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Six degrees of separation, FROM Redhead by the side of the road TO …

February 6, 2021

What a strange summer we’ve had. Last year it was fires and smoke, and this year, lower temperatures and rain. I rather like the heat, but it has been good to have a calmer time. Now though to that thing that stayed with us unchanged all through 2020, come hail or shine, come fire or covid, and that thing of course is our Six Degrees of Separation meme. If you don’t know this meme and how it works, please check out meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

Book cover

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book. This month, she’s chosen a book that I’ve actually read – Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the side of the road (my review)! I rather like Anne Tyler, but I bought this for my Mum not long before she died, and ended up reading it myself. The titular redhead is not what you might think.

Book cover

This was a fun choice for our starting book, because I could think of all sorts of options to follow, but in the end, I decided to go with another redhead, this one in António Lobo Antunes’ The natural order of things (my review). His redhead is a real one, although there are those who have imaginings about her.

Book cover

My links are hopping about quite a bit this month. The obvious one would have been Charlotte Wood’s similarly titled The natural way of things, but instead I’ve chosen another Portuguese author with a triple barrel name, José Jorge Letria and his lovely book, If I were a book (my review), which is a quirky little love letter to the book and reading.

Title page for Ch. 16, Sylvia Nakachi
Writing black, Ch. 16 by Sylvia Nakachi

And now, I’m using the title “If” to move to the Queensland Writers Centre and its innovative If: Book Australia program, which Im not sure is still going but was about exploring the future of the book and digital literature. One exciting project it supported was Writing black, edited by Ellen van Neerven (my review) and published as an Apple iBook.

Us Mob Writing, Too Deadly

Writing black is an anthology of new writings by Indigenous Australians. For this next link, I am using content, and choosing another innovative anthology of Indigenous Australian writing, Too deadly: Our voice, our way, our business, by a Canberra- based writing group, Us Mob Writing (my review).

Book cover

I am going to stick with content again, by choosing another anthology. However, this link is a double one, because this particular anthology, The near and the far, Volume 2, edited by David Carlin and Francesca Rendle-Short (my review), comprises pieces written by another (sort of) writing group. The group is WrICE (Writers Immersion and Cultural Exchange) which brings writers from Australia and Asia-Pacific together in writing residencies.

Maxine Beneba Clarke, The hate race

And finally, a rather cheeky link from the writer of the Foreword of The near and the far, Maxine Beneba Clark, to her memoir of growing up in western Sydney, The hate race (my review). It’s a powerful book about how cruelly people who are different, particarly those with non-white skins, can be treated in Australia.

So, an unusual and highly political month this time, with several books having overtly political messages or content. Three of the books are anthologies, which is also unusual for me, and only the first of my six links is a novel. We have though travelled widely from Baltimore in the USA, though Portugal, Australia, Asia and the Pacific, and back to Australia again.

Now, the usual: Have you read Redhead by the side of the road (or any other by Anne Tyler)? And, regardless, what would you link to?

44 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2021 15:26

    A great chain, Sue, plenty of books for me to look up as they sound so interesting. Glad you have a calmer summer there; on the west coast it’s been a scorcher and this week there’s been a horrendous fire in the Perth Hills, which has wiped out more than 80 homes and is still blazing. I’m 80km away, but the smoke has been horrendous and I swept a layer of ash off my balcony on Thursday. We have had a temperature drop today to low 20s and rain is forecast so hopefully this might help put out the fire.

    • February 6, 2021 15:41

      I was alarmed to hear on the first day that the fire was being reported here, that they were waiting on the arrival from the east coast of aircraft to drop fire retardant in advance of the fire, and that they were expecting it the next day. This is what is so ridiculous about states sharing these aircraft: maybe if WA had had it a day sooner the fire could have been stopped in its tracks.
      And what would have happened if there’d been a similar major outbreak here? Who gets to have it then?
      Leaving aside the human cost, the cost of having enough aircraft on permanent standby in strategic places across the country is negligible compared to the cost of uncontrolled bushfires. WA should have its own federally funded aircraft!

      • February 6, 2021 16:04

        I think the report you heard was incorrect. The DEFS has a fleet of fixed wing aircraft and they can also call upon the Department of Parks and Wildlife for use of their aircraft. I think the one from the east coast was employed on the basis that it wasn’t needed in the east so might as well use it in the west. I think there was also an issue with wind and the topography of the Perth hills, which meant it was dangerous to fly certain aircraft. I doubt there is anything that would have stopped the fire in its tracks. We went out to the hills only a week earlier and the first thing I said was “I would not want to live here if there was a bushfire” … everything so dry and the roads narrow and twisty and the hills steep and the valleys looking inaccessible.

        • February 7, 2021 09:05

          Ah, thanks for this clarification kimbofo. I agree that some places are awful traps to live in if there are fires.

      • February 7, 2021 09:04

        True Lisa. I’ve been so out of it. I knew there were fires of course, but not the details.

    • February 7, 2021 09:01

      Sorry that was insensitive of me. We understand that awful smoke experience only too well.

      • February 7, 2021 16:44

        Not at all… I just wonder how much WA news actually makes it to the east coast. When I lived in Brisbane, all we ever heard was news from Melb & Sydney!

        • February 7, 2021 17:17

          Oh we have been hearing quite a bit about the fires, and quite a bit about WA during COVID and all its border rules! But as you know my last few weeks have been occupied otherwise so my news-attention-span has been at 50%.

