Saturday, June 6, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: from Normal People to Over Sea, Under Stone (Modern Dublin to the Holy Grail)

It’s time for #6degrees, inspired by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. We all start at the same place as other readers, add six books, and see where one ends up.   This month’s starting point is Normal People by Sally Rooney (2018):
I read Rooney’s first book Conversations with Friends last year but found the lack of quotation marks pretentious and the characters unlikable.  I doubt I would have finished if it hadn’t been for my book group.  However, this one seems more interesting and the new miniseries is getting great reviews (except from the Bishop!) so I suspect I will try it some time. 

Can you think of instances where a movie or miniseries is significantly better than the book? 
I read this and saw the movie so long ago it really took some digging to remember the title - The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (1992), which is my first book. 
It won the Booker but I found it impenetrable.   However, the movie won nine Academy Awards with a great cast, including Colin Firth, Kristen Scott Thomas, and Ralph Fiennes.  I recall taking a client to see it in Ann Arbor, on a business trip back when Borders was in flower.

My second book is also set in Italy during WWII: A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell (2005).  This is a story of Jewish refugees being hidden and saved by Italian Catholic resistance fighters.  What is memorable was that I won my book group a visit from the author.  It turned out she was in Ohio and it was a virtual visit back before we were all virtual.  2006 wasn’t that long ago but we had to meet at the home of the only person who had a speaker phone! 

My third book is written by another prominent Ohio author, And the Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer (1982).  I think this is the most famous book written about a book club, following a group of women after the Civil War as they and their small town grow and change over the years.  Not a quick read but very enjoyable.
My fourth book is The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (1989) about a club that also revealed people's changing lives.  This was a big bestseller set in 1949 about four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, who meet weekly to play mahjong and tell stories of what they left behind in China.  Remember this beautiful cover?

Joy reminded me of my fifth book, Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis (1955), which I had forgotten is not about his marriage to Joy Gresham but his conversion to Christianity.   I know the Narnia books very well and enjoyed the Perelandra trilogy but have only skimmed his nonfiction, with the exception of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, which I used extensively in college.
Finally, my sixth book is Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (1965) which came to mind because I just read an interview about her experience as an Oxford undergraduate when C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were teaching:

I never personally met Tolkien or Lewis, and I’d never heard of Narnia, but we were all waiting eagerly for the third volume of The Lord of the Rings to come out, and I loved going to Lewis’s booming lectures on Renaissance literature. Tolkien lectured on Beowulf and was rather mumbly, except when declaiming the first lines of the poem in Anglo-Saxon, beginning with a great shout of “Hwaet!”
There were a couple professors when I was in college who were so famous that students would attend an occasional lecture even if they weren’t taking a course with them.  It was also a tradition to clap after the last lecture of the semester.  I am not sure I have the audacity to imagine sneaking in the back of the lecture hall to gaze admiringly at Tolkien or Lewis and, as I recall, Dorothy Sayers was one of the few women allowed near their inner circle, so I might not have been welcomed.

Next month (July 4, 2020), Six Degrees begin with What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt (2002).  She is a brilliant writer in her own right and I first learned about her when I worked at Penguin.  My coworkers had crushes on Hustvedt’s husband, Paul Auster, whom we published, and were very envious of her!  Now they have probably matured and would admire her as a writer.  I hope!
This was another lovely cover!


Cath said...

I've only read Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God. I tried A Thread of Grace but couldn't seem to get on with it, it was as we went into lockdown and I think I was just not in the right mood. I will try again at some stage.

I've read Over Sea, Under Stone, not as a child sadly but about 10 years ago I read the series and enjoyed it. Very atmospheric. Amazing to think Susan Cooper went to Tolkein and Lewis's lectures!

shelleyrae @ book'd out said...

I too find the lack of speech marks pretentious, which is why I didn’t read Normal People by I did enjoy watching it. I really liked The Joy Luck Club, though I haven’t seen the movie adaption.
Thanks for sharing your chain.

Karen K. said...

. . . And Ladies of the Club keeps popping up on my radar, it's one of the big fat books I'm hoping to read this summer and now I keep seeing it on blogs! It's so long I've been putting it off (like most of other big books on my shelves). I do love to sink into a great big read in the summertime.

I also loved Joy Luck Club and the movie adaptation is excellent. And how fabulous that you worked at Penguin! I've never read Paul Auster but I have The New York Trilogy unread, I should really get around to it this summer also.

JaneGS said...

I always enjoying reading others’ 6 Degrees of Separation posts.

I think I would like Ladies of the Club.

I remember being blown away by The Joy Luck Club - it’s the only Amy Tan I’ve read, but it was amazingly powerful.

Davida Chazan (The Chocolate Lady) said...

Fantastic chain! Mind you, I disagree about The English Patient. It is my #1 favorite book of ALL TIME and I absolutely hated, Hated, HATED the movie! As for the Santmyer book, I read it in 1985 when I was home after the birth of my oldest son. I read it while breastfeeding him. I don't remember that much about it except that I liked it and it was VERY long (easily 600 or more pages).

TracyK said...

This is the second place I have read about a book by Mary Doria Russell recently, and now I am interested in her books. I don't know when I will try any of them because I have too many books to read, but someday. I did love The Joy Luck Club when I read it, and I think I would like And the Ladies of the Club. Nice chain. Someday I will get back to 6 Degrees of Separation.

Kate @ booksaremyfavouriteandbest said...

It's rare that a movie/tv series is better than the book BUT of things I've read and watched over the last few years, the movies/ series that I have really enjoyed (more than the book): The Miniaturist (book by Jessie Burton); My Brilliant Friend (I didn't care much for Ferrante's book but the TV series was magnificent; Crazy Rich Asians (the film was a visual treat; Love Nina (book by Nina Stibbe - I enjoyed the book but the casting in the TV series was excellent); and Big Little Lies (again, didn't love the book so the only way was up!).

CLM said...

Cath, my mother just loved The Sparrow so I had my book group read it a couple years ago. I found it compelling but quite harrowing. At one point, Brad Pitt was rumored to be planning a movie, which would have been interesting.

I don't remember And the Ladies of the Club very well, Jane and Tracy, as it was quite a while ago but I seem to recall it was the first time I had come across an abusive husband in fiction, which I found very disturbing.

Kate, I did not care for the Elena Ferrante books at all. I thought I was the only one! I've read or started the others except I don't know Nina Stibbe. The book looks fun but I don't think the show ever made it to the US and I don't see it on Netflix.