Monday 8 February 2021

Six Degrees of Separation

It's been a while since I did a Six Degrees of Separation post (it's hosted by Books are my favourite and best)  but I've been inspired by lots of interesting posts on my Reading List this month, so here goes.

It starts this month with Redhead by the Roadside by Anne Tyler which, I must confess, is a book I haven't read.


I must try to read something by the author who I know is extremely popular in the USA, setting some of her books in Baltimore, a city I visited in September 2005. Anne Tyler lives there and I don't blame her, it's beautiful city, especially on the waterfront. Redhead by the Side of the Road is another Baltimore based novel.

A celebrated author who was born in Baltimore is Edgar Allan Poe. So my next book is The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

This is on my tbr shelf for 2021 so I'm hoping to read it this year. It was Poe's only novel and I won't lie, I was attracted by the book's seafaring theme and wonderful cover. I've read a few of Poe's short stories but not this so I'm hoping for a bit of a treat.

Another book with a gorgeous seafaring cover is my current read, Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian. 

I tried to read this one some years ago and gave up because the nautical terms were confusing me. I must've been a bit of a wimp back then because on my second try I find them not too bad at all. And a lot of it I don't actually 'need' to know. What is fun is reading the book on my Kindle Fire and looking up some of the locations in The Med on Google maps. I'm skim reading the battles a bit as those are not my thing but the humour is both unexpected and great fun. I find I like Dr. Stephen Maturin rather a lot, mad keen on the natural world and having no clue about naval protocol and life aboard ship. He becomes very close to the new captain of the Sophie and it's very interesting to view Jack Aubrey through his eyes. Great stuff. Must see if I can find the film again somewhere.

Another book with a protagonist in love with the natural world is The Signature Of All Things  by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Alma Whittaker's unorthodox and loveless upbringing results in her turning to the natural world and botany in particular, with a special interest in mosses. Not something I would usually be rivetted by but the writing was so good that I was actually rivetted by the book. It's a book of two halves, the first taking place in Philadelphia and the second follows Alma as she heads to Tahiti after her father dies. She finishes up eventually in the scholarly atmosphere of mid-nineteenth century Holland and I think that was the section I enjoyed the most. 

Another book with a 19th. century female character interested in natural history is  The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.

This book is set slightly later in late Victorian England. Cora Seaborne is newly widowed young woman with a young son who moves to Aldwinter in Essex. There are rumours that the Essex Serpent has returned and is killing unwary wanderers around the local river and marshes. Cora forms a friendship with a naturalist vicar and together they try to find out the truth of the matter. This is another book that didn't please me until my second attempt at it, amazing how often that happens.

Sarah Perry was actually born in Essex and another author also born in Essex was Ruth Rendall. I've read a few of her books but not nearly enough because they really are excellent, especially this Wexford instalment, No Man's Nightingale.


This was the last book in Rendall's Inspector Wexford series and the first one I ever read, which is bit mad but it was fine. I read it in 2017 and thought it was superb. Wexford comes out of retirement to help solve the case of a murdered felmale vicar. He's reading The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and I loved how Rendall used references to that throughout the book. *Note to self* read more Ruth Rendall and Barbara Vine this year!

So, quite a journey this month. I've travelled from Baltimore in Maryland, to the Antartic, to the Mediterranean, back then to the USA and thus to Tahiti and then all the way around the world to Essex in England and then Hampshire. And a great deal of fun it has been too.

Next month Six Degrees will start with Phosphorescence by Julia Baird, who is an Australian author. The book is not out in the UK until May so no chance to read it, which is a shame as it sounds like my kind of thing. 


CLM said...

A great chain! I am not sure I actually finished the O'Brian but I remember thinking it was like Swallows & Amazons for adults with all the seafaring language (I was so far removed from this as a child that I thought "Aye, aye, sir" was pronounced like the letter A and only learned my error when I said it saucily to my mother. Oh, the trials of being a bookish child!

My eldest niece attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and I am disappointed I only visited her there once. It is definitely a city of haves and have nots: the campus is lovely and the Harbor area but there is also the section depicted in The Wire (the most vivid, disturbing, and compelling television I have ever seen). Crime writer Laura Lippman also sets all her books there.

The Essex Serpent definitely had one of the best covers I have seen in recent years (so does Phosphorescence) and I love historical fiction but for some reason I have not read it yet, nor have I ever got into Ruth Rendell. Well, I suppose one can't read everything! I am enjoying The Thursday Murder Club although I have two papers due in the next week and swore I would finish one yesterday.

Rosemary said...

I like your chain Cath, and as ever I find it fascinating to see how we all go off on such different tangents when we do this challenge.

Once again I’ve never read any of your books. The Essex Serpent sounds very interesting. And I must try some Ruth Randall. My mother, who absorbs crime fiction like water, doesn’t like her and I think that put me off, which is strange as we rarely agree on books, so I’m not entirely sure why I took any notice.stuff.

