#6Degrees of Separation November 2022

This month our fun linking of books, as hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best, starts with a cookbook, so I have to admit I was a bit stumped. Not that I don’t like cooking, but for me they are entirely separate books from the ones I read. I keep them in the kitchen rather than on normal bookshelves, for example.

I don’t think I ever used the book The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver but I did quite enjoy the TV programme when it first came out, although his cheeky chappy persona did get a bit annoying after a while. Nevertheless, he did a good job warning people about the rubbish children are given in school meals. Unfortunately, it seems that even those rubbish meals have become unaffordable for most families.

For the first book in the chain I will pick one that sounds like a cookery book that might have been written by Jamie Oliver, and includes the word ‘naked’ in the title: Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. It is, however, anything but healthy, describing various scenes from the life of a drug addict in various places around the world. A book best taken in moderation, in small bites.

Another book that I feel I can only handle by diving in occasionally and reading short passages is Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick. A series of memories and personal stories polished until they become fiction, no clear chronology or story arc, yet full of sparkling gems on nearly every page.

‘Night’ provides the link to the next book, one I haven’t read yet but which sounds a bit like The Books of Jacob. It hasn’t been translated into English, but its title would be St Andrew’s Night by Moldavian writer Ion Vicol. St Andrew preached in Scythia and along the Black Sea Coast, in what is now Romania, Moldova and Ukraine, before heading south to Greece, and, in this novel at least, the author portrays him as playing a not insignificant part in the battles between the Romans and the Dacians.

The Feast of St Andrew on 30th November is also the National Day for Scotland, so I will turn to a Scottish writer and a piece of Scottish history for my next link, namely Denise Mina’s Rizzio, a fictional retelling of the brutal murder of Mary Queen of Scots’ Italian secretary in 1566.

Friedrich Schiller’s Maria Stuart looks at the final days of the imprisoned queen and features a dramatic meeting between the two queens, Mary and Elizabeth, that in reality never took place.

My final book is actually a play about a meeting that did take place, but which has remained somewhat mysterious to historians, namely Copenhagen by Michael Frayn. It is based on the meeting in September 1941 in that city between German physicist Heisenberg and Danish physicist Niels Bohr, a highly charged discussion of the use of nuclear weapons and the personal responsibility of scientists.

As usual, quite a wander through geography and history in this latest instalment of Six Degrees: from America, Mexico, Tangier and most of Europe, to Scythia, Scotland and England (Fotheringay Castle), and finally Copenhagen. Where will your literary meanders take you?