Six Degrees of Separation: From How to do Nothing to The Great Impersonation

It’s the first Saturday of the month which means it’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best. The idea is that Kate chooses a book to use as a starting point and then we have to link it to six other books of our choice to form a chain. A book doesn’t have to be connected to all of the others on the list – only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we are starting with How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. As usual, I haven’t read it, but here is the blurb:

This thrilling critique of the forces vying for our attention re-defines what we think of as productivity, shows us a new way to connect with our environment and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about our selves and our world.

When the technologies we use every day collapse our experiences into 24/7 availability, platforms for personal branding, and products to be monetized, nothing can be quite so radical as…doing nothing. Here, Jenny Odell sends up a flare from the heart of Silicon Valley, delivering an action plan to resist capitalist narratives of productivity and techno-determinism, and to become more meaningfully connected in the process.

I don’t think this is a book I would be interested in reading, but if you’ve read it let me know what you thought.

Another word for ‘nothing’ is ‘zero’, so my first link takes me to Towards Zero by Agatha Christie (1), one of only five Christie novels to feature the detective Superintendent Battle. In this book, which I remember enjoying, Battle is investigating the murder of Lady Tressilian in her home by the sea.

Tressilian is also the name of the main character in Rafael Sabatini’s The Sea-Hawk (2). Sir Oliver Tressilian is a gentleman from Cornwall who is betrayed and sold into slavery before being liberated by Barbary pirates who operate from the city of Algiers. I love Sabatini’s books and can highly recommend this one!

Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett (3) is also set partly in Algiers, as well as several other beautifully described locations around the Mediterranean and North Africa. This, and the other five novels that make up Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, are some of my absolute favourites, but if you haven’t read them yet you really need to start with The Game of Kings.

All of the books in the Lymond Chronicles have titles inspired by the game of chess. So does Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle (4), a novel set at the Tudor court and telling the story of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife. The story is told partly from Katherine’s perspective and partly from her maid, Dorothy Fownten’s. Although I think some of Fremantle’s later books are better, I did enjoy this one.

My next link is to another book about a queen – a self-proclaimed queen this time, rather than a real one! Queen Lucia by EF Benson (5) is the first book in Benson’s Mapp and Lucia series; it was my choice for the 1920 Club earlier this year and kept me entertained during the early stages of lockdown when I really needed something fun and light!

Like Queen Lucia, The Great Impersonation by E Phillips Oppenheim (6) was also published in 1920 and is also a lot of fun to read. It has a very clever plot involving a case of mistaken identities and keeps the reader guessing until the end.


And that’s my chain for this month. My links have included synonyms for ‘nothing’, the name Tressilian, Algiers, chess-related titles, queens and the year 1920. In September we will be starting with Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel, Rodham.

29 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From How to do Nothing to The Great Impersonation

  1. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    The only one from your list I have read was Towards Zero, which I quite liked if I remember, though it never became a favorite. I actually have next month’s starting point on my list, so I might read it, and for once feel vaguely able to try this meme.

    • Helen says:

      Towards Zero isn’t a favourite of mine either, but I did still enjoy it. You don’t need to have read the starting book to join in with this meme – I usually haven’t – but it does make it a lot easier.

  2. joulesbarham says:

    I loved “Queen’s Gambit” and “Queen Lucia” – sometime I need to get to grips with Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles – I have collected them but not actually read them. Thank you for reminding me!

    • Helen says:

      I can’t recommend the Lymond Chronicles highly enough! They are the best books I’ve read since I started blogging more than ten years ago.

  3. MarianLibrarian says:

    My six are “To say nothing of the Dog” by Connie Willis; “Poirot Loses a Client” (aka “Dumb Witness”) by Agatha Christie, who dedicated the book to “Peter, a dog in a thousand.” Poirot is not a dog lover, but explains to Hastings why dogs bark to the postman; John Steinbeck’s non-fiction “Travels with Charley in Search of America” — Charley was his dog; Jane Haddam’s mystery “Glass Houses” that has an obnoxious female Brit who came to Philadelphia to see how Americans live but who just keeps her negative views; Louise Penny’s mystery “Glass Houses” in Quebec; and Canadian Bill Richards’ “Bachelor Brothers’ Bed & Breakfast” where “gentle and bookish and ever so confused” people can feel at home.” Hard to describe; one blurb describes it as “a whimsically gentle fiction.”

    • Helen says:

      That’s a great chain, Marian. I have read Dumb Witness and loved the dog in it. I’ve been intending to read the Connie Willis and John Steinbeck books for years and still haven’t got round to either of them – thanks for reminding me.

  4. Judy Krueger says:

    I always love the connections you make. Pawn in Frankincense will by my next Dorothy Dunnett. But first I am going to tackle A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens. The year of long books for me!

  5. Yvonne says:

    I really must set aside time to read the Lymond chronicles. I feel like I’m missing out. The Great Impersination sounds intriguing too.
    Enjoyed your chain. I love how you made your first connection.

  6. Davida Chazan says:

    Yes, the starting point for this month wasn’t easy, but next month is even harder for me! I didn’t know about these Agatha Christie books. I don’t think I ever read any of the books with that detective.

    • Helen says:

      I think Towards Zero is the only book I’ve read with Battle in it so far. I am slowly (very slowly) working through all of Christie’s books, so I will read more of them eventually!

      • Davida Chazan says:

        I just put all of the Battle books into my Book Depository wish list! Thanks for the tip! The only complete series of hers I’ve read are the Tommy and Tuppence ones. Loved those because they aged along the way.

  7. Calmgrove says:

    I began Queen Lucia for my 1920s read but found it very slow going, like a long drawn out joke (which I suppose it is) though not so slow that I won’t come back to it at some time. Luckily A Room of One’s Own was much more conducive to my mood at the time, plus it was a lot shorter!

    Occasionally I think about doing these kinds of memes, though I’m usually a few scheduled posts in hand so never do get round to them. But I do like seeing what others make of them, and the reasons why they make the choices they do!

    • Helen says:

      I think you really have to be in the right mood for books like Queen Lucia. It turned out to be the perfect choice for me at the time but I might not have liked it as much under different circumstances. I loved A Room of One’s Own, though!

  8. MarinaSofia says:

    I think that after reading what you said about Queen Lucia that I bought it for lockdown reading – although I still haven’t gotten around to it. Typical! Your link from ‘nothing’ to ‘zero’ is so inspired!

  9. FictionFan says:

    A very appealing collection of books this month! The Game of Kings is slowly creeping to the top of my list, and you’ve previously persuaded me to add a Sabatini to the wishlist – Scaramouche is the one I’ve gone for. But your other picks sound just as good, except for Queen Lucia which sadly I didn’t get on with.

  10. cirtnecce says:

    As always, lovely linking of the books. Also you reminded me that I have a copy of Queen Lucia in my TBR forever; now I feel like I should dig it out and get started

  11. Mareli Thalwitzer says:

    Hi there! you are the second blogger to feature Towards Zero, an Agatha Christie I actually haven’t read yet. Yea! Love to see books I still need to read.

    Your link was cleverly drafted, well done! I’m a bit late, I know. But here’s mine! 6 Degrees of separation

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