Six Degrees of Separation: from ‘Trust’ to….

One sure sign that time is elapsing faster than I realize is the way that the Six Degrees meme on the first Sunday of the month comes round so quickly! I missed the January one, but here I am for February. It is hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best, and the idea is that she chooses a starting book – in this case Trust by Hernan Diaz. I haven’t read it, of course (I almost never have read the books she chooses to start off the Six Degrees) but I gather that it’s about a wealthy 1920’s New York power couple.

How to proceed? I was tempted to go with titles of one word, linked to an emotion or state but instead opted to go for the (more predictable?) route of New York books. Of which there are many.

I’m really enjoying Amor Towles’ work and I just loved Rules of Civility (my review here), set in New York in 1937, and evocative of all those black-and-white films with the Empire State Building in the background and imbued with New York glamour.

For me Edith Wharton exemplifies Gilded Age New York. But which to choose? I could go with The House of Mirth or The Age of Innocence, but perhaps I’m settle on The Custom of the Country with the deliciously named Undine Spragg, who arrives in New York craving money and social celebrity, and moves through multiple marriages to get it.

We visit New York twice in Hanya Yanagihara’s To Paradise (my review here), once in 1893 and again in 2093 with an interlude in Hawaii in between. It’s a big book, with recurring characters in different guises, and I loved it.

You’ll never find a copy, but when I read Donna Merwick’s Death of A Notary (my sort-of review here), I’d never read history written like this before. The first part is a conversational, present tense, rather speculative narrative that pieces together the small documentary fragments that refer to Janse, the Dutch-speaking notary in Albany, who commits suicide in the late 17th century, a number of years after the English have taken possession of New Amsterdam (which they renamed New York). The second part is an extended footnotes section, where every ‘invention’ in the first part is sourced and validated; every assumption is justified, and every source is credited- it’s watching the historian at work.

Another book that I read prior to blogging but which has stayed with me is Colum McCann’s This Side of Brightness. It starts in 1919 with the tunneling under the Hudson River, then pendulums forward to 1991 with Treefrog, a psychotic derelict living in the tunnel. There’s a real symmetry in this book- the narrative moves forward and back until the two characters become one.

It’s odd to add a biography here – Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy by Anna Sebba (my review here). But both Ethel and Julius Rosenberg grew up on the Lower East Side (why is it ‘on’ and not ‘in’ the Lower East Side?) and in many ways, they had a very ‘New York’ upbringing. In my mind, they are inextricably linked with New York.

So, I might have stayed in New York, but I’ve travelled from the late 17th century to 2093, with socialites, notaries, tunnel diggers and spies.

11 responses to “Six Degrees of Separation: from ‘Trust’ to….

  1. Goodness, I’ve only read the Amor Towles here. I’m going to give him another go,as I didn’t particularly enjoy this one, but fans have told me it’s maybe his least successful work. An appetising chain!

  2. Interesting chain here. That Death of a Notary sounds very different! Oh, and I think it is “on” the Lower East Side because that term encompasses more than one neighborhood

  3. Always happy to see a New York chain! Three favourites foir me here: Twoles, Wharton and McCann.

  4. What a great idea to stay focused on one city – and you’re right, there’s a zillion books to choose from in NYC. Yours sound interesting.
    Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys

  5. Chains that stay focused on one aspect are usually very enlightening. Well done!

  6. Actually…
    I *do* have a copy of Donna Merwick’s Death of A Notary, because I bought it after I read your “sort of” review!

  7. I’d like to find Death of a Notary too! Actually, I see on WorldCat that several universities in Boston have copies, so it should not be hard.

    “The Lower East Side” is an abbreviation of “The Lower East Side of Manhattan”- so it is a description of a place rather than a neighborhood; like saying, “She grew up on Madison Avenue.”

  8. What an interesting chain! And some more books for me to read 🙂

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