Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 1, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: from How to Do Nothing, to….

This month’s #6Degrees starts with How to do Nothing, Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, a guest of the Melbourne Writers Festival month.  I can see the book’s merits for people who suffer from FoMo (Fear of Missing Out) but it’s not one that I think I need to read because I am already so good at ignoring branding and influencers and advertising of all kinds.

#Digression: Mostly because I research all kinds of weird stuff for my reviews, Google, Twitter, Goodreads and Facebook (to which I have briefly and reluctantly returned for the duration of the pandemic) all have a confused idea about what I might like to buy.  I don’t need to tell you about what reviewing Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows has done to my feeds, but at the moment Goodreads is promoting WW1 digger teddy bears and military medals to me presumably because I read A Train in Winter, while Facebook thinks I’m interested in Slow Stitching because I liked a friend’s post about her new grandson and the quilt she made for him.  I get travel ads for the places I visit in my reading: this month I have ‘been to’ Algiers and Krishnapur in India but of course (like any other sensible person’s) my travel plans are on hold.   Twitter thinks I want to know about digital aids in the corporate workplace (huh?) because I’ve got a new computer and had to buy new software; and Google thinks I’m interested in Google because I use Google translate for languages I don’t know.  (There were German phrases in A Train in Winter).  And all of these tech giants think I’m older than I am because of course I have a fake birthdate to prevent identity theft.

Moving on…

Ok, let’s start with another self-help book. There are just four reviewed on this blog, and I’ve chosen A Good Life to the End, by Ken Hillman because having had so recently my father and mother-in-law in aged care and my mother in palliative care at an aged care home, I am so acutely aware of the catastrophe besetting the aged care sector during the pandemic.  There are no easy decisions in this space, but the take-home message I got from reading Hillman’s book is that quality of life matters much more than quantity of life, and I let that principle guide me in all the decisions I had to make when I was Power of Attorney for my father.  It was an affirming message for me, because that was the principle that my parents had expressed well in advance of the difficult decisions that had to be made.

Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize winning The Sense of An Ending features an older man reflecting on whether he has made the most of his life.  This is something we are all starting to ponder as the pandemic continues.  I’ve seen a lot online about people feeling so discombobulated that they can’t read, write, or think and are just drifting through the days.  (NB I’m not referring to people with genuine mental illness, nor to people struggling with working at home with or without children underfoot or needing home schooling.)  Sometimes these people paralysed by inertia amuse themselves by ‘hating on’ people who are using their lockdown time purposefully, but more often they are just making idle contributions to social media.  I’m seeing a lot more pictures of cats in my Twitter feed, and pictures of books bought but not read. But as the days mount up, that inertia begins to have a cost… a sense of wasted time and opportunities, and accompanying guilt.  By the end of this second Lockdown in Melbourne, if it ends when it was predicted to end, our lives will have been suspended for 10 weeks altogether.  That’s a long time.  When we look back on this time, I wonder, how will we feel about how we handled it? (I know that I’ve spent a lot of time doing online jigsaws!)

Well, the Booker Prize judges have been busy all the same, and they’ve longlisted Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and The Light. If Mantel wins it, that will make her the only author to win the Booker three times…

… which is a nice lead-in to Thea Astley Week which I’m hosting this month from the 17th to the 25th, dates which coincide with her death and birth.  Thea Astley never won the Booker (and no, I won’t rehash the way the Booker so comprehensively ignores large swathes of world literature in favour of US and UK books), but Astley won the Miles Franklin four times, for The Well-dressed Explorer (1962); The Slow Natives (1965); The Acolyte (1972) and Drylands (1999), which is the only one of these four that I haven’t reviewed because I read it before starting this blog.

#Digression 2: If you fancy joining in, click this link… Thea Astley’s books are all a good deal shorter than Hilary Mantel’s chunksters!

Reviews missing from this blog lead me onto a little project of mine… I have been resurrecting some old reviews of Booker winners that I posted to The Complete Booker in case the now inactive site ever disappears. The latest one is The Siege of Krishnapur which won the Booker in 1973.  Most of these reviews are rather naïve because I reproduced them from my reading journals written when I was a less experienced reader.  But I’ve had some pleasing feedback all the same, so there are more in store.  It is interesting to me to look back on myself as a reader: I began keeping a reading journal in 1997 but the earliest entries are very scrappy, (as are some of my earliest blog posts here).

Inspiration for #6Degrees deserted me here, so I looked up my Excel file to see what else I’ve read from 1973.

#Digression 3: I may have whinged before about losing my files in The Great Computer Catastrophe: I am painstakingly recreating my Excel files and have so far got a new NF TBR and Fiction TBR, but as you can imagine it is taking a great deal longer to resurrect my Books Read file. I do about an hour a day, but there is still a very long way to go).