I did try to link to the connection with Baltimore, but although I discovered that F Scott Fitzgerald had spent some time living there (and had been in the Johns Hopkins hospital nine times, largely with ailments connected to his alcoholism), and I could see how to connect him with Alice B Toklas, after that I got stuck and gave up - well done you for finding a way.

I had no idea that Elizabeth Gilbert had written anything apart from Eat, Pray, Love, which I haven’t read - even though I do have a copy - as all the reviews I read, even the positive ones, made me think I’d have little patience with her. I’m probably quite wrong in my prejudices.

And thanks for giving me an idea of what next month’s book is about; at least for once I won’t have to feel guilty about not having read it.

Lark said...

Fun chain of books. I haven't read any of them!

TracyK said...

Cath, I did not know that Edgar Allan Poe had written a novel. I love that you worked Master & Commander into this chain. Stephen Maturin's interest in nature is very appealing.

Elizabeth Gilbert's book sounds very interesting but 600 pages might deter me. I haven't read anything at all by her.

I have read all of of the Inspector Wexford series EXCEPT for No Man's Nightingale. Now maybe I will have to give it a try. (Actually I think there are some from the late 1990's that I missed -- I stopped reading fiction at that time, believe it or not -- and I am going to go back and read those sometime.)

Cath said...

Constance: Well, I never managed to get through Swallows and Amazons even though I've watched a couple of TV adaptations. I don't know what it was that defeated me about the books. Master and Commander probably is an adult version of it though. I find the battle aspect a bit tedious and the constant attacking of any ship that happens to not be on your side etc. But there's enough about the books to keep me reading, the relationships are particularly interesting, especially that between Aubrey and Maturin. And then there's the armchair travel aspect... I now know a little more about the Spanish coast on The Med than I knew before.

I've not seen The Wire but know enough about it to realise that Baltimore is as you describe. I suspect most cities are, even the pretty ones down here in the south west. I live near Exeter and it's exactly like that too, some very pretty or affluent parts but also a lot of poverty and deprivation. My daughter works in one of the primary schools in one of the poorer areas and sees it a lot.

It really is impossible to read everything and there are so many good books and good series out there, so I don't know what you're meant to do. The situation becomes particularly accute when you start to realise how old you are. LOL

Pleased to hear you're enjoying The Thursday Murder Club. Hope you got your papers done on time.

Cath said...

Rosemary: It really is so fascinating to see where people go with their various chains. Everyone is clever with them.

I liked The Essex Serpent on my second attempt. I must've been in the wrong mood the first time. It seems I like books about people who went in for Natural History after about 1800, but I didn't know I did. I'd say it was a new thing for me but I don't think it is as I've been reading books like that for several years, although sadly there aren't that many of them. I have Miss Benson's Beetle on my library pile but that one's set a bit later, the 1950s I think.

I knew Edgar Allan Poe had been born in Baltimore, annoyingly when I was there in 2005 I 'didn't' know and thus didn't see the museum which is in the city I believe.

I haven't read Eat, Pray, Love and probably not intending to either although the travel aspect of it appeals. And I see Gilbert has edited a book of travel tales so it's clearly one of her things and that does come over quite strongly in The Signature Of All Things.

I don't think I've actually read any of the lead books for Six Degrees so far. Luckily, it doesn't seem to matter. For subsequent books I do try to use book I've read, am reading, or plan to this year but I don't think that's one of the rules. (Not sure there are any rules to be honest.)

Cath said...

Lark: Given how similar our taste in books is, I think there's a couple on there you might like. :-)

Tracy: Although The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is touted as 'his only novel', it's only 170 or so pages long so is arguably more of a novela. My copy also includes about half a dozen of Poe's short stories.

I'm reaching the end of Master and Commander and definitely planning to read some more. Love the humour in the book.

Funnily enough I don't remember The Signature of All Things feeling like a 600 page slog so I'm guessing it must've been very readable and went quickly.

The two Wexfords I've read are right at the end, The Vault and the Nightingale one. I thought The Vault was absolutely brilliant, Wexford goes on long walks around London and it's absolutely wonderful. I didn't want it to end.

Sam said...

Surprisingly enough, I've actually read three of the six books in your linkage this time around.

I'll start with a comment about Anne Tyler. If you haven't read her before, my personal opinion about "Redhead" is that it is not one of her better or more memorable novels despite the good reception it got when published. These days, anything from a writer like Anne Tyler is a blessing, and I think a little of that feeling may have rubbed off on this one.

I remember really enjoying the Elizabeth Berg book. It's still my favorite of hers.

As for reading Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, well, you can never do too much of that. I've got shelves full of her books in US editions, British editions, hardbacks, paperbacks from the eighties and nineties, and even an e-book or two. She is most definitely one of my all-time favorite crime writers. I still miss the thrill of picking up a new Rendell or Vine book every few months. I miss her.

Cath said...

Sam: No, I haven't read any Anne Tyler. I think it was Nan who recommended her a couple of years ago and I never did get around to trying something. Any recommendations?

