The Tipping Point // Six Degrees of Separation

The idea behind this exercise is to connect books in any way that’s meaningful to you, from the profound to the inane. Although Kevin Bacon is typically behind the six degrees game, books are just a bit more fun. June’s jumping off point is The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

I did not read that one, I was in college at the time and suspect I was buried in text books. One of my favorite Malcolms is in Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (though I did prefer the movie version of the character). I consider Jurassic Park to be part of the “nature go awry” category of literature that I love so much. Very official, obviously.

You can’t create predators and expect to control them. You can’t really expect to control predators, period. Nature finds a way. Perhaps with a great white shark, for example. Underwhelming lead in aside, Jaws is my next link for the off-kilter nature connection. The Stephen Spielberg link is entirely coincidental.

If it happens in the water, it can happen on land. Just as Daphne DuMaurier wrote in her novella that inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (included in her collection The Apple Tree).

While the entirety of Britain under avian assault is a national catastrophe, Stephen King wrote a much more personal story about the threats we face from animals. King’s tale involves the family pet, an adorable St. Bernard named Cujo. Cujo is simply a victim of rabies, a good dog with a bad end.

Another novel featuring a devoted dog is The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. After an influenza epidemic wipes out most of the population, Hig is living in an airplane hanger with his dog Jasper. If you haven’t read this novel and like post-apocalyptic fiction, this is a good one.

Another post-apocalyptic novel, and one I’m having difficulty deciding how I feel about, is Wonderblood by Julia Whicker. It’s the story of a world where most everyone has been wiped out by a disease known as Bent Head. Those left worship the astronauts who lived many years before. It’s a fantastic premise, but one I’m not sure I entirely enjoyed. I’m still thinking about it though, for what it’s worth.

From learning about little things that make a big difference to worshiping the ruins of Cape Canaveral in six easy steps. Care to join?


The Mars Room // Rachel Kushner

The Mars RoomI’ll keep this short and sweet, as plenty has been written about the new novel from National Book Award finalist Rachel Kushner.

Romy isn’t quite sure where she went wrong. What is this decision? Or that one? Now serving two consecutive life sentences, Romy examines her choices, starting in her wild and neglected childhood, and how her choices may not have been choices at all.

You would not have gone. I understand that. You would not have gone up to his room. You would not have asked him for help. You would not have been wandering lost at midnight at age eleven. You would have been safe and dry and asleep, at home with your mother and your father who cared about you and had rules, curfews, expectations. Everything for you would have been different. But if you were me, you would have done what I did. You would have gone, hopeful and stupid, to get the money for the taxi.

Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room is a remarkable novel about life in prison, life leading up to prison, and those that cross the path of prisoners – fellow inmates, a well-meaning GED teacher, the police officers and lawyers involved in the justice system. The timeline moves back and forth, and to multiple characters, although it primarily sticks with Romy (though there are even excerpts by convicted Unabomber Ted Kaczynski). It’s difficult to do this hard, humane novel justice in so few words, but it’s a thoughtful, nuanced story of the circumstances and decisions that, in the end, make up an entire life.

The quiet of the cell is where the real question lingers in the mind of a woman. The one true question, impossible to answer. The why did you. The how. Not the practical how, the other one. How could you have done such a thing. How could you.

*I received a review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.


The Poisonwood Bible // Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees The Poisonwood Bible
The idea behind this exercise is to connect books in any way that’s meaningful to you, from the profound to the inane. Although Kevin Bacon is typically behind the six degrees game, books are just a bit more fun. May’s pick is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

I haven’t read that one, but I read and loved her Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I am absolutely fascinated by living off the land/back to nature books and I wish that’s something I could pursue (though I’ll settled for raised garden beds for now). I’m part of a book club that focuses on nature literature and one of the few fiction picks that has made the cut is The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey.

One of Abbey’s most famous environmentally minded contemporaries was Wallace Stegner. I’ve only read Angle of Repose, but his others are high on my list as well. One book I did read is David Gessner’s All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West.

