From Ishiguro to Rowling in 6 steps

It’s time for another attempt at  #6Degrees of separation. I chickened out of last month’s chain because I didn’t know the starting book and my creative juices were not flowing. Lets hope I fair better this time.

sixchains

We begin with Kazuo Ishiguro and Never Let Me Go –a dystopian science fiction novel published in 2005. I’ve not read it. I have a copy on my TBR but am not sure I will ever get to read it since I don’t really ‘do’ sci fi. It’s certainly got pedigree having been shortlisted for the Booker Prize that year and included in Time Magazine’s 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.

I don’t know how you feel about lists like this. Do you immediately begin checking off how many of the novels you’ve read or do you start questioning on what basis the list was constructed. The ones that irritate me the most are those that include words like ‘should’ and ‘must read’. Who are these people to tell me what I should and should not read. I will make up my own mind thank you.

But I digress. I promise to get back on topic……

Link 1: Do Not Say We Have Nothing 

madeleinetheinDigging around for info about Never Let me Go I discovered the title comes from a fictional song on a cassette tape  by fictional singer Judy Bridgewater (you can read more about this here). Many novelists use the inter-textuality approach when choosing their book titles. One of them is Madeleine Thien who has just won Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction with her novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing (a novel I thought outstanding and deserved to win the Booker prize this year)Thien takes her inspiration from an adaptation from the Chinese translation of the L’Internationale, the 19th century song adopted by socialist and worker groups worldwide. “Do not say that we have nothing, / We shall be the masters of the world!”.  

Titles inspired by other texts gives me my next link

Link 2: Of Mice and Men

ofmiceandmenThe title of Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is taken from the poem To a Mouse by Robert Burns:

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley”.

The English ‘translation’ is

The best laid schemes of mice and men
Often go awry

This was one of the first books we discussed when I joined a book club in 2013 and was a good example of how your perceptions can be changed. When someone suggested reading it I groaned – Steinbeck in my brain was someone whose work I had tried – and failed – tor head in the past. I thought him ‘gloomy’ and ‘slow’. Of Mice and Men was a delight however. It was poignant  rather than gloomy and on the strength of that experience I went onto read the equally delightful and unexpectedly funny Cannery Row. 

Of Mice and Men has been a frequent target of censors who consider it  vulgar and racist so it’s banned from some school systems in the USA. In the UK however it’s a popular choice on the school syllabus and has been a highly successful stage play.

And so with censorship we come to my next link….

Link 3: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Front cover of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover', Penguin edition, 1960I simply don’t understand this clamour to ‘ban’ books. It seems prevalent in USA but not confined to that part of the world. My next book in the chain was the subject of huge controversy in the 1960s. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H Lawrence was published privately in 1928 but a full unexpurgated edition was not published openly in the United Kingdom until 1960, when it became the subject of a landmark trial for obscenity. The publisher Penguin won the case, and quickly sold 3 million copies.I read his ‘greatest hits’ (including Sons and Lovers, Women in Love and The Rainbow) and though I’ve still got my old Penguin editions of his books, I can’t say he was one of my favourites authors. For decades Lawrence was required reading on university literature courses though by the time I got to university he was already on the way out. Today he barely gets a mention in those lists of top 100 novels and books you must read.

Forgotten writers brings me to link number 4 

Link 4: Tropic of Cancer 

tropicofcancerHenry Miller is another author whose work was once controversial but like Lawrence, seems to have slipped out of public consciousness – at least he has in the UK, it might be a different story in USA. I read Miller while still at school and during my phase when I went out of my way deliberately to read challenging books. Tropic of Cancer and the later Tropic of Capricorn will forever be associated in my mind with the summer of 1973 when I spent the whole summer getting a sun tan in the garden and reading ‘serious’ authors like Sartre, Camus etc. Tropic of Cancer was a bit of escapism for me with its depiction of life in a community of bohemians in Paris. It didn’t matter that what Miller often described was squalor and the cold indifference of the city’s inhabitants, for a teenager living in a small mining town in Wales, it still sounded amazing.

Squalor, poverty, loneliness, Paris – what book do those words conjure up for you? For me there is an obvious link to a writer known for his vehement opposition to social injustice. And so we get to my next link. 

Link 5: Down and Out in Paris and London

orwell-downadnoutThis was the first full-length work published under the pen name of George Orwell. Orwell, or to give him his birth name Eric Blair, had gone to Paris in 1929, living in the trendy Latin Quarter along with people like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. At some point he had his money stolen. Whether out of necessity or just to collect material for an essay, he took on casual work as a dishwasher in restaurants. He turned his experience into “A Scullion’s Diary” but it was rejected by Cape. He then added the London section and tried to get Faber & Faber to publish it – only to get the rejection from T. S Eliot who was the editorial director. The book didn’t get published until 1933 but though it had a positive response from other writers, it was another six years before the general reading public began to take an interest in Down and Out in Paris and London. Multiple rejections but then roaring success is the link to my final novel.


