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Six degrees of separation, FROM Rodham TO …

September 5, 2020

Woo hoo, it’s spring here down under, and in my street we have yellow wattles and daffodils blooming, plus pink prunus trees and white Manchurian pears. Bright spots in difficult times, and it does the heart good. However, I’m not here to talk about that but for this months Six Degrees of Separation meme.  As always, if you don’t know this meme and how it works, please check out meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

Book coverOnce again, the starting book is one I haven’t read, though unlike last month’s, I have heard of the author. The book is American author Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham. According to GoodReads it “imagines a deeply compelling what-might-have-been: What if Hillary Rodham hadn’t married Bill Clinton?” However, this is not where I’m going to go.

Jo Baker, LongbournI said that I have heard of Curtis Sittenfeld, and the reason is because of her involvement in The Austen Project, her contribution being Eligible, a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and prejudice. My first link is from this to another retelling of Pride and prejudice, Jo Baker’s Longbourn (my review).

Elizabeth Harrower, In certain circlesLongbourn was, I discovered, one of many books presented in England’s BBC4’s Books at Bedtime program. I was surprised to discover that another book broadcast on this program was our own (I mean Australia’s own) Elizabeth Harrower’s In certain circles (my review). How great is that!

And now, just to mix it up a bit, I’m going to link on circles and the fact that the circle is a symbol of infinity. This brought me to John Banville’s The infinities (my review). 

Rebecca Skloot, The immortal life of Henrietta LacksTwo main characters in The infinities can be described as infinite, meaning, in part, that they are immortal – the gods Hermes and Zeus. Gods aren’t the only things that are immortal. Cells can be too, as I learnt in Rebecca Skloot’s fascinating, heartrending, The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks (my review).

Maxine Beneba Clarke, The hate raceThe story of African-American Henrietta Lacks’ cells should be a good one. After all, her cells have gone on to produce some significant medical advances. However, the way the cells were taken and used is a story of both ingrained medical arrogance and ongoing racism whereby the human behind these cells and her family were continually ignored and discounted. A closer-to-home book about the experience of racism is Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The hate race (my review).

Book coverMaxine Beneba Clarke’s heritage is mixed, her mother being Guyanese and her father Jamaican (Caribbean). Indigenous Australian author Tony Birch, like many of us, has mixed heritage. He claims a Barbadian (Caribbean) convict amongst his ancestry! I can’t resist making that my last link, though I could also link on the fact that Birch’s writing deals with racism. His most recent novel, The white girl (my review), deals very specifically with racism in contemporary rural and urban Australia.

I’ve been very narrow in my travels this month, staying in English-speaking countries, and keeping (mostly) to the last 100 years. I’ve returned to my usual gender breakdown – two men and four women. I started with what has been described as a “what if” imaginary novel, but I ended, unfortunately, with a novel that is far too real.

Now the usual: Have you read Rodham? And, regardless, what would you link to? 

54 Comments leave one →
  1. September 5, 2020 10:16

    Some great titles in your chain, Sue. I’ve read The Hate Race and The White Girl, and have the Banville and Harrower in my TBR.

    • September 5, 2020 11:41

      Thanks kimbofo. The Banville is weirder than others of us I think, but an interesting read because of that.

  2. September 5, 2020 11:46

    Well played Sue! I linked to Eligible, but further down in my chain.

  3. September 5, 2020 11:58

    Ha! Quite by accident because I didn’t even count them till reading this, my chain has the same gender breakdown, though I’ve used one author twice.
    Here’s my chain:

    • September 5, 2020 13:02

      I never count them till I finish Lisa but I always check them for my conclusion. Just for fun really!

      • September 5, 2020 13:24

        I think that’s how it should be. If we are reading widely across all the diversity issues then they will crop up naturally.

        • September 5, 2020 15:53

          It’s useful to check though, isn’t it, because you can see whether you are reading as widely as you would like. I know I’m not … but checking in places like this, and at the end of the year particularly, helps keep my broad goals in my mind (even if things get in the way of achieving them!)

  4. George permalink
    September 5, 2020 12:11

    I would be interested to learn who would have imagined HRC to be a politician if she hadn’t married one. Nobody doubts her intelligence or her legal ability; but the law and politics, however often they run together, are still very different trades.

    That said, degree one is The Collected Poems of T.S. Eliot for the line in La Figlia che Piange: “And I wonder how they should have been together!/I should have lost a gesture and a pose.”–if we can imagine two apart, we can imagine two together.

    Degree two will be Lord Byron’s Collected Poems, for he wrote to Thomas Moore February 29, 1816 of being ‘at war “with all the world and his wife;” or rather, “all the world and mywife are at war with me.’

