Saturday, January 1, 2022

Six Degrees of Separation – from Civility to Murder

It’s time for #6degrees, inspired by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. We all start at the same place, add six books, and see where we end up. This month’s starting point is Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, published in 2011, exactly one hundred years after last month’s choice, Ethan Frome.  
I enjoyed this book when it first came out.  The author grew up nearby and our mothers were college classmates, although I have never met him.  An obvious comparison is The Great Gatsby so I will go in a less predictable direction.

First Degree
The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider was a big sensation when it was published in 1995. It was a self-help book for women based on the premise that men wanted a challenge so relationship rules were necessary to keep them interested.  Even those who despised it read and talked about it! I seem to recall my former roommate Jeanmarie was one of the editors; if so, she helped make a lot of money for Warner Books.

Second Degree
My favorite book about rules is The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations by Ellen Conford (1976). It’s a sly look at a high school’s absurd regulations as seen by sophomore Julie who is just trying to navigate the system. I saw a discarded copy at the library the other night and was sad it had been removed from the collection (but you should be proud of me, I knew I already had a copy at home so did not buy it).

Third Degree
Another teenager is the heroine of Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer (1998). Jenna, a part-time shoe salesperson, is hired to drive the owner of the chain cross-country to prevent the woman’s son from taking over the company. Together, they learn a lot about the rules of the road and, of course, the rules of life.

Fourth Degree
House Rules by Jodi Picoult (2010) is about a teen with Asperger's syndrome accused of murder. Although I recall thinking that it was obvious who the murderer was, the most interesting aspect of the book was Picoult’s education of the reading public about Asperger’s and how many of those with the disorder need rules or repetitive routines. Although it was only 11 years ago, I don’t think the phrase had entered common parlance then.  

Fifth Degree
Unless you love history you may not know that in medieval and Tudor times a Lord of Misrule was loosely in charge of Christmas revelries at court. When Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power, the custom was outlawed but other types of misrule continued. In Lords of Misrule by Stella Riley (2016), the fourth book in the Roundheads and Cavaliers series, Colonel Eden Maxwell has begun to question the rules and motivations of his Puritan superiors. Eden has been very glum for several books due to a disastrous marriage and long war but things are about to change! I highly recommend Stella Riley’s historical novels.

Sixth Degree

Those familiar with Louise Penny’s Detective Armand Gamache know he is loyal but unafraid to challenge rules or behavior that do not meet his standards (it’s no coincidence that I like such characters). In A Rule Against Murder (2008), Armand's anniversary getaway with his wife is disrupted by a dysfunctional family staying at the same secluded inn and even his best efforts cannot prevent the jangled and spiteful relationships from ending in murder.

Thank heaven for Louise Penny! I read ten of Penny’s Three Pines novels during the pandemic, plus the book she wrote with Hillary Clinton, and I still have one I’ve been saving for the right moment.  They are brilliantly plotted and I became very fond of the characters. 

So I started in New York, spent some time with American teens, lingered in 17th century England, and wound up in Quebec. Have you read any of these? Did you play #6Degrees this month? 

Next month (February 5, 2022), we will start with No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, which Betsy-Tacy fan Jia Tolentino described as “looking through a kaleidoscope built by a mischievous sorcerer.”


TracyK said...

I like your chain. So many interesting books about rules. Both House Rules and Lords of Misrule sound very interesting.

JaneGS said...

Excellent chain. I am a huge Louise Penny fan as well. Wonderful writing and wonderful, memorable characters.

Happy New Year and happy reading in 2022!

Lark said...

What a fun take on this bookish chain...I love all the Rules books you found. :)

Davida Chazan (The Chocolate Lady) said...

What a very disciplined chain! Very interesting, too! Happy New Year!

Yvonne said...

Great chain! Stella Riley's Roundheads &Cavalier series is one I've been wanting to read for a long time. All the best for 2022.

Jeannike said...

Quick query - would Rules of Civility be appropriate for a 14 year old? He just finished Huckleberry Finn and the reviews sound as if it would be a good follow up. Unless it's R rated.

Jeannike said...

Oops! Of course, Rules of Civility was the reminder to ask you about his new book, The Lincoln Highway (a road that is still commemorated with plaques in Columbus, Ohio).

Jeannike said...

I would suggest Working Woman by Jennifer Holmes as a way to view Bernard Berenson from a different angle. Ray Costelloe Strachey's mother, Mary, was an art historian who married Berenson and collaborated with him on Renaissance art ventures.

CLM said...

Jeannike, I would suggest your son read The Great Gatsby before he reads The Rules of Civility. The latter does not seem inappropriate for a 14 year old to me but I don't have it in front of me to examine and I read it several years ago. There is certainly sex and drinking in it (I don't remember about drugs).

I haven't had time to read his new book yet. I saw it at the library the other day on the "7-Day" shelf and decided it would be a burden rather than a pleasure if I had to read it right away. However, others seem to be enjoying it and I do admire his willingness to try something quite different.