Six Degrees of Separation: What Are You Going Through to No Saints Around Here

I’ve become an occasional Six Degrees of Separation post-er, when the mood strikes me and/or I get a flash of inspiration. This month we began with What Are You Going Through, which I reviewed back in October 2020. (See Kate’s opening post.)

Between that, The Friend and A Feather on the Breath of God, Sigrid Nunez has quickly become one of my favourite contemporary authors. I have two more of her novels on the shelf to read soon, one from my birthday haul.

In What Are You Going Through, the narrator is called upon to help a terminally ill friend commit suicide. However, I summed up the message as “Curiosity about other lives fuels empathy,” and noted “a sort of slapstick joy early in this morbid adventure.”

 

#1 One of the stand-out books from my 2021 reading so far has been The Inevitable, which is about assisted dying. The case studies are wrenching but compassionately told. Katie Engelhart explores the nuances of situations, crafting expert portraits of suffering people and the medical professionals who seek to help them, and adding much in the way of valuable context.

 

#2 As the saying goes, if there’s one thing inevitable besides death, it’s taxes. And if you’re a U.S. citizen, you will remain accountable to the IRS until the day you die, no matter where you live. (Eritrea is the only other country that requires expatriates to fill in tax returns.) I’ve now gotten my U.S. tax forms down to a science, keeping a list of pointers and previous years’ forms as scanned files so that I just have to plug in the year’s numbers, put zeroes in all the important boxes (since I’ve already paid income tax in the UK), and send it off. A matter of an hour or two’s work, rewarded by a G&T.

But I distinctly remember the Junes when I would spend days muddling through byzantine IRS forms, so I am very grateful that an offer for this e-book arrived in my inbox via my blog contact form in 2017: U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans by Olivier Wagner. It goes through each form, often line by line. Three cheers for actually helpful self-help guides!

 

#3 Another expat tip that I found extremely useful, small as it might seem, is that “quite” means something different in American vs. British English. To an American it’s a synonym for “very”; to the guarded Brits, it’s more like “rather.” I have the Julian Barnes essay collection Letters from London to thank for this vital scrap of etymological knowledge.

 

#4 Unsurprisingly, I have built up a small library of books about understanding the English and their ways. In the How to Be a Brit omnibus, collecting three short volumes from the 1940s–70s, George Mikes (a Hungarian immigrant) makes humorous observations that have, in general, aged well. His mini-essays on tea, weather and queuing struck me as particularly apt. I would draw a straight line from this through Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island to the Very British Problems phenomenon.

 

#5 As I was preparing to fly to England for the first time for my study abroad year, one of the authors who most whetted my appetite for British travel was Susan Allen Toth, whose trilogy of UK-themed memoirs-with-recommendations began with My Love Affair with England – included in one of my Landmark Books in My Life posts. I’m rereading one of the other three now.

 

#6 Toth is a very underrated author, I feel. I’ve read most of her memoirs and have a short nonfiction work of hers on my pile for #NovNov. Her most recent book is No Saints Around Here: A Caregiver’s Days (2014), in which she chronicled the last 18 months of her husband James’s life, as she and an army of caregivers coped with his decline from Parkinson’s disease. Toth gets the tone just right: although she is honest, she is never melodramatic; although she often feels sorry for herself, she also recognizes how lucky she has been, not just to have done a good job of looking after James, but to have had him in her life at all.

 

I’ve gone full circle from one story of caregiving to another, via death, taxes and Englishness. The starting and ending books are reminders that you never fully know what another person is going through; all we can do is our best while cutting others some slack.

 


Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.) Next month’s starting point is our buddy read for week 4 of #NovNov, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.

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

28 responses

  1. Like you, I’m a big fan of Sigrid Nunez (although you’ve read far more than I of her work). My moment of enlightenment came when I did a “shelf rescue” of one of her older books (The Last of Her Kind). After passing it over for years, I finally got around to reading it and — it was fabulous! I couldn’t believe it was my Nunez novel. I’ve now acquired quite a little collection of her work (including A Feather on the Breath of God).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad to hear that about The Last of Her Kind — that’s one of the two I have awaiting me.

