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September 23, 2020

David Hajdu's Playlist for His Novel "Adrianne Geffel"

Adrianne Geffel by David Hajdu

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

David Hajdu's novel Adrianne Geffel is compelling and inventive, with music always at its core.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Hajdu has created a weird and strangely wonderful fictional evocation of New York’s 1970s and 1980s underground music and art scenes."

In his own words, here is David Hajdu's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Adrianne Geffel:

The title character of Adrianne Geffel is a woman born with an exotic neurological disorder called psychosynesthesia, which leads her to hear music in her mind that corresponds directly to her emotional state at all times. The condition is fictional, like everything in the book except for a few famous or semi-famous people who drift in and out; but I can can relate to Geffel's experience in a way, because I think about music almost, though quite, constantly. The story, while imagined in its particulars, takes place in real places (early on, in Western Pennsylvania, then mostly in New York) in a historical time period (the late Seventies and early Eighties). Music permeates the book, much as it does Adrianne Geffel's consciousness, and I drew freely from the music in my own experience when I was writing.

"Insanity Comes Quietly to the Structured Mind" by Janis Ian
This magnificently titled paean to the tortured loneliness of teenage life, recorded when Janis Ian was fourteen, was released as a single to follow up her hit about the trauma of biracial romance, "Society's Child." It was one of three songs with "Mind" in their titles on her debut album, along with "A Song for All the Seasons of Your Mind" and "Then Tangles of My Mind," though nearly every track on the record is a study of inner life. A later Janis Ian single figures literally in a key scene in my book, when Adrianne Geffel was seventeen.

"Up Above My Head" by Sister Rosetta Tharpe
When Geffel experiences powerful emotions as potent music, her doctors, being doctors, diagnose the condition as disease. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, being a guitar-slinging titan of gospel music, has another point of view, as she sings of finding music in the air -- music everywhere -- as entering a state of enlightenment through emotional release. When I was writing, I thought often of Tharpe and the way she channeled ecstasy through her music.

"Who Do You Belong To?" by Stacy Sullivan
While I was working on Adrianne Geffel, I was also working on music myself, collaborating with the jazz composer and pianist Renee Rosnes. One of the lyrics I wrote tells the story of a girl in a world very much like the one Adrianne Geffel occupied when she was growing up behind the family propane business on the state highway in Western Pennsylvania. In the song, sung in this recording by the sensitive jazz-pop vocalist Stacy Sullivan, the character has a crush on a waitress in a diner on the highway. In the book, the object of Adrianne's ardor has a different job.

"I Put My Headphones On" by Jill Sobule
The mordant, sneekily fun Jill Sobule is one of my favorite songwriters. (We have collaborated a bit, too.) She has a sizable canon of songs that puncture the tropes of pop, all sung with a deceptive smile. This track from her most recent album, Nostalgia Kills, deals explicitly with a motif in Adrianne Geffel: the solace one can find under a set of headphones. The theme of Sobule's biggest hit, "I Kissed a Girl," also figures in the book.

"Mechanical Flattery" by Lydia Lunch
At the time Adrianne Geffel moved to New York, in 1977, the city was broken, bankrupt, open to everyone and everything, and over-rich with music of every kind: punk, disco, salsa, hip-hop, and uncategorizable eruptions of adventurism in the "downtown" scene where Adrianne Geffel is embraced as a phenomenon. No one piece of music could fully capture New York in all its musical colors then. Among the documents of the city in its dark glory, I love this bleak track of No Wave droning by the wonderfully grim Lydia Lunch.

"Enfant" by Fred Hersch
Adrianne Geffel emerges from the art-gallery and loft-party scene in New York to become a recording artist celebrated for making music few people grasp or find much pleasure in. She records in a studio on the third floor of a converted wholesale-electronics operation in Soho, where there was an actual studio in the 1980's, and where the real-life pianist Fred Hersch recorded this interpretation of a form-shifting Ornette Coleman composition with the bassist Charlie Haden and the drummer Joey Baron.

"The Question" by Cecil Taylor
I made a point not to describe Geffel's music in technical detail, so readers could construct it, in all its weirdness, by their personal standards of the weird. I suspect a lot of people will think of music like this by the great exemplar of mercurial virtuosity, Cecil Taylor. I remember seeing Taylor at the Blue Note once, and the music critic at the table next to me lowered his head into the palms of his hands and shook his head as if to say, "No, no, no..." I thought, There's a critic who needs a new job.

"Walking Batteriewoman" by the Carla Bley Band
When I was imagining Geffel's music, I sometimes thought of Carla Bley, who flourished in the time period of the book and is still playing with emotional force. One of the subplots of Adrianne Geffel involves Sony stealing the idea of the Walkman from Geffel. The title of this song could have been a chapter title in the book.

"Up on the Roof" by Laura Nyro
In ways clearly apparent, Adrianne Geffel is a satire of a cultural sphere and an evocation of an odd, lost time in New York history. For me, above all, though, it's a love story, and when Geffel finds her happiness, it's on the roof. I've always loved this vivid snapshot of city life by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, sung by the late New York singer-songwriter Laura Nyro. If there's ever a movie version of Adrianne Geffel, the lead should look like Nyro.

"New Sensations" by Lou Reed
Whatever happened to Adrianne Geffel? I lay out some possibilities at the end of the book, and one involves Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed. This title song from a 1984 album by Reed conjures the no-longer-new sensations of the time and name checks the Delaware Water Gap, the geological halfway point between Geffel's childhood in Pennsylvania and adulthood in New York.

David Hajdu is the author of five acclaimed books of cultural history, biography, and criticism, including Lush Life, and a three-time National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. He is the music critic for the Nation, a professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, and a songwriter and librettist. He lives in New York City.

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September 23, 2020

Shorties (Recommended Nonfiction by Iranian Writers, Sadie Dupuis on the New Sad13 Album,, and more

The Brown Album by Porochista Khakpour

The Margins recommended memoirs and essay collections by Iranian writers.

Sadie Dupuis discussed the forthcoming Sad13 album Haunted Painting with SPIN.

