Six Degrees of Separation: from How to Do Nothing to A Walk in the Woods

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with – How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, a an author and a book I’ve never come across before, nor have I heard of the attention economy. From the title it sounds like a self-help book, and the cover, although very colourful, doesn’t give me many clues, except to suggest it’s about flowers or gardening. However one of the reviews is more helpful – it ‘is a self-help guide for re-learning how to look at the world. The book braids threads of ancient philosophy together with contemporary visual and technological culture, and weaves an original route to re-wilding the mind.’

It doesn’t immediately appeal to me, not like the first book in my chain, another ‘How To‘ book, but definitely not a self-help guide:


It is How To Stop Time, a novel by Matt Haig, which caught my imagination right from the start. It’s about Tom who has a condition is called ‘anageria’, in which, whilst he is actually ageing very slowly, he doesn’t appear to be getting any older. He was born in 1581 when people suspected his mother of witchcraft. Tom tells his life story in flashbacks, switching back and forth in time between the present day and the past.

Witchcraft is the link to the next book. The Witchfinder’s Sister, historical fiction by Beth Underdown, based on the life of the 1640s witchfinder Matthew Hopkins and his sister, Alice. As well as a good story it is a fascinating look at life in England during the Civil War, set in 1645, a time of great change and conflict in politics, religion and philosophical ideas, coinciding with a growth in the belief in witchcraft.

My next book is the one I’ve just finished, Thin Air: a Ghost Story by Michelle Paver. It’s also about siblings, brothers Kit and Stephen, who set out to conquer Kangchenjunga in the Himalayas in 1935. It’s an eerie story, full of unease, dread and horror. It is fiction but based on expeditions by real mountaineers who had climbed in the Himalayas and/or attempted the summit of Kangchenjuga. The mountain is the 3rd highest mountain on earth.

Reading Thin Air reminded me I haven’t read Cairngorm John: a Life in Mountain Rescue by John Allen. Allen was a Team Leader in the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team. ‘Cairngorm John’ was his call sign when in contact with Search and Rescue helicopters. I bought this book after we’d had a holiday in the Cairngorms. My husband has read it and said it is fabulous, not a word he uses lightly, or very often.

And this leads me on to yet another mountain in John Grisham’s novel, Gray Mountain.

Gray Mountain by John Grisham – this book is just as much a campaign against injustice and the misuse of power, about the good little guys against the big bad guys as his earlier books are. In this case it’s the big coal companies that come under the microscope, companies that are  ruining the environment by strip-mining in the Appalachian mountains.The main characters are Donovan Gray and Samantha Kofer, lawyers, who are taking on cases against the coal companies.  

And then I was reminded of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and his hike along the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. I was fascinated by the whole book – Bryson’s observations about the people he met, the difficulties of walking with a huge backpack, and his relationship with his friend Katz, who struggled to keep up with him. I know what that feels like, hiking with people fitter than you and seeing them march off in front of you, waiting for you to catch up and then setting off again – I felt sorry for Katz.

The books in my chain are linked by titles – ‘How to …’, witchcraft, siblings, and mountains, from the Himalayas to the Cairngorms to the Appalachians.

Next month (5 September 2020), the chain begins with Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel, Rodham.

13 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from How to Do Nothing to A Walk in the Woods

  1. Fabulous! I really enjoyed Matt Haig’s book. Have you read The Humans? It is very funny. And I must read Cairngorms John – I too love that part of the world, and reading about it is a good substitute for being able to visit at the moment.

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  2. Love that you end up with a walk in the woods, reminding me of Sheryl Strayed’s ‘Wild’ who lost one of her hiking shoes over the edge of a precipice like that, I’m sure Bryson is much more of a boy scout. 😊

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  3. Very clever chain here, Margaret! I’m not sure the Odell would appeal to me, either, but John Grisham is a very talented author, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve read of his work. And I really like Bill Bryson’s work, too, so it’s great to see one of his books in your group.

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  4. What an interesting chain. I have read The Witchfinder’s Sister, but none of your others. I would like to read Thin Air as I read Michelle Paver’s Wakenhyrst last year and enjoyed it.

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  5. I had to google Cairngorm to find out where it was ;). I recently watched a documentary series, called The Horn, about a Matterhorn mountain rescue team that I found really interesting, so Cairngorm John appeals. Thanks for sharing your chain.

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  6. Oh I love how you did this! I also want to try! Going to hop over to the host now. Thin Air is on my TBR list, love stories like that.

    You share such great books. I want to hang around here for a while.

    Have a wonderful week and thanks again for sharing The Birdwatcher on your Friday post. Here’s my latest post. The Sunday Post

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  7. Great chain and as Marina Sofia says, love all the mountains. The only one I’ve read is Thin Air, which I enjoyed though not as much as her earlier Dark Matter. I’ll be looking out for your review!

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