The meme was inspired by Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy, who, in the 1929 short story Chains (or Chain-Links), coined the expression ‘six degrees of separation’. This expression was made popular by a 1990 play written by John Guare, which was later made into the eponymous film (1993, IMDb).
Since then, the idea that everyone in the world is separated from everyone else by just six links has been explored in many ways, and now it’s a meme for readers: on the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point, and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book – and the way you link the books is up to you.
Each person’s chain will look completely different. It doesn’t matter what the connection is or where it takes you – just take us on the journey with you. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the first book either: you can always find ways to link it based on your expectations/ideas about it.
I’ve been following the meme for a long time, but never attempted to take part. This month’s book, however, prompted me to have a try. The starting point in April is
How to Be Both, by Ali Smith (2014)
How to Be Both (2014) is an experimental novel centred on two interconnected stories that play with the ideas of gender, art, and identity: the life of a contemporary English girl, and the story of the Italian renaissance artist Francesco Del Cossa.
- Another experimental novel which explores a collage of voices and styles, and deals, among others, with the topics of identity and art, is The Blazing World (2014), by Siri Hustvedt.
- The title of this novel was inspired by the eponymous book by Margaret Cavendish, who was one of the first women to publish books under her own name, and whose life was the object of the biography Mad Madge: The Extraordinary Life of Margaret Cavendish, by Katie Whitaker (2002).
- Aphra Behn was another pioneer woman writer, one of the first to make a living by her pen, and one whose life was briefly analysed by Vita Sackville-West in the biography Aphra Behn: the Incomparable Astrea (1927).
- Vita is most remembered, however, for having been the inspiration behind Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928), which centres on a character who, among other things, changes its gender.
- Another novel with an Orlando-like character is The Passion of New Eve (1977), by Angela Carter, a dystopian book overloaded with literary, symbolic and mythological references.
- We have a similar disturbing atmosphere (albeit less brutal, and much more poetic), in another dystopian book, Doña Quixote and Other Citizens, by Leena Krohn, tr. Hildi Hawkins (1996. Original: Donna Quijote ja muita kaupunkilaisia: Muotokuvia, 1983), whose narrator is a person of unknown gender and age, wandering through a strange city that seems to be made of glass, melting ice, slim trees, and distorted mirrors.
Well, this is it, folks: here is my chain of books for April:
How about you? Where does your literary chain take you?