I've probably only read 4 or 5 by Ruth Rendall but I don't know why as her writing is amazing. A couple of years ago, The Vault, one of her last Wexford novels, blew me away, it was so good. As soon as the library reopens I'll be grabbing something and possibly checking out some charity shops as those tend to be a very good source of her books I notice.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

I have read quite a few of the Ruth Rendell books over the years, however that was long before I began reviewing and logging my books, so I can't remember which ones. Mind you 'Wexford' was one of those series which I enjoyed much more as the televised version!

I haven't read any of the other authors on your list, although I do have a couple of the Anne Tyler books downloaded on my Kindle, just waiting in line to be read, but not the one you featured.

I am also going to try and get hold of a copy of the Elizabeth Gilbert book, as that sounds really good.

It will be really good to have the charity shops open again, as I want to have a good cull of both my books and jigsaws, as well as looking to restock of course! :) I don't want to part with books I haven't read, however I just have to face the fact that I am never going to get the time to read them all and I already have a Kindle full of e-books to get through!

It's a shame we don't live closer or I could have sent you a list of the books I cull and you could have taken any that you fancied reading :)

Anca said...

The Signature of All Things sounds like a wonderful book. I hope you'll enjoy Phosphorescence. I looked it up and it seems a very appropriate book for this period.

Sam said...

Cath, as for Anne Tyler, my favorites are some of her earlier ones like Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Morgan's Passing, and Searching for Caleb. Of the more recent ones, I remember enjoying A Spool of Blue Thread and When We Were Grownups quite a bit.

Cath said...

Yvonne: I was an avid viewer of the Wexford TV series and it's interesting that you thought that better than the books. I've only read the last two books and I don't think they dramatised those so I can't do a comparison. Wexford is on YouTube and now we've finished Dalgleish we're thinking of starting on Wexford.

Yes, I can't wait to have the charity shops open, and the National Trust secondhand bookshops too. I'll need to be careful that I don't go mad though as I've done so well getting books off my shelves during lockdown.

Yes, it's a real shame we're not a lot closer. Although you're not that far and if it weren't for lockdown I would be considering a day trip perhaps to meet for a coffee (or tea) and a bookswap as I have a box full of books for the charity shop. One day perhaps.

Anca: Yes, The Signature of all things was excellent. I like books about women doing interesting things in science.

Sam: Excellent, thanks for the recommendations!

Mary said...

We seemed to have had similar experiences with a couple of those books...having trouble getting into them the first time--The Essex Serpent, The Signature of All Things. Seems like that has been more of an issue in the past year with a lot of books. As for Anne Tyler, I've read pretty much all her books (helps that I live in Maryland--though not Baltimore)...she captures characters--especially quirky ones--so vividly.

As for Patrick O'Brian's books--Aubrey and Maturin...I've read them all. Multiple times. If you can get audio versions of these books, I highly recommend them. Older versions (1990s) were read by Patrick Tull and one from about 2000 on by Simon Vance. These actors really bring the characters and scenes alive.

Nan said...

I did so love Redhead by the Side of the Road.
And not a seafarer am I! haha

Susan said...

Fun! I've been to Baltimore twice, but just for layovers. One of the times, we had to sit on the icy runway for a couple hours before the plane was able to take off. One of these days, I need to visit the city for real :)

Cath said...

Mary: With me I'm pretty sure the mood I'm in can affect how I react because quite a few times I've liked the book at the second attempt. On other occasions I still can't stand the thing so there's no rhyme or reason to me at all. LOL

I thought Maryland was so lovely, we drove from Baltimore down that long peninsula, sorry I don't remember the name of it, to Chesapeake Bay and crossed via the bridge to Virginia. It makes me feel so nostalgic thinking about it.

I don't listen to audio books but will bear in mind what you suggest re the Aubrey/Maturin books. I'm still thinking about Master and Commander several days after I finished it. Funny how some books affect you like that.

Nan: Nice to have a recommendation for Redhead by the Side of Road, I haven't seen anyone who has has done this meme who has actually read it... not of the ones I've read anyway.

I like seafaring although I haven't done a lot of it. Several seven hour trips from Plymouth to Roscoff is about the limit of it. We've thought about doing a cruise but all that camaraderie stuff is not really us.

Susan: I was very smitten with what I saw of Baltimore which was mainly the waterfront area which is *gorgeous*. Our several days there with lovely friends is something I look back on with a lot of joy. I'd be the first to admit though that I don't really know the city of Baltimore very much at all.

CLM said...

Just saw there is going to be an Essex Serpent dramatization: tv_newsletter&

Vallypee said...

What an interesting list this kind of connection makes. I enjoyed reading this. I'll confess I haven't read any of the authors apart from Ruth Rendell. I considered reading an Elizabeth Gilbert book, but I'm afraid the hype around her put me off. Maybe I'll try again one of these days.

Cath said...

Constance: Ooooh, now that looks interesting. I assume a TV series, not a film, though I could be wrong. Let's hope they still manage to make it despite Covid19.

Val: I know what you mean about the hype surrounding books putting you off. It does me too and I often wait until it's all died down before I venture to read the book. Sometimes the hype is warranted but occasionally it's not!