    Degree three, John Williams’s now unavoidable Stoner, about an academic who is troubled by his–not especially believable–wife.

    Degree four will be Alison Lurie’s The War Between the Tates, adultery, divorce, and a hinted reconciliation in a college town in upstate New York. Here the academic’s scholarly life is less presented than in Stoner, but the wife is much more believable.

    Degree five will be Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man, where at least the academic’s wife has a good time until her boyfriend gets a job in America.

    Degree six will be David Lodge’s Souls and Bodies (published in England as How Far Can You Go?) where the academic is faithful to his wife, but is left with the feeling that in a properly dramatic setting it should be the professor and not the engineer/businessman who runs off with a young woman.

    Degree seven, since we are tending back in the direction of stability, might as well be War and Peace, since it winds up with not one but two happily married couples.

    I have not read Rodham. There must be great political novels out there–I haven’t read Trollope’s ones–but most of the ones nominated for the title–All the King’s Men, for example–aren’t great. Henry and Marian Adams’s Democracy is very readable, but slight.

    • September 5, 2020 13:07

      Love your opening George….and love that I know more of your links than usual, though I haven’t read your specific choices, not even Stoner.

      As for great political novels… First we’d have to define our terms? How broadly do we define politics?

      • George permalink
        September 6, 2020 07:37

        What I think of as political novels are those set in the world of (electoral) politics. There can be something of the roman-a-clef about them: All the King’s Men has a southerner governor similar in some respects to Huey Long, and the secretary of state in Democracy looks a great deal like James Blaine. (I understand that both names have more resonance here than in the rest of the English-speaking world.) One could also regard as political novels that look at a society in crisis, e.g. Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers or A Flag for Sunrise, or Heinrich Mann’s Man of Straw.

        I live in Washington, D.C., which generates a stream of novels meeting the first definition. The 20th Century archetype might be Alan Drury’s Advise and Consent, certainly a page-turner but not a literary masterpiece.

        • September 6, 2020 08:09

          Thanks very much George. I’m glad you responded. I was thinking that I could define many novels the second way, more or less depending on how specific the crisis needs to be.

          Re the former, the most recent I’ve read is a political thriller, Bruny by Heather Rose. It was good though being in the thriller vein had a little more sop to genre than l’d prefer. I wonder though what you think about those novels about dictator regimes, eg Mario Vargas Llosa’s Feast of the goat.

        • September 6, 2020 08:10

          Ps I don’t know Alan Drury’s book. I think we are getting a few more political thrillers set in our capital city now, but not many still.

  5. September 5, 2020 13:01

    What a fascinating chain, I’ve read Eligible and several books for the Jane Austen Project but the others I’ll need to check out

  6. September 5, 2020 14:41

    Very interesting chain. When I got to what you said about Henrietta, I realized that if that had been on my chain, my next book would have been “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” because of the way that the protagonist is experimented upon to rid her of the blue tint to her skin.

    • September 5, 2020 15:54

      Oh, that sounds like an interesting book, then, Davida. I love its title.

      • Neil@kallaroo permalink
        September 5, 2020 20:04

        Just finished reading it half an hour ago. Is a little rough in spots (sloppy editing?), but the story is quite interesting. Shares the same background as The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes, which I’ve also just read, and was mentioned in the comments for your blog about libraries. I enjoyed both, and Moyes is the better writer (or has a better editor), but Book Woman strikes me as being more realistic.

        • September 5, 2020 20:14

          Thanks Neil. I’ll take your word for it as I haven’t Reid either. I like your point about the editor

        • September 5, 2020 21:31

          I disagree with Neil. From what I read of the Moyes book online, and after reading Troublesome Creek… I didn’t care much for the Moyes book at all… it felt… fake and flat. Plus, I’m convinced that Moyes stole from Richardson for her book.

        • September 5, 2020 23:04

          Thanks Davida, as I’ve said I hadn’t heard anything about these.

        • September 5, 2020 21:30

          Okay so… I won’t read the Moyes because I think she stole from Richardson’s book, which is VERY realistic, and the opening scene in Moyes book is almost word for word a scene in Troublesome Creek. Buzzfeed wrote it all up, showed all the passages that matched, and I am convinced Moyes is guilty. Now, when I read the excerpt from Moyes’ book, well… I didn’t find it to be at all well written. But hey, no two people read the same book, right?

        • September 5, 2020 23:03

          Ah, I don’t know anything about these two books. Didn’t know anything about a controversy. I think I’m living in a bubble.

        • September 5, 2020 23:15

          There… I just burst it for you. Sorry!

