Category Archives: Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation – from Vanity Fair to The Mountain Can Wait #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 William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair which tells the salutary story of Becky Sharp, the opportunistic social climber who comes to a sticky end, so memorably portrayed by Natasha Little in Andrew Davies’ 1998 adaptation.

Andrew Davies also adapted Alan Hollinghurst’s portrayal of ‘80s excess and politics, The Line of Beauty, which left me cold, and Karen at Bookertalk agrees with me.

Quite the opposite feeling to my childhood love of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, which led me to beg my parents to take me to Doone Valley every time we were anywhere near Exmoor.

Daphne du Maurier’s celebrated Rebecca is set in Cornwall, which is generally where we were off to as I watched the signs to Doone Valley flash past. At least two authors – Susan Hill and Sally Beauman – were confident enough to pen ‘sequels’ to Rebecca.

Leading me to Scarlett, Alexandra Ripley’s follow-up to Gone with the Wind which picks up our heroine’s story after the funeral of Melanie Wilkes, her old flame Ashley’s wife.

Based on his family history, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain shares the American Civil War backdrop, following a Confederate soldier home to the wife he married just before he enlisted four years before. Inman travels through a country as changed as he is – farms in ruins, terrible poverty, lawlessness and degradation.

With its striking sense of place and gorgeous prose, Sarah Leipciger’s The Mountain Can Wait was one of my favourite novels of 2015. It’s about a father whose need to protect the son who’s run away from a crime clashes with his own morality which, in a way, takes me back to the beginning of this post.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a nineteenth-century morality tale to a twenty-first century version. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from The Outsiders to Wise Children #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.

This month we’re starting with S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders which I’ve not read but I know this story of teenage rebellion is considered to be a classic of young adult fiction.

Albert Camus’ The Outsider is also thought of as a classic. It’s about Meursault who refuses to conform to society’s expectations showing no emotion when his mother dies or remorse at an act of violence he commits.

The Outsider is also translated as The Stranger which takes me to Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger set in a crumbling, haunted mansion lived in by the same family for two centuries. Not my favourite Waters. I much prefer Fingersmith for its brilliant twist.

Which leads me to Steven Galloway’s The Confabulist about a man fascinated by magic and illusion who is convinced he’s responsible for Houdini’s death. It’s such a clever book, a magnificent illusion in itself, whose final twist is kept under wraps until the very end.

Steven Galloway also wrote The Cellist of Sarajevo leading me to Patrick Gale’s Take Nothing with You which I’ve yet to read but I know it’s about a young boy who finds a passion for the cello when his mother signs him up for lessons with a glamorous teacher.

Patrick Gale’s father was governor of HM Prison Camp Hill on the Isle of Wight. Patrick McGrath grew up close to another secure institution: Broadmoor Hospital where his father was the medical superintendent. His novels often explores madness, of which The Wardrobe Mistress set against the backdrop of the London theatre, is one of my favourites.

Angela Carter’s Wise Children shares a theatrical backdrop with The Wardrobe Mistress. It’s a tale of unacknowledged paternity, mistaken identities, twins at every turn, Shakespeare, Hollywood, music hall, discarded wives, glorious love and rollicking good times. A wonderful novel packed with Shakespearean references, a plot worthy of one of the Comedies and written in language which is earthy, vivid and memorable

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a teen classic to a tale of theatrical dynasty. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from Where Am I Now? True stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame to An Unquiet Mind #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 Mara Wilson’s Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame which I’ve not read but I gather is about Wilson’s experiences of being a child star in movies such as Mrs Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street and Matilda. She grew up to become a writer but continued her acting work as part of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast team whose fabulous show I’ve seen on stage. I know – it’s a podcast – but trust me it works.

Emma Tennant’s Girlitude is about a protracted girlhood, covering the early years of Tennant’s life from 1955 when she became a debutante and entered the ‘marriage market’. Tennant departed from the straight and narrow with a turbulent love affair, briefly getting back on track with her marriage to Henry Green’s son before taking up a semi-nomadic life, frequently attracted to unsuitable men.

