#6Degrees: From a locked room to the mystery of Shakespeare’s identity

flowersWe begin this month’s Six Degrees of Separation chain #6Degrees with a 1979 novel that was a best-seller:  Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews, a chilling story of four children who, on the death of their father, are hidden in an attic room for years so their mother can get her hands on a legacy. Five further novels were published that feature the same group of children though none had the same level of commercial success as Flowers in the Attic. I remember reading this in the period between finishing my finals exams in university and the results. “Everyone” was reading it that summer. Though it was an antidote to all the heavy literary works I’d had to read for the past three years, I didn’t rate it much. I wasn’t at that stage in my reading life where I was comfortable with abandoning books that were just not hitting the mark but this novel definitely falls into the category of Books That Wasted my Time. They were time wasters because they distracted me from far more interesting reading,

devilEqually time wasting was a series of novels by Dennis Wheatley which I devoured during my mid teens. Quite why I was so enthralled by these stories of black magic written in the 1930s I have no idea. Maybe it was just part of the typical teenage rite of passage where everything dark seems appealing (I recall dressing in black a lot at that stage). The one I recall most was The Devil Rides Out which I think was the first in the series. I won’t bore you with the plot – every book in the series had pretty much the same formula which involved a group of people who are called upon to fight  against the forces of supernatural powers. There was a lot of stuff about the protective power of pentangles as far as I recall.

catcher-1From around the same period comes another book I wish I hadn’t bothered to read: Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger. It was required reading amongst my contemporaries in school and probably its themes of teenage angst and alienation resonated with many of them but it left me cold. I realise in saying this that I am bucking accepted wisdom that this is ‘a great novel’ – it does after all feature on many lists of ‘novels you must read.’  But I couldnt get excited about the disjointed form of the narrative and really couldn’t have cared two hoots about Holden Caulfield and his antics in New York hotels.

gatsbyNor did I care about another ‘classic’: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’m treading on even more dangerous ground by classing this as a ‘time-wasted’ novel; it is after all considered one of the greatest American novels of all time. I did try to like it, reading it more than once. But though I enjoyed the period detail – all those lavish Long Island parties – I found Daisy Buchanan rather foolish and Jay Gatsby pathetic.  I’ve heard several times how ironic this book is in its critique of the American Dream but that was lost on my because I found the novels so SLOW….


labyrinth-1At least The Great Gatsby was well written which is more than can be said for the next time waster on my list: Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. Yet another ‘popular’ novel which friends kept pressing me to read. Published in 2005 this is an archaeological mystery English-language novel set both in the Middle Ages and present-day France. It was published in 2005. It divides into two main storylines that follow two protagonists from different time periods who we later discover are related. Ultimately this is a story about the quest for the Holy Grail. I enjoyed some of the historical detail especially the sections set in Carcassonne which I have visited, but this was the novel that demonstrated to me that a) I have too high a level of scepticism to enjoy books which involve secret symbols and codes and b) my friends reading interests do not coincide with mine.

There are not as many time wasting novels these days because I have weened myself off the feeling that once I’ve started reading something I need to finish it, even if I don’t like the book. But now and again a time waster creeps through.  Top of the list was one of the first novels I was sent for review. Today I wouldn’t have got beyond the first few pages but as a new blogger I felt honour bound to review books I got sent for free. Will the Real William Shakespeare please Step Forward was one such book. It is a book so poorly conceived and badly written that should never have seen the light of day. To say any more would be to waste yet more time however and there are better ways I can think of to spend the next few minutes than telling you about a book that should be avoided.

So there you have it; a chain that takes us from a locked room mystery in the USA to a literary quest set in the heart of England.

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 September 15, 2016, in Six Degrees of Separation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. When I first look at people’s chains, I like to try to guess the links BEFORE reading the descriptions. Well, I would never have guessed your brilliant theme! Love it (although we’ll agree to disagree on Gatsby 😉 )

    Thanks for joining in and please, if there’s a book you’d like to see as the starting point for a chain, please let me know.

  2. I love this! Someone who hates the same books I hate. If I didn’t already follow you, this post would convince me.

  3. I never understood why The Great Gatsby is so high up on most “must-read” lists. I didn’t like it while reading, and having to analyze every boring detail in class certainly didn’t help improve my opinion of it.

    • Detailed analysis often has that effect though I’ve also experienced times when the focused approach has helped me better appreciate a text I really didnt rate until then , like Portrait of a Lady

  4. I’m with you on not finishing a book I don’t like. My rule is to read at least 100 pages minus my age. As I get older, I get less patient – hence fewer pages. But I don’t accept free books for the very reason you mentioned; I don’t want to be compelled to read a book for someone else’s expectations.

  5. What a great chain.; I never thought I’d find reading about six books I should skip would be so entertaining.

    I’m with you on Catcher in the Rye but, although I certainly won’t reread Gatsby and found the characters as you described, I wouldn’t say it was a complete time-waster.

    And symbols and codes! Labyrinth sounds as if it’s in the same general group of books as The Da Vinci Code for which I have never forgiven Tom Hanks for immortalizing. 😉

    And black magic – yes, I found an old notebook from my teens that revealed an interest in it, but for the life of me, I can’t defend it.

    Anyway, aside from my slight quibble about Gatsby, I agree with you 100% on these books.

  6. Nah, I’m with you on Gatsby at least – it valorizes a kind of American romanticism that seems increasingly silly, and the writing is beautiful but oppressively pleased with its own beauty. Someone I know once referred to it as a young man’s book (both by and for, I assume), and I think that’s pretty much how I feel about it.

    • love that phrase ‘oppressively pleased with its own beauty’. I can think of many other books that fall into that category. Interesting question about whether its something that is more appreciated at a certain point in life

  7. Sorry, but I’ve got to call you out on this – Catcher in the Rye and the Great Gatsby “time wasters”??? WTF. If you are going to dismiss books that as you point out are widely loved and valued, surely you’ve got to present a better case that you have done here? Gatsby’s not a particularly long novel, so the pace isn’t really an issue surely. And yes, Holden Caulfield is a bit of a brat – isn’t that the point? You don’t have to love the central character to love the book – what about Heathcliff for example?

    • Agree very much that a personal reaction to the central character determines whether I rate the book or note. Heathcliff is a rat but I still enjoy the book. I don’t think in this kind of post I do need to justify my reactions – but I will say that I found Gatsby pretentious and Cather in the Rye tedious

  8. Bestsellers? best avoided like the plague IMO, but I do get sucked in every now and again…

  9. Growing up in the 1970s, and going to a convent school where the sex-ed was non-existent, books like “Flowers…”, Lace, anything by Jackie Collins were the source of all we knew about sex (for better or worse!). For us, the incest part of “Flowers” was the most interesting bit!

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