Six Degrees of Separation: Phosphorescence

My favourite monthly tag, hosted by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest,  Six Degrees of Separation picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps. Links to my reviews are in the titles of the books. Our starting book this month is:

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird

This book by Australian, Baird, isn’t published in the UK until May, so here’s a section from the blurb:

In this wise and inspiring book, Julia Baird reflects on her encounters with Phosphorescence, a luminescent phenomenon found in the natural world, and how she was able to cultivate her own ‘inner light’ in the face of suffering and illness. When we spend time in nature, humble ourselves to the mystery of the world, and recognise the ‘soothing power of the ordinary’, we are engaging in Phosphorescence, suggests Julia. It is these experiences that sustain us, help us place one foot in front of the other and cultivate our own essential light when the world goes dark.

As you may know, I studied as a materials scientist, and my links this month are all going to be science-based around different types of light radiation which includes phosphorescence, rather than following Baird’s parallel psychological theme. Here’s a bit of simple definition from the web to get us on our way:

Both fluorescence and phosphorescence are based on the ability of a substance to absorb light and emit light of a longer wavelength and therefore lower energy. The main difference is the time in which it takes to do so. … So if it disappears immediately, it’s fluorescence. If it lingers, it’s phosphorescence. Everyday examples of phosphorescent materials are the glow-in-the-dark toys.

Going by the references in the blurb above, which refers to the natural world, I’m starting off there too – with references to ‘bioluminescence‘ in:

Eye of the Shoal by Helen Scales

For her third book Scales moves into the world of backboned sea creatures – fish. After the intro in which Scales (what a good name for an ichthyologist!) gives us a brief tour of her experiences with fish, the first chapter proper delves into the history of ichthyology through the ages, complete with some lovely illustrations of sea monsters. One of the chapters looks at denizens of the deep, like the ugly anglerfish, which have developed bioluminescence in their bodies to light up their environments. This luminescence is caused by the presence of ‘phosphors‘ which leads me to…

Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal

The original UK cover of this French bestseller about a heart transplant shows the trace of a heartbeat on the cover as on a monitor in intensive care. All the screens on the monitors of the ‘machines that go ‘ping” (as Monty Python said) were coated with those phosphors, which emit radiation when activated. That aside, this is a beautifully written and translated novel (get the UK version translated by Jessica Moore) that takes us from the awful accident that provides the heart through to it being transplanted into its recipient and the effect on her. While we’re in hospital, another type of radiation that enables us to see differently is the X-Ray

Sight by Jessie Greengrass

This novel, is primarily about a woman’s journey towards pregnancy and motherhood, but also has a parallel time-line covering three great medical discoveries, of which the first is Röntgen’s first x-ray of his wife’s hand. I found this short book rather intense, so let’s begin a journey back towards where we began, moving to the box which used to be in the corner of our rooms with more phosphor screens next…

Armchair Nation by Joe Moran

While our modern smart tellies no longer use phosphors on the screens as they have no cathode ray tube any more, vintage televisions did, and Joe Moran’s history of television from its beginnings, through the advent of colour, towards the modern day is impeccably researched and always entertaining – who can forget the wrestling on Saturday afternoons? Popular history at its best. On old tellies, sometimes a ghostly image would remain as you turned it off – a quick-fading sort of ‘glow in the dark‘ which leads to:

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

This book is included for its cover, of which the lettering on the UK hardback glows in the dark. Murata’s follow-up to her bestselling Convenience Store Woman is the very dark and troubling story of a woman who doesn’t fit into the normal scheme of life. As a young girl she believes that the aliens from the planet Popinpobopia where she thinks her toy hamster talisman came from will come for her, and this belief only becomes more entrenched as she ages and experiences life. I didn’t really enjoy this book, but had to finish it once started! This leads me to more aliens, of a bioluminescent kind for my final link…

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

I love Vandermeer’s wild imagination, and Annihilation, the first book of his Southern Reach trilogy, is an SF-eco-horror thriller and some. A team of women scientists are going into area X to find out what happened to the last lot who never returned. It all starts to go wrong for them when they discover an uncharted tunnel, that appears as a tower built down into the ground. Some of the team start to descend including the biologist. It’s not long before they discover lush and glowing fungal growths on the walls – which releases spores onto the biologist. She doesn’t tell the others, but can immediately sense she’s changed.

The first thing I noticed on the staging level before we reached the wider staircase that spiraled down, before we encountered again the words written on the wall… the tower was breathing. The tower breathed, and the walls when I went to touch them carried the echo of a heartbeat… and they were not made of stone but of living tissue. Those walls were still blank, but a kind of silvery-white phosphorescence rose off of them. The world seemed to lurch, and I sat down heavily next to the wall, and the surveyor was by my side, trying to help me up. I think I was shaking as I finally stood. I don’t know if I can convey the enormity of that moment in words. The tower was a living creature of some sort. We were descending into an organism.


So my exploration of phosphorescence has taken me from the ocean depths to hospital and back underground via our living rooms.

Where will your six degrees take you?

19 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: Phosphorescence

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I still think about Mend the Living, it’s a novel that made a big impression on me. I particularly appreciated the boldness of uncompromising word choices in Jessica Moore’s translation. Sam Taylor translated the US edition, and I would sort of be interested to read and compare…

      • MarinaSofia says:

        I didn’t read the US edition, but I did do a comparison between the French and the English as I read them simultaneously. I intend to do the same for de Kerangal’s Painting Time (also translated by Jessica Moore), as I also have the French version of it.

  1. Margaret says:

    Thanks for the definition of fluorescence and phosphorescence – I did wonder, but didn’t look it up! I did wonder about starting my chain with The Radium Girls, but took a completely different route. All your books look fascinating!

  2. A Life in Books says:

    I always enjoy your chains, Annabel. I read the new de Kerangal this week and am now keen to read Mend the Living. I loved Armchair Nation. Have you read Joe Moran’s Queuing for Beginners? Equally entertaining.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Ooh – jealous. I asked for a review copy of the de Kerangal, but it didn’t materialise. I must read more Joe Moran – I have a couple of his other books on the shelves, but not Queuing for Beginners – one to investigate.

  3. Rebecca Foster says:

    I love the ‘science geek’ theme! My husband once contributed a bioluminescence panel to a church prayer station about light and darkness. I’ve read your first three links this time.

  4. rosemarykaye says:

    How interesting – these are all things about which I know virtually nothing, and I’m very grateful for the explanation of phosphoresence, as I did look it up but still didn’t understand it (science was not my strong point at school – who knew?!)

    One thing I do remember is those old televisions. When we had to spend interminable Christmases at my grandmother’s (I was an only child and much younger than any of my cousins) we would always watch everything the adults wanted to see, then just when Top of the Pops came on, my aunt would rush over to the box, place her hand on the top and announce that it was ‘overheating’ and therefore dangerous, so we would have to turn it off and ‘have a nice sleep or a cup of tea’….Happy days 🙂 My other grandmother was quite different, and was indeed keen to watch that Saturday afternoon wrestling every week, together with a western – Bonanza, The Big Valley, The Virginian, she loved them all & I watched them with her.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Hi Rosemary. 60s/70s telly – Happy days indeed. I was in love with Trampas, weren’t you? 😀

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