September's best eBook deals.
Today's best eBook deals.

eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

The White Van by Patrick Hoffman

Rolling Stone listed the top 500 albums of all time.

BuzzFeed and Literary Hub recommended the week's best new books.

The Los Angeles Times profiled Bandcamp.

Stream a new Yo La Tengo song.

PBS NewsHour and Salon interviewed author Anne Helen Peterson.

SPIN and the Minneapolis Star Tribune interviewed musician Bob Mould.

Stream a new song by Lysandre.

Zaina Arafat discussed her novel You Exist Too Much with Autostraddle.

Stream a new METZ song.

Esquire recommended fall's best books.

Stream a new Lydia Loveless song.

Haymarket Books is giving away a free e-book of Can't Pay, Won't Pay: The Case for Economic Disobedience and Debt Abolition by the Debt Collective, with a foreword by Astra Taylor.

Book Riot recommended books about vinyl records.

Guarnica interviewed author Darin Strauss.

Bandcamp Daily examined Puerto Rico's rock underground.

Bustle recommended cult memoirs.

The Irish Times profiled singer-songwriter Laura Veirs.

Electric Literature shared an excerpt from Jamie Marina Lau's novel Pink Mountain on Locust Island.

The ARTery previewed fall's best albums.

The OTHERPPL podcast interviewed author Amy Shearn.

Stream a new song by Florist's Emily A. Sprague.

Stream a new song by Joan of Arc.

Stream a new song by Kevin Morby.

Aquarium Drunkard's Transmissions podcast interviewed musician Jerry David DeCicca.

If you appreciate the work that goes into Largehearted Boy, please consider making a donation.

September 22, 2020

Debora Harding's Playlist for Her Memoir "Dancing With the Octopus"

Dancing With the Octopus by Debora Harding

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Debora Harding's compelling memoir Dancing With the Octopus is an intensely personal account of trauma and resilience.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"This moving story of grit and resilience will resonate with readers long after the final page is turned."

In her own words, here is Debora Harding's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Dancing With the Octopus:

I like to think of Dancing with the Octopus, A Memoir of a True Crime as a mashup between a bildungsroman, true crime, psychological thriller, and a great love story. The narrative alternates between past and present, and though the plot is driven by the crime, the story really begins after I move to London to marry my British husband at the age of twenty-eight, and I started experiencing undiagnosed symptoms of complex PTSD. Lucky for me, my husband proved to be an ideal partner in this journey.

The songs I’ve selected for my playlist largely reflect my 1970s childhood in my beloved Midwest. My family tease me for my musical taste but I like to think I have a depth and breadth to a genre spread that they lack.

We didn’t get FM radio in the Midwest until the late 1970s, we didn’t have Spotify or Pandora back then of course. Albums were incredibly expensive as a teenager and the music in our home was mainly Christian rock from the musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. My “secular” tastes were shaped in the same way most of my peers were by Casey Kasem’s Top Forty, which played on the weekend along with the songs I heard at our local movie theatre. It may be helpful to know that though I’ve lived in England for almost twenty years, I am at heart a Nebraska and Iowa girl. America is my homeland and I often ache for it.

So here’s my list of songs that go with my book “Dancing with the Octopus”.

Octopus’ Garden, by the Beatles. Ringo Starr’s song captures the mood my Dad would bring when he’d arrive home. He was a traveling salesman so would spend most weeks on the road. The title of the book, originates from a fun family moment when he pulled into a new strip mall near our house called the Old Mill Shopping Centre and began talking to an octopus he claimed hitched a ride back from Florida on our family vacation. He invited it to live in this decora-tive pond, that had a churning mill wheel as a feature, and promised we’d visit him. Occasionally after that, when we were passing by, he’d pull in and drive a few donuts in the parking lot, saying we were dancing with the octopus. The image evolved into the metaphor that seemed to capture the violence of my childhood and the way Dad taught me to cope with it, by turning denial into a fun imaginary game. An octopus was also a great image for capturing the difficulties of managing the multiple traumas I had to “un-sucker” myself from later in life. Apparently, Ringo Starr had been scared of octopuses until he learned that they liked to pick up colorful toys off the sea floor and take them back to their caves. Their playfulness inspired him to write Octopus’ Garden. The popularity of the song, not to mention the Muppets rendition of it, speaks wonderfully to this benefits of sugar-coating a potentially dangerous beast.

Rainy Days and Mondays by the Carpenters. The wallpaper of my childhood was the ever-present feel-good wholesomeness of Karen and Richard Carpenter. You couldn’t turn on a car radio without picking up one of the songs from what was to become their Classic Gold Album. My personal relationship to the song was really cemented, became my six-year-old soul cry, when my mother went into the hospital to give birth to my youngest sister, Jenifer. My parents ar-ranged for my sisters and I to stay with a friend and I remember feeling tormented by impatience. Seeing my reaction to the Carpenters’ music, our hostess taught me how to use the record play-er. I played it over and over again, and this song in particular flipped a switch for me. Because Jen was much younger than me we didn’t share a big part of our lives. But I just loved her in a completely un-judgmental way. And she still gets a pass on just about anything, because of it. She’s recently retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserves, hardly the baby of the family anymore, but I’ve still got that feeling of pride and protectiveness I felt toward her then.

If I Were a Rich Man from Chaim Topol’s performance as Tevya in Norman Jewison’s 1971 production of Fiddler on the Roof. My father went through a phase when he’d come home after a week on the road and sing a rendition of this song that would send my sisters and I howling. It was a great performance, we’d be hugging our sides with the intensity of our laughter, but I think we were just high with the joy of seeing him home because the mood of the house would shift so dramatically. But I remember always feeling that underneath the show was the same kind of pain you see in the face of Topol, the pain of a man struggling to stay above water financially in efforts to support his family, with the weight of a changing world pressing in on him, where everything he held important in terms of traditional family values was coming under attack by his own daugh-ters. Which was also to be our fate. When I really miss my father I listen to Topol, which brings him right back.

