Six Degrees of Separation – July’s journey in six books

Six Degrees of Separation is possibly my favourite book tag, and is hosted by Kate over at Books are my Favourite and Best. Each month, she chooses a different book as a starting point, then it’s up to each participant to create a chain of 6 more books, each one linked to the one before. The connections can be thematic, personal, or even visual – the beauty is that everyone’s six degrees will be wildly different! If you want to join in (and it’s a lot of fun) check out the 6 Degrees page on the host blog for inspiration, or follow the #6Degrees hashtag on Twitter.

The jumping off point for July is What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt. It’s a book I haven’t read (although it’s one of those I really feel I should have done) but no matter: I know exactly where I’m going with my first connection!

4321 by Paul Auster

My first book is written by Siri Hustvedt’s husband, Paul Auster, whose earlier books I count among some of my favourite novels. This one, however, I just could not finish: I found it too repetitive and even though his writing style had lost none of its flair and fluidity, that sadly wasn’t enough to hold my attention. It’s always an immense disappointment to feel let down by a novel for which you had high expectations, and it’s that sense of deflation that links me to my next choice,

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Three Musketeers is one of my most beloved books of all time but this one? My word, it was slow going. Like 4321 I had to admit defeat before the end; I suspect part of the problem was that I came to the book after the film (the version with Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce) which is a firm favourite and one I never get tired of. It’s very rare for me – or any bookworm I reckon – to prefer the movie over the book, but there’s one other novel that jumps straight into to my head as being the perfect example of this:

The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien

Yes, I know it’s a classic and an unsurpassed example of fantasy world-building blah blah blah but my over-riding impression of it? A lot of walking interspersed with tedious elvish council meetings and digressions into the history of Middle Earth that feel, well, pretty self-indulgent. Sorry. Give me the movie trilogy any day of the week. I even own all the extended editions on DVD but in book form, not for me I’m afraid (although in case you’re sensing a theme emerging, I did actually finish it!) But I’m going to move away from the personal now and give you a bit of a different connection to my next book, this time via the author. Tolkien served in the trenches during World War I, and the creator of this next story went through the same experience.

Winnie the Pooh by A A Milne

Milne, like Tolkien, was at the Somme during WWI, but survived to write one of the most wondrous works of children’s literature ever created. One of my most enduring childhood memories is listening to the audiobook night after night – I can still hear Alan Bennett’s voice in my head when I read it today. When I was still quite young, my family and I went to the Ashdown Forest, which of course provided the inspiration for the book’s setting and many of its famous episodes – Pooh-sticks on the bridge being a particular highlight. It’s this connection between a real-life setting and my own personal experience that leads me to the penultimate book:

The Widow’s Confession by Sophia Tobin

Much of this novel is set in Broadstairs on the Kent coast, not a million miles away from where I live. And this is where being a bookseller certainly has its perks: I was lucky enough to attend the novel’s launch party, which took place in the hotel that forms the backdrop to some of the novel’s key events. This hotel, The Royal Albion, was built in the late 18th century, and boasts none other than Charles Dickens among its clientele. Dickens had connections to numerous part of my home county of Kent, so it seems fitting to end with a book of his that draws on the surroundings of his childhood home.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

One of the funniest episodes of this joyful novel is the excursion taken by Mr. Pickwick and his friends around Rochester, Chatham and the Medway area of Kent. There’s something about the way the hapless companions fall into scrape after scrape and yet somehow always manage to emerge with their joie de vivre unscathed that leaves you with an enormous smile and feeling a little bit better about the world.

So that’s my six degrees for July – if you’ve joined in this month, please do comment and let me know; I’d love to see where your literary journey takes you.

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