Six Degrees of Separation: From Eats, Shoots & Leaves to The Diary of a Provincial Lady

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’re starting with Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. I own a copy of this non-fiction book about the importance of punctuation and read it years ago. I was working as a proofreader at the time, so it was quite appropriate! Here is the description from Goodreads:

Everyone knows the basics of punctuation, surely? Aren’t we all taught at school how to use full stops, commas and question marks? And yet we see ignorance and indifference everywhere. “Its Summer!” says a sign that cries out for an apostrophe, “ANTIQUE,S,” says another, bizarrely. “Pansy’s ready,” we learn to our considerable interest (“Is she?”), as we browse among the bedding plants.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss dares to say that, with our system of punctuation patently endangered, it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them for the wonderful and necessary things they are. If there are only pendants left who care, then so be it. “Sticklers unite” is her rallying cry. “You have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion – and arguably you didn’t have much of that to begin with.”

This is the book for people who love punctuation and get upset about it. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to Sir Roger Casement “hanged on a comma”; from George Orwell shunning the semicolon to Peter Cook saying Nevile Shute’s three dots made him feel “all funny”, this book makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.

Punctuation used incorrectly or not at all is something that always annoys me. Rather than single one book out for criticism, I’m going to move away from the subject of punctuation entirely and continue the chain with a completely different link. The cover of Eats, Shoots & Leaves has a ladder on it and this reminds me of the title of a John Boyne book I enjoyed a few years ago: A Ladder to the Sky (1), a novel about an aspiring author who can’t think of any stories of his own so decides to steal other people’s. John Boyne is an Irish author and I read this book in March 2019 for the Reading Ireland Month hosted every year by Cathy and Niall.

For a previous Reading Ireland Month in 2016, I read The Children of Dynmouth by William Trevor (2). This dark and unsettling novel is set in an English seaside town in the 1970s and follows the story of Timothy Gedge, a lonely and disturbed teenager who wanders the streets of Dynmouth intruding into the lives of people who don’t want him there.

Another book with ‘children’ in the title is The Children’s Book by AS Byatt (3). I loved this long and complex novel about the Wellwood family and all the social and cultural changes going on in the world around them during the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. One of the main characters, Olive Wellwood, is a writer of fairy tales and some of the stories she writes for her children are incorporated into the novel.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (4), a novel with multiple narratives and settings, moving between England and Australia and covering a period of more than a hundred years, also features a character who is a writer of fairy tales. Her name is Eliza Makepeace and some of her tales are also included in the novel. The title of the book refers to a house on the coast of Cornwall with a hidden walled garden, surely inspired by The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I can think of quite a few other novels about gardens or featuring a garden, but the one I’m going to link to is Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim (5). This novel from 1898 is written in the form of a diary in which the narrator takes us through a year in her life, describing all the changes she sees in the garden of her home in northern Germany.

I’m going to finish my chain with another novel written in diary form: The Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield (6). I had put off reading this for a long time because I wasn’t sure it would be my sort of book, but I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would – a perfect choice if you’re in the mood for something light and funny! I must read the other Provincial Lady books soon.

~

And that’s my chain for this month. My links have included ladders, Irish authors, the word children, fairy tale writers, gardens and diaries.

In August we will be starting with Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher.

29 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Eats, Shoots & Leaves to The Diary of a Provincial Lady

  1. setinthepast says:

    Did you get the impression that Bridget Jones’s Diary was based on the Diary of a Provincial Lady? I’m convinced it is, but some people I’ve said this to can’t see it!

  2. Lexlingua says:

    I know of the last 3 books, but I’d completely forgotten about Children’s Book! I’d liked Byatt’s Possession and even her Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, so might still read it someday. But I think Forgotten Garden comes first because I’ve shortlisted it for the Cloak & Dagger Mystery Reading Challenge.

  3. Calmgrove says:

    Neat progressions, Helen! I must read more Byatt: despite having The Biographers Tale and Angels and Insects under my belt I struggled with The Children’s Book and put it aside. I must have felt that I didn’t know enough about Nesbit (on whom it’s clearly based) and her life, but now I’ve read a life of Nesbit I feel more confident about going back to Byatt’s novel. Luckily Emily has most of Byatt’s main novels on her shelves so…

    Seeing the von Arnim mentioned reminds me that I’ve also got a book on a similar theme by Penelope Lively, a secondhand copy which fell—literally—into my hands when browsing in a charity shop, so I had to get it!

    • Helen says:

      I knew almost nothing about Nesbit’s life when I read The Children’s Book and although I still enjoyed the book, I’m sure I would have found it even more interesting if I’d had more knowledge of Nesbit.

  4. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    Lovely chain, the Children’s Book really began to grow on me as I read it, very long, but worth it in the end. I quite like Kate Morton as well, though I haven’t read the Forgotten Garden, I’ll need to check that one out.

    • Helen says:

      It took me a while to get into The Children’s Book too, but I ended up loving it. The Forgotten Garden is my favourite of the three Kate Morton books I’ve read!

  5. Sandra says:

    Lovely chain, Helen! This may be another month when my chain doesn’t get posted but it also features a garden link, albeit with different books. The Children’s Book is one I have here and will hopefully get to one day.

  6. Jane says:

    I loved your chain. I haven’t read any of the books but they all sound excellent. I can’t believe I haven’t read Diary of a provincial Lady – I’ve had it sitting on a shelf for years, but now I think it might be the time!

  7. CLM (@ConMartin) says:

    Nice chain! I’ve read most of these but although I bought The Children’s Book the minute it came out, I never got past the first chapter. I should try again when there is uninterrupted time.

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