Six Degrees of Separation – from Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness to Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly book meme first created by Annabel Smith & Emma Chapman, and now continued by Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest. The aim is create a chain of six books stemming from one designated book. That designated book is announced monthly, and the books can be linked in various ways.

This month’s chain starts with Ruth Ozeki’s most recent book The Book of Form and Emptiness, which I have not yet read, but the synopsis tells me that this is a book that features “a large public library” at some point, and this brings me to Edith Wharton’s classic novella Summer. This book is about Charity Royall, a seventeen-year old girl who was once adopted by a prominent lawyer in a small town of North Dormer. She lands a coveted role of a librarian at her local library and there meets a promising architect and potential suitor Lucius Harney. Edith Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921, becoming the first woman to do so, and 100 years on, Louise Erdrich also did so for her novel The Night Watchman, which won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize. This rather personal-to-the-author novel is set in the 1950s and follows the lives of North Dakota’s Native American population – the Chippewa tribe. The story focuses on a US Senator’s attempt to undo the protection enjoyed by the native tribe through the so-called Termination Bill.

Another book which features the daily struggles of Native Americans is Tommy Orange’s debut There There. This book follows twelve different characters in California who try to make their heritage feel relevant and important, telling its story through the viewpoints of different people. This “multiple-perspectives” style to tell a story is also employed by Julia Alvarez in her book In the Time of the Butterflies. This novel follows the lives of the Mirabal sisters in the Dominican Republic during the Trujillo dictatorship. Alvarez’s other book that deals with the terror of living in an authoritarian regime is Before We Were Free, a touching story of a twelve-year old girl who grows up in a family that lives in fear for themselves and those closest to them. One of Alvarez’s non-fiction books is her memoir A Wedding in Haiti [2012], and among her inspirations for this book she names Bruce Chatwin’s non-fiction The Songlines, a book that “follows the lineage of songs [that] the Aboriginal Australians believe hold the world together and have to be sung afresh by each generation” (Julia Alvarez).

12 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – from Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness to Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines

  1. Love your chain, though I have only read two – Summer and Songlines. I have read two books by Erdrich, and would like to read more, and I would like to read Alvarez too. So, this is a chain that is right up my alley!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I also have an Erdrich book (The Sentence) in my chain this month, unfortunately I didn’t enjoy it that much. Are you new to Six Degrees? It’s always nice when new people join in.

    Liked by 1 person

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