The starting point for the Six Degrees of Separation meme this month is George Saunders’ much lauded LINCOLN IN THE BARDO. Because of my personal history with this book I decided to have some extra fun with the meme this month and choose only books that I have been forced to read for one reason or another.
Even though it’s not a crime novel I did make an attempt to read LINCOLN IN THE BARDO which is (I think) about Abraham Lincoln’s grief over his dead son when a copy was thrust upon me by a well-meaning but misguided friend. I didn’t make it to page 50. I’m sorry that a young boy died and all but blurb descriptions like “…breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm…” and “…Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance…” made me reach for a car repair manual in preference. I’m not good with the paranormal or fantastical.
↓ ↓ ↓ Time Magazine ↓ ↓ ↓
At the other end of the literary spectrum is a book that was thrust upon me by a different (and frankly less well meaning) friend. I didn’t get more than 30 pages into: E.L. James’ first soft porn novel FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Although you might imagine Saunders and James have little in common other than me not wanting to read their books, a more concrete connection is that both authors have been listed in Time magazine’s annual list of the year’s most influential people (2013 and 2012 respectively). I can’t decide if this fact makes the world a wondrous place of inclusion for all or denotes the end of civilisation as we know it. The book, its sequels and cinematic adaptations have spawned much comment, controversy and parody including the delightfully named THE FIFTY SHAMES OF EARL GREY.
↓ ↓ ↓ Parody ↓ ↓ ↓
Although it is crime fiction, another book I had to be forced to read was Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. I am not a fan of the much-hyped, ‘must read’ book but this was selected for my book club which requires an attempt at least. Unlike the two books discussed above I actually finished this one and enjoyed it despite its flaws and need for editing. Among the parodies it inspired my favourite is a New Yorker article by Nora Ephron called The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut. As well as offering social commentary and a variation on the ‘impossible crime’ of old fashioned mystery novels this book does feature a significant character who is tattooed.
↓ ↓ ↓ Tattoos ↓ ↓ ↓
The interminable MOBY DICK by Herman Melville was required reading for one of the subjects during my first year at University and after I stopped reading somewhere around page 300 to beat myself over the head with a brick (for light relief) I quit the book and the subject. But I do remember Queequeg, the fully tattooed cannibal who Ishmael (the book’s narrator) encounters on his travels. Though from memory the tattoos are as illegible as I found the book to be. Of course MOBY DICK is considered a classic by bigger brains than mine which has led to many references in popular culture including during an episode of The Simpsons when Lisa points out to her father that the whole point of the book is that you can’t take revenge on an animal (Homer argues the point is to be yourself).
↓ ↓ ↓ The Simpsons ↓ ↓ ↓
Ayn Rand gets at least a couple of nods from the world’s favourite yellow family including the episode where Maggie is sent to a Rand-inspired daycare centre when Marge is rehearsing for a play. I particularly like the Helping is Futile poster visible inside the centre. My exposure to Rand came via a politics club at University when some bloke I thought interesting recommended ATLAS SHRUGGED. I struggled to about the half way point of this one before acknowledging that both Rand and the chap who’d recommended her were not for me. I thought I liked dystopian novels but Rand has to be the most humourless woman to have ever walked the earth.
↓ ↓ ↓ Dystopian Nightmare ↓ ↓ ↓
Written nearly a decade earlier than Rand’s opus, George Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR is another dystopian nightmare I was forced to read, this time for my final year of high school. While I had some excellent teachers the one who had us slog through this book was blessed with the superpower of sucking the enjoyment out of every subject she touched so I really didn’t get as much from the reading experience as I otherwise might have. The book has become hugely influential in popular culture terms and has provided the inspiration for several songs including David Bowie’s 1984 (from the album Diamond Dogs).
↓ ↓ ↓ Inspired a Song ↓ ↓ ↓
Regular readers of this blog will know that fantasy is not my cup of tea and my reluctance for it started early when I first had Tolkein’s LORD OF THE RINGS (which was then a single giant book) forced upon me by a family member/fan. Not then nor during the subsequent 3 or 4 attempts I’ve made to trudge through did I ever get more than about a quarter of the way. Among its many influences on popular culture the book has inspired a swag of music including the somewhat surreal Ballad of Bilbo Baggins by Leonard Nimoy!
↓ ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓
And there we are…From LINCOLN IN THE BARDO to LORD OF THE RINGS by way of books that I never wanted to read (and often didn’t). Read more about #6degrees at booksaremyfavouriteandbest.