Run Joey Run by David Geddes, came out in 1975 and was pretty eccentric for a massive hit. I suppose its operatic sensibility appealed to me and my young corny sense of humor. In the song, a girl’s gun-toting father goes out to kill her love, Joey, and she pleads with Joey to run. The sense of danger and drama is palatable. Instead of shooting Joey though, the father accidentally shoots his daughter. I fastened into the sense of danger in the song and I suppose I identified with Joey. Instead of running from some girl’s gun-toting father, for me it was from the murderous rage of my mother. I revisited the song when I was writing the scene in the book when I tear the heads off the barbies belonging to the children next door and then leg it out of the neighborhood. An act I was still so embarrassed by that I really questioned putting it in the pubic domain. And of course, it is the one scene that friends who have read the book tease me about mercilessly.

You Can Fly! by Bobby Driscoll, For some reason, I really dug this song from Disney’s film ‘Peter Pan’. I first saw it one summer at a drive-in movie theater. I remember, we had to get dressed in a pajamas before we left our house and running around on the playground before the movie started with all the other kids, who were also dressed in their onesies, then sitting on the hood of the car with our popcorn. This song in particular, You Can Fly, was kid self-help on steroids. I must have been searching even then. It also brings back great memories of listening to the soundtrack album with Gayle on our bedroom floor for hours, that and the Jungle Book. I also have great memories of the adaptations of Peter Pan we neighborhood kids would stage for our parents. I cornered the role of Captain Hook, who didn’t get to fly, but sporting the hook and mustache kind of made up for it.

One Way by the Boone Family. There’s a scene in the book where I recount the night my mother came home wearing a pair of flared bell-bottomed jeans printed with scenes from a Pat Boone concert, and gives me a cross necklace that becomes important in the crime. When I began writ-ing this scene in the book I was curious to see if I could find the album and, sure enough, it was on Spotify. As I started listening, I was prepared to judge it but was really surprised at how groovy of a mood there is to One Way. It was one of the happiest chapters of my childhood, these couple of years where my mother fell in love with Jesus through the tutelage of Pat Boone’s Christian rock.

The Age of Aquarius by The 5th Dimension. This song brings back the zeitgeist that formed my childhood. I remember being impressed with the cool psychedelic look of the band. The song of was featured in Hair, but I knew it way before the musical came out. It captured the desire for progressive change that, even as a kid, I knew was needed. My parents became youth group leaders at our liberal protestant church and hosted a few potlucks at our house. I remember be-ing in awe of the outfits of those teenagers who struck me as pretty exotic, the miniskirts and go-go boots, the long-haired dudes with their bandanas. Harmony and Understanding was thick in the air. But so was Vietnam and I remember meeting an older brother of a school friend who had just returned, and sensed there was tragedy as well.

Feels Like the First Time by Foreigner. One of my favorite week-end activities was car-pooling it to the roller-skating rink with the neighborhood kids. I can still feel the beat to Feels like the First Time as I’d pick up speed, and cross-stepped it around the curves, glittering reflections from the disco ball casting pebbles of color everywhere. Every 15 minutes or so, the staff at the rink would blow their whistles and we’d form long snake lines where we’d have to put the hands on the hips of the person in front of us and fling and jig and shimmy our way around the rink. And then there was the hokey-pokey which was always a little sloppy. The real show-offs would do a perfect tiny circle. And then there was the couple dance, where one of you would have to skate backwards and they’d turn the lights down low. It was one of the rare occasions where I’d get close to a boy. They were kind of foreign in our family of four girls. Being a tom boy I always wanted a brother.

I Am Woman by Helen Ready. This song was the ultimate political rally cry for women in the 1970s, at a time when the fight for the ERA was in full swing. At first, I was slightly embarrassed for my mother when she’d pridefully belt out the lyrics, mainly because she was so terribly off-key. To be fair, Australian Helen Ready sings it at a pitch that is hard to hit. But I still make it a point to ask the young women in my life if they’ve heard it, and make sure it’s added to their playlists if they haven’t. I was coming of age at a time when Second-Wave Feminism was seeing the benefits of at least a decade of renewed activism. Legislation recognizing the importance of women’s rights over our bodies and lives was passed at the national level. This was around the time that Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and Kate Millet’s The Second Sex, the seminal feminist text were both published. My mother’s mental health visibly shifted as she went through her own transformation: the polyester elasticated waistband pants were replaced with pant suits and vinyl boots. She cut her hair. And she went to work for the first time, and then enrolled at the University of Omaha to study Political Science. I’ll never forget her gifting me the classic Our Bod-ies Our Selves when I was twelve, a book which started as an underground and quite radical sort of manual for the female body, published by the Boston Women’s Health Collective, which then became a huge commercial success in 1973. So the lyrics to Helen Ready’s song, ‘I am woman hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore . . .’ shaped me into the political activist I became.

Hooked on a Feeling by Bo Donaldson. This one goes back, again, to golden times with my Dad. When this song came out, he picked up the ‘ooga-ooga-ooga-shocka’ part of the chorus and had a driver’s seat dance that went with it. When the song came on the radio, we would all just wait in anticipation for the background vocals and then join in singing it with the same sort of neck jiving beat. It turned into this nonsense game that Dad and I played for the rest of our lives called “the zap”. It was a kind of prank that we’d go to elaborate lengths to play, where we’d try to get each other to ask what someone said. And then we’d say ooga-ooga-ogga-shocka. My husband and daughter know if the songs starts, I’m gone until its over, and they kind of hope it doesn’t hap-pen in public.

The Joker by The Steve Miller Band. This was the first 45 LP I bought with my own money I had earned from a paper route. I was twelve years old at the time, and the furthest thing you could imagine from a joker, a smoker, and a midnight toker. But if music had the power to corrupt, then that’s probably where my descent started. I loved the slide on the guitar. And I remember sing-ing it upstairs in my bedroom thinking I was really getting away with something. When I tried a joint a year later, and my mother took me to the police station to have me arrested, I had this song playing through my young mind as a spirit protector.

Day by Day by Anna Maria Perez de Tagle from the musical ‘Godspell’. Though I was increasingly getting into delinquent behavior, my favorite social place was still my progressive liberal church. We had a great youth program, a huge choir that toured the western states, and a co-ed sum-mer bible camp that I loved going to. Unfortunately, I was abducted on my way to church choir practice, and after the near-death experience that followed the crime, when God didn’t make an appearance to save me, it made it impossible to return to the firm belief I had. But ‘Day by Day’ was one of my top three campfire songs. It still is.