      Like

  2. I remember my (Polish) father used to love the George Mikes articles. The Julian Barnes looks -er – quite interesting too 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, I didn’t know about your ancestry. I found the Mikes pieces funny and true to life.

      Like

  3. My parents and I loved the George Mikes book and could relate to a lot of it!
    My big moment of learning was the ‘that’s interesting’ comment, which I took as a sign to continue expanding on my subject when I first came to Britain, but which is clearly intended to be ‘please shut up’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, that’s a good one! I think it works in American, too. Another phrase I interpret that way, though I know it is sometimes meant genuinely, is “thanks for sharing.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I like your death and taxes link. Coincidentally, my chain ends with an expat Anglophile.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved that Bryson! I only got to reading him through my husband and in-laws but have now read almost all of his books.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love your connection between death and taxes, lol! I’m the one doing our taxes (US), and really now with tools like turboxtax, it’s no big deal. The important thing is to keep track of all your activities every week, and do the math at the end of the math, otherwise you are totally overwhelmed when the time comes. I am self-employed, as a French tutor and running a book tour company, so I do all my math once a week, and then once a month, and I just have to add a few numbers when taxes season arrives.
    Just as I do for my reading statistics at the end of the year, lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never used the online tools. I suspect they wouldn’t recognize the ins and outs of my expat situation, but I know that for many they are a godsend. It sounds like you’re a better record-keeper than I am! I fly by the seat of my pants as a freelancer.

      Like

  6. This was a very personal chain, I see. You know, there are groups of ex-pat Americans on Facebook who are trying to put pressure on the US to stop this stupid business of making people like you and me report to the IRS every year. I hope they finally succeed… and then… we’ll only have our own taxes (and death) to worry about!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think that will ever happen, but we can dream! It certainly would make life easier.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You never know… both democrats and republicans living abroad are fighting this ALL the time. It just isn’t fair, and they’re not catching the people who put billions into off-shore accounts to avoid paying US taxes, they’re hitting on little guys like you and me. However, the IRS is, apparently, extremely understaffed right now, so I heard they’re not trying to audit ex-pats and instead concentrate on resident citizens, so that’s a good thing, at least.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I heard my American colleagues moan regularly about those IRS requirements but I had no idea you would still be required to complete them even if not living in the country. So yiu get a double whammy because you have to do the British tax returns too, Crazy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It used to make my life a misery for a few days every year; I’m glad I now have it under control so that it doesn’t steal much of my time. The UK’s online reporting procedure is so much easier!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s much easier too when you retire and don’t have benefits like company cars etc to factor in

        Like

    2. I’m in Israel and here we don’t actually have to file a yearly tax return at all. Well, not unless we think we are owed a refund. But the cost to translate all the damned documents for the IRS into English, plus paying an accountant to do the forms is prohibitive, and I’ve never in my life earned enough in Israel to reach over the exemption amount and pay anything to the IRS. Just a pain in the rear!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I moan and groan when I have to do my UK tax return but now I’m aware of what other people have to go through, I shall quit moaning

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Americans have it really bad. Not only do they have to file for their federal income tax, but depending on the state (which is most of them), they also have to file for their state income tax. And if they move from one state to another in the middle of the year, they’ll have to file THREE returns. Insanity!

        Like

      3. Yes, you should be. Not just because of the difficulties, but also because the people who are bogged down by this are mostly the little guys who are barely scraping through, while the wealthy pay little to nothing and have teams of accountants filing for them. Disgusting!

        Like

      4. It’s enough to make the blood boil!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. What an interesting chain! I’m glad you’ve found a tax prep resource that’s been helpful. I think it’s nuts that you have to file an American tax return!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. People might presume reports of IRS bureaucracy are exaggerated, but it’s all true!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Loved the commentary justifying (if justification is needed) your choices and linkages while telling us quite a little bit about yourself — ‘quite’ in the British sense of course!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You must have been tickled, then, by the Nunez launching point!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: