Six Degrees of Separation: From Lincoln in the Bardo

The starting point for the Six Degrees of Separation meme this month is George Saunders’ much lauded LINCOLN IN THE BARDO. Because of my personal history with this book I decided to have some extra fun with the meme this month and choose only books that I have been forced to read for one reason or another.

Even though it’s not a crime novel I did make an attempt to read LINCOLN IN THE BARDO which is (I think) about Abraham Lincoln’s grief over his dead son when a copy was thrust upon me by a well-meaning but misguided friend. I didn’t make it to page 50. I’m sorry that a young boy died and all but blurb descriptions like “…breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm…” and “…Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance…” made me reach for a car repair manual in preference. I’m not good with the paranormal or fantastical.

↓   ↓   ↓ Time Magazine ↓   ↓   ↓

At the other end of the literary spectrum is a book that was thrust upon me by a different (and frankly less well meaning) friend. I didn’t get more than 30 pages into: E.L. James’ first soft porn novel FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Although you might imagine Saunders and James have little in common other than me not wanting to read their books, a more concrete connection is that both authors have been listed in Time magazine’s annual list of the year’s most influential people (2013 and 2012 respectively). I can’t decide if this fact makes the world a wondrous place of inclusion for all or denotes the end of civilisation as we know it. The book, its sequels and cinematic adaptations have spawned much comment, controversy and parody including the delightfully named THE FIFTY SHAMES OF EARL GREY.

↓   ↓   ↓ Parody ↓   ↓   ↓

Although it is crime fiction, another book I had to be forced to read was Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. I am not a fan of the much-hyped, ‘must read’ book but this was selected for my book club which requires an attempt at least. Unlike the two books discussed above I actually finished this one and enjoyed it despite its flaws and need for editing. Among the parodies it inspired my favourite is a New Yorker article by Nora Ephron called The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut. As well as offering social commentary and a variation on the ‘impossible crime’ of old fashioned mystery novels this book does feature a significant character who is tattooed.

↓   ↓   ↓ Tattoos ↓   ↓   ↓

The interminable MOBY DICK by Herman Melville was required reading for one of the subjects during my first year at University and after I stopped reading somewhere around page 300 to beat myself over the head with a brick (for light relief) I quit the book and the subject. But I do remember Queequeg, the fully tattooed cannibal who Ishmael (the book’s narrator) encounters on his travels. Though from memory the tattoos are as illegible as I found the book to be. Of course MOBY DICK is considered a classic by bigger brains than mine which has led to many references in popular culture including during an episode of The Simpsons when Lisa points out to her father that the whole point of the book is that you can’t take revenge on an animal (Homer argues the point is to be yourself).

↓   ↓   ↓ The Simpsons ↓   ↓   ↓

Ayn Rand gets at least a couple of nods from the world’s favourite yellow family including the episode where Maggie is sent to a Rand-inspired daycare centre when Marge is rehearsing for a play. I particularly like the Helping is Futile poster visible inside the centre. My exposure to Rand came via a politics club at University when some bloke I thought interesting recommended ATLAS SHRUGGED. I struggled to about the half way point of this one before acknowledging that both Rand and  the chap who’d recommended her were not for me. I thought I liked dystopian novels but Rand has to be the most humourless woman to have ever walked the earth.

↓   ↓   ↓ Dystopian Nightmare ↓   ↓   ↓

Written nearly a decade earlier than Rand’s opus, George Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR is another dystopian nightmare I was forced to read, this time for my final year of high school. While I had some excellent teachers the one who had us slog through this book was blessed with the superpower of sucking the enjoyment out of every subject she touched so I really didn’t get as much from the reading experience as I otherwise might have. The book has become hugely influential in popular culture terms and has provided the inspiration for several songs including David Bowie’s 1984 (from the album Diamond Dogs).

↓   ↓   ↓ Inspired a Song ↓   ↓   ↓

Regular readers of this blog will know that fantasy is not my cup of tea and my reluctance for it started early when I first had Tolkein’s LORD OF THE RINGS (which was then a single giant book) forced upon me by a family member/fan. Not then nor during the subsequent 3 or 4 attempts I’ve made to trudge through did I ever get more than about a quarter of the way. Among its many influences on popular culture the book has inspired a swag of music including the somewhat surreal Ballad of Bilbo Baggins by Leonard Nimoy!

↓   ↓   ↓   ↓   ↓   ↓

And there we are…From LINCOLN IN THE BARDO to LORD OF THE RINGS by way of books that I never wanted to read (and often didn’t). Read more about #6degrees at booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

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27 Responses to Six Degrees of Separation: From Lincoln in the Bardo

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Very clever, Bernadette! I ought to try this some time; it looks like fun.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Love your unique take on Six Degrees this month. I’ve never actually read Lord of the Rings, but did remember trying to read The Hobbit during my teens, and struggling to get through it. I am wondering if it’s time to make another attempt, though.

