Six degrees of separation: from ‘Born to Run’ to…

It’s the first of April, first Saturday and so it’s Six Degrees of Separation day. This is a meme conducted through Kate’s BooksAreMyFavouriteandBest website, where she chooses the starting title, then you link six other titles that spring to mind.

The starting book for April is Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run. Of course, I haven’t read it – but that’s not unusual: I have rarely read the book that Kate chooses!

Bruce Springsteen is a singer, but I must confess to neither liking nor disliking him. But one group that I really did like was The Beatles (I’m showing my age) and I’m a sucker for anything Beatle-related. Craig Brown’s One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time takes a chronological approach, from the earliest days of playing together and goes through to their last performance on the roof of the building in London. It is written as a series of short chapters – 150 of them – some a few pages in length, some only taking up a page. It’s a very long book at over 600 pages, and the chapters range from facts, personal reminiscence, counterfactual and events that were only tangentially related. In fact, when I finished I wondered if it was even worth it. You can read my review here.

Someone who could count a bit further than four is Grace Lisa Vandenburg, the main character in Toni Jordan’s Addition. Grace counts things obsessively and incessantly, as a way of trying to control her world and all around her. Into this ordered and tense life comes Seamus, who is attracted to her humour and quickness, and steers her towards therapy and medication as a way of overcoming her obsessiveness. We lose our perky, wisecracking, passionate and controlled narrator as the medication submerges her into a slow, passive inertia. Will she lose the medication or lose her man? Or both? And what is the line between eccentricity and madness? It’s a feel-good romantic fiction book- not my usual fare, but certainly good for reading situations when you want something light. My review is here.

A far more searing and uncomfortable approach to ‘madness’ can be found in Kate Richards’ memoir of that name Madness: A Memoir. Kate is a qualified doctor, but years of mental illness have made this career path untenable for her. There is this chaotic, obsessive, hyper-sensitive existence inside her head that somehow co-exists falteringly with the semblance of a ‘normal’ life: a job in medical research, friends, parents, a flat. This is such a brave book. It is simply written, but it is hard to read. I reviewed it here.

A woman being manipulated into thinking that she was mad is a popular trope, but one of the early writers to explore it was Wilkie Collins in The Woman in White. This door-stopper of a book at over 600 pages has all the usual Victorian tropes: grand houses, fortune hunters, madness, swapped identities, secrets, dastardly deeds, swirling fog and graveyards. It uses a favourite Victorian technique of doubles: two sisters; two houses; two villains. But what is really striking about this book is how modern it is in its use of multiple narrators, who handball the narrative between them, and a real sense of tension that mounts through the book. You might not think it, but this 600 page book is almost unputdownable! You can read my review here.

Wilkie Collins was a good friend of Charles Dickens, and their books (most of which came out in serialized form) are long, intricate and a damned good read. I could have gone for any one of Dickens’ books, or a biography of Dickens but instead, I’ll plump for some social history with What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool. The book is a cradle-to-grave, upstairs-to-downstairs explanation of the domestic and social world of the characters one might find in Victorian literature. It explains clothes, food, business practices, social manners and expectations etc in a rather whimsical fashion. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you don’t really need to have read particularly widely to enjoy it. It is divided into two parts- the first is organized thematically, while the second part is a glossary of particular terms and phrases that you’re likely to encounter in reading Victorian novels. The book is intended as a bit of a hoot, and in that way it probably fulfils the promise of its catchy title perfectly. I reviewed it here.

So, I bet you think I’m going to finish up with a Jane Austen. Not quite. Instead I’ll finish with P.D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley which is a mash-up of Austen’s characters in Pride and Prejudice with a crime fiction novel. The scenario is this: Darcy and Elizabeth have been happily ensconced at Pemberley for the past six years where Elizabeth has duly delivered two Darcy heirs. It is the eve of the traditional Pemberley ball instituted by Darcy’s mother Lady Anne. Sweet Jane and Bingley have arrived early, Darcy’s sister Georgiana is fending off two suitors in Colonel Fitzwilliam and the young lawyer Mr Alveston, the silver is being polished and the house is crackling with anticipation. Suddenly the preparations are disrupted by Elizabeth’s younger sister Lydia Wickham, arriving unannounced and hysterical, shrieking that Wickham has been murdered in the nearby wood. He hasn’t , but his friend Captain Denny has. I shall go no further… but here’s my review.

Can I possibly link Bruce Springsteen with Pemberley? Maybe I can. Apparently Bruce Springsteen used to live in a mansion too, albeit in Monmouth County, New Jersey. Not Pemberley, perhaps but not too shabby….

11 responses to “Six degrees of separation: from ‘Born to Run’ to…

  1. What a delicious train!
    I loved The Woman in White, those Victorian novelists were so good at what they did…

  2. Hm… see, now if I had had your Wilke book, the next one I would have gone for would have been the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”! But what an interesting chain – well done! By the way, I wasn’t too thrilled with Death Comes to Pemberley, but I would like to read more PD James some day!

  3. I think Wilkie Collins is also credited with creating the first fictional detective, in The Moonstone?

  4. Very enjoyable, I loved the Woman in White, and have What Jane Austen Ate… waiting on my TBR!

  5. From counting to madness! Hmmm!! But I did enjoy your chain. I have read a couple of the books, and I do have What Jane Austen ate etc etc in my library. I tend to dip into it though rather than read it from cover to cover.

    BTW I’m not into Springsteen either but I did and do love The Beatles, though I don’t think I’ve read any books about them.

  6. I am with you about Springsteen! I went and saw him in concert a few years ago and I was underwhelmed, but I know lots of people who love him.

    Of your chain, I have read and enjoyed Addition and I do like the sound of What Jane Austen Ate etc very much.

  7. I want to sit down and read, in order, every book on this list to experience the associations! I haven’t read Madness, but your description reminds me of a memoir by Ellyn Saks called The Center Cannot Hold. She’s a lawyer who has managed to build a career as a professor despite having schizophrenia. Thanks for a thought-provoking list.

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