Six Degrees of Separation: from Redhead by the Side of the Road to Snow Crash

February is six days old, and here’s the first Saturday of the month and Six Degrees of Separation. Check out the meme hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best if you want to join in. This month, in a return to normal things, we’re starting with a book I haven’t read, Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road.

I’ve no idea about this one, haven’t heard of it, haven’t read anything about what it’s about. It has redhead in the title, though, and one of my favourite books about a redhead is my next choice.

As you can see from the illustration on the book cover, Oscar Hopkins is a redheaded priest, his hair described as a “frizzy nest which grew outwards, horizontal like a windblown tree in an Italianate painting”. He’s also a gambler, something that leads him along an unexpected path.

A real life gambler whose autobiography I’ve read is Victoria Coren. For Richer For Poorer surprised me. I’m not a gambler. I’ve never played poker, and I didn’t expect to find this book so gripping. It’s an entertaining and at times moving mixture of how Coren fell in love with poker, how she became the first woman to win the European Poker Tour, her friendships and romances and other things that were going on in her life. I had to read a glossary of poker terms to have the vaguest clue about what was going on, but I enjoyed the book.

Of course, Victoria Coren is now known as Victoria Coren-Mitchell. She glancingly refers to her now husband in her poker memoir, but he is more forthcoming in his. David Mitchell (the comedian) has a bad back. His memoir, Back Story, is a collection of the things he has thought on the walks he takes to alleviate his bad back. It’s an introduction to how he and Robert Webb got their start in tv and an insight into Mitchell’s view of the world. The story of how he and Coren got together is one of mistiming and tenacity sprinkled with a hint of kismet.

I’m dodging the obvious link and going with the idea of physical illness impacting on life. Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr was a book we read as a class in primary school. It’s a story that has lingered with me. Marianne is bed ridden with a degenerative illness. To pass the time, she draws pictures. These pictures come to life in her dreams, and she makes a dream connection with another sick child, Mark. Having always been someone who spends a good amount of time inside my own head, as a child I found this story irresistible.

While Marianne’s reality, and the images she draws, change the world of her dreams, in Ursula K Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, George Orr has effective dreams – dreams that change reality for everyone else in the waking world. Orr tries to control his dreaming by abusing drugs. His drug addiction leads him to undertake therapy to avoid prison, and his therapist turns out to be an exceptionally meddlesome individual.

Snow Crash doesn’t occupy the world of dreams, but a different kind of alternative reality. Neal Stephenson’s novel about gaming and computer hacking takes place partly in reality, partly in the Metaverse. It’s a novel about language, be it the ur-language processed by the brain stem, the language of coding, or the data we consume via the screens that dominate our lives. Snow Crash is the ultimate drug that grants power over humanity to those who distribute it; a virus that threatens to trap everyone inside the Metaverse.

I’m not entirely sure what the common thread is that links all of the novels I’ve chosen together. Perhaps people who lead lives outside the norm, who have something different about them. There are gamblers among them, introverts, people with powerful dreams, and people who lack scruples. I read up on Tyler’s book and learned that it’s about a reclusive computer repairman. Not a hacker, but someone adjacent to the realm of the final book in the chain.

Have you read Redhead by the Side of the Road? Which books would you link together? Why not visit Kate’s blog to find out what books other people have chosen?

15 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from Redhead by the Side of the Road to Snow Crash

  1. Ooh. Snow Crash is going on my ‘novel research’ wishlist. I’ve been looking for novels about gaming/gamers/making games, but there are surprisingly few out there.

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    1. If only we could meet in person – Russell has a copy. I keep meaning to read Ready Player One, but I expect you know that one. Russell’s struggling to think of any others that he’s read. He thinks Christopher Brookmyre wrote one – perhaps Bedlam?

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  2. I’ve only read the Carey on your list (and that was many, many years ago) but the memoir by the gambler sounds fascinating (and I’m thinking might make an interesting change of pace from my usual memoir picks which invariably focus on mental health, trauma or grief).

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    1. Definitely give it a go. I find her really interesting and intelligent as a woman in the world of journalism and broadcasting, which was why I picked up the poker memoir. She’s a rare thing in British media – someone who knows her own mind but doesn’t feel the need to shout her opinion or trash someone else for having a different opinion. I don’t always agree with her, but I like the way she expresses herself. The poker book is a good example of her style.

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  3. I too haven’t read the Tyler, though I expect to. Yours is an intriguing chain, though given the length of my TBR list, I’m not sure any of these is going to make it there, even though I regard you as a Thoroughly Reliable Witness!

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