Six Degrees of Separation – from Shopgirl to Shotgun Lovesongs #6Degrees

I’m not one for memes but Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best, is one I’ve come to eagerly anticipate on other blogs so I thought I’d stick my toe in the water. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one preceding it.

Cover montage

This month’s starting point is Steve Martin’s Shopgirl which I’ve not read but the Goodreads synopsis tells me that it’s about a lonely young woman selling expensive evening  gloves in a department store who tries to form a relationship with an ageing rich Lothario while shrugging off the attentions of an awkward slacker. Feelings about the book seem to be mixed but it doesn’t sound like the barrel of laughs one might expect from a novel by a comedian.

Like Steve Martin, David Baddiel is known to many as a comic, a familiar face from the ‘90s BBC comedy show, The Mary Whitehouse Experience. He now channels his writing talent into children’s books but his first novel, Whatever Love Means, which I’ve not read either, was aimed at adults. It’s described by the publisher as ‘part-satire, part-love story, part-whodunnit, and part-meditation on the nature of sex and death’.

Earlier this year Baddiel took part in a documentary about his father’s dementia which leads me to Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest, a riveting thriller told from the point of view of a demented narrator. McFarlane won the Dylan Thomas Prize for her collection of short stories, The High Places last month. I’m a recent short stories convert and my fourth book is one which played a large part in that conversion

Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women. draws heavily on her own rackety life: several marriages, four children and alcoholism followed a peripatetic childhood spent in mining towns with a brief glamorous teenage period in Chile. This collection drew lots of attention when it was published in 2015 but Berlin, who died in 2004, had been quietly writing since the ‘60s so you could describe her stories as rediscovered classics which leads me to John Williams’ Stoner.

First published in 1965 Stoner became that wonderful thing a word-of-mouth bestseller when it was re-issued a few years ago. It’s a lovely elegiac novel about an ordinary man who leads an unremarkable life, written in quietly graceful prose. Stoner is an academic, the main protagonist of a campus novel which leads me to Richard Russo’s Straight Man.

Russo’s Hank Devereaux is very different from Williams’ Stoner. Slap in the middle of a mid-life crisis, Hank is also caught up in campus politics, trying to cope with a teenage daughter and juggling a complicated love life. Things go horribly and quite hilariously wrong for Hank – there’s one scene in which had me almost crying with laughter.

Russo is known for his American small town novels, another weakness of mine. One of the best books I’ve read in the last few years with this sort of backdrop is Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs, a gorgeous, tender novel about love and friendship, set against in Little Wing, Wisconsin.

So endeth my first but I hope not my last Six Degrees of Separation which has taken me from selling gloves in a department store to broken hearts in small town America. I hope I’ve got the hang of it but I’ve a feeling this may get easier with practice. If you like the idea, you can follow this meme on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees.

25 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – from Shopgirl to Shotgun Lovesongs #6Degrees”

  1. I’d probably struggle with this one, as I haven’t got a clue about the starting point, but you have woven some beautiful links in there! And I still haven’t read either Stoner or Manual for Cleaning Women, although I am sure I’d love both.

    1. Thanks, Annabel. It is fun, isn’t it – I think I’m hooked already. Please do read these two. I’m sure you’d love them, both examples of very fine writing.

  2. A weakness for American small town novels! That’s an unusual weakness. My favourite would be The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I felt like I was in that town with all those people. Great chain, thank you.

  3. I loved Stoner. That elegiac tone without being sentimental, the pain of living by a moral code that prevents happiness for a lifetime. Brilliant. I really should read more of John Williams.

  4. *CLAPS* You certainly do have the hang of it – those links were seamless and clever. Especially loved your ‘small town America’. Russo is one of my MAJOR reading gaps and if I don’t read Empire Falls soon, I think Rory at Fourth Street Review will jump on a plane, sit me down, and force-read it to me 😉 Shotgun Lovesongs sounds terrific.

    1. Thank you, Kate. I’ve been admiring these posts from the sidelines for about a year so it really was time I had a go! Ha! Rory’s clearly a fan then. Shotgun Lovesongs is a huge favourite of mine. Achingly beautiful writing.

  5. Welcome to the throng of us who wrestle with these prompts. It doesnt help that most of the time I have not read the starting book …. But you seem to have got the hang of it pretty quickly and come with some clever links. i’m still trying to get beyond Shop Girl….

  6. Like you, I’ve been admiring everyone else’s chains for a while now. I keep thinking I should try it, but time is my main obstacle. I’m barely keeping up with it all as it is! But maybe sometime… It’s probably the kind of thing that gets quicker and easier the more you do it.
    Did they make Straight Man into a movie?

    1. It would make a very good film, Naomi. When I was remembering Straight Man the film of Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys popped into my head starring Michael Douglas as the jaded professor unable to complete his second novel and faced with a brilliant young student.

      I think it will get easier. I’ve found that ideas for the new chain are already ticking away in the back of my mind. Once you’ve made your connections the post is quick and easy to write. Not that I’m pushing you…

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