Roll Me Away by Bob Seger. I can’t listen to this song without tearing up with feelings of missing America. It is the ultimate road song and really captures those painful crossroads in life when you’re low, but have to make a major life decision about direction— “east or west”? You’re filled with anxiety, but then the decision gets made, the doubt begins to lift, hope begins to return, a sense of elation and freedom follows as you’re moving again — it’s all in the story of the song and the feel of the music. One of my all time favorites memories with my father was when he took me on a business road trip from Nebraska to New York. His aim was to slow my descent into juvenile delinquency. Along the way, we stopped at factories so he could demonstrate the cutting-edge robot he had bolted to a trailer that we pulled behind us. It was a hydraulic lifting arm that could save the workers from back pain. It’s the first time I was introduced to the steel union leaders, because Dad had to sell them first. But even more exciting were the convoys we’d form with the truck drivers, and the hours of conversation we’d have on the CB radio. I’d love nothing more than seeing one of the semis suddenly appear behind us, because a driver would pick up speed or slow down to get a glimpse of the Taurus, and then they’d sail by pulling the rope of their horn. So Bob Seger is one of those essential soul-lifting songs I put on, if I’m needing the thrill of being on the road again. And all those steel union workers and truck drivers I met, come back to me in spirit.

Gonna Fly Now by Bill Conti from the movie ‘Rocky’. On that same road trip, Dad wanted to stop in Philadelphia to see ‘Rocky’. I wasn’t thrilled about watching two-men boxing each other senseless, but he was so excited, so I went with it. Once we were sitting in our chairs and the movie’s title sequence began with the opening song, we were about knocked out of our seats. It was such a bonding moment for us. A couple of years later, after we’d moved from Nebraska to Iowa, we’d get up early in the morning and go up to the high school gym, put ‘Gonna Fly Now’ on and run up and down the bleachers. And then when my first depression hit while I was living in Washington D.C., Dad sent me the tape cassette to the movie soundtrack along with a walkman. I’d listen to it when I ran up the steps of the Lincoln Monument and the flights of stairs up to the U.S. Capitol. Later, I used it again when I was writing my book. There were a few times when I needed a real emotional break and recharge, so I’d go out for a walk in the valley we now live in — it has huge sweeping views — and I’d put this song on and it always moved me into that spirit-building space that Rocky, and Dad, inspired.

Be by Neil Diamond from the movie ‘Jonathon Living Seagull’. Since we are talking about spirit building, the film ‘Jonathon Livingston Seagull’ came out the year before I was kidnapped. It’s an-other film about a soul seeking rebirth after experiencing the trials and traumas of life. As I lost the comfort of my Christian faith that night, I found the music from the soundtrack particularly for-tifying and soothing and spent hours and hours listening to it in the dark. I think it’s because the lyrics in this song are poetic, but in a mystical sense. Neil Diamond’s smooth rich voice was so reassuring, it guided the traumatized fourteen-year-old me to a place of safety and calm. I think it is a stunning piece.

Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland. I didn’t really appreciate the importance of where American composers sat in the history of classical music until I discovered the tone poems of Aaron Copland. For me, ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ captures the American character like no other piece of music I know. And this is why it grew in importance. A couple of weeks after graduating high school, my mother kicked me out of the house without notice (she was always threatening to kick someone in the family out — but that time it was for real). At the time I was a young Republican and I joke that I was adopted by the Democratic Party, as a state senator gave me a couch to sleep on. I managed to get financial aide and enrolled at Iowa State Universi-ty but dropped out after the first year to join Gary Hart’s Presidential Campaign and ended up working on national staff in 8 different states over the next couple of years. I think that travel, coupled with the trips I did with my Dad, gave me a real love and appreciation for the pure rug-ged beauty of America. After I settled down in D.C. I experienced a serious episode of depres-sion and to help myself through it, I signed up for this cross-country bicycle ride that was raising money for the homeless. That’s when I met Thomas, my husband. We started in Portland, Ore-gon, and finished in Washington D.C. averaging 70 miles a day. In order to beat the heat, I’d get up right before dawn, hit the road, put my Aaron Copland on, and watch the sun rise over the horizon with ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ playing in my ears. It was spectacular with the varied backdrops, the Grand Titans, the Rocky Mountains, the Nebraska prairie, the gentle rolling hills of Iowa, the Appalachian Mountains. When I’m homesick, I just reach for it.

Love and Affection by Joan Armatrading One of the joys of my British husband and I getting to know each other that summer on Bike-Aide, was discovering the difference in our cultural back-grounds. I still get teased about the gaps in my music knowledge. By the time I met Thomas, I hadn’t heard of the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, or David Bowie. When we arrived in D.C. the first thing he did was buy me a Joan Armatrading’s album, and we sat and listened to this together in my tiny apartment in Foggy Bottom. I was completely overwhelmed by her voice, this song, and how it captured the sort of torture of our being in love when there was no hope for the relation-ship as he was going back to England. ‘I am not in love, but I’m open to persuasion…’ It caught the mood.

Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver. Have to have this one on the list. After Thom-as and I lived in England for ten years, and our children turned two and three, we decided we wanted to down-size and move off-grid because neither of us liked how hard we were working. We picked Shepherdstown, West Virginia, a small historic town 60 miles outside of D.C. and spent a bliss-filled ten years as a family. Naturally, this was the family song.

I’m Still Standing by Elton John. It’s the question I get most often — how are you still standing? I’m not sure, but I know this song speaks to it in a pretty direct way and is a great finale.

Debora Harding has had varied professional experiences including work in national U.S. politics for ten years, co-founding the UK's first local terrestrial television station, and management of a bicycle business. Her work has been published in The Guardian, The Daily Mail, and elsewhere. The mother of two children, she spent her childhood in Nebraska and Iowa, and now lives in England with her British husband, the writer Thomas Harding.

If you appreciate the work that goes into Largehearted Boy, please consider making a donation.