Link 6: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

J. K Rowling is now one of the wealthiest authors in the world harry_potterwith an estimated fortune of around  £600million. But the book which set her off on the journey to stardom almost didn’t get published.  Her agent spent a year touting it around the London publishing houses only to get rejection after rejection – a lot of the editors thought it was too long for child readers. It wasn’t until it got into the hands of Bloomsbury’s chief executive Barry Cunningham, that it attracted attention and that was only because, before reading it, he gave it to his eight year old daughter. When she told him it was “so much better than anything else” that he took a closer look and decided it would fit within a portfolio Bloomsbury was creating for children’s literature. He paid Rowling an advance of £2,500. The initial print run of 500 copies in 1997 didn’t indicate Bloomsbury was that convinced. But the book began getting favourable reviews and then won a National Book Award and a gold medal in the 9 to 11 year-olds category of the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize.  The following year, Philosopher’s Stone won almost all the other major British awards that were decided by children.Within two years sales had reached 300,000 and the phenomena of Harry Potter was underway.

From Never Let Me Go to Harry Potter; from science fiction to fantasy via connections I would never have expected to make. It’s been fun finding those links. You can join in the fun with this monthly meme hosted by Kate at the Books Are My Favourite and Best blog.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on November 6, 2016, in Six Degrees of Separation, Sunday Salon and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Oh that was fun! I have really been enjoying all the links everyone has been coming up with!

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  2. quite interesting, I will have to try one of those days!
    Never Let Me Go, so I’m going to try hard not to tell you you should read it, lol, BUT I found it an amazing book, so well written. For me, it’s not so much science-fiction than a deep reflection on what could very easily happen to our society if we keep going the way we are going. And alas, we could rather quickly get there.
    What was amazing for me on this book was the beginning, how you feel there’s something weird, but you don’t know what until much later on, and then how things are revealed. In fact, I feel like I will reread it one day, because I’m starting to forget the end, which was quite spectacular as well. And I reread very few books

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  3. That is an innovative list. From Ishiguro to Rowling! Rowling’s success story is a favourite of mine.

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  4. I really enjoyed your post. I went from Ishiguro to poet Elizabeth Bishop, much to my surprise. But I followed my first thoughts and associations, even when they were not always the most obvious.

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  5. Haha very funny and well thought out post!

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  6. I love when chains ends with Harry Potter 🙂

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  7. This is a fun game! The only one in your list I’ve not read is the Madeleine Thien. I do recommend Never Let Me Go – it’s definitely more literary than SF, which is why I’ve not been able to persuade my SF-loving other half to read it yet.

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  8. I agree on the “should read” and “must read” lists–especially those start with “100 (insert topic) books you must read…” Really? Why must I read 100 books on any single topic? Six Degrees is different–it’s more “I liked (or didn’t like) these maybe you will too.”

    You make some really neat connections in your chain. I loved your summer of 1973, it took me back to my “read everything by Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell” phase. That was some mighty fine reading!

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  9. Thoughtful and intelligent links, Karen! I’m so glad you joined in this exercise: it’s my favourite of the month, and the more I get to read, the merrier.

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  10. Love your links Karen, especially the first. Should I read Henry Miller? Have often thought about it…

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  11. Thanks for joining in!

    In regards to Never Let Me Go and sci-fi – I don’t do sci-fi either. At all. However, every so often a book comes that while strictly sci-fi/ dystopian, also jumps into mainstream contemporary literature. This was one such book (as was Handmaid’s Tale, a decent comparison). And perhaps it is because I don’t read much in this genre but couldn’t put this book down – surprising, unexpected and not sci-fi as I understand it (a very long way of saying don’t discount it!).

    I love your first link and your last link – both very creative! Think I need to think outside the square next month as I’ve seen a few very clever links this round.

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  12. Haha, your links made me laugh Karen – from sci fi to censorship of ladies to poverty in Paris to rejections. Well done.

    As for lists, I’m a combination of the first two – I have a go at ticking them off, all the while thinking why is this here and not that. I never think about them telling me what to read, because they’re not! They’re just compiling lists for their own reasons, whatever they may be.

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  13. Absolutely brilliant links and I particularly love this list title as everyone approaches it in a different way!

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  14. This is the third of these posts I’ve read this weekend, each so different from the other. Very enjoyable they are, too. I’m completely with you on the ‘should’ and ‘must read’ aspect of lists. Reading is entirely personal, not to be hidebound by what other people think as far as I’m concerned.

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  15. Well done Karen! Love the segue to Lady Chat, and I was very interested to see Tropic of Cancer there, I’ve had it on the TBR ever since The Spouse and I decided to unite our bookshelves (25 years ago next year).

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