Later in life Tennant penned a series of successful ‘tributes’ to Jane Austen’s novels, although not to Mansfield Park in which Fanny Price is taken in by her wealthy cousins eager to remind her of the poverty of her origins. With the arrival of the frivolous Crawfords it soon becomes clear that Fanny’s morals are infinitely superior to her cousins’.

I read Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party and Other Stories many years ago, long before I’d learned to savour a collection of short stories rather than inhaling the entire book in one go. As a result, I remember very little about them apart from an impression of fine writing

Katherine Mansfield was a New Zealander as is C. K. Stead whose The Necessary Angel I read and very much enjoyed earlier in the year. Set in Paris in 2014, it’s about a professor at the Sorbonne and the three women who play significant parts in his life during the year the novel spans. Polished, witty and intelligent, it manages to be both cerebral and thoroughly entertaining.

Janet Frame’s autobiographical trilogy, An Angel at My Table, is more sobering than entertaining although it does have a happy ending. Frame was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia as a young woman and confined to an asylum from which she was liberated after winning a national literary prize.

Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind is also an account of mental illness. Jameson’s bipolarity afflicted her as a young medical student and continued to do so for most of her adult life. After years of struggling with vivid but destructive manic episodes followed by paralysing depressions, Jamison sought help and went on to become one of the foremost American practitioners in its treatment.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a child actor’s memoir to a striking account of mental illness. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from Atonement to Oscar and Lucinda #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 Ian McEwan’s Atonement which is about thirteen-year-old Briony who misconstrues an event she witnesses one scorching summer day in 1935 leading her to make an accusation she will regret for the rest of her life.

Atonement reminded me very much of L P Hartley’s The Go-Between in which young boy becomes caught up in the relationship between a young man and woman and is irreparably damaged by it.

Julie Christie played a starring role in the film adaptation of The Go-Between just as she did in Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd which I’m unable to watch without snivelling. Even the music starts me off.

There’s a scene in Hardy’s novel involving sheep which makes me cry all the harder unlike the one in Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s very funny Butterflies in November in which a dead sheep is wrestled into a car’s passenger seat.

Butterflies in November is set in Iceland where the novelist Sarah Moss spent a year as a visiting academic. She writes about what it’s like to be a foreigner in a country so small that everyone seems to know each other in her entertaining memoir, Names for the Sea.

Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea is set nowhere near Iceland and I can remember very little about it having read it a very long time ago but I do know that it won what was then called the Booker Prize.

As did Oscar and Lucinda which is my all-time favourite winner (so far). Gawky, misfit Oscar Hopkins meets fellow gambler Lucinda Leplastrier – equally the misfit and unexpectedly in possession of a large fortune – on board a ship sailing to Australia where both wager their futures on the construction of a fantastical glass church. Set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century colonialism it’s a wonderfully witty, vibrant pastiche of a Victorian novel.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from an English summer’s day in 1935 to nineteenth-century Australia. 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.

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.Cover images

 

 

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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from The Tipping Point to Killing Me Softly #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.

This month we’re starting with Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point which I’ve never read but I do know that he’s also the author of Blink.

Which leads me to Jean-Dominque Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Bauby was struck down by a massive stroke which left him able to communicate only by blinking. His book is a testament to his absolute determination.

It took me a long time to get around to reading Lucy Wood’s beautifully crafted collection Diving Belles despite having enjoyed Weathering so much. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes unsettling these stories are all about the sea in one way or another.

Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies was a favourite book when I was a child. I’m sure I had no idea at the time that Kingsley had intended it to be a satire on Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

The same can be said of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times which turned out to be a dig at James Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism in its depiction of a schoolmaster with no time for anything but drumming facts into his pupils’ heads. Way beyond my eleven-year-old grasp, although I remember not enjoying it one bit.

James Stuart Mill wrote The Subjection of Women which put forward ideas developed with his wife Harriet Taylor Mill and was published after her death. It argued the case for equality between the sexes, a controversial idea midway through the nineteenth century.

