Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 8, 2023

Six Degrees of Separation: from Beach Reads, to ….

This month’s #6Degrees, hosted by Kate from Books are my Favourite and Best starts with Beach Reads by Emily Henry. I haven’t read it, but the segue was easy, because…

I have just finished reading Nora, a Love Story of Nora and James Joyce by Nuala O’Connor, which I won in a giveaway for Reading Ireland Month at Cathy’s 746 Books.  The novel mentions Sylvia Beach, the enterprising American bookseller in Paris who took the risk of publishing James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) despite the censors.  I’ve just finished reading Nora, and my review is to come, but in the meantime you can read Kim’s at Reading Matters

Nora — of course — leads to Ulysses itself, my desert island book.  We all have our favourite books which evoke fond memories and bear repeated re-reading, and I documented my last reading of Ulysses month by month in my series Ulysses, Disordered Thoughts of an Amateur. I gave the series that title because although it’s famously difficult I think anybody can read Ulysses.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it all. I certainly didn’t, and I don’t expect to next time I read it either…

Brian Castro is another author who writes books that don’t offer immediate gratification. As Katharine England says in her introduction to Drift (1994), Castro’s homage to the British experimental writer, B.S. Johnson who took his own life in 1973

if you like things in black and white – fixed premises, unequivocal answers – this book, in which everything moves and shifts and comes round again in subtly altered focus is probably not for you. (Introduction, x)

As you can see from my review, Drift is brain food at its best!

From Castro’s Drift, I am reminded of Adrift in Melbourne, Seven Walks with Robyn Annear (2021).  Revisiting my review I discover that this wonderful book has twice-fallen victim to Covid.  The Offspring gave it to me for Christmas 2021, but its arrival was late because of Covid. When I reviewed it in March 2022, I wrote that all I needed to test out the walks was a nice autumn day and a new pair of walking shoes.  I did not anticipate that though there were no more lockdowns in 2022, taking a train into the city would still be hazardous because mandates for mask-wearing on public transport were relaxed. 2022 turned out to be the most fatal Covid year for Australia, with more than 14,000 deaths, and we currently have a mid-summer seven day average of 21 deaths per day. (Source: the Guardian 7/1/23) Having had Covid once, I do not want to have it again, so walks in the city are still on hold. Oh well…

However, my own memories sufficed for me to enjoy Old Vintage Melbourne, 1960-1990 by Chris Macheras.  As you can see from my review, this photographic history covers the era from my first days in Australia, a fortuitous destination for my family because we could so easily have ended up in Canada because my father was offered a job there too. I know from my friend Joe at Rough Ghosts that Canada is a very beautiful country with much to recommend it, but I also know from his marvellous photos at Twitter that it is very cold indeed in winter, and I am very glad to have left snow behind me forever.

1960Notable Australian books of 1960 were The Irishman by Elizabeth O’Connor which won the Miles Franklin, and A Descant for Gossips by Thea Astley. We don’t know if A Descant for Gossips was short- or long-listed for the MF because *sigh* no one thought to keep this information for posterity, but I suspect it wasn’t submitted because (as you can see from my review) it would surely have won rather than The Irishman (see my review) which hasn’t aged as well as Astley’s novel which remains just as relevant today. Imagine! Astley, who went on to win four Miles Franklin awards in 1962, 1965, 1972, and 2000 would have had a tally of five!

From a contemporary New York Times bestseller, to a novel which has stood the test of time, that’s my #6Degrees for this month!


  1. I remember that Ulysses project you had – you went into it with tremendous dedication from what I recall. Given the investment of time and energy it’s wonderful that it has become your desert island book.

    Mine is a little less challenging – Middlemarch by George Eliot


    • I love, love, love Middlemarch. I’ve read and re-read that multiple times too, and every time I see a review of it, I want to read it again!


      • Me too. Every time I read it I find something I hadn’t appreciated before

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great chain Lisa, and you have reminded me that I should buy Annear’s book now that I am spending more time in Melbourne.

    Re MF lists, I – being the archivist aware of the serendipity of these things – keep hoping lists, complete or incomplete, will be found. You never know! Maybe some judges kept records and they’ll be found in their papers. Why hasn’t Mitchell Library got info in their files – in meeting minutes etc!