Shorties (Laila Lalami on Her New Book, An Interview with Lucinda Williams, and more)

Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami

Laila Lalami discussed her new book Conditional Citizens with Electric Literature.

The New York Times shared an excerpt from the book.

The Creative Independent interviewed Lucinda Williams.

September's best eBook deals.
Today's best eBook deals.

eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

All About Cake: A Milk Bar Cookbook by Christina Tosi
Ball Four by Jim Bouton
Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

The Children by David Halberstam
I, Claudius by Robert Graves

eBook on sale for $3.99 today:

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Paste ranked Joni Mitchell's studio albums.

Radix Media is crowdfunding three graphic narrative projects by Molly Crabapple, Ganzeer, and John Dermot Woods & Matt L.

BuzzFeed shared an excerpt from Anne Helen Petersen's book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires covered Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic."

Bustle recommended the current appeal of political memoir.

Stream a new Sylvan Esso song.

The Los Angeles Times profiled author Caitlin Moran.

Julia Bardo covered Fleetwood Mac's "Only Over You."

Electric Literature interviewed author Brit Bennett.

Aquarium Drunkard interviewed author and musician Sylvie Simmons.

The Quietus interviewed musician Clint Mansell.

Stream a new Tune-Yards song.

Electric Literature recommended classic queer books you might have missed.

This year's National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 recipients have been announced.

Congratulations to Largehearted Boy contributor K-Ming Chang.

The Comics Journal shared an excerpt from Robert Elder’s book Hemingway in Comics.

BOMB shared new writing by C Pam Zhang.

Locus interviewed author Maria Dahvana Headley.

If you appreciate the work that goes into Largehearted Boy, please consider making a donation.

September 21, 2020

Diane Zinna's Playlist for Her Novel "The All-Night Sun"

The All-Night Sun by Diane Zinna

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Diane Zinna's novel is a lyrical and provocative debut, a haunting coming-of-age tale brilliantly told.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Inventive and luminous…. Zinna’s intimate debut dazzles with original language, emotional sentience, and Swedish folklore as it plumbs the depths of grief, loss, and friendship [and] reaches an inspired emotional depth that, as the title signifies, never stops blazing."

In her own words, here is Diane Zinna's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel :

My novel is set mostly in Sweden during the early '00s. I traveled there during the summer of 2001 after a friend promised that at Midsommar everything would be green, fresh, and new, just thawing out—and that sounded like a respite from grief for me. I needed a thawing out. I had lost both of my parents and had just moved to a new city on my own. I was trying so hard to connect with people, but grief had started to feel like a crossing over, with no one in my life seeing the world the way I did anymore. I wanted that trip to Sweden to be a quick fix, and it wasn’t that. But it was my first deep breath after being underwater for a long time.

The All-Night Sun is a mix of my memories from that trip but also all the ways I feared my bubble of shining, unending sun would pop. My playlist includes the songs that followed me around that summer, like “Daddy DJ” and “Clint Eastwood,” but also the songs I’ve come to love and feel inside this story that took thirteen years to tell.

Chandelier by Sia

After my mom passed away, I adopted her small dog. It was the heat of summer in Florida, and he wasn’t used to being an outside dog. I went with him to a park and started kicking a ball around. I hadn’t brought water for us. I just kept running, kicking that ball, like I was trying to become something I wasn’t, trying to create a new life for him and me, in that heat, in that dizziness. Every day was a dizzying, breathless push to make myself someone new, someone normal. Siri finds Lauren this way. She reaches out a hand to her, steadies her.

I Follow Rivers by Lykke Li

This song is the beat and rush of ocean water, the feeling of being invited to follow, the feeling of being found. It’s the heartbeat in Lauren’s ears after she has said yes to Siri’s invitation home to Sweden, and it’s the thump in her chest as she packs, as she gets herself to the airport, as she follows through with this decision.

My Silver Lining by First Aid Kit

This is Lauren and Siri running through green fields after lake swimming. They are walking together on a country road during the blue hour, lying wet in bathing suits in the grass, laughing deep enough to rock the ground and dreamily naming the things around them: “Siri said we’d build our own house, the sky for our ceiling, the giant lilacs our end tables, the rising moon our window, the still-out sun our door.”

Här Kommer Natten by Miss Li

This title translates to, “Here comes the night.” It’s is a remake of a song by Pugh Rogerfeldt, and if you can find the video that shows Miss Li singing this to him, watch it. Despite Siri’s promise of an all-night sun, Lauren awakens to find herself the first night in a dark room, hungover and heavy with jetlag. Going to the window, she sees Siri’s brother, Magnus, for the first time, and here comes the night again.

Känn Ingen Sorg för Mig Göteborg by Håkan Hellström

This song by one of Sweden’s biggest artists feels like Magnus to me. The title translates to “Don’t Feel Sorry for Me, Gothenburg” and it is driving, false-noted, wanting to be seen as normal, trying to have a good time. I love that it directly addresses Gothenburg, the coastal city Lauren and Magnus run away to explore together in one ecstatic afternoon.

Blommorna by Miss Li and Petter

No, this place is not your timeless dream. This is really happening now. This is you in all your choices. This is not a painting, this is not a memory yet, but it will be, and when you do remember it, you’ll remember it as your consequences. Even now you’re sitting in the realization of your mistake. When you bow your head you see large, fairytale flowers springing up around you. You can’t stop them, they take over everything, and though you’re crying, people just keep saying how delicate they are, they’re telling you to look, look, how lovely.

Mon Amour by The Plan

Magnus and Lauren are at Gothenburg’s amusement park, Liseberg, and he’s pulling her fast along the cobblestone paths. They are riding the giant wooden coaster, scratching up each other’s backs in the dark statuary, eating long ropes of salt licorice and making out beside the colored fountains—you know, trying to fit all of life into one day. And then it all ends. They stop holding hands on the way back to the tram. They are not talking at the house. Lauren can barely hear him through their shared wall. Merde.

Stay Gold by First Aid Kit

It’s the hardest hue to hold. Lauren is in her summertime happiness with Siri, but she is feeling that the bubble is going to burst soon. She keeps going. There is only forward, no other way. And the song is woven through with Lauren’s darkest question: What if to love and be loved's not enough?

