Six Degrees of Separation

Six degrees from the tipping point

Time for another round of Six Degrees of Separation in which the idea is to form a chain of connections from a starting book.  This month Kate who organises the meme, has chosen a non fiction work as the trigger book.

Tipping pointThe Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is one of the few business books I’ve read (rather than just bought and left on the bookshelf). Even more remarkable I enjoyed reading it and found it helpful in my own line of work. Gladwell defines the ‘tipping point‘, as the moment when an idea, a trend or a form of behaviour crosses the threshold, tip and spreads so extensively it becomes a noticeable phenomenon. His first example is about the sudden popularity of Hush Puppies shoes in the mid-1990s but he also goes on to talk about a battle between a director of the New York subway and the graffiti artists who are intent on spoiling the look of his trains.

Gladwell sees how the involvement of different types of people with particular sets of social gifts are essential for change to happen: some are “connectors” who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions; “Mavens” are information specialists, the people who delight in gathering information and sharing it. Then there are the “salespeople”, the ones who are great at persuading others to a point of view or to a particular action.

It’s one of these “salespeople” that features in the first book in my chain.

Long walk

Nelson Mandela was one of the most significant and influential political leaders of our time. His autobiography Long Walk to Freedom profiles his early life, his political awakening and the 27 years he spent in prison for acts of terrorism. But it also shows his ability to persuade people to a different point of view – most notably to the need for reconciliation and not recrimination in post apartheid South Africa.  In the final chapters of the book, Mandela — now President of his country — looks to the future and his belief that the struggle against apartheid would continue.

It’s in a post apartheid South Africa that my next book is set.

The Whale CallerThe Whale Caller by Zakes Mda takes us to a town on the south coast of the Western Cape. It’s become famous as one of the best places from which to watch the migration of Southern Right Whales during the spring and winter. The Whale Caller develops a an affinity with these whales, calling to them using his kelp horn. Much of the book is about the relationship of man to nature but it also has a theme of betrayal. One of the ways this is played out is through a set of characters called The Bored Twins who start off as being playful but they take their games a step too far, with tragic consequences.

God - of-small-thingsThe twins in The Whale Caller are not anywhere as endearing as the pair in my next book: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.  The Kochamma “two-egg twins”  are a mischievous pair, loving nothing more than to indulge in word play, where they read backwards take words and phrases  uttered by adults and twist and distort them into their own version. They’re also a jealous pair whose noses are decidedly put out of joint when another young girl comes to stay with the family.


All that talk of twins puts me in mind of a classic in the science fiction genre.

Midwitch Cuckoos
Still from the Village of the Damned

John Wyndham’s The Midwitch Cuckoo gives us more than one set of twins. We get a while village of identical children born within a few days of each other in the same small village. They all appear normal except they have unusual, golden eyes and pale, silvery skin. As they grow up it becomes increasingly clear they are far from humanThese children have none of the genetic characteristics of their parents. As they grow up, it becomes increasingly apparent that they are, at least in some respects, not human. This is one of the few science fiction novels I’ve enjoyed along with the film version called Village of the Damned.

womaninblackWyndham’s novel was creepy rather than shockingly scary. If it’s the thrill of the later you’re looking for, then Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black is more likely to suit. It’s written in the style of a traditional Gothic novel using the familiar device of a storywithin a story.  This tale of a mysterious spectre that terrifies a small English town, because it heralds the death of children, proved to be a huge success when it transferred to the stage in 1987 becoming the second longest-running play in the history of the West End after The Mousetrap. I didn’t care for the book at all — I thought Hill’s prose was overblown (it’s so tedious when an author loads up the narrative with adjective upon adjective) but the stage play is superb. Daniel Radcliffe’s film version, felt to me like a very pale imitation.

woman in whiteFor brilliance in the Gothic vein, we have to turn to a much earlier novel. For my last link I’m chosing a book with a similar title. The Woman in White was the fifth title published by Wilkie Collins and generally regarded as an early (if not the first) example of the sensation novel. Collins ingeniously hit on the idea of telling this story of an heiress caught up in a deadly conspiracy, through multiple narrators. The effect is akin to hearing witnesses in a legal trial with the reader given clues to help solve the case. The plot does stretch credulity but Collins is such a ace storyteller that you get swept along anyway. But the book wouldn’t be half as good without the character of Count Fosco, a larger than life villain who hides his menacing nature behind a mask of intelligence and urbanity. Early critics of the novel were uncomfortable about this character however, fearing it could corrupt susceptible women readers.

And with that we have reached the end of a chain which has gone from a book that caused a sensation when Gladwell published it in 2000 to one that caused a sensation in 1859. A bit of a strained connection maybe but I shall let you all judge.


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

11 thoughts on “Six degrees from the tipping point

  • Excellent first link. The language Gladwell uses about mavens and connectors has really stuck with me as well, even after all these years.

    • its one of the very very few business books I have kept and referred back to …..most of them I can’t even finish reading so I just skim

  • Judy Krueger

    I judge your six degrees a complete success. I have read two Wyndham books and look forward to reading the Midwitch Cuckoo. I thought The Woman in Black was quite good and loved without reservation The God of Small Things.

  • That’s a great first link, highly original! I agree with you about the stage adaptation of The Woman in Black. When I saw it the audience took a collective jump out of its skin at the crucial moment, although I’m sure that most of us knew what was about to happen.

    • “That moment” in the play took me completely by surprise! I think we saw it not long after it began its run so fortunately not that many people had seen it and spilled the beans about the surprise.

  • Glad you had a go in the end Karen. I enjoyed your post, partly because I’ve read or know of most of the books. Not the Mda, like Lisa, and not the Susan Hill, though I know her. I don’t read sci fi, but I did love Wyndham in my late teens. Sometimes I have a hankering to read one of them again, to see what I’d think now. Would I be disappointment or would they live up to my adult standards?

    I did like your link to Mandela!

    • I hesitate sometimes from re-reading a much loved book from the past out of the same fear – would it spoil the experience of the first reading? I’ve changed so much in my reading habits since adolescence (I can’t believe I used to devour books about black magic!) that I fear the books I enjoyed then wouldn’t have the same resonance.

  • I love Wilkie Collins. Big, baggy books with unforgettable characters – yes, Count Fosco, I could see him again as soon as I read his name. Isn’t it bliss to have books like this in our reading history!
    I hadn’t heard of the Zakes Mda, so I’ll have to get a copy of that one. His Ways of Dying is one of my most popular posts ever, presumably because students study it somewhere. There are so many good writers from the new South Africa… I read the Johannesburg Review of Books, and honestly, it’s impossible to keep up with the tempting books I hear about from them!

    • It’s impossible to keep up with books from any part of the world – I have just about given up trying because it was too frustrating. Africa has some strong writers but sadly its tough to get hold of their work at a reasonable price. I was looking for some a few years ago and kept getting quoted the equivalent of 30USD for a paperback. Now if we had a decent public library near me I could order them but they barely show an interest in Australian literature let alone African

      • Yes, it is difficult to source their books. But it is slowly getting better… and you can often get books cheaply enough from the Heinemann African Writers Series on the Book Depository. They won’t be new releases but they will be excellent reading…

  • It’s interesting that you compare the multiple voices of The Woman In White to witnesses at a trial; Collins uses much the same narrative trick in The Moonstone, where the multiple perspectives are explicitly the result of a detective asking various witnesses to write down everything they know. (The fact that each narrative conveniently finishes at exactly a point where another character can pick up the thread of the story is left unexamined, however…)


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