6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From Eats, Shoots & Leaves to A Far Cry from Kensington

Six degrees of separation logo for memeIt’s the first Saturday of the month, which means it’s time to participate in Six Degrees of Separation (check out Kate’s blog to find out the “rules” and how to participate).

This month the starting book is a non-fiction modern classic…

‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’ by Lynne Truss  (2003)
I read this when it was first published because I was a magazine production editor in London at the time, which meant I was the person responsible for sending pages to press and was basically the last person responsible for catching any grammatical (and legal and layout) errors that had slipped through our editing processes. This book, which is all about English language usage  (it is sub-titled “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation”), was a hoot and showed me I wasn’t alone in being pedantic about comma usage, spellings and sentence structure (active, not passive, please!)

This brings to mind…

‘Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen’ by Mary Norris (2015)

This is the American equivalent of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, written by the long-time copy editor at The New Yorker.  It’s an entertaining read, and quite funny in places, but unfortunately, its mix of memoir and guide to grammar usage didn’t really work for me. It’s certainly not particularly helpful as a guide to the English language unless you edit American English. But I did like its insights into magazine life, which brings to mind…

‘Bright Lights, Big City’ by Jay McInerney (1985)

In this Manhattan novel, the main character is employed as a fact-checker on a prestigious magazine (thought to be The New Yorker). His life is falling apart (his glamourous wife, for instance, has left him) and he’s feeling aggrieved that he’s been passed over for promotion. He has a tenacious, demanding boss who micro-manages him, forcing him to take risky shortcuts to meet strict deadlines. You know it’s not going to end well! The novel’s mix of black humour and pathos makes it a truly memorable read, probably one of my all-time favourites, if I am honest. Some aspects of it bring to mind…

 

‘The Devil Wears Prada’ by Lauren Weisberger (2003)

This fast-paced tale about a magazine assistant working for a tyrannical boss is a real romp! Andrea, a recent college graduate, dreams of writing for the New Yorker. But she knows that hitting such heights requires some legwork and experience, so when she lands the job “that millions would die for” on a glossy fashion magazine in Manhattan she’s prepared to put in the hard graft. She just didn’t expect to work for a mean-spirited control freak.

This brings to mind…

‘Slab Rat’ by Ted Heller (2001)

This is another black comedy about magazine journalism, which is also set in New York. I read it so long ago I can’t point to a review because it was before I started this blog. The story focuses on a staffer, from the wrong side of the tracks to be working on a glitzy magazine, who does questionable things to ensure his rival doesn’t get the promotion he feels rightfully belongs to him. It’s about the underhand things you need to do to get ahead in journalism and the price some people are prepared to pay to win. Behaving in a devious manner brings to mind…

‘About the Author’ by John Colapinto (2002)

This is another story about a writer who behaves immorally to get ahead, except the main character here is a would-be novelist who steals a manuscript (written by a friend who has died an untimely death) and tries to pass it off as his own. It’s a darkly comic story that lingers in my memory almost 20 years after having read it! The book publishing aspects of it bring to mind…


‘A Far Cry from Kensington’ by Muriel Spark (1988)

In this tale about book publishing in the 1950s, we meet a purple-prosed writer behaving badly and his candid editor who plays him at his own game. It’s a riotously funny novel with a brilliant London setting, and it shows that even people with letters can act abhorrently!

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a story about grammar usage to the fictional tale of an editor rowing with an author, via four stories about people who make their living using words, whether as fact-checkers, editorial assistants, journalists or novelists.

Have you read any of these books? 

Please note, you can see all my other Six Degrees of Separation contributions here.

6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘How to be Both’ to ‘Moderato Cantabile’

Six degrees of separation logo for memeYou all know that I don’t do memes, right? Well, I’ve decided to make an exception to the rule.

I’ve been reading and following the Six Degrees of Separation book meme, which is hosted by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest and runs on the first Saturday of the month, for a long time. You can find out more about it via this post on Kate’s blog, but essentially every month a book is chosen as a starting point and then six other books are linked to it to form a chain.

