Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 5, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation, from The Poisonwood Bible to…

Where did April go?  Here we are with #6Degrees via (booksaremyfavouriteandbest) again, and Sue is first cab off the rank with hers.  The book is Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible which was a bestseller in its day, and with good reason.

Now this is a really lame link, I know, but I’m going to go with another American bestseller, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.  I read it when I was at Teachers’ College back in the 1970s, and we have come such a long way in attitudes towards mental illness and deinstitutionalisation that it seems hard to recall just how ground-breaking this novel was.  The novel was not only an international best-seller, it was made into a film and it was highly influential in changing long-held attitudes…

Yet here in Australia, in the same year, 1962, George Turner published on the same theme.  Like Kesey, he explored how society fears mental illness and institutionalises people who are not ‘normal’, and both novels redefine what ‘normal’ might be.  Turner’s book was The Cupboard Under the Stairs, and it won the Miles Franklin Award, but no, it didn’t achieve the dizzy heights that Kesey’s book did.

Another year that brought two authors publishing on the same theme was 2005.  In that year both David Lodge and Colm Tóibín published books fictionalising the life of Henry James.  Lodge’s was called Author, Author, while Tóibín’s was called The Master.  Even though Lodge’s was probably more readable and witty than Tóibín’s magisterial tome, it was The Master was shortlisted for the Booker; and it won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.  But I never got round to reading Author, Author because even though I thought The Master was brilliant, I wasn’t in the mood to read another book about Henry James.  Author, Author is still patiently waiting its turn on my shelves over a decade later.

What I have read by David Lodge is his Campus Trilogy. Changing Places (1975) was my favourite. It’s the story of two professors who swap lifestyles and ideologies when they trade campuses across the Atlantic.  It’s very funny, and so are the other two: Small World (1984) and Nice Work (1988).  They’re probably required reading for academics who seem to flit about all over the world these days…

Another campus novel that came my way was Wittgenstein Jnr by Lars Iyer, recommended to me by Tony at Tony’s Book World.  As I said in my review, I was intrigued by Tony’s review because I’d just finished reading the weighty and incomprehensible Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, because I was doing a course called Great Books at my alma mater, the University of Melbourne.  Wittgenstein didn’t strike me as a particularly amusing fellow.  Trust me, the satirical Wittgenstein Jnr was much more fun…

Another dud from that course was Emile, or On Education by Rousseau.  He was, of course, influential. He was, of course, the catalyst for child-centred education. But at 500 pages, a lot of it was tedious, and some of it was just plain daft.  Unless you’re really keen, I’d recommend reading a summary at Wikipedia.   (I haven’t had a lot of luck reading from the 18th century, though some things are better than others and I enjoyed The Vicar of Wakefield). 

So, there you are, that’s #6Degrees for this month!





  1. If you have some time (?) do read Author Author.

    • Ah yes, time… I think I had some of that once….

  2. Well, I haven’t read any of those, except for The master, though I have seen One flew over the cuckoo’s nest (of course!). However, I have also read Author author, so does that count (a bit?). I rather liked reading them together. The fascinating thing was that they both started at the same point – the failed play. I liked The master slightly better, but I did enjoy the Lodge too.

    • It’s the one book I feel guilty about not reading, because I read somewhere that Lodge was gutted when he realised what had happened.

      • Life’s too short to feel guilty Lisa – I’m sure Lodge got many readers. It was a very odd coincidence though.

        • True. And guilt, they say, is an unproductive emotion.

  3. You’re excused lame links now and again though that one didn’t seem particularly lame to me. Lodges campus trilogy was amusing though I couldn’t tell you much about the plots. I do remember all that jetting around to conferences though and wondering when they ever got any work done. Does that still happen in academia do you know?

    • LOL Karen I know nothing about academia except from my student experiences. But as a teacher I often presented papers and workshops at various conferences and was always amazed to find that my audience was mostly academics, bureaucrats and consultants because ordinary teachers couldn’t (a) afford it and (b) get time off school to attend. In the end I gave up doing them unless they were at weekends when ordinary teachers could be there.

      • It seems in academic circles that there is pressure to deliver these papers because unless you have published articles and given presentations you are deemed not to be doing much ‘research’ and the faculty’s funding is impacted. Crazy

        • Oh, universities… don’t get me started!

  4. How on earth did I not know about those books fictionalising Henry James…? I really like James’s work – have read it all, including a massive volume of his letters – so I need to add both of those books to my list. Maybe I’ll read them back-to-back and do a ‘compare and contrast’…

    • LOL Kate I thought exactly the same about some of the books you’ve featured in your #6Degrees. I thought, I read the reviews in The Australian and the Saturday paper and I scour the Readings Catalogue, why haven’t I heard of these books?! I am waiting impatiently now for your review of Euphoria because I am sucker for anything written in PNG…

  5. The two HJ novels were interesting, though Toibin’s I thought got closer into the workings of the man. I enjoyed Iyer’s ‘Spurious’, which I posted about a while back – very funny and weird. Emile by Rousseau, along with Nouvelle Heloise, influenced Thomas Day of the Lunar Society in Birmingham; in 1769 he embarked on a ‘train a new wife’ programme, taking two girls aged 11 and 12 from an orphanage into his house with a view to using Rousseau’s system to school them to be the ‘perfect wife’ – hmm. Here’s a link to an article based on her book on the Society, Lunar Men, by Jenny Uglow, who has written about this story there too:

    There’s a novel about Day’s ‘experiment’ by Wendy Moore; haven’t read it, but it’s reviewed widely in 2013

    • Well, wow, that’s fascinating… ‘train a new wife’ eh?
      (I’ve read the article)… so what’s the Industrial Revolution called these days if it’s not the Industrial Revolution any more?

  6. interesting list. I actually really enjoyed books by Rousseau when I had to read them in my French high school

    • What did you read? Maybe I should give him another go…

  7. An interesting chain, although I haven’t read any on your list, other than One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and that was only because I was tutoring someone who was studying it. Thanks for the story about the two Henry James biographies, which sounds as intriguing as the books themselves.

    • Hi Melinda, that’s interesting … was the tutoring recent? That would mean people still study it the way we did…

  8. I only knew Turner as a SF writer, though I forget what I’ve read. I’ve read and reviewed the Kingsolver (came to it late) and I’ve read a lot of Lodge, including a fictional life of HG Wells which was interesting but too long.

    • Am I right in thinking that HGW was not a particularly nice person?

      • A womaniser anyway, I don’t remember much more, except he was bloody prolific.

        • I was just a kid when I read The Invisible Man and The History of Mr Polly, and I thought he was wonderful.

  9. Every time I read something of yours Lisa, I think it came straight from my bookshelves!! Loved The Master. Author Author less so but still good. Cuckoo’s Nest was such a formative text, so far back. For one of those inexplicable elisions, I always think of Catch 22 when I think of Cuckoo. I must have read them at the same time in the mid-sixties.

    • LOL I read Catch 22 at the same time, though I was reading them in 1975, I think…

  10. Where did April go? Where has this year gone!. Slowly catching up on your blog Lisa. Along with whisperinggums I have seen the One Flew Over,,,, but never read the book. Must make amends. As to Turners Cupboard I am finding this very difficult to come across. Even the Brisbane Library network are unable to obtain it and I am not paying the exorbitant prices via the net sellers. It may be a good one for republishing.

    • I agree, this year is scampering past much too fast for me.
      I found it very difficult to get hold of the Turner book, I’d like to see it reissued too because it’s as relevant today as it was back then.

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