En Midsommarnattsdröm by Håkan Hellström

There is something so blue and forced about this song to me. I remember someone telling me that if someone with depression would just put on fast music and dance, they’d instantly feel better. I feel like this is the song a person would try to dance to, and somehow they’d make it to the end, but then they’d collapse face-down on a couch.

Clint Eastwood by Gorillaz

Imagine driving through hundreds of miles of green, go-green fields stretching in all directions, jumping streambeds in your white backless sneakers, gathering wildflowers and weaving yourself a flower crown while listening to this song. Imagine lying in your tent alone on the campsite, the rush-rush of the water in the distance, and this song’s bass thumping outside your tent’s walls. Headlights popping on one at a time against your tent wall along with this song’s rhythm. This song is definitely the campsite to me, that girl Sunny sprawled out with her bag of Bilar marshmallow candies on her blanket, all the people lying face down on the grass like they are waiting for their chalk outlines to be drawn. Listen for the birds at the 3:50 mark—they’re Öland’s birds.

Daddy DJ by Daddy DJ

This was the other song that followed me around Sweden that summer. It’s a dance song, and it’s Lauren with Siri’s teenage friends, feeling like Alice in the giant house, looking for potions to make her the right size, the right age, to get along.

Wolf by First Aid Kit

This song feels like my thank you to Odin’s birds and wolves, to the white horse that stretches its back to accommodate more and more children, to Näcken for playing his fiddle for the young maidens beside the lake. A thank you to the Year Walk story that prescribed a way to see your loved ones again after death, and to the Midsommar pole for pointing downward to another world, even as people dance innocently around it. Nordic Mythology was a gateway into grief for me in ways that were again and again surprising and true. It connected me on a soul level to the place that had changed me.

So Sad So Sexy by Lykke Li

Before I started going around telling people that my book was the “Big, Sad Book of the 2020 Pandemic Summer,” I thought of it as my sad and sexy book. Lauren and Magus are impossibly attracted to each other, but so much of their attraction is because they share so many of the same feelings and pains—pains that their relationships with Siri bring to the surface for them. This is Lauren’s face buried into Magnus’s neck in the kitchen when the walls fall down around them. This is Magnus’s endless gaze as they make love on the Alvar and he brings Lauren home to a place of black, velvet grief.

Aqualung (Acoustic) by Miss Li

For years, Lauren’s dreams were with her parents’ drowning, wondering what they experienced in their last minutes of life. Then her dreams are with Siri floating on the Kalmar Sound during the only dark hours of Midsommar’s Eve. She imagines Siri in her yellow inner tube, staring up into the starry night, too weak to swim back to shore, Näcken beneath her like a dad in a pool, pulling her this way and that. This is Lauren trying to reach her, a braided rope of grief, truth, and fantasy looped around her ankle, pulling her further and further down.

Move All Night by SNBRN & Autograf

When I first heard a clip of my recorded audiobook, my heart was in my throat to hear the voice actress’s interpretation of my words. The recording was only 7 minutes, and then Soundcloud moved to this song and the birds singing against the bass beat. Immediately it was the bumper music I wanted for the audiobook. It was too late to request anything like that, but if the beginning of this song can be played immediately after I stop reading in any setting, that would make me happy.

True Colors by Vega

I have been asked a lot about how much of the book is me, and how much is fiction. It’s all fiction and it’s all true. When Lauren speaks of grief, it’s in my voice. I have come to see grief as a crossing over. Once you are on the other side you see the world differently, and it’s through a misty lens of memory that mixes everything together. The All-Night Sun and I are waiting on the other side for you.

Diane Zinna is originally from Long Island, New York. She received her MFA from the University of Florida and went on to teach creative writing for ten years. She formerly worked at AWP, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, which hosts the largest literary conference in North America each year. In 2014, Diane created their Writer to Writer Mentorship Program, helping to match more than six hundred writers over twelve seasons. Diane lives in Fairfax, Virginia, with her husband and daughter. The All-Night Sun is her first novel.

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Shorties (A New Lorrie Moore Story, An Interview with Sufjan Stevens, and more)

Collected Stories by Lorrie Moore

Lorrie Moore talked to the New Yorker about her story in this week's issue.

The Quietus interviewed Sufjan Stevens.

September's best eBook deals.
Today's best eBook deals.

eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation by Bryan A. Garner
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

Chaos by James Gleick
Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

eBook on sale for $3.99 today:

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris

Paste recommended documentaries about composers.

Vulture listed the best books of the year so far.

BuzzFeed and The Rumpus recommended the week's best virtual literary events.

The National's Matt Berninger discussed the music that has influenced his life with Pitchfork.

Thew Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed author Jennifer Weiner.

Pitchfork interviewed Elvis Costello.

BuzzFeed interviewed author Ayad Akhtar.

Share a new Osees song.

The Guardian profiled author Halle Butler.

NYCTaper shared a 2019 Pylon Reenactment Society performance.

Entertainment Weekly previewed fall's most anticipated books.

Aimee Mann covered Leonard Cohen's "Avalanche."

Brit Bennett shared the books she read while writing The Vanishing Half with the Strategist.

Lykke Li covered Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive."

The 2020 National Book Award longlists have been announced.

Stream a new song by Michael Zapruder.

Bryan Washington has been awarded the 2020 Young Lions Fiction Award from the NYPL for his story collection Lot.

The Guardian interviewed Patti Smith.

The Maris Review interviewed author Morgan Jerkins.

SPIN shared one of Toots Hibbert's final interviews.

The Rumpus interviewed author Megan Cummins.

Guernica features a new story by Cummins.

BrooklynVegan recommended the week's best music livestreams.

Book Riot recommended historical nonfiction.

Far Out ranked Leonard Cohen's albums.

Electric Literature interviewed Angela Chen about her book Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex.

Stream a new Cribs song that features Lee Ranaldo.

The Creative Independent interviewed author Lillian Li.

The Dartmouth interviewed author Frances Cha.

Ad Hoc interviewed musician Laraaji.

The Rumpus interviewed author Matthew Salesses.

BOMB interviewed poet Jessica Lanay.

