6 Degrees of Separation: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Greetings, bookworms and welcome back to Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly meme in which myself and fellow author Emma Chapman invite you to link six books in a chain, according to whatever connections spring to mind.  This month’s chain begins with Cheryl Strayed’s Wildthe memoir of her weeks-long solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, and how the journey healed her.

Though she made friends at the camps along the trail, and occasionally walked for a few days with the friends she had made, for much of her hike, Strayed was alone, much like the protagonist in Robyn Cadwallader’s beautiful debut novel The Anchoress. Sarah is a teenaged girl in thirteenth century England who chooses to be permanently imprisoned in a small stone room beside a church, devoting her life to prayer.

In its settings, its themes and its mood, The Anchoress strongly reminded me of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites: both tell the stories of young women in small, poor rural communities who are isolated from the world and struggling with their faith and their choices.

Agnes, the protagonist in Burial Rites is a prisoner of the state, waiting execution, as is the unnamed protagonist in Hari Kunzru’s Memory Palace. Kunzru’s character is imprisoned for the learning and sharing of knowledge, an act which has become a crime in the post-technological world in which he lives.

Another story of the desire for lost knowledge in a post-technological society is Russell Hoban’s phenomenal novel Riddley Walker, a coming-of-age, a quest and a search for meaning: one of the most profound books I have read in a long time.

Riddley Walker is written entirely in dialect, a version of English, with garbled forms of words we know today. Another book written in an invented form of English is Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.

A Clockwork Orange is a satire of youth culture, as is Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story – albeit of a very different mood and style.


Thus I’ve made my way from a memoir about hiking, through the isolation of young women in the middle ages, to post-technological societies and youth cultures gone wrong. Thus is the strange chemistry of Six Degrees of Separation!

Find out where Emma’s chain took her. And then share your own chain in the comments below.

Next month: On Saturday April 4th, the chain will begin with Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project.


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