Six Degrees of Separation: From Phosphorescence to The Name of the Rose

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 Phosphorescence by Julia Baird. I haven’t read it, but it is described as:

A beautiful, intimate and inspiring investigation into how we can find and nurture within ourselves that essential quality of internal happiness – the ‘light within’ that Julia Baird calls ‘phosphorescence’ – which will sustain us even through the darkest times.

I’m going to take ‘light’ as my first link and feature a non-fiction book by Seb Falk that I read earlier this year: The Light Ages (1). In this book Falk looks at some of the advances in science, mathematics and astronomy during the medieval period and tries to dispel the idea that the Dark Ages were a time when progress stood still. A fascinating book, but I can’t claim to have understood everything in it!

Another book – fiction this time – in which the history of science plays a part is Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson (2), the first volume in his Baroque Cycle. The protagonist Daniel Waterhouse is a 17th century natural philosopher who befriends Isaac Newton and becomes involved in the work of the Royal Society. I had been looking forward to reading this book, which sounded like the sort of thing I would usually love, but unfortunately I didn’t get on very well with it at all. I persevered through all 900 pages but was pleased to reach the end!

This leads me to another very long novel that I was glad to finish: Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (3). I read this 18th century classic as part of a year-long readalong with other bloggers and this definitely helped me get through what turned out to be a very repetitive and slow-paced novel. Still, I did appreciate the quality of the writing and found myself really enjoying parts of the book – and I felt a sense of accomplishment when I turned the final page.

Clarissa is an epistolary novel consisting of letters – 537 of them – in which Clarissa Harlowe’s correspondence with her friend Anna Howe reveals the story of how she defies her parents’ plans for her marriage only to fall into the clutches of the notorious ‘libertine’ Robert Lovelace. A much more recent book I’ve read which is also written mainly in the form of letters is The Queen’s Rival by Anne O’Brien (4), which tells the story of Cecily Neville, mother of Edward IV and Richard III.

Joanna Hickson’s Red Rose, White Rose (5) is another novel about Cecily Neville and the part she plays in the Wars of the Roses. I preferred this one to the Anne O’Brien book as it is written as a straightforward narrative rather than in letter form and I think it’s always interesting to see how different authors choose to portray the same historical characters.

To finish my chain, I’m going to link to another book with the word ‘rose’ in the title. There are a few I could choose from, but I’ve decided on The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (6), a book I decided to re-read a few years ago as there was so much I missed the first time I read it. It can be described as a medieval murder mystery but is so much more than that with its themes of religious and political conflict and descriptions of monastic life.

And that’s my chain for March. My links have included: light, science, very long novels, epistolary novels, Cecily Neville and roses.

In April we will be starting with Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

27 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Phosphorescence to The Name of the Rose

  1. Judy Krueger says:

    An illuminating chain! I understand your lack of enthusiasm for Quicksilver. I enjoyed it the first time I read it but when I reread it last year I realized I had missed quite a bit. Not saying you should reread it but just saying. Personally I don’t get on well with epistolary novels, perhaps because my mother always demanded a letter a week from me and it was not fun for me!

    • Helen says:

      I was disappointed not to love Quicksilver as it sounded so fascinating! I’m sure I missed a lot too – maybe I will give it another try sometime in the future. I’m not really a fan of epistolary novels either, so Clarissa was quite a challenge for me.

  2. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    Another great chain, I’ve yet to read the Name of the Rose, everyone seems to talk very highly of it. For that matter, I’ve yet to read Clarissa also, but the idea of 100 hours listening doesn’t really grab me right now.

    • Helen says:

      The Name of the Rose isn’t a favourite, but I did find it fascinating and liked it enough to re-read it. I think Clarissa is worth reading but it’s a big commitment!

  3. margaret21 says:

    I’ve lost a lot of reading stamina during Lockdown, and 900 pages sounds a big ask just now. All the same, 502 pages I might manage. The Name of the Rose has been sitting in my shelves, unread, quite long enough. Thanks for the push!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, Clarissa is definitely a book that needs a lot of patience. I’m pleased I read it once, but I don’t feel much desire to read it again!

  4. Constance says:

    I also started with light but stuck to it the whole way. I’d like to read the two books about Cecily Neville – Anya Seton’s Katherine is one of my all time favorite books so I have been fond of her descendants ever since.

    When I worked in publishing, the success of each book was based on revenue which was a product of sell-through. As you probably know, books are sent on consignment to the retailer which returns everything that did not sell. (Authors sometimes think when they are signing stock that those books won’t get returned – wrong). So we used to joke there were three books that had enormous sell-through but very low read-through. If I recall correctly, the three we joked about were The Satanic Verses, A Brief History of Time, and The Name of the Rose.

    • Helen says:

      I love Katherine too – it was one of the first books that really got me interested in reading historical fiction and in the Plantagenets in particular.

      Although I did enjoy The Name of the Rose, I can understand why it would have a low read-through!

  5. Constance says:

    I missed your post on my blog – you should definitely try Elswyth Thane some time. The first in the Williamsburg series is Dawn’s Early Light, now available on Kindle. However, a lot of UK libraries have it and I have always heard are very willing to inter-library loan, although that is probably lessened during the pandemic. The first two are more focused on American history and in the third book the characters go spend a Season in London. You might like that one best, Ever After.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, Elswyth Thane is on my (very long) list of authors I need to try. I will start with Dawn’s Early Light and if I like it hopefully I’ll be able to get hold of the rest of the series.

  6. Sandra says:

    Light featured as a link in my chain too, Helen, but our chains are very different! I love epistolary novels but I’m not too sure about those you’ve mentioned here. I always feel that I should read Clarissa – I’m just not convinced I have the stamina!

    • Helen says:

      I think you might like Clarissa, particularly if you already enjoy epistolary novels, but it definitely needs a lot of stamina. I read it very slowly over the course of a year and that worked for me.

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