Book Riot listed 2020's best speculative fiction anthologies.

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September 18, 2020

Zoe Hitzig's Playlist for Her Poetry Collection "Mezzanine"

Mezzanine by Zoe Hitzig

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Zoe Hitzig's poetry collection Mezzanine is a brilliant and thought-provoking debut.

Tracy K. Smith wrote of the book:

"Do we sound like robots or do robots sound like us? In poems of conscience, intelligence, and wit, Zoë Hitzig presents arguments in support of both possibilities. Mostly, throughout Mezzanine's many ingenious premises and modes of address, what I hear is an ageless stark wisdom calling us to decide who and what we are, and what we are willing to heed."

In her own words, here is Zoe Hitzig's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection Mezzanine:

Mezzanine takes place in a state of radical in-betweenness. The poems are spoken from a sort of purgatory, a world that has engineered its own demise and must take stock of its prior ways of being in order to find a way forward. Though I started writing the poems in this book over six years ago, it is fitting for these poems to arrive in 2020, a transitional year in American history. These poems often deny the reader an ability to cleanly distinguish between the nonhuman and the human, the self and the other, the victim and the accomplice. In so doing, it asks: what lies between subjectivity and objectivity, value and worthlessness, responsibility and blamelessness? Probing this netherworld, the poems hope to learn something about how we relate to each other, and how we can rewrite our social code to celebrate interdependence and cooperation rather than independence and competition.

The songs I collect on this playlist are by artists who also dwell in the in-between. I rarely listen to music while I write, but these artists have all at some point made me want to sit down and write. Sounds are lost and found. Noises are gathered, strummed and sung by humans and machines. Motley choruses arrange themselves into recorded artifacts which can themselves be played by all manner of instruments and devices. The first half of the playlist, much like the first few sections of Mezzanine, is comprised of displaced, misplaced and disembodied voices. Continuing to mirror the development of the book, the second half of the playlist is more human-centered, tender and melodic. I annotate a handful of poems from the beginning of the playlist, and a handful from the end.

“Born, Never Asked” – Laurie Anderson

Mezzanine is in debt to Laurie Anderson, especially her album Big Science (1982) on which this track appears. The beginning of this song transports me to some imagined circumstance that lies outside all political and economic systems—a State of Nature or Original Position. As if a group of people are about to make a very good or very bad decision with lasting consequences. “It was a large room full of people. All kinds. And they had all arrived at the same building at more or less the same time. And they were all free. And they were all asking themselves the same question: What is behind that curtain?” (The title phrase, “Born, never asked,” also appears several times in a poem toward the end of the book.)

“Frontier” – Holly Herndon

It was hard to choose just one Holly Herndon song for this playlist—her work pulls off so many tricks and maneuvers that I attempt in my poetry. The Berlin-based artist performs and composes many of her songs in collaboration with a non-human intelligence, known as Spawn, whom she and her partner, Mat Dryhurst, have trained to sing. The result is a visionary soundtrack for a better future. It stages a warehouse rave in the demilitarized zone between the human and non-human, simultaneously resisting and celebrating the ways machines augment human intelligence and creativity. This track from her latest album is a psychedelic sonic braid woven by Herndon, her AI baby Spawn, and a chorus of Sacred Harp singers.

“Sonik Drips” – Jeff Wootton

Continuing the theme of sonic exploration, restless innovator Jeff Wootton blends hazy vocals and shadowy guitar loops on this keyed-up track from his debut solo album. This song is like running through a city street at night, looking down at the patterns of light on the sidewalk ahead of you—shapes the lampposts cut through the occasional tree or crane. In your peripheral vision you see a shadow coming up behind you. You’re being followed? You run faster. But the shadowy figure keeps pace. You turn a corner and—of course—you realize it was your own shadow chasing you. For a brief moment, you ease into a jog, relieved. Then you sprint home, fixing wide-open eyes on a plot of empty sky.

“Limerence” – Yves Tumor

Mezzanine is filled with dramatic monologues. A rod of iron speaks. A frog-shaped ring at a department store speaks. A levee that witnessed a murder speaks. A lotus on a bay surrounded by glassy skyscrapers speaks. An ancient stone used as currency speaks. When I write these monologues, I feel like a sound artist, wandering around with a mic on a boom. I hold the mic up to objects and wait for them to speak to me. Yves Tumor takes a similar approach to composition on this piece from Mono No Aware, an ambient compilation album. “Mono no aware” is a Japanese phrase which translates to “the pathos of things,” and evokes a wistful recognition of impermanence and transience.

“Black Milk” – Massive Attack

In some ways this playlist is redundant, because Massive Attack’s genius 1998 album Mezzanine works well as a playlist for my Mezzanine. For example, these lines from Pitchfork’s Nate Patrin about Mezzanine the album could just as well describe Mezzanine the book: “On Mezzanine, it’s alienation all the way down. There’s no safety from harm here, nothing you’ve got to be thankful for, nobody to take the force of the blow: what Mezzanine provides instead is a succession of parties and relationships and panopticons where the walls won’t stop closing in.” Of all the panopticons on this album, I chose “Black Milk” because its title recalls the imagery in Paul Celan’s extraordinary (and extraordinarily famous) poem “Death Fugue.”

“Cybertronic Purgatory” – Janelle Monae

Android, rapper, popstar, conceptual artist, queer icon, producer, actor, activist… Janelle Monáe does it all. And how! This piece is from her Metropolis project, a conceptual series inspired by Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 science fiction film of the same title. This song pairs especially well with my poem “Stylized Facts”: “Every morning I / wake hoping to uncover / some slab of my body / hollowed out and encased / in steel. Everyone’s entitled / to her own magic bullet / theory of self.”

“A_X” – Dean Blunt

American capitalism is killing us in a very precise way. The refrain of this song—half-sung and half-spoken in Dean Blunt’s world-weary rasps—summarizes the way American capitalism knocks us down and gives us no way of standing up again: “I feel just like a roach on his back / and there’s no way for me to get up.” The roach image also reminds me of a poem I love called “American Cockroach” by Robyn Schiff (who is among the contemporary poets I most admire). That poem, which has so many quick twists and mercurial turns that it is difficult to quote, begins: “When the American cockroach lands / on its back trying to / flick the glorious / wasp off that moves like the hybrid of green tin / and blue glass, gem- / tragic cerulean / task, finite and fathomable as / a photoshopped sea, the / plan is already / in full swing.”

