Six Degrees of Separation: Lincoln in the Bardo

Hosted each month by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest, the Six Degrees of Separation meme picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

…is our starting point this month.  Lots of ways to go from here – US Presidents obviously, and having looked up ‘bardo’ and finding it to be ‘(in Tibetan Buddhism) a state of existence between death and rebirth’ there could be plenty of spiritual associations to other books.

But I love finding a wacky link – and I got one! Does anyone remember the Lincoln shortcake biscuit with it’s bobbly top (right)?  Sadly, they no longer make these, but the biscuit link opened the way for me to go to:

Nice Work by David Lodge

Nice Biscuits:  Nice Work was the third  volume in Lodge’s Rummidge trilogy, set in his fictional university city which closely resembles Birmingham. When lecturer Robyn Penrose meets Vic Pringle, MD of an engineering works, as part of a business meets academia exchange programme, sparks fly and bridges need to be crossed. It’s set in 1979 and Maggie Thatcher looms large. I remember loving reading this whole trilogy, and very much enjoying the TV adaptation of this one, starring Haydn Gwynne and Warren Clarke.

I’m going with Warren Clarke as my link to:

The Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

…which co-starred Clarke as ‘Dim’ in Stanley Kubrick’s 1972 movie. I thought of many links from here, but two different themes both led me to the same author. Firstly Burgess’s language ‘Nadsat’ which led me to Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, which is mostly written in a degenerate pidgin English (more about that here) – challenging to read, but rewarding once you get into the groove, so to speak.

But I’m staying with Russell Hoban and instead going via clockwork to:

The Mouse and his Child by Russell Hoban

This is a modern classic fairy tale for older children about two clockwork mice, father and son. Discarded after Christmas when they break, they are mended by a tramp, and set off on a journey to find the house they remember from their time in the toy shop.  I reviewed this book here back in 2009, and at the time it left me slightly cold – but I remember the book with increasing fondness!  I also need to read more Hoban – I’ve loads of his books on my TBR shelves.

This book has a notable baddie in a nasty rat, and the rat will take me to:

Doctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle

How I long to re-read this book. Published in 1976, it is a fantasy set in an animal testing lab which is ruled by Doctor Rat – a lab rat who has been experimented on just a bit too long and it’s turned him mad. It’s a satire on how we treat animals, but also hilarious and horrific in equal measure.

I shall take the location of a laboratory as my link (but not in an animal testing way) to:

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

This is a much happier book – a memoir of life and love through stories set around the laboratory where Jahren studies plants. This book sits on my TBR shelves, and I hope to get to it, with its lovely cover, soon.

I’m staying with lab life and love, but moving from memoir to fiction and changing sciences for my final choice:

Chemistry by Weike Wang

Reviewed here, Chemistry is described as a coming of age story set in a chemistry lab. This debut is an off-beat novel about a young woman’s indecisiveness. It begins with a proposal to our narrator from her lab partner boyfriend – she demurs, “Ask me again tomorrow.”  This bittersweet novel follows her from that moment over the next two year.  This novel reminded me of Jenny Offill’s Dept of Speculation (reviewed here) with a younger protagonist and longer sections, but sharing that sense of self-analysis with some scientific wise-cracking paralells.

So my six degrees has taken me from a old president in limbo on a biscuity trip into a clockwork future, and via mad rats into a series of laboratories! 

Where will yours take you?





13 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: Lincoln in the Bardo

  1. Margaret says:

    I don’t remember Lincoln biscuits – but Nice biscuits are still around. Apart from Nice Work I haven’t read any of the books in your chain – and I don’t remember much about Nice Work, but I did enjoy it and the wonderful TV adaptation.

  2. Kate W says:

    Love your biscuit link 😀

    I hadn’t heard of Chemistry but it sounds like my kind of book (the comparison to Dept. of Spec sold me).

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Thanks Kate. Chemistry was a super debut, perhaps not quite up to the Offill which I adored, but sharing a similar feel in parts definitely.

  3. Margaret S. says:

    I can’t find the quote, so I can’t prove it, but I distinctly remember once reading an interview with Russell Hoban in which he said that he didn’t intend “The Mouse and His Child” as a children’s book. Seen in that light, it explains the darkness and grittiness…
    It’s universally taken for a children’s book, though, since the characters are talking toys and animals.

  4. Sandra says:

    What a great chain – the biscuit link is classic! (Though I never liked lincoln biscuits – no chocolate involved!) And you’ve reminded me of Russell Hoban too 🙂

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