In its present incomplete state my file tells me that I read In the Fog of a Season’s End by Alex La Guma, first published in 1973.  As it happens, I’ve reviewed that one here on the blog, and I wonder, did the Booker judges consider that one?  It wasn’t even shortlisted.

That title brings me easily to a book I’ve read and reviewed this week: Luke Horton’s debut novel, The Fogging, and that me brings me back to thinking about how people with anxiety are coping in the pandemic.  Horton shows with great care and perception how debilitating extreme anxiety can be, so it’s a book that enlightened me.   And is a good one for our times…

Next month’s book is Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel, Rodham.

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


  1. Well, that’s interesting. I’ve just joined this challenge for the first time, and lo! One of your choices is the same as mine! And though I could easily have made space for the Barnes and the JG Farrell, our journeys are interestingly different. A fun challenge!


    • Hello Margaret and welcome to the addictive world of #6Degrees!
      I love the way one book triggers so many ideas, and even when we think of the same book, our way of getting there is different:)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly! This is a fun way of broadening our horizons, it seems.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I do enjoy your digressions! At one point there was a meme on Facebook which suggested that looking at your last three searches in Google could tell you the kind of person you are. I am not sure that is necessarily true as I think that we all google all kinds of random thing, but on the day I look at mine it was particularly amusing!


  3. Your digressions are great, Lisa! I reckon if we lived in a police state I would be arrested for my Google searches because I have a side hustle editing copy for one of my old alma mater magazines in the UK which is about field sports and I’m constantly fact checking stuff about ammunition, rifles and scopes, so anyone would think I was potentially planning a massive shoot out! 😱

    And yes, I will be joining in your Thea Astley week seeing as I recently bought her debut novel 😊


    • ROTFL! You’d better hope that The Esteemed Minister for Border Force isn’t reading this!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hilarious the repercussions of online research and reading, trying to figure out the purchasing patterns of reader/writers with a those false clues.


    • From what I can see of the algorithms that generate book recommendations at Goodreads and Amazon, we readers of LitFic remain a complete mystery to them!


  5. Clever way of getting you out of a chain that’s come to a dead end. Must make a note of that crafty idea for when a similar blockage happens to me..

    I rarely use Facebook these days but when I do, I don’t even notice the ads in the side bar because there is so much clutter on the page anyway. It’s the ads that show up in the feed on Twitter that annoy me most….


    • You’re right about the FB ads, I had to open it up to see what they are. We’d better not make that too widely known or they’ll make them bigger…


  6. Hi Lisa
    Like several others, I really enjoy your digressions, which I don’t regard as digressions, but rather as shared wisdom and thought-provoking ideas about how we all live our lives, especially in these troubled times.
    Re the books, I am currently very uncertain what to think about Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. I am a huge fan of Barnes, but I struggled to come to terms with this one and have been thinking about re-reading it to see why it left me feeling ambivalent about what the book was trying to achieve. I have now decided to postpone the re-reading until more happier times return, as I feel that I need to read more uplifting texts at present.



    • Thanks, Chris, but I must remind you that as you can see from my avatar I am a bit too young to qualify as a Wise Old Woman yet.
      I know exactly what you mean about being careful about what kind of books I read at the moment. It’s hard to define what works for me, but definitely not GriefLit…


  7. These are great links Lisa – I keep meaning to read JG Farrell at some point.


    • I think Krishnapur is his best, but I’ve only read The Empire Trilogy so far…


  8. An interesting chain, Lisa, and I loved the Barnes.As for your digressions, I get the most bizarre suggestions too, which just goes to show how radically inaccurate all these computer algorithms really are!


  9. It seems I need to read Thea Astley. As a neophyte, what is considered her very best book? thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I was enjoying this post so much for your inserted chat I had to remind myself at the to note which books you had used.
    FOMO readers! 😂 I’m aware of the term but in this context it is refreshingly funny all over again.


    • The kids at school were experts at leading me into digressions from whatever I was trying to teach them…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. My social media is dominated by ads for mattresses at the moment as I was researching brands etc for a new one. I bought one last week, but the ads continue to haunt me.

    Thanks for sharing your chain.


    • Yes, it’s funny how the ads gone long after you’ve bought whatever it was you were wanting…

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I read that Barnes book but I can’t remember anything about it. His Noise of Time was better, I think.


    • I didn’t like his early books all that much, but I’ve liked all his more recent ones. LOL Maybe it’s because he and I are both getting older…


  13. […] Six Degrees of Separation: from How to Do Nothing, to…. […]


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