#6Degrees of Separation: From Judy Blume to…

I was too busy to take part in this favourite bookish thread last month but am delighted to be back now. Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best nudges us into position every month with a ‘starter book for ten’ and we link it one by one to another six books. Everyone’s chain is very different, and I think it’s fascinating to see how our minds work!

This month’s starter is Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, an author whose books we would surreptitiously pass from one girl to another under the desks in class, while we were supposed to be reading A Tale of Two Cities or something equally respectable. We were a British international school, as opposed to the American International school that was our main rival in town. But we did have quite a few American pupils and they introduced us to Judy Blume.

Another book that I distinctly remember discovering at that school, although this time it was officially part of the curriculum in our German class, was a short story collection by Swiss writer Peter Bichsel. The poignant, surreal story A Table Is a Table impressed me so much that I have never forgotten it. It’s all about loneliness, being misunderstood, not finding a common language to communicate, or dementia, or all sorts of things that children may not really understand at a conscious level, but instinctively grasp with their heart. You can read it here in Lydia Davis’ translation.

I have to admit to my shame that for the longest time I mixed up Lydia Davis with Lindsey Davis, whose novels of crime and mayhem set in Imperial Rome and featuring informer Marcus Didius Falco I discovered and loved so much in my early twenties. I chanced upon them in my library, so The Iron Hand of Mars was the first one I read, although it is the fourth or fifth in the series chronologically.

Mars is the link to the next book, namely Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. Again, a book I devoured in my youth – with the Cold War at its demented peak, it all seemed more than a little plausible at the time.

Of course, the most obvious author describing the Cold War period is John Le Carré and I’m particularly fond of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, which captures perfectly the constant paranoia, distrust and sheer danger of East Germany and the world of espionage during the period just after the Berlin Wall went up.

A book set in Berlin (but at a very different point in time – party town Berlin in 2008) sits patiently waiting on my shelves to be read: French writer Oscar Coop-Phane’s Tomorrow Berlin, transl. George Miller.

Of course, if I were to make the last link in the chain any one of the hundreds of unread books in my library, that would be far too open a field. So instead I will focus on another book that I have in English rather than in the original language, although I can read the original language. It is Nostalgia by Mircea Cartarescu, transl. Julian Semilian, which will be published by Penguin Classics in 2021 (and who kindly sent me an ARC).

So quite a variety of genres and locations this month: YA set in the US, Swiss short stories, historical crime fiction in Ancient Rome, science fiction on Mars, spy thriller in Berlin and London, youth drug and club culture in Berlin and Paris, and experimental literary fiction set in Romania.

Where will your literary connections take you this month?

16 thoughts on “#6Degrees of Separation: From Judy Blume to…”

  1. The reading choices you made a as younger woman mirror many of mine too – and though I enjoyed them then, I’m not sufficiently tempted to revisit them. Of the other books you mention, Oscar Coop-Phane’s Tomorrow Berlin is the one that most piqued my interest, though I’m tending to avoid darkish reads in this time of pandemic. Thanks for a great chain!

    1. Which is why that whole ‘classics vs. YA literature debate’ leaves me nonplussed. Surely there is room for both? I read Gone with the Wind and the Chalet school, Forever Amber and Vanity Fair with equal gusto!

      1. Absolutely agree! When I was in bookselling I tried to gently suggest to worried parents/grandparents concerned about ‘literature’ that long as their kids were reading it didn’t matter what it was.

    1. Annoying, isn’t it, when your intuitive mind can’t keep up with your rational one. Just like with the Penelope writers: I need to really concentrate to tell them apart (Fitzgerald, Mortimer, Lively).

  2. I love this chain, Marina Sofia!! I did love the Blume as a child, and like you, I ate up The Martian Chronicles. There’s no-one like John Le Carré for a good espionage novel, and The Spy… is, I agree, one of his best. All in all, a terrific chain!

  3. Apart from the Judy Blume book I haven’t read any of the others in your chain, but I have read the first Falco book, which I enjoyed. I must try to continue with that series soon!

  4. Interesting how we both thought of “Nostalgia” (in a way) when we thought of Blume. Lindsey Davis looks like something right up my alley, and I’m off to check out the short story link you shared. Thanks!

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