Six Degrees of Separation: from Phosphorescence to …

It’s been a while.  Six months, I see.  I’m a bit rusty. Attempts to fill the space in between have amounted to naught so – having ended on a six degrees in September, with autumn beckoning and the dark difficult winter ahead – I’ll pick up as if I’ve never been away with another six degrees.  I note in my September preamble that I gave warning of a darker chain than usual.  A portent perhaps?  But if so, I give notice now that this next chain is light and bright and filled with good things.  Spring is calling, and on its back flies hope of easier times for everyone.

Six Degrees of Separation is organised by Kate and the background can be found here.   Our starter book is Phosphorescence by Julia Baird.  This book is not available in the UK until May but has been on my radar for a while and I’m looking forward to reading it – very much my kind of thing and very much needed at the moment. 

Phosphorescence is subtitled: On Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark.  It was an easy leap from here to my first choice: Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald.  The paperback version will not be released until June but I was able to read an advance copy and it totally lived up to expectations.  The link in the chain?  Wonder.  Helen describes her book as a Wunderkammer, which translates as a cabinet of wonders.  And indeed it is – crammed with wondrous prose revealing some astonishing facets of the natural world and the less palatable impact of humankind upon it. 

Again, an easy jump to the next book.  (Isn’t it lovely when the links in the chain present themselves effortlessly?  This is possibly the fastest chain I’ve put together.)  The Stubborn Light of Things by Melissa Harrison is one I have not read but have here, ready to go.  It was published late last year which makes me think I might be forging a chain of books published in lockdowns but the links that suggested it to me are light, nature and yet again, wonder.  I’ve read all of Melissa Harrison’s books and I’m excited at the prospect of this one, a collection of her nature columns from The Times focusing on the everyday natural wonders she notices around her.  

Three non-fiction books focusing on life and the beauty around us; it seemed I was on  a clear path.  The subtitle of Melissa Harrison’s book is: A Nature Diary. The obvious book to follow in the chain is Dara MacAnulty’s marvellous Diary of a Young Naturalist.  But my thinking took a different turn. 

Instead I switch to fiction, albeit with an equally obvious link through the title: light.  How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny is my latest read in the series featuring her Quebecois Chief Inspector, Armand Gamache.  I’m still working through these books according to the season in which they are set which means I have to wait until early summer for my next indulgence but then I have at least four to enjoy before the end of the year.  A smorgasbord to look forward to!

Clearly my seasonal reading of this series directed me to the next choice: to a book I’m reading right now.  It came my way as I searched for something I felt I could manage for Dewithon, the annual celebration of Welsh writing and writers on Book Jotter.  Reading has been spasmodic in recent months.  I’ve learned to be careful in my choices and I’ve abandoned far more than usual.  The Seasoning by Manon Steffan Ros was originally written in Welsh.  It appears to have lost nothing in the translation.  It connects to the Gamache series through food.  Delicious comforting food plays a prominent role in every Gamache book; he unravels each murder case whilst munching on a brie and cranberry baguette in the Bistro or enjoying the hospitality of the residents in the bucolic village of Three Pines.  (All of whom seem to be superb cooks and effortless hosts.)

Each short chapter in The Seasoning is a vignette offered by those who have featured in Peggy’s long life and each is prefaced with a recipe. In Welsh this book is called Blasu;  Blasa in Cornish means to taste.  I like the idea of seasoning a long life with memories – good and bad, light and dark, happy and sad.  Peggy’s life has a liberal sprinkling of all the above and food features strongly throughout albeit not quite as it does for the good inspector.  The Seasoning is deceptively easy to read but it’s not a cosy book as might befit one which features recipes and I can see why it has won or been shortlisted for various awards.  I am enjoying it very much.

But I digress. The Seasoning, as with the Gamache series, speaks of family, friends – of the comfort derived from knowing your place in the world.  Thus we move to another Welsh offering which is rooted in community, Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.  I listened to this for last year’s Dewithon but never wrote about it.  It’s brimming with Welsh village life and humour.  Hearing it performed – read by Richard Burton – is pure indulgence.

A unique sense of place; the strength of family and relationships in all their complexity, and from seasoning to seasons: all are factors in the forging of my final link.  My final choice is another book read at the appropriate time of year – in the seemingly long-ago summer of 2020.  The Summer Book by Tove Jansson was a reread and I enjoyed it even more second time around.  Jansson chronicles the bond between Sophia and her aging grandmother as they pass their time on their small family island.  Small wonders are amplified and treasured, every tiny experience is savoured to the full.  It is a book of joy with the inevitable sprinkling of darkness as Sophia’s grandmother struggles against the limitations of old age.  (Tove Jansson is also a favourite of Paula, who brings us Dewithon.)

