Six Degrees of (Book) Separation: Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites

We’ve all heard the expression “six degrees of separation” – the concept that any two people, places, things or events can be linked by just six steps.

I once watched an entertaining little indie documentary predicated on this phenomenon. In My Date With Drew, everyman Brian Herzlinger decides to pursue his lifelong Hollywood crush, none other than the wonderfully cool Drew Barrymore, for the sake of taking her out on one date. To do this, he has a little over $1,000, a handheld video camera and the convenience of living in Hollywood, where a surprising amount of people know – or know people or know – the object of his affection. The “six degrees” rule keeps him motivated; he’s always only four or five steps away from his goal, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. I won’t spoil the ending, but you definitely need to see this film.

Anyway, Mr Herzlinger’s not the only person to put this technique into use, and now Perth authors Annabel Smith and Emma Chapman have come up with a way for the thinkers and booklovers among us to put it to good use. And Annabel’s kindly brought myself and many other bloggers in on the action.

The idea’s simple, and author and fellow participant Natasha Lester explains it thusly on her blog:

“The first book they’ve chosen is Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. All you have to do is think about what other book Burial Rites reminds you of. There are no rules about what the link might be; it could be setting, character, title, where you were when you read the book, how the book made you feel etc. You have to do that 6 times, for each book you come up with along the chain. The fun of it is in seeing where you end up.”

I recently bought three new sets of bookshelves and reorganised about 80 per cent of my library, incorporating the many books I’ve amassed in recent months working for the Perth Writers Festival (an excellent job perk if ever there was one). So I have many titles swirling around in my head, which means this could go pretty much anywhere.

Here goes:

Burial Rites American1. Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent

It’s earned a slew of Australian and international awards, has recently landed on the Stella Prize shortlist, and earned the ridiculously young and talented author a record publishing deal for what is, if you can believe it, Hannah Kent’s debut novel.

I had the pleasure of working with Hannah in the lead-up to PWF (she was a guest and I, the program manager’s PA). She’ll probably be very embarrassed when I tell you she is legitimately one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Which leads me to the next book in the chain.

luminaries2. The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

It’s impossible for me to not draw comparisons between Hannah and Ellie’s books (forgive the name-dropping snobbery – we’re not BFFs but it’s just weird to call people you’ve met/spoken with “Kent” and “Catton” in this context). Both are hugely successful works of historical fiction and both authors featured at PWF. Like Burial RitesThe Luminaries has a terrific jacket design and an incredibly evocative setting. Oh, and she wore the nicest freaking dress for her big speaking event.

3. We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayowe need new names

I haven’t read this one yet but, as with The Luminaries, when I first cracked it open I was immediately sucked in until I’d made it to chapter two and realised I’d spent twenty minutes just… ahem… reading at my desk. The copy I have is an uncorrected bound proof of Bulawayo’s first draft and it’s dishearteningly amazing for something a professional editor hasn’t touched yet.

this_is_how_you_lose_her4. This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz

Another book that’s been on my “to-read” list for an incredibly long time, and which I still regret leaving on the shelf after first reading the opening scenes in a bookstore and deciding I “already have enough to read at home” (I know, crazy talk). It’s a short story collection and I am in love with its title. (Bonus Book: The title reminds me of Jonathan Tropper’s hilarious and poignant family drama This Is Where I Leave You, in production as a film starring Jason Bateman and Tina Fey).

palo alto5. Palo Alto, by James Franco

A short story collection I have read, and which I liked infinitely more than I thought I would. I’ve only read it once, and it’s been a while, but I do remember there’s a high schooler having a relationship with a teacher, a slacker pothead carrying a gun around, drugs, sex, swearing, suicide, and a lot more drugs and sex. So, not my usual fare, and yet somehow I read it in one sitting. There was a vibrant immediacy to Franco’s style that appealed to me, and the momentum of each story was never breakneck, but enough to propel me into the next, and the next. And yes, it is that James Franco.

6. High Fidelity, by Nick Hornbyhigh fidelity

Here’s how my brain works: Palo Alto‘s being made into a movie (starring Franco, because that’s how he rolls), and in that movie is Emma Roberts, who’s pretty great and also stars in the recent release Adult World, alongside John Cusack. Cusack’s a favourite of mine also, and one of his best roles is as the protagonist of High Fidelity, the film adaptation of one of my Desert Island All-Time Top Five Favourite Books (people who’ve read it will know what I’m talking about). And here we are, in the hallowed halls of Hornby. HF is a frank and funny book about flawed humans, love and music, and I’ll never tire of it. It also contains one of my favourite quotes, “What came first, the music or the misery?… Am I miserable because I’m listening to pop music, or am I listening to pop music because I’m miserable?”

Which is how we get from Burial Rites to Nick Hornby. I never saw it coming. 

[While editing this post, I realised Junot Diaz’s praise for We Need New Names is quoted on the inside cover of my copy. Cue The X-Files theme.]