Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 6, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation, from The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, to….

Here’s the first #6Degrees for 2018!  Hosted by Kate at Books are My Favourite and Best this month’s starter book is The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith and I’ve read it, because my mother loved it.  I used to buy the latest incarnation of the series for her birthdays, Christmas, Mothers’ Days and was always pleased that McCall Smith was so prolific!

My mother also loved Pride and Prejudice. (Don’t we all?)  This set of Austen’s was my mother’s, each one quaintly inscribed with ‘Mrs Hill’.  I can’t imagine any woman doing that these days!  These books have charming illustrations by C.E. Brock (though that’s not acknowledged in the book, I had to do a Google search to find out); an introduction by R. Brimley Johnson; and were published by Readers Union, by permission of J. M. Dent and Sons, who, the verso page tells me, were the original publishers.  Wikipedia says otherwise: it credits T. Egerton, Whitehall as the original publisher…

The fiction I read these days confines art work to the covers, and often not even then.  Michelle de Kretser deserved a better cover than the one on The Life to Come.  It conveys nothing at all about the book, which explores the way that assumptions about ourselves and others impact on relationships in all kinds of ways in a muticultual society.

OTOH, the cover of What’s Yours is Mine, equally simple, and probably equally cheap to do since it also just uses text, tells you a lot about the book!

I’m also attracted by book titles, of course, but they can be deceptive.  Adrian Mitchell’s The Beachcomber’s Wife is a good title (with a great cover), and an enjoyable book on the theme of women’s lives being subservient to others, but I would never have picked up a book with a dull title like The Adventures of Augie March if it hadn’t been written by Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow.

So yes, my choices are influenced by the fame of the writer, but only up to a point.  At the end of the day it’s the words between the pages that matter, and even notable writers have their duds.  (Yes, Iris Murdoch, I’m looking at you).  That’s why I’m always open to reading debut authors.  It’s hard to choose a favourite, but a debut that I really liked from last year was Michalia Arathimos’ AukatiArathimos is writing about contemporary NZ issues of cultural identity as well as the complexities of contemporary political protest, and these issues are just as relevant to Australian readers.

Next month’s book is Lincoln in the Bardo, a book I sent back to the library after the obligatory 50 pages.  But I’ll do my best not to write a negative #6Degrees – I’d much rather write about books I like than ones I didn’t.



  1. Hi Lisa, I love how we pick our books. I had the same trouble as you with Lincoln in Bardo – it went back to the library unfinished. One day I might try to read it.

    • I think it’s a love it or hate it one!

  2. A toast to the bibliphiles wherever they are.

  3. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Lincoln in the Bardo. That one’s on my TBR list.

  4. You said in an earlier post you’d sent back the first two books of your reading year and I had been very curious about what they were. I know you didn’t want to do one, but I think negative reviews are interesting, particularly of books that are ‘important’.

    • Nope, sorry, no can do! I don’t review books I don’t finish, it’s not fair to the author.

  5. What an interesting chain – I like your comments on book covers! I try not to let them influence my choice too. Lincoln in the Bardo doesn’t appeal to me either.

    • Hello Margaret, thank you for your comment:)

  6. I loved The Life to Come which was my first review of 2018. The UK cover is different and, for me, more aesthetically pleasing but no more relevant to the contents that the Australian one!

    • Hi, I’ve just visited your site to see what you mean (and left a comment which *pout* has vanished) and yes, the UK cover is bland as well. Interesting that they haven’t included the reference to winning Australia’s major prize – it would be so interesting to know the reasons for decisions like that.

      • How strange! Sadly, I suspect the decision is a result of somewhat parochial attitudes although I may be wrong.

  7. So funny that you included The Life to Come for the reasons stated – when I first saw that cover I felt let down… as you said, de Kretser deserves more – it looks like the work of a graphic design department who just wanted to head out to their Christmas lunch.

    • You wonder what gets into them, don’t you? When you look at the designs on, say, Transit Lounge covers, you can tell, as soon as you’ve read the book, why the design elements are there. And I think that’s the answer: it’s not part of the brief to read the book if you do a design for a big publisher. The brief was ‘make sure there’s somewhere prominent for the text about her winning the Miles Franklin, and make sure her name is prominent’. And then you can go out to lunch!

  8. Damn it, I wrote a long comment last night re book covers and my parents’ Internet service seemed to clag and the site stalled during the posting. I might write it again later. But I enjoyed your links.

    • As you can see above, this has just happened to me too. I left a comment at A Life in Books (and took quite a bit of time over it) and it’s not there. In my case it’s not internet speed, at least I don’t think so…

      • I was at my parents overnight as Mum is in hospital and theit internet speed is abysmal. Pretty well all my sites clogged last night.

        • That’s not good. Is she going to be ok?

          • Yes, thanks, Lisa I believe so… A fall with some bleeding. and is on blood thinners so needef some watching.

            • I hope she’s home soon. I guess they’re excited about being great grandparents too?
              BTW I wondered when I wrote my bit about the Austen publishers, if you would know (offhand) who the original publishers were… is that what your missing comment was about?

              • The first publisher I have is Richard Bentley’s Standard Books who published the six JAs as a series in the 1830s. Four had been published previously individually, and the last two were published together. Working, so can’t tell you any more. Hope WGs mum doing ok.

              • Very excited they are. No but I planned to look it up. Been hectic here as we had our Thredbo holiday booked from today and thought we were going to miss it. However my just retired brother offered to fly up so between staying with dad, visiting mum, trying to pack, I didn’t get to check BUT my recollection is Egerton. J. Murray I think had the chance to publish her first, Northanger Abbey, but just sat on it. I wonder if Dent bought Egerton?

              • Just checked Wikipedia. Was wrong about Murray, it was Crosbie or some such, but the first edition of her first novel, Sense and sensibility was indeed published by Egerton. T. or Thomas Egerton.

                • Forget about it – get packing and then go and enjoy your holiday!

  9. How lovely you have your mums editions of Austen and her rather formal inscription. People don’t seem to write in books any longer but I like seeing the dedications you come across in second hand copies sometimes. As a friend commentd to me once, when you read a book that has a message included from the giver to you, you get the double pleasure of the book and also the association with your friend or relative.

    • Yes, I think so too. I have childhood books with inscriptions from my dear old dad and I would never part with them…

      • Do you write inscriptions in books you give to friends/family members Lisa?

        • Yes, sometimes, it depends who to and what the occasion is…

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