    Mine chain the opposite of yours, really – books I haven’t read, but would like to:

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always feel like I’m the only person on the planet who doesn’t like LOTR…glad to know i’m not. I’ve decided life’s to short to have another go (though I am much older than you)


  3. Kathy D. says:

    I agree on the books you had to read but did not like. I don’t like the paranormal or fantastic. I have not and will not read 50 Shades of anything nor Lincoln in the Bardo. When I read your quote from the book, I said I would have reached for the telephone book. I did not nor would I like Moby Dick. And Ayn Rand, she was to the right of Attila the Hun. She denounced (yes, denounced) children with disabilities and thought the government shouldn’t help them — saw this in a video. I never read Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit or anything similar and won’t.
    I did like Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, although I had to skip some violent sections. But I like Nora Ephron’s parody better.
    Still, a very clever “Six Degrees of Separation,” which is enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Doing these posts is a bit of fun Kathy…and I’m not surprised we share similar tastes of what we don’t like given how often we agree on books we do like. Ayn Rand was bonkers…I’d never heard of her before but after attempting the book I looked into her and decided she was not for me and nor really was anyone who was a huge fan.


  4. Kate W says:

    What a brilliant chain! Particularly love the “…made me reach for a car repair manual in preference” bit 😀

    I struggled through 50 Shades. I read it before it hit the supermarket shelves because I’d heard debate among authors on Twitter about intellectual property / fanfiction – I was curious and got the ebook. With no point of reference or anyone to talk to about it, I assumed it was a joke… and then it hit the bookshops and suddenly everyone around me was reading it. I wrote a scathing post which got my blog loads of hits…. And 50 Shades just wouldn’t go away… There were more (I didn’t read them!). So I had to make a personal rule – if I met anyone who told me that 50 Shades was ‘the best book they’d ever read’ I decided I couldn’t be friends with them. We all have our limits and that was most certainly mine.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. rkottery says:

    A very enjoyable list. Moby Dick frustrates me because there’s a really good story there that gets increasingly smothered in whale sputum along the way (of course, for many people this is the precious ambergris that makes it a classic). And, though I personally enjoy fantasy and loved (most of) the Lord of the Rings (there are a few quite skippable patches) I have much sympathy with being forced to read anything that’s just not your thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Patti Abbott says:

    Although my husband loved LINCOLN, I knew it was not for me because I have never like Saunders short stories. None of these books were enjoyable and I have never been able to take animated TV seriously. A great fault probably.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL Patti I think your attitude towards animated TV is fine…I’ve got a limited knowledge of The Simpsons only because various family members have at one time or another been obsessed with it…I’ve picked up my knowledge via osmosis rather than active watching.


  7. Barbara Holloway says:

    HaHaHa! Picked up LitB fir £2 in charity shop yesterday – given synchronicity with Bernadette’s tastes according to this list, it is unlikely to be finished!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kay says:

    OK, you win the prize for this! Love the picture of you hitting yourself over the head with a brick and Moby Dick. Well, I don’t love you hitting yourself, but still. Anyway, the only one of these that I’ve read is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I agree that it could have been shorter, but I like that series. My husband is a devoted LOTR fan and though I’ve read The Hobbitt, I’ve never made it through the LOTR. I do love the movies though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trust me a brick really would be preferable to Moby Dick. Well quicker anyway 🙂 I have only seen one of the LOTR movies and I didn’t like it much more than the book but I admit I did not have an entirely open mind.


  9. MarinaSofia says:

    Oh dear, what a theme of forced reading and attempted reading! I know what you mean about school sucking dry any enjoyment of certain books. I can never hear of A Tale of Two Cities without a shudder, but my kids (who did not have to read it at school) seem to like it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Keishon says:

    I was curious about LINCOLN IN THE BARDO but I am no longer thanks for that (scratching if off my list) and FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is quite laughable and I couldn’t finish it either (the dialogue), I thought it was just me with reading 1984 but will try to give it a shot later this year and last but not least is THE GIRL WITH THE DRAON TATTOO- so glad you found something you could finish. I still haven’t finished the last one in the series. Yet. I’ve stopped/started the book several times.

    MOBY DICK …eh, I had aspirations to try it but have put them off for now.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So funny – lovely post Bernadette. Don’t know how you are going to do a better Six Degrees.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought I ought to read (or at least start) 50 Shades instead of just assuming it was terrible. Found it in a charity shop – result, good cause gets money rather than over-rewarded author. Turned to till to pay, and there at the register was a sweet smiling grey-haired old lady whom I knew well from church, doing her volunteer shift. I’m sorry to say that I completely bottled it, couldn’t face it, shoved the book back and picked up something else virtually at random (Daphne Du Maurier). Not my finest hour. Never tried again….

      Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t worry Moira…I made the friend who gave me FIFTY SHADES do so in her home when no one was around rather than in the coffee shop where we had met that day. And I do think that if you are too embarrassed to buy/read a book in front of others then it’s not a book you ought to bother with. You missed nothing by skipping that book and I’m sure the charity shop has been well supported in other instances.


  12. Kathy D. says:

    Whatever else can be said about the 50 Shades books, reviews say the writing is terrible. But then again who reads it for the writing?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. tracybham says:

    You were forced to read a lot of books. I don’t even remember what books were assigned reading when I was in school (which is partly because I am lot older than you) but I don’t think many of them were too long. I do plan to read Lincoln in the Bardo someday and hope I will like it. I think I read The Lord of the Rings to my son years and years ago, and it was enjoyable in that context, but I would not read those books just for my own pleasure. Anyway, very entertaining and inventive approach to the meme.

    Liked by 1 person

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