Reading is my first love, as anyone who knows me will tell you. Novels and short story collections inhabit all habitable surfaces of my home, so when I heard of #6degrees I had to try it.
WHAT IS THE #6DEGREES READING MEME ? (Novels and all things reading, of course. )
The idea is to start with a book, at the same place as other wonderful readers, add six novels through a variety of connections, and see where you end up.
The pick for this installment is The Lottery and Other Stories by the inimitable Shirley Jackson, one of my writing heroes.
I love how Jackson uses her words so carefully, and builds horror in a such a nuanced yet nonchalant way from the commonplace and harmless. You feel it gradually creep over you, and then, after you’ve been spellbound for hours, you’re unwilling to step out of bed and into the darkness of your toilet before you switch the light on.
Another writer who has made me curl deeper under the covers is Poe, so I begin my chain of reads/ novels, with a short story : The Cask of Amontillado. It is a creepy tale about a man who lures his enemy, a wine connoisseur, into his family vaults to examine a rare vintage. As a teen I loved the self-assured tone, and the horrible end with the dead body lying undisturbed for fifty years.
The wine in that story reminds me of the way Amor Towles deftly writes wine into his nuanced historical novel, A Gentleman in Moscow: a surprisingly upbeat look at Russian history through the eyes of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who is sentenced to spend his life under house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. All the labels in the hotel’s 100,000-bottle wine cellar are removed according to the spirit of communism, and each sold at a single price as merely red or white, even though, as the Count says, ‘the contents of the bottle in his hand was the product of a history as unique and complex as that of a nation, or a man’.
Count Rostov and Russian history lead me to the only novel by Anton Chekov, a mystery at that. It uses footnotes, and a structure that Agatha Christie would use much later to great sensational effect. If you haven’t read The Shooting Party, I wouldn’t spoil it for you. It is of great interest to me as a Chekov devotee and a crime author, even though as far as mystery novels go, this won’t be the top of must-read lists.
The various affairs in this book, between Olga, the heroine and various men make me think of another novel I read and loved as a teen, Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert.
It is a novel that draws me back again and again, each time with hopefully a better understanding. Emma Bovary’s romantic aspirations, her marriage to a man who has none, her affairs with two different men, which lead to such tragedy–it is a masterpiece of both language and plot, and made me long to be French just to able to read and appreciate it in the original.
The complicated marriage in Madame Bovary bring to mind Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. The marriage between the glamorous couple, Lotto and Mathilde, is the envy of their friends, but we see so many secrets revealed in vibrant prose in this propulsive novel about love, art, creativity, and power. I tend to mix up novels after I read them, but I thought about this one for weeks afterward.
Another novel that examines the themes of marriage is Some Prefer Nettles , a classic by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, in which the author uses a marriage to explore themes of performance vs reality, East vs West, and the way some men see women.
So those were my 6 reads that came via free association from The Lottery and Other Stories .
Have you read any of these? What great novels have you read lately? Would you like to try the #6degrees meme? Want to suggest 6 novels that Shirley Jackson’s work brings to mind?
(I do have some wonderful, exciting book-news that’s been all over my social media, but I think it deserves a post of its own, so I’ll hold off until next week!)
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