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 others to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the titles on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.
This month we’re starting with Julia Baird’s gorgeously jacketed Phosphorescence which I haven’t read but I gather it’s about sustaining an inner happiness even in the face of the darkest of times, which seems entirely appropriate considering all we’ve been through over the past year.
Baird’s book comes out of her own struggles with illness. Lots of authors have written books on that topic but the most striking I‘ve read is Anna Lyndsey’s Girl in the Dark in which she describes her skin’s inability to tolerate light of any kind. Lyndsey writes beautifully about her condition and the strategies she adopts to cope with it. Grace under pressure, for sure.
Mention of darkness brings to mind Christiane Ritter’s memoir A Woman in the Polar Night. In 1934, Ritter set off to spend a year with her hunter-trapper husband in the Arctic where she proved herself to be wonderfully resourceful. Highly recommended for both adventure and beautifully described landscape.
Which leads me to The Voyage of Narwhal, Andrea Barrett’s novel of ill-fated, nineteenth-century polar exploration in which an inexperienced enthusiast, accompanied by his naturalist brother-in-law, turns into a despotic ship’s captain.
Barrett also wrote a novel set in a tuberculosis sanatorium as did Linda Grant whose The Dark Circle celebrates both the setting up of the National Health Service and the discovery of an effective treatment for TB.
Austin Duffy’s This Living and Immortal Thing looks at another much-feared illness, cancer, through a young patient and her oncologist. Duffy’s novel does that thing that good fiction does – educates us and helps us understand what it’s like for others.
A small leap from there to Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks which follows the story of the Lacks’ cancerous cells, taken without her permission and replicated many times to form the basis of a multi-million dollar research industry.
This month’s Six Degrees has taken me from a book to help you find a way through hard times to a riveting account of medical research coupled with exploitation. 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.