Six Degrees of Separation: from Hamnet to How to be Both

The first Saturday of January came too soon for me. 2021 started slowly and I’m only gradually emerging from the brain hibernation I’ve been experiencing for the past couple of weeks. But here I am for Six Degrees of Separation. Can I sustain a chain a month for the meme hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best for another year? This month, we’re starting with a book I read last year, Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet.

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famished

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Read 16/12/2020-23/12/2020

Rating 4 stars

famished is a collection of ultra short stories by Anna Vaught. The minimalist, modernist cover contains 17 baroque horror stories, all centred on food or eating, and influenced by writers from Angela Carter, Henry James and Edgar Allan Poe to F Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Carson McCullers.

These tales are strongly feminist, peopled by women who are taking control. The subtext is often ‘eat, or be eaten’. Continue reading

Between Beirut and the Moon

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Read 07/12/2020-16/12/2020

Rating 5 stars

Between Beirut and the Moon is Naji Bakhti’s debut novel. Set in Beirut roughly a decade after the civil war, it follows Adam Najjar and his dream of becoming the first Arab astronaut and the first Arab to walk on the moon. Bakhti is a wry observer of the universal oddness of family and the extra complexity that comes with a Lebanese adolescence. Continue reading

Ghosts on the Shore: Travels along Germany’s Baltic Coast

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Read 23/11/2020-06/12/2020

Rating 5 stars

Ghosts on the Shore is a travel book partly inspired by family history. Paul Scraton is a British writer who has lived in Berlin since the early 2000s. His wife grew up in the GDR and spent her early years on the Baltic Coast. Scraton became fascinated by this part of Germany, in part thanks to his wife Katrin’s family photographs and her childhood memories, but also because of the Baltic Coast’s place in the wider history and mythology of Germany. And so he decided to take a trip. Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation: from Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret to Fantastic Mr Fox

December’s here already, and the first Saturday of the month brings with it Six Degrees of Separation. At the start of the year, I decided that I would attempt to create a chain for the meme every month. And here I am, at the end of the year, with my twelfth chain. This month, we’re starting with Judy Blum’s 1970 classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

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Stasiland

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Read 15/11/2020-23/11/2020

Rating 5 stars

Stasiland has the subtitle Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall. In it, Anna Funder shares the experiences of a number of East Germans to build a picture of life under an oppressive regime. Her interviewees range from people who tried to escape, people separated arbitrarily from family overnight, and people who worked for the Stasi. There are amazing people between these pages who survived unimaginable horrors, and there are also the people who supported the use of those horrors. I found it a very moving book. Continue reading

Wintering

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Read 09/11/2020-14/11/202

Rating 4 stars

Wintering starts as a memoir of a time in Katherine May’s life when she felt that she had been frozen. Margaret, who blogs at From Pyrenees to Pennines, included it in her August Six Degrees of Separation this summer. I immediately reserved it at the library.

I enjoyed May’s writing style. She is a clear communicator and observes her own experiences with an unemotional detachment. She reveals early on that she is autistic, which possibly explains the calm clarity she brings to her observations. I could imagine this book as a radio documentary. Continue reading

Summer

Read 28/10/2020-09/11/2020

Rating 4 stars

Summer is the final book in Ali Smith’s ambitious Seasonal Quartet. It’s about change; the necessity of it so that things can be made new; the opportunity it offers for us to redefine ourselves in response to it; the choices we make and the consequences they hold. It’s also a drawing together of threads that travel through the other books, with returning characters and crossing themes. Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation: from The Handmaid’s Tale to Red Dust Road

I’m a day late for November’s Six Degrees of Separation. I’m blaming my anxious refreshing of the Presidential election count page on The Guardian website yesterday. This month, Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best has given us a sort of free pass on the starting book. We’re starting our November chains with a book that ended a previous chain. For anyone new to Six Degrees, the general concept is explained here.

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