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Words, books and stories

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It’s time for this month’s chain of reading, set off by Kate’s Six Degrees of Separation, in which we are invited to build a chain of 6 books that bear some form of connection to the one before them – be it author, theme, style, location, title, era, language, ….. – all starting from a book suggested by Kate.


This month, our book journey is triggered by The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki, the starter book given by Kate. What a great book to get us started – I loved it.

This book deals with a number of issues including grief, mental illness, social support, discrimination against those that are not “normal”. Ozeki introduces us to some great characters, but the real heroes are words and books, with the book itself being the narrator for parts of the novel.

I would need to write pages to tell you everything I loved about this book, so instead I’ll keep it simple and say be sure to read it and entice you with one of the questions posed by the novel: “What is a story before it becomes words?”

This literary delight left me no choice but to take books as my link for this month’s reading.


In Ozeki’s novel, the local library provides both excitement and security to several of the characters so I thought we’d start with The night bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger.

Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of my favourite books ever, but it turns out I didn’t know much about Niffenegger herself. She is a visual artist as well as a writer. In fact, she had originally seen the Time Traveller’s Wife as being a graphic novel. She has produced two novels-in-pictures, The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress, and The night bookmobile was her first graphic novel, initially serialised in the Guardian from May to December 2009.

It tells the story of a young woman who one night encounters a mysterious disappearing mobile library that happens to stock every book she has ever read. I enjoyed its bold illustrations and the story about the joys of reading. But as it progresses that joy verges on an obsession. Not as light a read as you might at first imagine and at the end I wasn’t sure if I had stepped into heaven or into hell.


Now, I think we’ll go to a different type of mobile library, and a much more cheerful tale. I introduce you to Alfa and Beto, the charming and hairy heroes in Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown.

This wonderful book tells the true story of Columbian librarian, Luis Soriano, who uses two donkeys to deliver books to the children in remote villages. Do find a child and read this to them. They’ll love it (and so will you) and they’ll learn a few words of Spanish too


So far we have visited north and South America, so it’s time to pop across to Europe, and where better than Venice?

The Ozeki novel certainly added truth to the saying “never judge a book by its cover”, and Donna Leon supports that idea in her 23rd Brunetti novel, By its cover .

We enter into the dark world of the black market of antiquarian books when a Venetian library director reports that several valuable old books have been stolen. Needless to say an important witness is soon murdered and Brunetti steps in to investigate. A great Leon tale of intrigue.


Where next? Fancy a fascinating 34 hour drive? I hear or yes or two so let’s head west across Italy and along the coast of France and Spain, then a ferry to Ghazaouet and another shorter drive and we’ll get to Algiers where we can learn about the vital role of a bookshop as a cultural hub.

A bookshop in Algiers by Kaouther Adimi is a wonderful read. The language used is enticing and the story inspiring. The method of telling the tale switches between narrative and diary extracts and flicks between the start and end of the life of the bookshop.

As we follow the changing fortunes of Charlot’s bookshop we also learn about the political drama of Algeria’s turbulent twentieth century of war, revolution and independence, and discover that a bookshop is much more than just a shop. We witness the battles that authors and publishers fight to get their words disseminated in time of war and political upheaval, and we get to spend some time with the likes of Gide, Sartre and Saint-Exupery. I thoroughly enjoyed this read, for both its story and for my now much improved understanding of Algeria’s history.


The Paris bookseller by Kerri Maher is the story of the woman who set up the charming English bookshop in Paris, Shakespeare and Company, and also published the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

It is an engrossing tale of love, of discrimination and of literary censorship. I delighted in meeting the authors of that era who spent much of their time in this wonderful bookshop. I highly recommend it.


We’ll finish with an engaging story, The red notebook, by Antoine Laurain, a tale of two people searching for each other, even though they have never met.

A stolen bag is found by the owner of a bookshop, who then uses the remaining contents of the bag to search and return it to its owner. Key clues in the search are the words written in a red notebook and a signed copy of a Patrick Modiano novel.

It is a typically quirky and charming book, as I now expect from Laurain; a perfect easy-going read with which to end this reading chain. The final paragraph left me smiling and ready to look for a new adventure.


I hope my chain of six pieces of fiction prompts a good read for you.

Next month we’ll be setting off from where we finished, so I wonder where The Red Notebook will take us …

Note: Most of my links this week are to Hive, an online bookseller that gives part of the income to local booksellers, and you get to choose the bookshop you’d like to receive the benefit. I’m delighted that my local bookshop, Books on the Hill, is on the list, and have been happily supporting them in this way.


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Copyright Debbie Smyth, 28 August 2022

Posted as part of Six Degrees

3 replies »

    • I knew here a few schemes like this, though not necessarily donkeys! So I googled and found this one. In fact there are two different books about this pair. And I bought a second hand copy from Amazon. I now just need grandchildren!

      Like

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