    • I wonder if publishers keep records of the books they submit to the MF?
      Yes to Annear, and also find a copy of Bearbrass which is her first foray into walking and mapping the quirky events beneath the surface of the Melbourne CBD. And another good one for our Indigenous history is Melbourne Dreaming, by Meyer Eidelson. It goes beyond the CBD to all sorts of places, see my review here:


      • Thanks Lisa. Will check them all out.

        And yes publishers too. Anyone with an interest “might” have records I’m sure from which information – as I said perhaps incomplete – could be gleaned. Also, as (if!) Trove gets into this era we might find newspaper accounts though I think short and long lists were not announced in early days. However, you never know, winner announcements might sometimes reveal something? Frustrating, isn’t it.


  3. I have been tempted to join in. Here’s my first attempt:

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It was good to reread your reviews of both Descant and The Irishman.


  5. Great chain! I liked that your starting point was Sylvia Beach. Couldn’t help notice your comment on Middlemarch above–I’d recommend Pamela Erens essay on Middlemarch which reflects her experiences reading Middlemarch at different points in her life.


  6. Another excellent chain. That book about Nora sounds really good.


  7. Thanks for the link to my review of Nora.

    As ever, this is an intriguing chain. I love the sound of the book Adrift… in my days as a part-time bookseller in Bourke Street (in a store that’s no longer there and is now a betting shop of some kind) in 1989-1991, I would get constant requests for books about Melbourne (mainly by tourists) and there wasn’t a SINGLE title available apart from a cheaply produced A4 sized book filled with postcard-like photographs. Nowadays there seems to be an abundance of them!


    • You’d think, when they’re giving out grants for one thing and another, that an author researching this type of book would get one from the tourism marketing board…


  8. I didn’t know Ulysses is your Desert Island Book! Good choice. I’m not sure what I would pick as mine. Persuasion is one of my favourite novels, and one I always like to reread, but perhaps it’s too short to keep me company on a desert island. Might go for Proust.


    • LOL I think the choice depends on whether you are an optimist or not. Optimists go for short books!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Re the Miles Franklin Prize and Thea Astley in the 1960s: there are other invaluable online newspaper search engines available through your State Libraries which help when Trove gives out. The Sydney Morning Herald of 8 April 1961 will tell you that the judges for the MF Prize that year were Colin Roderick. Beatrice Davis. Gordon Richardson the Mitchell Librarian, George Williams and poet Ian Mudie. They chose “The Irishman” [Barbara McIntyre] ‘unanimously from 26 entries including Thea Astley’s “A Descant for Gossips”, Jon Cleary’s “North From Thursday”, and Guthrie Williams’ “The Incorruptibles” They said that though there was no strikingly brilliant work, the entries showed a high degree of competence. Most of the authors dealt with the outback, aborigines or early Australia’. Literary preference is subjective. Just 26 entries for the judges to read: life would have been easier for them and for Lisa back then!


    • Wow, this is fantastic!
      Are you able to edit the Wikipedia entry to include this information?


  10. Well I’ve never have been a Wikipedia editor but I’d be happy if someone wants to verify the reference and pass it on. But best to fact-check me first: I mistakenly wrote “Guthrie Williams” in my post instead of Guthrie (Gus) Wilson as the author of “The Incorruptibles”. He was NZ born, was a WW2 Prisoner of War of the Germans; his first novel “Brave Company” was lambasted as “pornography” and for its “foul language”: no surprise it was a best seller. He moved to Sydney and became the Principal of Sydney’s prestigious Scots College. I learnt all this from his Wikipedia entry!


    • Ha ha, one thing you can count on with Wikipedia if that someone will alter it at some point!
      I looked up Guthrie Wilson at Goodreads, and The Incorruptibles sounds interesting. So I looked him up Wikipedia as you did and saw that he was described as “the only substantial New Zealand novelist to emerge from the (barren) early 1950s”. (It doesn’t say who said that, but I’m not going down that rabbit hole.)
      Anyway I looked him then at AbeBooks and have ordered Brave Company and The Incorruptibles. So we shall see how I get on with him!


  11. Isn’t it interesting, how we all find different chains? I have read James Joyce but never would have gotten there through the starter book.

    My Six Degrees of Separation took me from Beach Read to Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.


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