It’s a great way of discovering new books and new authors to read.

Every time I see this meme pop up in my WordPress Reader I think, next month I’ll give it a go. And then of course the next month comes around and I think the same thing. And this month I figured it was about time I pulled my finger out and just did it.

So welcome to my first ever Six Degrees of Separation meme. Hyperlinks will take you to my reviews.

The starting point is:

How to be both by Ali Smith

‘How to be Both’ by Ali Smith (2014)
Typically, I haven’t read How to be Both, so I can’t point you to a review, but I have read another Ali Smith novel, which is the first book in the chain:

1. ‘The Accidental’ by Ali Smith (2005)
Published in 2005, The Accidental was one of Smith’s early novels. I read it with a mixture of confusion and admiration, for it was quite unlike anything I’d read before and I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not at the time. The writing was hypnotic and full of wonderful wordplay, but the characters — all on holiday in Norfolk one hot summer — were hard to get a handle on. In my review I said it had a “touch of the Paul Austers” about it, which leads me to the next book in the chain:

2. ‘Invisible’ by Paul Auster (2009)
Auster has a reputation for writing complex post-modernist novels but I like the way he uses meta-fiction to play with the reader’s mind: I often find his novels have an uncanny way of seeping into your unconsciousness to leave a long-lasting, and sometimes unsettling, impression. He’s not for everyone, but Invisible — his 16th novel! — is wholly accessible and quite a fun read for anyone wanting an introduction to his work. It’s essentially about a writer and how he comes to write a controversial book. It then examines whether that book should have been published because of its damaging revelations about the real life protagonist within it. The morality of writing novels is also explored in the next novel in the chain:

3. ‘About the Author’ by John Colapinto (2002)
About the Author is a hugely entertaining plot-driven novel about a struggling writer who steals someone else’s manuscript and gets it published under his own name. It was one of the first books I ever reviewed on this blog way back in 2002, but I still remember it as a fun fast-paced read that explored lots of issues around writing and the trappings of fame. The trappings of fame are explored in the next novel in the chain:

4. ‘The Thrill of it All’ by Joseph O’Connor (2014)
A wonderful fictionalised memoir of a guitarist from a rock band that made it big in the 1980s, The Thrill of it All charts the story of Irish-born Robbie Goulding’s climb to fame and his subsequent slide into obscurity. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in places, but it’s also tinged with sadness and melancholia. It’s an ideal book for music lovers, especially if you like blues, ska, New Wave, punk or rock. Music lovers will also appreciate the next novel in the chain:

Forensic records society by magnus mills

5. ‘The Forensic Records Society’ by Magnus Mills (2017)
The Forensic Records Society is typically kooky Magnus Mills fare: two friends set up a record appreciation society in which members meet in a pub to take it in turns to play 7-inch vinyl singles to listen to the music forensically. There is to be no discussion, no commentary, no judgement of other people’s tastes. However, not everyone follows the rules and a rival group forms. The rivalry between them is what makes this story so funny — and quirky. Again, maybe not a book for everyone, but I’m a longtime Mills fan and I loved spotting the musical references throughout because the text is littered with song titles, minus the name of the performers, so it’s fun testing your knowledge along the way. Music is also the inspiration behind the next — and final — book in the chain:

6. ‘Moderato Cantabile’ by Marguerite Duras (1958)
The title of this French novella is a direction for playing music in a “moderate and melodious” way, which could also be taken as a metaphor for the book’s structure, which is based around eight short chapters. It’s a simple story about a woman who becomes obsessed with a murder that happens when her son is taking a piano lesson. But it’s not really about music; it’s more about class divisions and societal expectations, and is written in a beguiling, melancholic tone of voice, which I loved.

So that’s my first ever #6Degrees: from an award-winning British novel about art through to a French novella inspired by a musical direction.