Killing Me Softly is by another husband and wife team but of a very different kind. Nicci French is the name under which Nicci Gerrard and Sean French publish their very successful series of thrillers. I read this when it came out for work but can remember nothing about it. A quick shufti at the publisher’s blurb tells me that ‘it’s a terrifying journey into the heart of obsession’. I’ll have to take their word for that.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from the small change in circumstance that can precipitate our decisions to a thriller about obsession. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from The Poisonwood Bible to The Eyre Affair #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.

This month we’re starting with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Drawing on her own childhood experiences with her missionary family in Africa, it’s the book that made her name but I much prefer her earlier novels.

Another Barbara whose novels I’ve enjoyed is Barbara Trapido whose Noah’s Ark is about a scatty single mother who falls for Noah, her polar opposite, but a decade later finds herself drawn back into her complicated past. I’m not entirely sure it would stand up to a second reading.

Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark became Schindler’s List for Stephen Spielberg’s blockbusting adaptation. I was told by the publisher’s rep that Americans did not know what an ark was hence the renaming which sounds a wee bit far-fetched not to mention insulting to me.

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron takes a somewhat starker view of the Holocaust with the story of a Polish concentration camp survivor married to a Jewish intellectual in Brooklyn and haunted by a dreadful secret.

The eponymous fourteen-year-old in Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World is led through a history of Western philosophy by a mysterious mentor and a multitude of postcards posing riddles in this international bestseller which was one of the first crossovers between young adult and adult book buyers that I remember from my bookselling days.

A description that could also be applied to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time about fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone who has Asperger’s syndrome and whose world is thrown into chaos by the discovery of his neighbour’s murdered dog.

The Boone family live in Swindon as does Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next, detective extraordinaire, who first made her appearance in The Eyre Affair which sees Thursday determined to get a whole series of literary characters back on their rightful pages. One of those books that has you constantly sniggering, annoying everyone within earshot.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from missionary work in Belgian Congo to fantastical literary conundrums in Swindon. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from Memoirs of a Geisha to Capital #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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I’m somewhat late to this month’s party, having spent a week in Spain (more of which next week). We’re starting with Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha which took the bestseller charts by storm back in the late ‘90s. Although I’ve read it, I can’t say it stands out in my memory.

Given the Japanese connection I can’t resist linking to a book by one of my favourite writers, Haruki Murakami. Last month I wrote a Blast from the Past post about one of his wackiest novels, A Wild Sheep Chase. To balance that I’ve chosen South of the Border, West of the Sun, a much more accessible pieces of fiction about a happily married man forced to remember his past when his childhood sweetheart reappears.

Cats pop up all over the place in Murakami’s fiction which takes me to Takashi Hiraide’s elegantly pared-back The Guest Cat about a reclusive young couple who open up their home and hearts to a stray cat and are then faced with the prospect of moving. Short but not slight, it’s a thoughtful rather lovely book.

Cats are not known for paying their way as opposed to Sarah Waters’ characters in  The Paying Guests which sees an impoverished war widow and her daughter reluctantly take in lodgers. Lots of readers loved Waters’ first twentieth-century set novel but I much prefer her Victorian pastiches.

One of the best examples of Victorian pastiche I’ve read is Charles Pallisers’ The Quincunx which I pulled off the shelves earlier in the year for H who was recovering from a nasty chest infection. It’s many years since I read it but I do remember it has a satisfyingly convoluted plot and an equally pleasing unreliable narrator.

I haven’t read Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series but H tells me I really should given that I’m a fan of state of the nation novels. Made up of six separate books, the series was once known as the Parliamentary Novels and was adapted for TV back in the days before the BBC thought it was a good idea to condense a long piece of fiction into four parts.

Which leads me to a more recent state of the nation novel of which there are many to choose from but I’m plumping for John Lanchester’s Capital because of its clever premise – surveying the nation through the fortunes of one London street just after the global financial collapse of 2008.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from an ageing woman’s memories of her life as a geisha in early twentieth-century Japan to a single London street holding up a mirror to my own nation in 2008. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from The Beauty Myth to Waiting for Robert Capa #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.

