6 Degrees of Separation

Here’s my entry in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. Here’s how it works:

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal or esoteric ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.


The great thing about this meme is that each participant can make their own rules. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain. . .

Cover: Under the Lake

This month we begin with the book we ended last month’s chain with. For me, that was Under the Lake (1987) by Stuart Woods. I remember it as the spookiest book I’d ever read when I discovered it back in 1996.

1. Another book by Stuart Woods that I enjoyed is his first novel, Chiefs (1981), based on a family story. This novel became the first in the Will Lee series.

2. I next started reading Stuart Woods’s series featuring former NYPD detective now turned lawyer Stone Barrington. I began with the first novel in this series, New York Dead (1991). I read several more of the books in the series but eventually stopped because the stories became progressively more and more outlandish and just plain silly. 

3. Another series I gave up on is Patricia Cornwell’s books featuring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. I quit that series after book #9, 1998’s Point of Origin. I don’t have to like fictional characters, but as Kay Scarpetta became more shrill and self-centered, the story lines also became more improbable. 

4. One fictional series that I enjoyed is Stephen White’s novels featuring clinical psychologist Alan Gregory. I discovered that series back in the early days of audiobooks, called books on tape back then because they came by mail in a boxed set of several cassettes. I listened to the first eight books but then lost touch with the series as technology changed and books on cassettes transitioned to audiobooks for download. But finding book #9, The Program (2008), recently on sale as an ebook reminded me of this excellent series. Now I have books 10-16 to look forward to.

5. I had a similar experience with Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series. Like Alan Gregory, Alex Delaware is a clinical psychologist. And as with the Alan Gregory series, I discovered the Alex Delaware series back in those heady days of books on cassette. I’ve read about nine of these books, but, as the series is now up to book #35, I have a lot more to look forward to. I have #10, The Web, on my Kindle now.

6. Yet another mystery series I need to catch up on is Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books. My book group back in St. Louis read the first book in this series, Case Histories (2004), back in the day and loved it. The recent publication of the fifth Brodie book, Big Sky, reminded me that I need to read the other three before tackling this latest installment.

So there we have it, a series of series for 6 Degrees of Separation. So many books, so little time . . .

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

On Novels and Novelists

Alexander Chee

Alexander Chee’s second novel, the recently published The Queen of the Night, is about “famous opera singer Lilliet Berne, following her as she survives brothels, prisons, and imperial palaces in Second Empire and Third Republic France.”

Here Nick Mancusi interviews Chee about Historical Fiction (“capital H capital F”), fiction in general, the source of characters and ideas, how this novel found its shape, and why it took 13 years to complete.

Novelist explains how psychology training honed his writing

Jonathan Kellerman is a clinical psychologist and the author of several compelling mystery novels featuring child psychologist Alex Delaware. The latest novel in the series is the recently published Breakdown. In this article he talks about his two professions:

“Psychology and fiction are actually quite synchronous,” he said. “But the truth is that writers of fiction are born, they aren’t made, and I was one of those kids who wrote compulsively from a very young age. It was always just something I loved to do. I won’t even call it a hobby because it’s more than that, it was just part of me.”

Maybe writing is in his genes. His wife, Faye Kellerman, is also a best-selling novelist. So is their son, Jesse, and their youngest daughter, Aliza, has published a novel cowritten with her mother. Eldest daughter Rachel also has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and second daughter Ilana is a graduate student in clinical psychology.

Asked what advice he’d give to aspiring writers, he answered:

“Be curious, experience life — and just write. I’ve no sympathy for people who say ‘I’d do it if I had time,’” he said. “The Talmud talks about setting a permanent place and time to study. Consistency counts. In the end, the secret of writing is to be a tortoise, not a hare.”

Michael Cunningham prefers shorter books with lots of voice

Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours, based on Virginia Woolf’s book Mrs. Dalloway, won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. More recently, he has published A Wild Swan: And Other Tales, a collection of retellings of classic fairy tales.

In light of my recent discussions on this blog about Big Books, I was interested in his answer to the question of whether the length of a novel influences him as a reader:

No, because years ago I released myself from any obligation to finish a book, which was revelatory. I used to hesitate over an 800-page tome. If I didn’t like it then I would be sentenced to it for months and months. Now I fearlessly pick up a book of any length though I am a little more inclined to shorter ones. I’ve read some novels lately, popular ones, which should have been a third shorter. If a book needs to be 850 pages long, that’s how long it should be. Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is not too long. But there are some novels out there that are weighing in at 700 to 800 pages that shouldn’t. I’m a bit surprised there is a vogue for these long books when we don’t have any time.

Yes, that sums it up nicely.

10 Great Novels of the Rural

Author Michelle Hoover writes:

I tend to work with emotionally repressed personalities. I find their lack of communication fascinating. But repressed emotion needs its outlet, and so my landscapes not only mirror my character’s psyches but bear the displaced weight of the emotion itself.

Hoover compares her writing to that of Willa Cather, whose descriptive passages about the landscape often also depict the psychological make-up of her characters. Hoover adds that her recently published second novel, Bottomland continues this pattern. She offers a list of other novels, all of which take place in the U.S. and were published in the 21st century, that illustrate the same tradition of writing:

  1. Falling to Earth, Kate Southwood
  2. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  3. In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, Matt Bell
  4. The Known World, Edward P. Jones
  5. The Long Man, Amy Greene
  6. The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin
  7. Plainsong, Kent Haruf
  8. Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward
  9. An Unseemly Wife, E.B. Moore
  10. Winter’s Bone, Daniel Woodrell

Jane Eyre and the Invention of the Self

Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel helped introduce the idea of the “modern individual”—a surprisingly radical concept for readers at the time.

Karen Swallow Prior, writing in The Atlantic, explains how Jane Eyre was the first novel to embody the modern concept of the self as an independent individual:

Brontë’s biggest accomplishment wasn’t in plot devices. It was the narrative voice of Jane—who so openly expressed her desire for identity, definition, meaning, and agency—that rang powerfully true to its 19th-century audience. In fact, many early readers mistakenly believed Jane Eyre was a true account (in a clever marketing scheme, the novel was subtitled, “An Autobiography”), perhaps a validation of her character’s authenticity.

“Unable to find her sense of self through others, Jane makes the surprising decision to turn inward,” Prior writes. The novel, with its emphasis on particular human experience, was the perfect vehicle “to shape how readers understood the modern individual.” Brontë’s creation of Jane Eyre came at a pivotal time in history, when external sources of authority were giving way to the concept of internal interpretations of one’s world.

The refusal of such a woman, who lived in such a time, to be silent created a new mold for the self—one apparent not only in today’s Instagram photos, but also more importantly in the collective modern sense that a person’s inner life can allow her to effect change from the inside out.