Six Degrees of Separation: From Margaret to This Cold Heaven

This month we’re starting with Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (which I have punctuated appropriately!). See Kate’s opening post. I know I read this as a child, but other Judy Blume novels were more meaningful for me since I was a tomboy and late bloomer. The only line that stays with me is the chant “We must, we must, we must increase our bust!”


#1 Another book with a question in the title (and dominating the cover) is How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti. I found a hardback copy in the unofficial Little Free Library I ran in our neighborhood during the first lockdown before the public library reopened. Heti is a divisive author, but I loved Motherhood for perfectly encapsulating my situation. I think this one, too, is autofiction, and the title question is one I ask myself variations on frequently.


#2 I’ve read quite a few “How to” books, whether straightforward explanatory/self-help texts or not. Lots happened to be from the School of Life series. One I found particularly enjoyable and helpful was How to Age by Anne Karpf. She writes frankly about bodily degeneration, the pursuit of wisdom, and preparation for death. “Growth and psychological development aren’t a property of our earliest years but can continue throughout the life cycle.”


#3 Ageing is a major element in May Sarton’s journals, particularly as she moves from her seventies into her eighties and fights illnesses. I’ve read all but one of her autobiographical works now, and – while my favorite is Journal of a Solitude – the one I’ve chosen as most representative of her usual themes, including inspiration, camaraderie, the pressures of the writing life, and old age, is At Seventy.


#4 Sarton was a keen gardener, as was Derek Jarman. I learned about him in the context of nature helping people come to terms with their mortality. Modern Nature reproduces the journal the gay, HIV-positive filmmaker kept in 1989–90. Prospect Cottage in Dungeness, Kent, and the unusual garden he cultivated there, was his refuge between trips to London and further afield, and a mental sanctuary when he was marooned in the hospital.


#5 One of the first memoirs I ever read and loved was Heaven’s Coast by Mark Doty, about his partner Wally’s death from AIDS. This sparked my continuing interest in illness and bereavement narratives, and it was through following up Doty’s memoirs with his collections of poems that I first got into contemporary poetry, so he’s had a major influence on my taste. I’ve had Heaven’s Coast on my rereading shelf for ages, so really must get to it in 2021.


#6 Thinking of heaven, a nice loop back to Blume’s Margaret and her determination to find God … one of the finest travel books I’ve read is This Cold Heaven, about Gretel Ehrlich’s expeditions to Greenland and historical precursors who explored it. Even more than her intrepid wanderings, I was impressed by her prose, which made the icy scenery new every time. “Part jewel, part eye, part lighthouse, part recumbent monolith, the ice is a bright spot on the upper tier of the globe where the world’s purse strings have been pulled tight.”


A fitting final selection for this week’s properly chilly winter temperatures, too. I’ll be writing up my first snowy and/or holiday-themed reads of the year in a couple of weeks.

Join us for #6Degrees of Separation if you haven’t already! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.)

Have you read any of my selections? Are you tempted by any you didn’t know before?

19 responses

  1. Such an interesting selection – I’ve not read any of them! Jarman’s diaries probably appeal most.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Is Judy Blume much read by preteens over here?


  2. A great chain, Rebecca. Adding the ones I haven’t already read to my list.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How to Age, and At Seventy OUGHT to be on my reading list, since I’m right there. Maybe next month …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you had a go this month, too — you pretty much had to with the chain starting with a Margaret!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think you’re stuck with me now – I’ve had a go every month recently. And yes, Margaret was the clincher.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’ve only missed one since February, when I started.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good woman. Well, you always have a book or two to choose from!


  4. Mark Doty came to HomePlace to give a reading and was really wonderful. I actually didn’t know he’d written a memoir so I really must check that out as I’ve only read his poetry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He also has the memoir Firebird, about his early life and marrying a woman before he came out. Such a fantastic writer!


      1. Oh wow! how dod I not know about these? Both sound fantastic.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. We used to giggle and chant ‘We must, we must, we must increase our bust…’. I was at an international school and although it was predominantly a British English one, we did have quite a few American influences as well, so Judy Blume was certainly part of my childhood.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, plenty of bust-chanting a la Judy Blume around here! Fun list.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Better late than never, right? Very interesting chain here.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So which Judy Blume books do tomboys like? The ones about boys? Ugh. Those were the w-o-r-s-t. (When we moved and I was twelve, I had stashed my Judy Blume Diary under my mattress (so creative) and I was SO embarrassed.)


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