always remained in my mind as the penultimate attack on society, preceding only the destruction of society itself. The Book Thief- a brilliant story- was spoiled for me, by it’s construction- all those short sentences/ phrases. I’ve tried further books by Zusak, only to hit the same barrier.
    I loved The Periodic Table- so clever, but so touching; and of course, what can I say about Chimera? You’re right, it’s not Mawer’s best novel but I was swept away by it and have read it several times. The combination of history- the Etruscans, WW2 and today, wonderfully written. The story introduced me to the Etruscans- squidged out of history by the Greeks and Romans- so another thanks to the book for that.
    xxx

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    1. Ah, Pat, Chimera will always stay with me in large part because you leant it to me! Although I was aware of the Etruscans, it was the first time I’d encountered them in a novel too. And I agree, beautifully written. It’s a shame it remains out of print. I’m increasingly keen to read Farhenheit 451 and increasingly convinced I shall like it. Everything I read of the storyline appalls and enthralls in equal measure! Zusak and Levi were both book club choices. I’ve just realised that. This chain links very strongly back to the village! I’ve not tried any more from Zusak but I very much want to read more of Levi’s work. I may have confused matters regarding Rodham because I made an assumption that it was a biography – despite knowing that the author was a novelist. I don’t think it’s dystopian – it’s an alternative history: how her life might have been had she not married Bill. Which may of course led into something dystopian or not… I shall say no more! xx

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      1. I hope your links to this village will always be, Sandra.
        Mawer’s early books were published by Hamish Hamilton- long defunct as a publisher. Mawer lived in Tuscany at the time of publication, so I presume his titles were not included in the takeover by whoever took over the company. Mendel’s Dwarf is another book denied to the British reader, sadly.
        I’ll be interested to hear your views on Rodham, if you decide to read it.

        xxx

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        1. Ah, that explains it, Pat, thank you. I can’t see myself reading Rodham, frankly. But one day – one day – I will pick up The Glass Room, which you recommended very highly some time back. I have it here. I will read it! One Day! xx

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  13. I keep promising myself I’m going to re-read Frankenstein. I read it quite young and think I might appreciate it more now. Having said that, I’m currently reading Mary Shelley’s ‘The Last Man’ but I’m finding it very slow going…I’ve discovered Ray Bradbury in the last few years after loving his book ‘Zen and the Art of Writing’. I haven’t read Farenheit but he wrote so many great short stories as well as books like ‘Something Wicked this way Comes’ which I love.

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  14. Your chains are always so interesting, Sandra! I don’t think Rodham is a book I will be reading, but I read Lincoln in the Bardo a few years ago – I found it easier to read than I’d expected, but I’m not a fan of experimental writing styles so I can’t really say that I enjoyed it. I did enjoy Frankenstein and like you, I was surprised by how much I took away from it.

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    1. Thank you, Helen. I don’t know if I’m a fan of experimental writing styles because I tend to stick with what I know. And there’s only one way to find out; I must bite the bullet! I’m surprised by how many people like Frankenstein, I think the various film versions give a false impression.

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    1. That makes me feel better, MarinaSofia! I’m in good company. But I hope I’ll give it go eventually. Also encouraging to hear that you enjoyed Farhenheit 451. I feel much more confident about that one.

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  15. Hi there Sandra! What a clever link. I loved Lincoln in the bardo. I’ve listened to it on audio, but think I need to get the printed book as well and just read it again. The Book Thief is one of those books I’ve read more than once.

    Happy September and here’s my6 Degrees of Separation Sep 2020 A few days late, I know….

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    1. Hi Mareli! That’s interesting re Bardo. I’ve heard it said that audio is easier and I can see why but I feel I want to see it in print too. Perhaps I’ll combine both mediums for this book. I’ve never done that before – a first is always good! I’ll be over to see your chain later. (I’m frequently late in posting and it really doesn’t matter!)

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  16. This is a magnificent chain, Sandra! I read it when you first published it, and wanted to come back to it for another wallow. I tried both the written and audio versions of Lincoln in the Bardo and just couldn’t get to grips with it, no matter how hard I tried. I really wanted to like it but it just wasn’t for me. I have always intended to read the Levi so thanks for the nudge, and I have added the Mawer to the TBR. You have also reminded me that it would probably be worth re-reading The Book Thief, which I enjoyed when it came out, but can’t really remember much about in detail. I have recently started re-reading All The Light We Cannot See for a new crochet project and am surprised at how new it seems. I have never been much of a re-reader but am fast becoming a convert – age perhaps?!? X

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    1. Liz, time will tell with Lincoln in the Bardo for me. It won’t be until next year, I think, and I really can’t guess what I’ll make of it. I only know I really want to have at least tried it. And hopefully when I do, I’ll share some thoughts here 😊 How interesting that you mention recently coming around to re-reading because I feel the same way. I don’t do anywhere near as much as I want to but it’s becoming increasingly important to me. It’s always a battle between the old and the new books of course. (Especially now I’ve dipped a toe into Net Galley…. 🤫 😃 ) Certainly All the Light is high on my re-read list, especially having just read Doerr’s short stories – The Shell Collector. A highlight of my year! I shall also mention – but very very quietly – that I have started yet another crochet project! The simplest possible but with joy-bringing colours. I’m hopeful I might actually finish this one! 🤭 xx

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      1. I’m glad you mentioned The Shell Collector – I’ve been thinking about reading more Doerr after AtL so will look at that next. I’m also starting to get a hankering for an Austen re-read – no idea where that has come from. Seeking escape from 2020 perhaps! And I know exactly what you mean about the pull between old and new (winces at length of NetGalley list…. 😫🤣). But how marvellous on the crochet front. Your new project sounds gorgeous and I hope it does indeed bring you much joy. 💜🧶

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