Six Degrees of Separation!

Six Degrees of Separation is the brain child of Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best where we all start with the same book and see where our links take us!

Follow the hashtag #6degrees on Twitter to check out everyone else’s chains.

This month the chain is starting with Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss, in which the author bemoans the state of punctuation in the United Kingdom and the United States and describes how rules are being relaxed in today’s society. Her goal with the book was to remind readers of the importance of punctuation in the English language by mixing humour and instruction.

Harper Lee is another writer for whom punctuation or the lack of punctuation was important. She has firm ideas on how exactly her second novel’s title should appear. When shown a mock-up of the book jacket by her US publisher, which presented the title as ‘Go, Set a Watchman’ (as it is written in Isaiah 21:6 from where it is taken), Lee reportedly said there should be no comma after ‘Go’.  An editor argued that there was one in the King James Version. “That’s the Lord’s book,” the 89-year-old author replied. “This is my book. And there is no comma.” Go Set a Watchman it duly became.  

Go Set a Watchman is a debut novel (although published second), which features characters from a later book by the same author. In the same way, Virginia Woolf’s debut novel A Voyage Out features an appearance by Clarissa Dalloway, who would become the main character in Mrs Dalloway. In A Voyage Out, she is a passenger aboard a ship bound for South America. The main character in the novel is Rachel Vinrace, who is launched on a course of self-discovery in a kind of modern mythical voyage.

A ship bound for South America also features in Chess Story by Stefan Zweig. Sometimes known as The Royal Game, this novella explore what happens when passengers on the ship discover that on board with them is the world champion of chess, an arrogant and unfriendly man. They come together to try their skills against him and are soundly defeated. Then a mysterious passenger steps forward to advise them and their fortunes change. How he came to possess his extraordinary grasp of the game of chess and at what cost lie at the heart of Zweig’s story.

A chess prodigy is at the heart of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union in which Meyer Landsman, an alcoholic homicide detective with the Sitka police department, is investigating the murder of a chess player in the hotel where Landsman lives. Beside the corpse lies an open cardboard chess board with what appears to be an unfinished game set up on it. This will be the key to solving the whole case. The novel is set in an alternative history version of the present day. The premise is that contrary to real history, the United States voted to implement the 1940 Slattery Report, which recommended the provision of land in Alaska for the temporary refugee settlement of European Jews who were being persecuted by the Nazis during World War II.  

Another book, which features an alternate history of World War II, is The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick which takes place fifteen years after a different end to World War II, and depicts intrigues between the victorious Axis Powers—primarily, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany—as they rule over the Southern and Western United States. Important to the plot of the book is the fact that several characters in it read a fictional popular novel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, by Hawthorne Abendsen, which is about an alternative universe, where the Axis Powers lost World War II, and the book has been banned.

This literary device of an embedded narrative is used to great effect in The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. The novel’s protagonist, Iris Chase, and her sister Laura, grow up as wealthy orphans in a small town in southern Ontario. As an old woman, Iris recalls the events and relationships of her childhood, youth and middle age, including her unhappy marriage. However, rather than presenting a linear narrative, the book includes a novel within a novel, a roman à clef attributed to Laura about a politically radical author of pulp science fiction who has an ambiguous relationship with the sisters. That embedded story itself contains a third tale, the eponymous Blind Assassin.

So there you have it!

From punctuation to literary devices via cruises, chess and alternate histories, these are my six degrees of separation for this month!

Next month (August 7, 2021), we’ll start with a bestselling work of autobiographical fiction, Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher.

Six Degrees

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

31 Comments Leave a comment

    • I’d love to reread The Blind Assassin too, it’s always been my favourite Atwood. I watched some of the TV adaptation of The Man in the High Castle but wasn’t fussed on it, I think I might get on better with the book.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What a great first link! I haven’t read any of the books in your chain this month, but I do want to read The Blind Assassin. My chain includes two books I read for your Reading Ireland Months 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent book picks, with inter-connecting references — loved this! Thanks for the little history about “Go Set a Watchman” — To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my favorite books of all time and it’s good to know more about this reclusive autor (and sadly, the disappointing sequel).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love that story about Harper Lee, especially since there were so many rumours at the time that somehow she hadn’t really wanted the book published and was coerced. I put off reading it for ages because of that, but I’m glad I finally did – I think I actually preferred it to Mockingbird.


  4. Oh, I love how you transitted from one to another, and what provoked the links you made. I’ve read the PKD and the Zweig, which I thought you summarised really well, but now I really, really want to read the Attwood and the Woolf, curses!


  5. Cracking chain, Cathy. The only one I’ve read is The Blind Assassin, which I love. Your overview of The Man in the High Castle makes me want to read it even more, now. Chess Story, too, is on my list.
    Have you read Go Set a Watchman? I love that story about the title. This might be a reason why I don’t want to read Lynne Truss’s book – punctuation is important, but sometimes rules are for breaking, especially if creativity is to flourish. I haven’t wanted to read Go Set a Watchman because I love To Kill a Mockingbird so much. Harper Lee’s attitude to that comma makes me wonder whether I should take the risk.


    • I haven’t read Go Set a Watchman Jan, coverage gave me the feeling that it was more of a first draft than a standalone novel and that made me wary. I could be wrong though but I’m in no rush to read it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s the feeling I got from the coverage. A friend read it at time of publication and reported being disappointed by it. Perhaps one day I might give it a try, just out of curiosity!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I didn’t know that about the Lee book. But you know, anyone who insists there was a comma in the quote from the Book of Isiah is not reading the original – in Aramaic, which, by the way, has no punctuation at all. Yes, later colons were included in the scriptures to indicate the end of phrases or sentences, but that’s about it. So she was right to not have the comma! Whatever punctuation marks people see in the English or Latin translations were all added by the translator, hundreds of years after they were originally written.


  7. Loved the anecdote about Harper Lee – she sounds like someone I would have liked having at my side in all my arguments with people who insisted on using capital letters for every word that sounded important. Grr

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A fun chain although I haven’t read any of these. I wonder what the real story was about the publication of Go Tell a Watchman – sometimes I miss working in publishing and knowing all the secrets (or some of them, anyway).

    Liked by 1 person

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