Six Degrees of Separation – from Tales of the City to The Book of Salt #6Degrees

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. 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 others on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

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This month we’re starting with Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, the first in a series of books beginning in the ‘70s about a group of young people – some gay, some straight – and their adventures living on Barbary Lane in San Francisco under the wing of the wonderful Mrs Madrigal, just the kind of landlady you’d want. I’ve read the whole series many times. It’s a joyous treat although it becomes darker as AIDs rears its ugly head. It was Tales of the City that made me determined to go to San Francisco which I did in 1995.

Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room also played a part in my holiday plans when we went on our central European railway jaunt a couple of years ago. It’s about the construction of very beautiful modernist house in the Czech Republic town of Brno, and the families who live in it.

Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred-year House also tells the story of a house and its inhabitants, working backwards through its century long history. I enjoyed it but not as much as Makkai’s debut The Borrower which is about a librarian and a little boy she takes on the run.

Hard to imagine Sophie Divry’s slightly waspish librarian in The Library of Unrequited Love extending her hand to a ten-year-old. When she finds a young man who has been locked in overnight she treats him to a passionate soliloquy about her colleagues, the Dewey Decimal system and bookish conspiracies while unwittingly spilling the beans about her yearning for a young researcher.

Divry is also the author of Madame Bovary of the Suburbs, a tribute to a much-loved classic as is Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, a modern take on Pride and Prejudice. I’ve yet to read it but given the acute observation and acerbic wit on show in her recent short story collection You Think It, I’ll Say It, I’m sure she’s a fitting writer to take on the task.

Sittenfeld wrote American Wife based loosely on Laura Bush. Amy Bloom’s White Houses also features an American First Lady telling the story of Eleanor Roosevelt’s affair with Hick, a journalist who came to live in the White House, giving up her job as a Washington reporter.

Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt is also about a lesbian relationship between two historical characters, this time Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Troung tells her story through the voice of their Vietnamese cook who regales us with descriptions of the delectable food he serves to them in their Parisian apartment.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from San Francisco in the ‘70s to Paris in the ‘30s. Part of the fun of this meme is comparing the very different routes other bloggers take from each month’s starting point. If you’re interested, you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees, check out the links over at Kate’s blog or perhaps even join in.

21 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – from Tales of the City to The Book of Salt #6Degrees”

  1. Such an interesting list. I am keen to read White Houses, The American Wife and The Book of Salt, so thank you for the reminder! 🙂

    1. I loved that book. I didn’t manage to take the tour of the house when we were in Brno – the English language ones are booked up many months in advence – but we could wander in the garden and look inside. It’s beautiful.

  2. Whenever I’ve spotted The Book of Salt in the past I’ve merely glanced and moved on, thinking it some sort of cookery book. I should really know by now never to judge a book by its cover. Duh!

  3. Terrific chain with books I’ve enjoyed (particularly Eligible, even though options were divided) and some that I have on my TRB list (Madame Bovary – you’re good at adding to my stack). Thanks for The Glass Room reminder – I was interested in this one when it was released but had forgotten about it.

    1. Thanks, Kate. This one was particularly enjoyable to put together. A couple of treats in store there! I was put off Eligible but I’ve added it back on my list after reading her short story collection and you’ve confirmed that decision.

      1. I’m not precious about re-writes. I know some people hated Eligible but don’t take it seriously, and enjoy the bits that Sittenfeld changed and the bits she kept the same – I thought her modernisation was all in good fun.

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