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.

6 Degrees of Separation: From Room to Les Miserables

6 Degrees is hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best; each month, we start with a book, link through to 6 more and see where we end up.

This month’s starter is Room by Emma Donoghue, a book which I found compelling but whose child narrator was not my favourite thing. I assume that, whether you’ve read Room or not, you’re familiar with the premise of a young woman and her son trapped in a single room by her kidnapper and rapist. The kidnapping/escape idea is what takes me to my first link.

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer starts with a mother losing her young daughter in a crowd; the little girl has been kidnapped for weird reasons which unfold later on in this twisty and unpredictable novel.

Coats may not seem like the most interesting link, but another novel in which cold-weather attire is an integral plot point is A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, in which main character Kell has an amazing-sounding coat that can be turned inside-out into into numerous different styles. I want one.

Magic takes me to one of my favourite books of 2016, All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, which begins with Patricia, a young girl with some interesting powers, who has a bizarre conversations with some birds.

Talking to animals moves us along to a weird little gem I read recently – Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou. Set in Mabanckou’s native Congo, it’s narrated by a murderous porcupine whose fate is linked to an angry young man. It’s a really odd but brilliant book.

From a porcupine to another spiky creature, I’m linking to The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, which isn’t actually about a hedgehog at all, but a concierge at a Paris apartment building whose inner life contrasts firmly with her outrwad appearance.

And I can’t talk about Paris without ending on one of my favourite novels of all time, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, which I read in a manic two days a couple of years ago and still haven’t fully recovered from.

Have you joined in with 6 Degrees this month? Please link to your list in the comments. And have you read any of these books?

6 Degrees of Separation: From Fever Pitch to My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You

It’s time for another round of 6 Degrees, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. A very complicated spider chart was scrawled in my notebook in the planning stages of this post. I’m not going to lie: it was the most fun I’ve had in ages.

This month, we start with Nick Hornby’s memoir of supporting Arsenal, Fever Pitch, which also happens to be one of my favourite books. If you’re interested in knowing why, I wrote this post about it last year. For my first link, I’m heading to another of Hornby’s books – and, in fact, another favourite of mine – High Fidelity, which shares lots of Fever Pitch’s concerns with masculinity and obsession, but transfers these ideas to music, with Rob, its protagonist, owning a record shop.

Another book in which record shops play an important part is Nikesh Shukla’s Coconut Unlimited, which I read earlier this year and loved. It’s about three Asian teenage boys who start their own reasonably terrible hip-hop collective; it’s a very warm and funny book and I recommend it. The boys spend much of their time browsing the latest rap releases in London’s record shops, and there’s my link.

Nikesh Shukla also edited the recent anthology, The Good Immigrant, which features essays from BAME writers on the immigrant experience, race and prejudice. It’s a brilliant book and one that’s so timely right now. A memorable piece from the collection is by Riz Ahmed, who you might know from the TV show The Night Of as well as his roles in Rogue One and Four Lions; he recounts the experiences of traveling to the USA as an Asian actor with stamps from Iran and Afghanistan on his passport. It’s a terrible injustice but one which he handles with humour and grace.

Another book which is concerned with prejudice is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, which I assume every sensible person on the planet has read. Her main character begins the book as the author of a blog that’s essentially about the stupid things white people say. I love Adichie; she is my literary hero.

Blogging takes me to my next link: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. This YA novel, which came out in 2016, is about friendship, religion and grief, but also features a character with a fashion blog; it’s one of those fictional blogs with about a gazillion readers which I read about and feel inadequate, but the character has great taste in music so I’m prepared to admit her blog is probably good too.

The Serpent King is set in Nashville, which leads me to my final link. My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You by Kathi Kamen Goldmark is an obscure novel I picked up in 2010, when I was looking forward to a trip to Nashville as part of my honeymoon; I like to read books set in the places I visit, and it was quite tricky to find any for the home of country. Luckily, this one covers both the city and the music. I don’t remember it that well but I do remember that it was fun and an easy read, as well as featuring some brilliant pretend song titles, like My Baby Used to Hold Me (Now He’s Putting Me On Hold).

As always, this was fun; thanks to Kate for hosting. If you’ve joined in this month, or have read any of the books I’ve linked to, please let me know in the comments.

Six Degrees of Separation: From Fates and Furies to Allegedly

It’s time for Six Degrees of Separation again: a monthly post I now spend way too much time thinking about. It’s hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best; check out her post and next month’s starter book.

This month we’re starting with Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – a book I absolutely loved. Groff pulls off a right master stroke with the switch to Mathilde’s narrative halfway through; I spend the whole second half shouting “oh my GOD” and scaring my family. Lotto, the annoying husband in the book, is a failed actor turned playwright and general impresario. It’s this theatre link which leads me to my first link, which is Margaret Atwood’s modern retelling of The Tempest, Hag-Seed, in which a humiliated actor/director finds a new lease of life (and an outlet for vengeance) directing Shakespeare’s works in a prison.

Sticking with the prison theme for the next two links, I’m moving on to The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah, one of the best books I read last year. The main character, Memory, is an albino woman in a Harare prison, convicted of murdering the white man who, she believes, bought her from her parents. It’s a really outstanding book; if you haven’t read it, you should. Staying with prisons, my next link is a bit of a shift in tone: the graphic novel Bitch Planet, by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro and Robert Wilson IV, in which “unruly” women are dispatched to a prison planet and forced to fight for the entertainment of those on Earth. It’s bonkers, but cool.

I’ve developed a real love of space-set literature, most notably in the case of the mind-blowingly wonderful Illuminae, a YA sci-fi novel by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman; it’s brilliantly and innovatively written, with transcripts, interviews, emails and reports instead of a traditional narrative. It’s really fast-paced and completley superb.

Illuminae also features a frighteningly powerful AI, AIDEN, who yields a little too much power over the ship. Also in possession of some scary technology is Ray Bradbury’s story, The Veldt, in which spoiled children enjoy their interactive playroom a little too much for their parents’ liking. I have recently acquired both massive volumes of Bradbury’s stories and have the lofty aim of reading one a day.

The Veldt‘s children are slightly too keen to get rid of their parents, and my last link takes me to another book about terrifying kids; Tiffany D. Jackson’s very recently released Allegedly focuses on Mary, a fifteen year old just released from prison for the murder of a baby six years ago. Jackson does a tremendous job of keeping the reader guessing as to just how disturbed Mary actually is.

So there are my six links; I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else comes up with this month. Have you read any of these books, or have I inspired you to do so? Please let me know in the comments so I can feel like my existence has been validated.