This month we’re starting with Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth which I remember reading when it was first published. It encapsulated my own views about the way in which women pursue an impossible ideal of beauty and the money made from that pursuit. Sadly, it seems to me that this has only got worse and can now be extended to include young men. Not the kind of equality I want to see.

Lightening the tone a little, the beauty industry is closely linked to fashion which takes me to Lauren Weisberger’s bestseller The Devil Wears Prada set in the offices of a fashion magazine. I haven’t read the book but I have seen Meryl Streep’s star turn as the magazine’s editor hell-bent on keeping her staff in their places.

Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil was one of my favourite books the year it was published. Set in 1920s America, it’s a tale of daring and loneliness as the magician Charles Carter takes ever greater risks on stage. When the President dies shortly after seeing Carter’s act, the performer becomes the object of Secret Service attention. Riveting stuff!

I have to admit that I haven’t read Ted Lewis’ gangster caper Get Carter but my crime-reading partner says it’s great. I have seen the film which stars Michael Caine as the eponymous hero, though.

Caine appeared in an entirely different role in Lasse Hallström’s excellent adaptation of John Irving’s compassionate novel The Cider House Rules. Set in an orphanage where unmarried women come to have their babies, it’s about Homer Wells who learns the founder’s secret and finds himself reluctantly continuing it when Wilbur no longer can.

Leaping from New England to Gloucesteshire for Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie which many UK readers will have read at school. Lee’s colourful memoir of his childhood and early manhood in the Cotswold village of Slad probably needs to be taken with a pinch of salt but it’s thoroughly enjoyable nevertheless.

Lee also wrote about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War in A Moment of War. The Hungarian photographer and founder member of the Magnum photographic co-operative Robert Capa made his name recording the Civil War. In her novel, Waiting for Robert Capa, Susana Fortes writes about his affair with Gerda Taro who died in the war. Taro’s photographic talents were sadly overlooked, barely acknowledged at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Centre I visited in Budapest.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a feminist analysis of the beauty industry to a woman photographer in the Spanish Civil War. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from Lincoln in the Bardo to Villette #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.

This month we’re starting with the 2017 Man Booker-winning Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders set against the backdrop of the America Civil War with the president grief stricken by the loss of his son. I still haven’t got around to reading it.

The titular bardo is a Buddhist term for the transitional state between death and rebirth.  Siddartha, the title of Herman Hesse’s retelling of the Buddha’s story, is often pronounced ‘Sid Arthur’ which provided a challenge in my very early days as a bookseller. I’ve also hear The Glass Bead Game referred to as The Glass Bidet, but that’s another story.

The eponymous Arthur in Julian Barnes’ novel Arthur and George is Arthur Conan Doyle whose path crossed with George Edjali’s, a Birmingham solicitor convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Conan Doyle became determined to clear Edjali’s name and ensure that the true culprit was brought to justice.

Which brings me to Sherlock Holmes by my old friend and colleague Nick Rennison who took on the challenge of writing the biography of one of his favourite fictional characters cleverly blending fact with fiction at great risk to himself given the many Holmes fans with very strong views about their hero.

Colm Tóibin’s The Master also blends fact with fiction in a fictionalised account of a period in Henry James’ life. In the final years of the nineteenth-century James retreated to Rye, crushed by the humiliation of his failure as a playwright and his inability to embrace intimacy. Tóibin’s novel explores the writer’s mental turmoil.

James’ gothic novella, Turn of the Screw, is one of the most polished ghost stories I’ve read. It’s about a governess who becomes determined to save the two children in her charge from their apparent possession. Renamed The Innocents, it was made into a terrifying film starring Deborah Kerr.

Charlotte Brontë’s Villette is about another governess who finds herself in trouble. Lucy Snowe travels to Belgium where she struggles to control her pupils and becomes embroiled in her feelings for a dictatorial teacher. Brontë drew on her own difficult experience as a governess in Brussels for this novel which was an A Level text for me, more years ago than I care to remember. I have to admit that I haven’t read it since

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a bereaved American president to a troubled governess in a Belgian city but kept me, mostly, in the nineteenth-century. 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.