And there we are.  A chain of books I have read or will read within the bookends of the pandemic.  A chain which features old favourites and new favourites and anticipated favourites.  A chain filled with armchair travelling. It began with the wonders of the natural world and how we might find solace within it before shifting into the wonders of the human world where solace lies within family and friendships, coming full circle finally, back to the joys and wonders of the tiny things in the natural world around us. 

Well, I’ve broken the ice.  Posts may still be scarce going forward but it’s good to be back within the warmth of the blogging circle 😊

59 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from Phosphorescence to …”

  1. Oh Sandra, welcome back! I’ve really missed your presence in the blogosphere. It’s you who got me into Six Degrees too, and I really relish this monthly ideas swap. Naturally I like your choices too. I wish you could have been in Ripon when Louise Penney and Ann Cleeves were in conversation. A great afternoon. Mélissa Harrison’s a favourite too. The only one I haven’t tried yet is the Tove Jansson. Surprisingly. So a great chain as ever. Now, don’t disappear again if you can help it!

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    1. I shall do my very best to stick around, Margaret, as you know, that’s not always in my control 😖 But fingers crossed. What I really need to do is schedule posts in advance. Something to aspire to! I am very jealous of the Penny/Cleeves afternoon. I know they appear together regularly and hopefully they will do so again soon before too much longer. (I am remaining resolutely positive!)

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      1. It was great! They’re clearly good friends, though living on different continents, and they seemed to get the best from one another. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you too.

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  2. I’ve been wondering how you were getting on so I’m very glad to see you back again. Those books all seem interesting. I’ve only read the Louise Penny book, I love that series.

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    1. Thanks Katrina 😊 It’s been a difficult time. Gamache is a go-to comfort read for me. It takes will power not to rush straight on to the next one but her descriptions of the surroundings are so seasonally focused that I enjoy them best by reading each book at the right time of year. I hope all is well with you and yours.

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  3. Good to have you back, Sandra! Hope the winter hasn’t been too dreadful for you personally, although it certainly hasn’t been easy. Lovely, hopeful books in your chain. As you day, I hope this bodes well for the future.

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    1. Thank you, Marina Sofia, it’s good to be back 😊 As a family, it’s been a very tough time but we’re all still here albeit under changed circumstances. I’m looking forward to getting back into the blogosphere once again. Hope all is well with you and the boys

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  4. Great to see you back again, Sandra! And of course it had to be with Six Degrees. 😀Wonderful chain filled with light and wonders – absolutely perfect for the spring. Th Seasoning sounds like an interesting book, but I might get distracted by all the food?!

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  5. I love seeing that you have written on your blog once more. Louise Penny is one of my very favorite authors. Someone on PopClogs suggested her first book Still Life and I have been reading them in order ever since. I want to savor each of them and so I read many other books in between. And, yes, I’m no more a binge reader than a binge-watcher of Netflix. If I find a show I like I won’t watch more than 1 per day or week. I loved How the Light Gets In and have read the next in the sequence. I have missed you. deb

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    1. Deb, I haven’t forgotten that I owe you several emails. I will make up for it! I’d forgotten that you are a fan of Gamache. So many people love that series! You are just ahead of me 😊 I hope you and hub are ok. Things are improving here on the national and the family fronts. Fingers firmly crossed that both stay that way. Take good care xx

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  6. I am so glad to see your return. You consistently have good ideas for reading. I profited so much from last year’s suggestions about adult(in the normal sense!) fiction, introducing me to Rosamund Lehman and reintroducing me to Elizabeth Bowen. I love all of Penny’s books and loved traveling through the part of Quebec where she sets them.

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    1. Elizabeth, I’ve missed blogging. And reading. Hopefully I’ll soon be reading your blog again regularly. I would love to travel through Penny’s Quebec. It’s difficult to imagine that happening these days but maybe one day life will enable us to travel afield again. I hope all is well with you and the family.