Part of the book follows Gessner as he travels to various places that were important to Abbey and Stegner. It reminded my a bit of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, which is one woman’s journey, through many adverse condition with adventure (and a bit of sex) thrown in.

With the description I just gave of Wild, it pairs well with The River at Night, which is the story of an unprepared group of women who embark on a dangerous trip through the wilderness.

A similar synopsis, though vastly different in content, is applicable to Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. Annihilation is the story of four (though briefly five) women – a psychologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist, and a biologist – who walk into a forest to explore the unknown. To put it mildly.

From The Poisonwood Bible to Annihilation in six easy steps. Where would you find yourself after six degrees of literary separation? Join in here.

*Apparently I was having so much fun that I just kept going, when I should’ve stopped at The River at Night. However, I love the connection between The River at Night and Annihilation so much that I can’t bear to remove it. So… Bonus book!




The Ghost Notebooks // Ben Dolnick

The Ghost Notebooks by Ben Dolnick is an eerie, compelling novel about newly engaged couple Hannah and Nick. When Hannah loses her job at the New York Historical Society, she starts looking for work outside New York City. She finds The Wright House, and small museum with a big history (one that is not shared with her before hire), and becomes caretaker. The move to Hibernia, NY is good for the couple. Initially.

“The line between romantic getaway and lonely creepy farmhouse is, it turns out, fairly thin.”

Dolnick has crafted a chilly, atmospheric novel laced with humor. It highlights the delicate balance between what a person shares about an experience and what an experience actually entails. How well do we really know those who are closest to us? I suspect it’s almost never as well as we think.

This is a story about what haunts us. What we think about when we can’t sleep at night. What we can live with, and what we can live without. Despite these big themes, it’s a slim novel and an easy read – one I’d recommend to those who love a ghost story that does not veer towards horror.

*I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.


The Sea Beast Takes a Lover // Michael Andreasen

Sea BeastI can’t say enough about this weird little gem of a book. An amorous sea beast, a cannibalistic captain, and alien abductees are just a few of the oddities that fill this collection. There are 11 stories  and all are vivid, humorous, and paradoxical. Andreasen has written a noteworthy debut, one absolutely worth your consideration. The title story in the collection is my favorite, but I am likely to swoon over an unexpected John Irving reference (there’s also a bear in another story), especially when said reference is The World According to Garp being read by a doomed sailor on a ship being wooed to death by a lovesick kraken.

On the fence? You can get a good feel for the author’s style and sense of humor in story The King’s Teacup at Rest, which appeared in the New Yorker. I particularly love this exchange from within the story:

The hot-dog stand. A few bloated green wieners still floating in a steel pond of brine. Fungal buns spill out of the trolley’s lower compartment. Pigeons have been at them. A few are still lying in dizzy, half-dead piles nearby. The smell of the cart has made the bear* morose.

“Forgive me, sire,” the steward says, “but these look unfit for Your Majesty’s consumption.”

“We will eat them,” the king declares. “Relish?”

“Also unwise,” the steward says.

“Just a dab, then.”

“Please, sire,” the steward entreats, “recall the fish tacos at the Morristown County Fair.” He looks to the scout for help. The boy says nothing, pretending instead to read a smear of pigeon droppings on the cotton-candy machine.

“Serve and obey,” the king says.

The steward bows. With a handkerchief over his nose, he constructs something that, in a world without proper standards, could be considered a hot dog. He serves it to the king on a small silver platter drawn from his attaché case. The king stuffs the mass into his face, rancid mustard peeling down his chin and onto the mange of his ermine.

“Passable,” the king declares. “Now take us to the rides.”

If you like your fiction strange and your stories short, pick up The Sea Beast Takes a Lover by Michael Andreasen forthwith.

I first reviewed this book on instagram? Anyone I’m not following in the Instagram/Bookstagram community? Let me know and I’ll find you!

*I received a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

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