Collage of book covers: Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller, In the Margins by Elena Ferrante, How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo, Writing in an Age of Silence by Sara Paretsky, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

6 Degrees of Separation: Reading About Reading and Fiction

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

This month we start with Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller. I thought I had seen the film adaptation of this book, but from the description I see that I have not. I saw something, probably on Netflix, similarly titled, but about a politician.

first degree

However, not having seen the film or read the starting book isn’t a problem, because the link I’m using for the first degree is the absence of the word Notes in the book title: In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein. Appropriate for a blog called Notes in the Margin, right? In this short book Italian author Elena Ferrante writes about her struggles and her growth as both a writer and a reader. I have this book on my TBR shelf.

second degree

My second degree is another book on my TBR shelf, How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo:

At once a deeply personal and searching history of one woman’s reading life, and a wide-ranging and urgent intervention into our globalized conversations about why reading matters today, How to Read Now empowers us to embrace a more complicated, embodied form of reading, inviting us to acknowledge complicated truths, ignite surprising connections, imagine a more daring solidarity, and create space for a riskier intimacy–within ourselves, and with each other.


Not only are these first two books both on my TBR shelf and both about reading, but their covers are markedly similar. Just look at them side by side, with their black backgrounds and their white and red typography:

third degree

Another book about writing, and one that I have read, is Writing in an Age of Silence by Sara Paretsky, author of the V.I. Warshawski mystery novels. Published in 2007, this book “explores the traditions of political and literary dissent that have informed [Paretsky’s] life and work, against the unparalleled repression of free speech and thought in the USA today” (Goodreads).

fourth degree

The thought of reading and writing during turbulent times brings to mind one of the most famous novels about such times, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. This novel’s famous opening—“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . .”—evokes the ambiguity of life under such circumstances, a time of both danger and opportunity. I’ve always found Sydney Carton, the intelligent but cynical lawyer unable to make the most of his abilities, the most interesting among this novel’s panorama of characters because he recognizes an opportunity to change the meaning of his life: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.”

fifth degree

Another book about finding meaning in one’s life is Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, which was the starting point of a recent 6 Degrees of Separation exercise.

I’ve read this novel but haven’t reviewed it on the blog because I’m still mulling it over. I’m not quite sure how I feel about what I see as the novel’s mixed messages and ambiguity.

sixth degree

Finally, another book about the ambiguity of life that I’m still mulling over (and therefore haven’t yet reviewed) is The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. The protagonist of this novel has settled into early old age with a satisfied complacency about the life he has lived. But the arrival, out of the blue, about something that happened in his young adulthood causes him to investigate and re-examine his life story.

shelf full of books with pastel spines, no titles

When I started this chain of thinking, I had no idea where it would take me. But I have found a certain logical progression here, from thinking about reading fiction in general back to thinking about some particular novels and what they have to say about human existence.

Where did your 6 Degrees of Separation list take you this month? 

© 2022 by Mary Daniels Brown

17 thoughts on “6 Degrees of Separation: Reading About Reading and Fiction”

  1. I thought you were going to go down the path of books about writing and wondered if the only one I’ve read would be on the list, but then you switched directions to a more philosophical tone. On Writing by Stephen King is the where I thought you were headed 🙂 – his philosophy, his routine, etc is fascinating. – thanks for stopping by Mary
    Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      I agree about King’s book, Terrie. At first I thought the subtitle–A Memoir of the Craft–was a bit presumptuous, but after reading the book and finding out that he’s been writing stories since age 6, I realized that he is indeed entitled to that description.

  2. I love books about reading and writing so there’s a couple there that interest me, especially the ferrante one. I haven’t read ‘my brilliant friend’ but loved the TV show. Great list.

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Thanks, Adrian. You’ve reminded me that I think I have the TV series of My Brilliant Friend somewhere on my DVR.

  3. I liked the way you started this chain, Mary, and am interested in How to Read Now. I’ll keep an eye out for your review when you’ve read it.

    My husband loved The Sense of an Ending. I have a copy on my e-reader but haven’t found time for it yet.

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      I’m eager to read How to Read Now myself, Jan, but you know how that goes–a couple of my requests from the library become available, then several more books catch my eye, then . . .

  4. What an unusual way to start the chain – and some great books there. I did not get on that well with Ferrante’s Frantumaglia, but I did like her series of articles, so I might enjoy those.

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Thanks, Marina Sofia. Is Italian one of your languages? If I had my life to do over, I would learn more languages. We went on a world cruise several years ago, and one of our guides passably spoke 7 languages. I was bright green with envy.

      1. I am currently learning it – have always wanted to but never had the time. I still don’t really have the time, but it’s an online course, so less time-consuming and I like the teacher plus it’s a very small class. I have the advantage that it’s very similar to Romanian, so it’s slightly easier than another language.

  5. Seems like my comments are not appreciated by the tech side of your blog – let me try again. I just wanted to say what a clever way to start off the chain, bravo! I was not impressed by Ferrante’s Frantumaglia (it felt a bit scraping the bottom of the barrel), but I did enjoy her articles for British newspapers, and always enjoy hearing about how writers grow and develop.

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      I’m hoping to get to the Castillo soon, too, Margaret. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Thanks, Marianne. I found your chain interesting this month. I love a good word-association (or repetition) chain.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: