Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 6, 2021

Six Degrees of Separation: from What are you going through? to….

This month’s #6Degrees starts with What Are You Going Through? by Sigrid Nunez.  I made a vague declaration of intent to read the Nunez that I’ve got on the TBR but I haven’t done it because it’s too long for #NovNov (Novellas in November) and not long enough to qualify as one of the chunksters that I like to read alongside the novellas this month. So, ignorant of the contents of the starter book, I focussed instead on the missing punctuation in its title.  Why doesn’t it have a question mark?

Little Man, What Now? has a question mark, as it should.  Hans Fallada’s first novel (translated by Susan Bennett, see my review) depicts the cruel downfall of a white-collar worker during the Great Depression in Germany.  Published in 1932 on the verge of Hitler’s ascendancy, and making allusions to both scapegoating the Jews and to Communism as a political alternative, this realist novel depicts the grinding poverty and the absence of a social safety net for ordinary Germans at the time.  The question mark of the title suggests that action needs to be taken, both personal and political… which is why Fallada soon came to the attention of the Nazis.  In 1934, the Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda “recommended the removal of Little Man, What Now? from all public libraries.”

Well, it’s a badge of honour, IMO, to have written a book banned by the Nazis, but the history of banned books is no laughing matter.  The Censor’s Library, Uncovering the Lost History of Australia’s Banned Books by Nicole Moore, (see my review) shows that amongst other disadvantages of over enthusiastic censorship in Australia, it led to the modernism movement passing us by. However it wasn’t just works by authors such as James Joyce which had too many naughty bits for the good people of Australia to read, it was all kinds of other books as well, including during the Great Depression, when many realist and socialist books were banned on the grounds of sedition.  The Grapes of Wrath was referred for censorship in 1939 but scraped in, while Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London was banned in 1933.

Back in 2009, I wrote a post about Banned Books Week in the US, and noted that I must be a very wicked person by now because I had read so many books on the list.  There were 30 of them including my desert island book Ulysses (see my ‘disordered thoughts’ here), and I was prompted to see if I could add to it by checking the current list at BannedBooksWeek.org.  Alas — surely this is just hapless coincidence? There is a ‘critical error’ at the website and I can’t access it.

Also banned on that 2009 Banned Books Week list was an audio book which I listen to on long-haul flights: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, read by Campbell Scott.  (See my reasons why I think this is a must-read even if you don’t like hyper-masculine authors.)  Let’s not get into an argument about whether listening to audio books is reading or not, or how it might be ableism to argue that it’s not… suffice to say that I am not fond of audio books but that this recording is a brilliant way of drowning out the drone of the engines and I think it’s the best book that Hemingway ever wrote.

Talking of travel (since that’s all we can do unless you’re a bigger risk-taker than I am) I am currently reading The One That Got Away by Ken Haley.  Subtitled ‘Travelling in the Time of Covid’, it’s about how wheelchair traveller Haley pressed on with his Caribbean itinerary even as Covid sabotaged his plans in 2020.  I’m only half way through (it’s the sort of book to dip into rather than read continuously) but already my ignorance about the Caribbean is slightly less than it was.  (I like travel books that teach me something about the culture of a place rather than cater to a bucket list of attractions.)

I’ve only read half a dozen books from the Caribbean, but the standout for me is A Million Aunties by Alecia Mackenzie. I read it earlier this year when we all needed a sense of perspective. I had a lovely message from the author who liked what I wrote about it:

Successive chapters are narrated by different characters, each of whom has a story to tell.  A story of damage and endurance, and a journey towards acceptance and healing.  Reading this just after Noreena Hertz’s The Lonely Century is like balm to the soul.  There’s not a whiff of Pollyanna in A Million Aunties but the novel asserts that all kinds of grief can be assuaged by the love and affection of others.  And that families don’t need to be connected biologically: it’s the love and affection that counts.

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

Next month’s starter book is the classic novella, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.  And I’ve read it!

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


Responses

  1. Your first link made me laugh! Enjoyed the rest too, and given my links included some very strange “books”, I’m the last to argue about allowing audiobooks.

    A million aunties sounds great, and what a cheerful cover.

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    • Sue, I feel very confident that you would love it. It would appeal to your sense of optimism.

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      • Oh I love Lisa that you read me so well! I was wondering about it for my reading group but wonder how accessible it is. Will need to check.

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        • Hmm, yes, it’s a problem with international books. I borrowed it from the library, I don’t know if local bookshops have it in stock.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, I checked your source wondering if it might have been Scribe or someone who does do some interesting non-Aussie books but when I saw the library my heart sank a little. But I’ll do some research.

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  2. A very classical/classy chain here. Someone recently said that banned books should be looked at as a shopping list! I agree.

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    • Thank you!
      It always seems so strange to me that the US is supposed to be The Land of the Free and yet they seem to ban more books than anybody.

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      • The most recent banned book list I heard about is by the newly elected Governor of Virginia, and includes Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” as well as John Irving’s “Cider House Rules”. I’m surprised that the latter hasn’t been on a banned book list until now, because in it, it talks about abortion. Americans are getting more authoritarian by the hour, I’m afraid. I’m glad I don’t live there anymore.

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      • Possibly, but what we are talking about here tends to be banning from schools etc. Americans are very transparent about this, in a way that I’m not sure Australians are. I do think America is moving more and more to the right at the moment – am hearing terrible things about pressure on schools to not teach certain things in California – but again, it’s very visible. Australia is known to not be so transparent. How much “not selecting” certain books goes under the radar here as, well, “not selecting”, particularly in conservative, private schools? I fear it may be a little more than we are aware sometimes?