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    1. It’s fabulous isn’t it! I shall be buying my own copy when the paperback is out and I know I’ll dip in and out of it often. (I’m honoured that you thought of me 😊)

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    1. Hi Rose! 🤗 👋 It’s good to be back. The recipes may not be quite up to your expectations but I hope you enjoy the book when you get to it. It’s not what I expected but that’s not a negative. I’ll post more on it when I’ve finished it. That’s the plan at least!

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  7. Lovely to read your thoughts again, Sandra. I’m glad you’re doing Dewithon, too – The Seasoning sounds really good – I’ve added it to my wishlist. The Summer Book is a long time favourite of mine, too.

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    1. Jan, I have several of your posts bookmarked and was delighted to see you’re doing Dewithon. I think you would like The Seasoning. It’s not a demanding read but one which will linger in my thoughts.

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  8. Light is definitely returning to Life, Sandra. So good to have you back and to read your inspiring words. For once, I am familiar with most of your selection, from the superlative “Vesper Flights” and the sublime writing of Melissa Harrison to the ongoing saga of Louise Penny in 3 Pines. And, coincidentally, these are the authors who have seen me through a difficult reading period over the Winter, when I’ve lacked concentration and begun far more books than I’ve finished. I ‘m working my way through the Louise Penny series and am halfway through ” The Cruellest Month”- which is pretty appropriate as we approach April. It’s very comforting to lose oneself in familiar, but very quirky , characters.
    I’m tempted by the Welsh cookery book. I have an old favourite of similar style, but a bit more exotic : ” Apricots on the Nile” – the author is French and her name escapes me, but it’s lurking on the shelves somewhere and I must find it again. There is a follow up too, about Paris. Thanks for reminding me.
    Please don’t let the ice freeze over again. xxx

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    1. Pat, I didn’t know you were reading Gamache! For what it’s worth, I found The Cruellest Month one of the weaker of those I’ve read but don’t let that put you off. You have some great reads to come. Clearly we have had similar winters when it comes to reading; undemanding comfort has been the primary attribute required. But spring is springing and I know how much it means to you. There will be an email very soon, I promise. I’m very much hoping it might coincide with a certain date which is not too far away… In the meantime, please take good care and drink in the sunshine xxx

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  9. Sandra what wonderful links, it is indeed full of light and hopefulness! The only one of these I’ve read is The Summer Book which I cherish and I’m looking forward to exploring the others you mention especially on first view, The Seasoning (the cake looks delicious)

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    1. The Summer Book is a joy, isn’t it. It took me some time to learn to appreciate it. I want to read much more of Jansson’s books eventually. I do love The Moomins but there’s much more to explore.

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  10. Great to see you back with us, Sandra, I hope things are better for you now, the brighter weather always makes a difference. What a lovely, uplifting chain, the only one I have listened to is Under Milkwood, and I really loved it. I may check out some of your nonfiction selections, as I am still on something of a nonfic phase at the moment.

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    1. Thank you Alyson, it’s good to be back. Under Milk Wood is wonderful, isn’t it. And short! Which makes it perfect for a re-read or re-listen 😊

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  11. Welcome back, Sandra – you’ve been missed! (I mistyped that as kissed – appropriate thought, maybe, but not during a pandemic… 😉 ) And a lovely chain – most of us quickly descended from inner happiness to misery and despair, so it was a delight to see you lift the tone! Hope to see you around more often now you’ve broken the ice. 😀

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    1. Thanks for the welcome, FF. Let’s keep to virtual elbow bumps for now, shall we? 😉
      Ha, yes! An indulgent feelgood chain from me, I love all that stuff. I’m off to read your next as it happens. Suitably prepared for misery and despair! 😨

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    1. There’s relatively little thinking attached to mine; for the most part very obvious links. But I needed to not overthink it – it got me back into posting! Seeing what the starting book is for next month left me thinking I would really struggle with it but I already have that chain completed. That’s a first for me!

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  12. H is for Hawk is one of the best books I’ve ever read, so Vesper Flights is waiting for me on my shelves – I got the hardback for Christmas, but I suspect I’ll wait a while before reading it, as I’ll want to savour the anticipation! After your initial recommendation of Louise Penny’s books for reading each season, I read every one of them from December 2019 and into last year – they helped when I was having panic attacks and you could say they helped with lockdown since I read the last one in August.

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    1. Andrea, I’m confident you’ll enjoy Vesper Flights. I’m so glad you enjoyed the Louise Penny books. I understand how they would have helped. In some respects I use them in a similar fashion – and like you with Vesper Flights – part of why I’m reading them in their appropriate season is the anticipation!

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