        • September 6, 2020 07:51

          Haha, no need to apologise Davida. I need to get my head out of the sand sometime!

        • Neil@kallaroo permalink
          September 5, 2020 22:47

          Davida, I was aware of this controversy. I deliberately didn’t dive into any detail, since I didn’t want it to colour my reading. I refuse to read some books for all sorts of peculiar reasons. We all have our quirks. 😊

        • September 5, 2020 23:07

          Haha Neil, I’m clearly out of this loop! I usually refuse to read books because I’m not interested in the topic or style… and sometimes, if I know there’s a controversy, it puts me off, whereas for some I think it does the opposite. I’m not sure why I feel that way … and it can depend on though. If it’s Helen Garner I’ll read it, controversy or not!

  7. Meg permalink
    September 5, 2020 14:45

    Hi Sue, I like your links. I have not read Rodman, but I did enjoy my first pick by Sittenfield. My links are: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld; The Red Tent by Anita Diamant; The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams; Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier; The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker; and Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

    • September 5, 2020 15:55

      Thanks Meg … I can see your links here, and I’ve read most of those books. Just not Pip Williams (which is on my TBR) and Barker (whom I’d like to read more).

  8. September 5, 2020 14:53

    Clever links Sue (particularly like the middle bit with infinite/ Lacks).

    Longbourn has been on my reading list for a very long time. When the Austen Project was in full swing, I did read Sittenfeld’s P&P, and really enjoyed it. I admire her bravery as a writer (taking on P&P and Rodham!).

    • September 5, 2020 15:57

      Thanks Kate … I enjoyed making that connection too! I must read Sittenfeld because she does sound like an interesting writer. My daughter may have Prep – but I’m not sure if it’s still in the house (her stuff is gradually making its way down south.)

  9. September 5, 2020 15:06

    I love seeing where readers’ imaginations take them on this chain.The book I’m most interested in is The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks.
    The wattle is blooming in my area of Melbourne, too!

    • September 5, 2020 15:58

      It’s a really interesting read Rose, so if you are interested I’d say add it to your list.

  10. September 5, 2020 16:15

    Great chain! I haven’t read Rodham, nor any of Curtis Sittenfeld’s books. Longbourn is one of my TBRs, I’ve read a few of John Banville’s books, but not Infinities, which I think sounds interesting and one to look out for. And I think The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks is an absolutely fascinating book – I loved it.

    • September 5, 2020 16:32

      Thanks Margaret … I’m glad you liked that book. And that you have read or know many of the other authors. While it’s nice in these chains to see books and authors you’ve never heard of, I do love it when people link to ones I know!

  11. September 5, 2020 17:22

    Not one of these was in my chain (of course) but each if these looks interesting. I’ll explore your reviews later, and add to my TBR list no doubt!

  12. September 5, 2020 19:55

    Great list Sue – Jo Baker is a great writer.

  13. September 5, 2020 20:48

    Haha, I love your link from circle to infinity and on to cells. Great chain, I haven’t read any of the books, but The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks has been on my radar for a while.

    • September 5, 2020 22:56

      Thanks Stargazer. It’s a really good read … I’m so glad someone in my reading group chose it a couple of years ago.

  14. September 6, 2020 03:35

    I always enjoy your Six Degrees posts!

    • September 6, 2020 07:56

      Thanks Stefanie. I haven’t visited you in a while but saw a recent post in my inbox so will visit soon. I though of you when I read recently about a virtual Tour de France using Zwift. I smugly said to myself, oh, I know all about that!! Only because of you!

  15. September 6, 2020 04:09

    Ugh, another re-telling of P &P. ! Really, does the world need these …..

    • September 6, 2020 08:01

      I don’t really think so Karen. My JA group had a meeting on the project a few years ago but I didn’t read any of them. This one hadn’t come out yet, and I don’t think the project has been completed. Of the three that had come out … by Alexander McCall Smith, Val McDiarmid and Trollope, only one was approved in any way by our group, and that was Trollope’s on S&S. But we don’t as a group tend to like these retellings, or sequels or prequels.

  16. Sue permalink
    September 6, 2020 20:43

    I haven’t heard of the Harrower novel – definitely one for me to find now! Just read the link to your review, thanks Sue!

    • September 6, 2020 21:33

      Thanks Sue. Have you read any of her others? If not, she’s well worth exploring.

  17. Sue permalink
    September 7, 2020 18:37

    Yes Sue, you put me on to The Watchtower and I loved it!

  18. September 7, 2020 21:05

    I have had the Henrietta Lacks on my TBR list for a long time! Still haven’t read it yet!

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