        OTOH, we ARE protected a bit by our governance structure, in which state governments run the curriculum, with “some” power in school boards but not this sort of power. In the USA, local school districts have a lot more power and this is where problems occur in very conservative districts.

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        • Yes, I think it’s the ‘democratic’ power of the school boards in the US which gives them disproportionate power, and some of that extends even to here in Australia because our text books in some subject areas come from the US. Topics proscribed by the religious right, such as evolution, are omitted altogether or are ‘balanced’ by the inclusion of what they believe, e.g. in a science textbook.
          I don’t know about other states, but School Councils in Victoria (in government schools, that is) don’t have the power to influence curriculum, and private schools have to conform to the national curriculum in order to get State Aid. (Whether they do that in practice or not, is another matter.)
          There may be pressure here in some schools to exclude certain books from study or remove them from the library, but there’s no power to make a school or municipal library do it. Whereas in the US, if they don’t get what they want, they can elect new administrators who support the banning.

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          • Yes, exactly what I was saying, except that I think some “quiet” non-selection of books can go on without our knowing. The only sort of influence I’m aware of (primary) School Boards having in the ACT, and this is over 20 years ago now, were things like deciding which language to have in our school, or how to balance our staffing levels to be able to have say a music or art specialist teacher. But, WHAT was taught was of course in the curriculum which we had no say in. That said remember one controversy when one of our wonderful creative teachers was using the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the classroom. There was a conservative (and to some degree religious) protest about that. The Principal supported the teacher as I recollect.

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            • “how to balance our staffing levels to be able to have say a music or art specialist teacher”
              The cynicism of that is prevalent. Schools should not have to choose between music or art, there should be funding enough for both. But by giving parents a say in it, the department takes no responsibility. If a parent complains that there’s no music program, why then, sez the department, but that’s what the school council chose…
              Sport, of course, is never up for debate!

              Liked by 1 person

              • Of course they should, in the best of all possible worlds, but we don’t have that, do we? In my experience the ACT School Board system worked well, though I can’t speak for now. We had 3 parents, with one being chair, a community member, the Principal and a teacher. The parents and teacher were elected, the Principal of course was the Principal, and the community member technically nominated by the Department. It provided for some close knowledge of the school community – and ours was one of Canberra’s lower socioeconomic ones. as we had a lot of government / public housing, so we had a lot of issues to consider.

                I suppose it could work out the way you say in a dysfunctional system but in my experience it provided for a more negotiated handling of issues.

                Sport, well yes, to some degree, because physical health is important to mental health, but Individual schools had a big say how that was done too. There were many ways to bite off the physical-activity-mandates cherry!

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                • Well, I’m out of education now, but I still say, that art and music are as essential as anything else, and if parents demanded it (i.e. wielded their votes as a collective) the funding would be provided.

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                • Agree! Musica Viva is doing a lot to fill in the music gap but they shouldn’t have to.

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  3. Great chain, Lisa. I can’t “do” audiobooks… must be something wrong with my brain but I just can’t focus and end up thinking about other stuff and miss out on the story. Also: I must read Ernest Hemingway. I’ve been saying that ever since I visited Madeira (maybe 10+ years ago) and he used to slide down the hill on a wicker chair/sleigh thing, which I did too … and it was terrifyingly good fun 😆

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    • With audio books, yes, I find that too, depending on the kind of book it is. When I was commuting, 40 minutes each way I used to listen to light commercial fiction from the library because I couldn’t find anything worth listening to on radio. That mostly worked ok, because it doesn’t require much concentration, it’s nearly always chronological, the structure is straightforward and there’s not too many characters.
      But for the kind of books that I (we) like to read, it’s hopeless.
      The time will come when my eyes will be useless for reading, and I dread it because audio books will be the only alternative.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Losing my sight is my greatest fear. My mother has macular degeneration and gets injections in her eyes every three months. I get tested every year

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        • That’s a scary thought…

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  4. Love that first link Lisa! The lack of question mark in this, and in Rooney’s latest, frustrates me too!

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    • Maybe I’m over-thinking it, but it seems to me that there’s something more to it than just the fad for abandoning punctuation.
      The absence of the “?” makes the title into a statement, one which states that *everyone’s* ‘going through something’. It’s not a question so we can’t answer it, we have to accept it. If we could answer it, we might say, well, no, I’m ok for now, thanks.
      And then we might swiftly try to change the subject, because no matter how much we love our friends, hearing their problems over and over can wear a little thin, and be bad for *our* mental health.
      *chuckle* Which is basically what I did with this book. Changed the subject because I don’t want to read it!

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  5. Love your list! I also did a bit about question marks in my 6 Degrees of last November: https://www.notesinthemargin.org/2020/11/07/6-degrees-of-separation-life-replete-with-questions-and-drama/

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  6. I’m puzzled by the lack of punctuation in the title too. I hope this isn’t going to become the latest fad.
    I do enjoy audiobooks in certain situations – they are how I get through gym sessions. But they do tend to be the kind of books that I don’t read much in physical form like crime fiction. Introspective literary fiction just doesn’t work for me in audio.

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    • Ah, my gym days are well behind me now, but I did try an audio book once, it was an Elizabeth Von Armin, and I couldn’t concentrate enough on it.
      I have found that The Northern Clemency works well when I can’t sleep, I nod off in no time…

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  7. I’m over on the couch giggling with WG about your first link.
    Also, I loved A Million Aunties. Such a gentle and tender story.

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    • LOL Where would we be without some old-fashioned pedantry, eh?

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