Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 6, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: from Normal People, to….

This month’s #6Degrees starts with Sally Rooney’s Normal People, which I haven’t read yet.  But whether the title is ironic or not, the obvious thing for me to do is to introduce a character who tests our ideas of what ‘normal’ might be…

Voilá! Professor Kien from Auto-da-Fé, by Elias Canetti, translated by C.V. Wedgewood.

As I wrote in my review:

Set in Vienna and Paris, the story begins with a chance meeting between Professor Kien and a clever little boy.  The boy has inadvertently stood between Kien and his view of the books in a bookshop.  The professor goes for walks early in the morning before the bookshops open so that he won’t be tempted to buy any more – he already has a library of 25,000 books and anyway, the books in the bookshops are inferior and not worthy of him.

He himself was the owner of the most important private library in the whole of this great city. He carried a minute portion of it with him wherever he went. His passion for it, the only one which he had permitted himself during a life of austere and exacting study, moved him to take special precautions. Books, even bad ones, tempted him easily into making a purchase. Fortunately, the great number of the book shops did not open until after eight o’clock. (p11)

But still, he’s not happy to have his view obstructed.

Of course, we booklovers might regard this passion for books as perfectly normal… as is the Professor’s interest in Sinology, which brings me to a book set in China…

Australian author Nicholas Jose lived and worked as an academic in China in the 1980s and wrote his superb novel Avenue of Eternal Peace back in 1990.  I see in my 2019 review that I read it just as the Hong Kong protests over the Extradition Bill were ramping up.  How right they were to be concerned: while the rest of the world is preoccupied with events in America, the Chinese have passed a new security law that threatens the Rule of Law and the human rights of defenders.  This is a very worrying development for Hong Kong…

A search of my own posts reveals that there are about 140 posts that discuss human rights in one way or another, many of them by Indigenous authors.  One of the most well known books won the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s Human Rights Award for Literature… it’s Don’t Take Your Love to Town (1988) by Ruby Langford Ginibi.  As I said in my review:

It is studied in schools and universities as a record of rural and urban indigenous life in an era of significant change but it is read and enjoyed as a great story: wise, funny, poignant and frank about the difficulties of indigenous life as well as Langford’s own mistakes.

There’s nothing funny about breaches of human rights, yet some Indigenous writers have created superb black humour out of Australia’s Black History.  One that I referenced just recently in my post announcing Indigenous Literature Week in July is Marie Munkara’s A Most Peculiar Act (2014).  As I said in my post, if the editor of The Age had read Munkara’s novel or even just read my review, he wouldn’t have said such foolish things in the middle of the #BlackLivesMatter phenomenon. If I had my way A Most Peculiar Act would be on school reading lists all over the country because I regard it as essential reading for all Australians.

If I search ‘essential reading’ in my posts, *chuckle* I come to the conclusion that I have used this term rather a lot.  But still, Journalism at the Crossroads, which Margaret Simons wrote in 2012, is even more essential now.  She wrote it before the election of That Dreadful Man in America, and before anyone knew how much damage his use of the term ‘Fake News’ could do.

Margaret Simons has another book currently in the marketplace, one which demonstrates the value of long-form journalism in the form of Quarterly Essays.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by current affairs at the moment, but the planet is no less important today than when Greta Thunberg brought everyone out on the streets, and Simon’s essay Cry Me a River, by (Quarterly Essay #77) about our own patch of the environment along the Murray-Darling River, is important too.

So that’s my #6Degrees: from domestic issues to issues of national importance!

Next month’s book is with What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt.

Thanks to Kate at Books are my Favourite and Best for hosting:)


  1. This is a first for me – a six degree post by you referencing not a single book I’ve heard of (apart from Normal People which it’s hard to avoid right now). I’m drawn to Journalism at the Crossroads and Avenue of Eternal Peace


    • I think this starter book has had us all veering off in all kinds of weird directions…


  2. Hey Karen, Lisa’s right, A Most Peculiar Act is must-read.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think I could bear to read Journalism at the Crossroads having lived through the experience of the magazine industry dying in the UK and having very STRONG thoughts on the whole situation.

    A Most Peculiar Act has been on my radar for some time. It’s available from the Fremantle Library, which has just reopened its doors again, so I may just have to borrow it at some point.


    • Kim, #GentlyTwistingArm it would be sooooo timely if you could read it for #IndigLitWeek!


  4. A very interesting chain Lisa. I love the way Marie Munkara can inject humour into serious subjects. It’s such a skill.


    • I think it’s a very good technique to engage readers in serious issues.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting links Lisa!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautiful post, Lisa! Loved it! Six Degrees of Separation makes me think of the books ‘8 States of Catastrophe’ and ‘Eleven Kinds of Loneliness’ :)


    • And then there’s The Seven Deadly Sins… that was a most interesting book…


  7. What an interesting chain! I love reading these posts by people who live in a different part of the world than I do (I’m in the U.S.). I always learn about books I’ve never heard of before. Thanks.


    • I like the way the chain is expanding too, bringing in bloggers from everywhere!


  8. It’s great Lisa and an important touchstone for me . I did read Ruby Langford many moons ago and will follow up on A Most Peculiar Act. I have read something by Elias Cannetti but think it may have been a memoir. The thing about books is they leave traces in the mind even though the content is somewhat fragmented over time. As always you have sparked my interest. Ah books.


    • Yes, books, beautiful books!
      Canetti mostly did write NF so it’s unusual for him to have won a Nobel: Auto-da-Fe is his only novel. I still have very vivid images of that professor in his library… LOL it’s a cautionary tale for me to try and keep my book acquisitions under control.


  9. A Most Peculiar Act sounds like an interesting, I’ll have to search for a copy. Thanks for sharing your chain.


    • Let’s hope there are plenty of library copies around:)


  10. 25,000 books is normal, right? ;-)


  11. Well there ARE a lot of “essential” reads, aren’t there?! :)


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