  2. Meg permalink
    February 6, 2021 18:42

    Hi Sue, I have read Redhead by the Side of the Road. Of course I enjoyed it, as I do like Anne Tyler’s thoughts on relationships. My chain is completely different to yours, and I think it is amazing how we all are able to link up such varied links of novels.. My chain: The Man who Took his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks; Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata; A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman; Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf; The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harry Fry by Rachel Joyce.

    • February 7, 2021 09:08

      I like her to Meg. Love your chain, particularly because I know all your books though have only read a couple.

    • February 8, 2021 00:58

      I had Harold Fry in my chain too. What a coincidence

      • February 8, 2021 08:22

        I’ve seen more of such coincidences in this chain than usual, It seems, and yet the links to and from are different. Such fun!

  3. February 6, 2021 22:39

    Great chain! I love the sound of If I were a Book

  4. February 7, 2021 01:05

    haven’t read Anne Tyler’s book – or indeed,any of your 6 books.If I were a book looks a lovely little book. My chain is not at all like yours – one of the pleasures of this meme, I do like the variety of books it produces.

    • February 7, 2021 09:10

      I will come read yours Margaret. PS If you haven’t read Tyler do think about adding her to your list.

  5. February 7, 2021 02:05

    What are books for if not to transport us to far off places and meet people we’d never have met. Thanks for the armchair literary tour, WG. 🙂

  6. February 7, 2021 04:48

    Yet another chain where I don’t know any of these books. I’m going to have to look them up now!

    • February 7, 2021 09:16

      Happens a lot doesn’t It, Davida? At least, I find it so. One thing I’ve learnt from litblogging is how many books there are out there!

  7. George permalink
    February 7, 2021 12:24


    Ann Tyler specializes in male nebbishes, it seems to me. I’m tempted to start with Oblomov, only he’d be a bit dynamic for a leading man in one of Tyler’s novels. But she also specializes in Baltimore.

    So instead, step one is My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass, as having critical sections set in Baltimore.

    Step two is to Spinoza’s Ethics, of which one book is “Of Human Bondage” and another “Of Human Freedom”.

    Step three is to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus since the title is clearly modeled on that of Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus.

    Step four is to Chuck Amuck by the animator Chuck Jones. Those who have read Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations may remember the illustration that may be a duck or a rabbit, depending on how one looks at it. Those who have seen the Warner Brothers cartoon will not have forgotten the line “I say Duck, and I say shoot!”

    Step five is to Edwin O’Connor’s novel The Last Hurrah, since the political/social action is seen through the eyes of a character employed in writing a comic strip.

    Step six is to All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, another American roman-a-clef about a politician.

    • February 7, 2021 16:22

      Male “nebbishes”. That was a new one for me that I had to look up.

      Enjoyed your links George – your Chuck Jones one made me laugh!

      I have often intended to read All the King’s men. I still might one day.

  8. February 7, 2021 21:03

    Enjoying the fact that many are linking to other redheads but at this stage, I think you’ve all picked different redheads!

  9. February 8, 2021 01:01

    I went down a very different path because I didn’t know the book so just went off the title. Seems like I had completely the wrong idea about the redhead….l

    I didn’t realise that there was an issue in Australia about attitudes to non white people. I always had it in my head that Aus was a very tolerant society but your last paragraph suggests otherwise.

    • February 8, 2021 08:26

      Oh no, Karen, we have racism here unfortunately. I sort of love your image of us because I wish it were so, but hate it too because the truth needs to be known, not hidden behind an image of the tolerance we like to think we have.

  10. February 8, 2021 10:44

    Great chain! And I just added If I were a book to my TBR! When you mentioned IF, I was thinking of this amazing book:

  11. February 9, 2021 04:49

    That was fun! You are always so creative with your linking!

  12. Neil@kallaroo permalink
    February 9, 2021 16:09

    Another story by Anne Tyler is Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. I link to this one just because I like the title! Each chapter in this story is about a different person. Another story that uses this approach is Lantana Lane by Eleanor Dark. Sticking with titles that include a location in their name, we jump to Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. This story includes the Pickle family. Someone always getting in a pickle is Albert, otherwise known as The Magic Pudding (Norman Lindsay). Albert has three minders, which leads to The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. We started the chain linking to a book by the same author, so why not finish the same way, linking to one of my all-time favourites, The Count of Monte Cristo.

    • February 10, 2021 15:39

      It’s a great title Neil, and a good book too, as I recollect. Love your Pickle link!

      Why am I not surprised that The Count of Monte Cristo is an all-time favourite of yours?

  13. February 10, 2021 02:25

    I once did some research on folklore traditions, and the work of Indigenous Australians came up quite a lot. Not sure if Writing Black contains anything on that, but it’s something that really caught my eye in this chain.
    And the WrICE movement sounds like a lot of fun, and something to look out for. Thanks!

    • February 10, 2021 08:13

      Thanks Lexlingua. Writing Black is more contemporary writing though Indigenous writers will often refer in some way to their traditional stories. WriCE seems a good program. We read their 2 volumes now.

  14. buriedinprint permalink
    February 20, 2021 04:14

    I’m an Anne Tyler fan, too, but I’ve fallen off recently, while focussing on other reading projects. Just from the title, I think I’d’ve jumped to a Tom Robbins book about hitchhikers or the Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. On a completely superficial note, I love how one of your comments above has nested in such a way that it reads like poetry. You’re a regular w.g. cummings. *giggles*

    • February 20, 2021 12:15

      Haha, Buried, hitchhikers is a great link. I don’t think I saw anyone do that.

      Thanks re the nesting though I’m a bit perturbed! It looks odd but it seems not to want to let me go back the my old number!

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