Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 3, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation, from Shopgirl, to….

Eddard of House Stark Source, Fair use, Wikipedia

Winter is coming and it’s time for  #6Degrees!  Hosted by Kate at Books are My Favourite and Best this month’s starter book is  Shopgirl by Steven Martin, a book I’ve never heard of, made into a film I’ve never heard of.   (And the name of it sets my teeth on edge: change the gender and you can see why.  Would a book called Shopboy ever get traction?  No.)

But I can still do this, I thought to myself, because everybody’s talking about the film of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s TaleApparently it’s an excellent adaptation, and if I haven’t missed the screening of it like I so often do, I’m going to check it out. I read The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) years and years ago long before the Taliban showed us that much of its dystopian future could become reality.  I’m really glad it’s reaching a new generation of readers now, and I hope they get the message: the freedoms we take for granted in progressive countries need to be guarded assiduously.  Always.

Thinking about the freedoms we take for granted leads me straight to my recent reading of Kruso by Lutz Seiler and translated by Tess Lewis.  (See my review). Winner of the German Book Prize, this book is the first novel I’ve read about life in the pre-unification GDR when Berlin was under Soviet control, and it was a reminder amongst other things that Nazi book-burning was followed by Soviet restrictions on reading choices.

What I knew about the GDR was largely formed by my reading of  Anna Funder’s Stasiland, Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall from 2003This book won the 2004 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and was nominated for the 2003.  Guardian First Book Award.  Everyone I knew had read it, and it was the sort of book that cropped up in conversations all over the place.  One of the most vivid images I have of the book was the chapter about the women trying to reassemble shredded Stasi files so that perhaps missing people could be located.  The immensity of the task beggars belief, and yet the desperation to know what has happened to a loved one kept these women at the thankless task long after any realistic hope could be maintained.

But on the subject of images, what were the good folk at Text Publishing thinking of with that cover?  Yes, I know this is a hobby horse of mine, but still… Compare that cover – which still seems to me to be entirely irrelevant to the book’s content – to Mary Callahan’s clever subtlety in the cover of Damon Young’s The Art of Reading which has just won the Best Designed Non Fiction Book in the 2017 Australian Book Design Awards.  I think the book should have won some other award too, because I loved reading it, so much so that I did two posts about it, a Sensational Snippet and a reflection on the chapter about patience in reading. I don’t know why some really beaut books just get ignored while others that seem quite ordinary get a lot of media attention and sometimes the prizes too.

I was surprised to see that Patrick Holland’s wonderful novel One (Transit Lounge) missed out on a nomination for the Miles Franklin this year.  It was such good reading, (see my review and Patrick’s follow-up article about its unusual title), I was really disappointed.   I hope it wasn’t a casualty of the cost pressures on small publishers having to fork out $75 for each entry and provide 7 copies of the book as well – this has been a topic of conversation around the web, and – given the importance of prizes as funding time-to-write, it’s important that small publishers and their authors get a fair go.  Small, indie publishers are, after all, publishing most of the really interesting books IMO.  Anyway, if you haven’t read One, get yourself a copy.  You won’t regret it.

So who’s going to win the Miles Franklin this year?  The wait for the shortlist will be over on June 18th, but I had already privately made up my mind between the longlisted books I’d reviewed. And then I started reading Philip Salom’s Waiting and although there are some terrific books on the longlist and although I haven’t finished reading Waiting, I think I’ve found the winner.  Have a look at a Sensational Snippet from this novel and see what you think.  I’m just loving it: I’m reading it slowly because I don’t want it to end.  Thank goodness for the MF because without it most of us would probably never hard of Waiting without the longlisting.

From a book everyone else has heard of except for me to a book that’s burst out of obscurity onto the Australian literary scene because of a prize nomination, that’s my #6Degrees this month!



  1. I like that your neat feminist link between Shopgirl and The Handmaid’s Tale.

    • Thanks! Have you read them?

      • Not Shopgirl but The Handmaid’s Tale, long, long ago.

        • So you too have this book lodged in your brain, with your antenna always on alert too? I think a whole generation of feminists have this book deep in the subconscious, a fable that became real…

  2. A very discursive and thoughtful path between the various books. And I haven’t heard of Shopgirl either, though I assume Steve Martin is the Steve Martin of The Three Amigos, which I will admit to liking.

    • Ah, *that* Steve Martin. Now I know, thank you!

  3. The Text cover makes me think of Europa books. Looks like their style

  4. Im reading this smiling through gritted teeth because the inspiration of your links is something missing in my own efforts at the moment. I loathe that kind of Shopgirl book too so am struggling to get from that to something I have actually read.

    • Sometimes I wonder if the way my mind works is because of my years as a primary school teacher. I learned very quickly that kids think in unexpected ways and I needed to adapt where the lesson was meant to go into something else. As time went by, I think I re-learned to think like a butterfly, flitting from one thing to the other without there necessarily being a strong logical connection!

      • it must also show that you are more of a creative person than a rational one.

        • Sssh! Don’t tell The Logician a.k.a. The Spouse.

  5. Wonderful as always, and I love that you point out the merit [or otherwise] of specific covers.

    • Who did the cover for Flame Tip, Karenlee? It’s a perfect design for its content, IMO…

      • Oh I’m glad you like it. Hybrid Publishers allowed me some input and then they ran with it!

        • Simple, but so effective, it gets the ANZLitLovers Design Award from me:)

  6. The Art of Reading has a great cover. I am glad to hear it won the award. I am planning to re-read The Handmaid’s Tale (for the third time?) in preparation for the television series. I find it fascinating to see how stories get adapted. I think the screen people are getting better at preserving the heart of books.

    • Hi Kathryn, I’m dithering over whether to see The Sense of an Ending. I really loved that book and I would hate to see it messed up, and it’s a book so difficult to bring to film, I fear that’s what would happen.

      • That could be a tricky one. But then I did not think Life of Pi could work as a movie and I think it works.

      • I’m also dithering over whether to see that movie… the book was just a perfect, compact story and I’m not sure how the movie will pull it off.

        • I would be so upset if they mucked it up! I know it would ruin the book for me if they do, like that silly feminist adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles and that inane swimming in the pond scene in Pride and Prejudice.

  7. Love your first link. Handmaid’s Tale really should be required reading – I read it as a teen and thought it was terrifying (and real). I’ve heard so much about the tv series – all good – and a little investigation revealed that SBS will be showing it free-to-air in Australia this year – woohoo!

    My Miles Franklin reading has been slack this year (or rather non-existent) – the short-list announcement coincides with my semester break at uni so hopefully I can squeeze in some books and have an informed opinion!

    • Kate, ‘slack’ is not a word we can apply to you. Relax, take a deep breath, and give yourself a break!

  8. Lisa – I love your first link – inspired! We read Stasiland in our book group – it proved a great choice, provoking lots of discussion.

    • It’s brilliant, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s hard to get a book discussion going about NF books, but I can well imagine that Stasiland would have proved the exception.

  9. Great links Lisa, particularly getting to Stasiland. Such an unforgettable book.

    I had heard of Shopgirl and the film, but I hadn’t read or seen it. I was initially not interested in it, and I’m very unlikely to read it now, but since this meme I’ve discovered that it has some depth and edges that I hadn’t realised or expect to be there.

    • That’s what I like about this meme, discovering new books that – even if not quite to my taste – are interesting in themselves because they are part of popular culture. Like the movie Pretty Girl, which I’ve never seen, but which is a twist on the Cinderella story. And now Pretty Girl is a recognisable euphemism for a call girl.

      • Yes, exactly. And it’s fun seeing different people’s thought processes.

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