6 Degrees of Separation: From Shopgirl to Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

Welcome to 6 Degrees of Separation, my favourite monthly-book-linking-feature, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Kate names a book; we come up with a chain of 6 more books based on very sensible/barely comprehensible links. It’s fun.

This month’s starter book is Shopgirl by Steve Martin, which I read specifically for this feature and really disliked. I could say that it was really reductive in its attitudes towards women, but this wouldn’t quite do justice to a book which is reductive in its attitudes towards everyone. All humans should be vaguely offended by this book.

Anyway, I’m linking it to something less objectionable: Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, which is about a book shop so obviously it’s good. I don’t actually remember anything else about it. Oh well.

One of the meanings of the word “penumbra” is, apparently, “a space of partial illumination (as in an eclipse) between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light.” This, along with the book shop theme, links me to The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which is partly set in the cemetery of lost books, A.K.A. my dream home. This book’s main appeal is that it’s set in Barcelona, which is one of my most favourite places, and I get really excited every time Zafon mentions somewhere I recognise.

Barcelona is what takes me to my next link: Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Orwell is a big man in Barcelona; I have eaten croissants in Plaça George Orwell, which actually has no connection to him at all, but I do quite like seeing his name.

Orwell’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War, which inspired Homage to Catalonia, makes me follow a revolutionary tangent; recently I read Maaza Mengiste’s Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, set during the 1974 revolution in Ethiopia. It’s a fairly harrowing account of a family’s attempts to stay alive and out of trouble (or in the middle of the trouble, depending on which character we’re talking about) and it’s very much worth reading.

The rioting and chaos of Ethiopia in Mengiste’s novel takes me to something more current: Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, which has been very deservedly talked about extensively on Twitter and lots of book blogs. Thomas’ protagonist, Starr, is caught up in the murder of a friend by a police officer and then the riots that come after, and it’s terrifying to even read, let alone considering it’s very much based on real life.

I’m going to stick with the idea of street riots for my last link and big-up Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa, set during Seattle’s 1999 WTO protests. It’s another really powerful and remarkable novel, and one which I like mentioning just because it’s really good and everyone should read it.

Have you participated in 6 Degrees? I’d love to see your chains. Have you read any of these books? Do you too think Shopgirl is really terrible and that Steve Martin should stick to over-reacting about weddings?*

*I bloody love Father of the Bride, by the way.

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