Six Degrees of Separation: From Shopgirl to…

Hosted each month by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest, the Six Degrees of Separation meme picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps. This month’s starting point was suggested by Annabel.

Shopgirl by Steve Martin. I had no idea that comedian Steve Martin wrote novels, but apparently this one is a bit of a satire about life in LA, as well as a love story.

Lonely, depressed Vermont transplant Mirabelle Buttersfield, who sells expensive evening gloves nobody ever buys at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and spends her evenings watching television with her two cats. She attempts to forge a relationship with middle-aged, womanizing, Seattle millionaire Ray Porter while being pursued by socially inept and unambitious slacker Jeremy.

So my second pick is purely picked for the title which sounds fairly similar. 1) Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic. I haven’t read this one either and I can think of nothing less likely for me to pick up, as I hated that whole Bridget Jones, Ally McBeal and ditzy single shopaholic chick scene which seemed so prevalent when I first started working in London in the late 1990s.

 

The third book is a bit of a leap, but bear with me… I’ll be taking you to 18th century Geneva and Paris, via the 2) Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It is an extraordinarily honest autobiography of one of the greatest minds – but also one of the greatest narcissists – of the Century of Lights. Here he lays out and examines, without too much artifice, his weaknesses and blind spots, his triumphs and mistakes, his way of life often contradicting his principles (abandoning his children when he wrote so eloquently about children’s better nature and the importance of education).

The next choice is obvious, because Rousseau’s greatest rival at the time was 3) Voltaire. The two men started off by admiring each other’s work, but then disagreed on fundamental philosophical and moral issues and became arch-enemies. The turning point was the horrendous earthquake of Lisbon in 1755, when more than 60,000 people died. Rousseau said it should not make us doubt God’s kindness and that people brought it upon themselves by settling in cities with such dense populations. Voltaire was stunned by such heartlessness and produced in return the remarkable story of Candidea young man whose naive optimism and belief in God is sorely tested by earthquakes, syphilis, the Inquisition, murder and banishment. Mindless optimism, Voltaire contends, is stupid, unsustainable, a crime almost.

The two geniuses also fought about establishing a theatre in Geneva (Voltaire was for it, Rousseau against), so my next link is theatrical, a play which is somewhat linked to Candide, in that it presents scenes of life which test our belief in optimism and love.

4) Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen (aka Liebelei, aka La Ronde) made a profound impression on me at the age of 13, when I saw it performed on stage. It’s brief scenes of ten couples (one of the couple linking to the next, like a daisy chain) before, during and after love-making and it is incredibly revealing about class and lifestyle in decadent, pre-war Vienna.

Speaking of decadence and pre-war jitters, I’ve recently read 5) Christopher Isherwood’s Prater Violet, which also mentions Vienna, although it features the period before a different world war. This slim yet powerful work is brilliant at dissecting how world events are perceived by different people and cultures, depending on how safe you consider yourself to be. It is also a biting satire of the film industry and features a semi-fictional portrait of Isherwood as a hapless scriptwriter.

 

Clearly, my final link has to be the film industry and so we move to LA once more together with 6) Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde, a vivid, poignant, epic reimagining of the story of one of the most idolised yet summarily dismissed and underestimated women of the film world, Marilyn Monroe.

So my journey this month takes me from selling gloves in a department store in LA to becoming an iconic film star in the same city, via London, Geneva, Paris and Vienna. You can follow this meme on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees or create your own blog post. Where will your 6 degrees of separation journey take you?

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34 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Shopgirl to…”

  1. You should try the Steve Martin – it’s bittersweet and surprising as well as beautifully written. I did enjoy Bridget Jones at the time – early 30s, I was the right age! Fantastic links.

  2. Shopgirl was very good, and I’ve read all of Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series. Everyone has their own preferences, and I guess these are my type of books. 🙂

  3. Clever travels from one to the next here, Marina Sofia! I’m impressed. And I’m glad you mentioned that Isherwood. I’d like to try that one; it sounds quite tempting…

    1. The Prater Violet book was out of print for a while, I believe, and Isherwood was better known for his Berlin books or his later American books, but it’s a humorous (and sad) little gem.

  4. Shopoholic is not going to win any literature prizes however it was a bit of fun – I think it was at the forefront of that kind of book (completely overdone now by Kinsella and other authors) but I do recall laughing at lots of it.
    Blonde pops up on my radar regularly – I really must read it.

    1. Some of the chick lit books are actually quite funny, if read in moderation. I suppose it’s like the current avalanche of unreliable girls on trains in domestic thrillers – the sheer volume of them makes it hard going after a while.

  5. Hooray, someone else who never signed up to the Bridget Jones’ fan club. I’m impressed by how you got from Shopgirl to Voltaire and Rousseau – how erudite! I’m struggling with this prompt at the moment

    1. Well, I lived just down the road from Voltaire for 5 years and heard a lot about his fights with Rousseau. Which makes me sound about as old as them…

  6. I did enjoy Bridget Jones as a one off piece of amusement but that was the beginning and end of the genre for me. I did love the sideways connection though between shopaholic and Rousseau being ‘narcissism’ albeit expressed in completely different ways. I haven’t read any JCO, and i wonder if Blonde might be an interesting starter

    1. Narcissism and the very title ‘Confessions’ – and that cheery self-revealing which seems to be part of the internet generation, but clearly Rousseau already felt back then.

  7. Kinsella to Rousseau wins the prize this month for most original link! But… how could you not love Ally McBeal?? I’m shattered by that revelation – it had Robert Downey Jr in it after all…

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