“thefeelingyougetwhenyouwatchthenews” – Wynnm

Wynnm is an otherworldly singer-songwriter raised in Pocatello, Idaho and currently living and recording in Amsterdam. Her silky voice is distinctive: It’s what an elaborately woven spider web would sound like if played like a violin. This single, just released in summer 2020 with an aptly 2020 title, trades in imagery that reminds me of my poem “Silent Auction.” Wynnm sings “what does it feel like to crawl out from the sea” and my poem continues “do I salt the sea + curl myself into it.”

Another World – Antony and the Johnsons

Mezzanine is transitional. It is an elegy for a way of being that we haven’t quite yet left behind. A world we have to mourn in order to summon a better one. What better way to end this playlist than with ANOHNI warbling us into another world: “I need another world / This one’s nearly gone.”

Zoë Hitzig is a poet and PhD candidate in economics at Harvard University. Her poetry has appeared in the New Yorker, the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, New Statesman, Boston Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. Her writing about poetry has appeared in BOMB and Prac Crit. Mezzanine is her first book.

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Shorties (The Legacy of Audre Lorde, The Week's Best New Albums, and more)

The Selected Works of Audre Lorde by Audre Lorde

The Paris Review shared Roxane Gay's introduction to The Selected Works of Audre Lorde

NPR Music and BrooklynVegan recommended the week's best new albums.

September's best eBook deals.
Today's best eBook deals.

eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

The Best American Noir of the Century
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck

eBook on sale for $2.99 today:

Sons by Pearl S. Buck

eBook on sale for $3.99 today:

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Paste recommended artist-curated playlists at Spotify.

The New York Times recommended the week's best books.

David Sedaris discussed his forthcoming book The Best of Me with Entertainment Weekly.

Stream a new song by Cuushe.

Electric Literature recommended books about open and polyamorous relationships.

Aquarium Drunkard interviewed musician Wendy Eisenberg.

CBC Books interviewed author Emma Donoghue.

Chang-rae Lee discussed his novel My Year Abroad with Entertainment Weekly.

Book Riot recommended horror short story collections.

Alta interviewed author Steve Erickson.

The New York Times recommended the week's best new books.

The Rumpus interviewed author Tara Isabel Zambrano.

Electric Literature interviewed author Odie Lindsey.

Nina Stibbe talked books and reading with the Guardian.

Book Riot recommended banned books to read during Banned Books Week.

If you appreciate the work that goes into Largehearted Boy, please consider making a donation.

September 17, 2020

Ian Stansel's Playlist for His Story Collection "Glossary for the End of Days"

Glossary for the End of Days by Ian Stansel

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Ian Stansel's collection Glossary for the End of Days features empathetically drawn characters searching for their identity.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A collection of stories in search of an America that resists road mapping. In nine stories and two short 'interludes,' Stansel presents protagonists from all over the country in search of their identities (from sexual orientation to musical category), attempting to come to terms with mortality (their own and others), trying to find meaning and order in a world of chance and chaos. . . . [Stansel] is a writer who thinks hard and deep about the country that forges his fiction."

In his own words, here is Ian Stansel's Book Notes music playlist for his story collection Glossary for the End of Days:

The Beatles “Real Love”

The first story in the collection resides in a world where John Lennon survived the shooting outside the Dakota, and where two teens in Seattle are waiting in line, in 1985, to buy the new Beatles album. Since events conspired against such a reality, what we have in the way of post-1970 Beatles songs are the two from the Anthology. It seems that “Free as a Bird” arguably became the more well-known of the two, but I’m fond of this one, as it feels smaller, more intimate, less crowded by '90s production. It isn’t really The Beatles, but if you squint just so…

REM “Everybody Hurts”

Yeah, I know—it’s the song from Automatic for the People that a lot of us probably don’t need to hear again. But the second story in the book takes place in a massive traffic jam on a highway, and near the beginning one of the characters mentions the video. You remember, all those people sitting frustrated and silent in their cars, their thoughts transcribed as subtitles—all the pain they can’t express to one another. So partly I feel obliged to list it. But, you know what, I recently watched the video and it’s actually pretty darn moving. And I like that the band just went for it, all in, especially in an era when irony and apathy were de rigueur, when many of the coolest of the cool ironic bands had singers who were too embarrassed to even sing. Right in the middle of this pop-cultural moment REM was like fuck it, here’s a song about how everyone feels pain and sadness and we should acknowledge each other’s troubled humanity, and we’re not going to mask it, in fact we’re just gonna call it “Everybody Hurts,” and we’re going to make a video where all the sad people come together in one big cathartic traffic jam and, like, cry together.

Craig Finn “Rescue Blues”

I was listening to Finn’s amazing solo album We All Want the Same Things a lot as I was editing the book. I don’t know that the album influenced the book (it was already written) as much as it helped me to crystallize my understanding of what the book is, or at least what I hope it is: a collection about frailty and loss and grief, but also about hope that there is something on the other side of all that. I become so enamored on the album that for a while I had the lyric “We all get by in different ways…” down as an epigraph. Ultimately I dropped the epigraph, but Finn was kind enough to read the book and blurb it, so I feel good about having that connection to the record.

Liz Phair “Go On Ahead”

This delicate little ditty of a dissolving relationship from Whitechocolatespaceegg evokes tenderness and vulnerability as well as any song I can think of. In my story “How To Be Free” a character fails prey to paranoid, conspiracy-theory thinking and goes to Tampa to try to find the answers to her tragic past. Left behind (and barely making any appearances in scene) is her husband, and I tend to think of this song as his, as he has no choice but to watch his love go off, away from him, to do what she needs to do. Phair sings, “You say you’re a ghost in our house and I realize / I do think I see through you,” and we feel that combination of love and resignation.

Sinead O’Connor “Three Babies”

My first collection of stories was already drafted and sold by the time my wife and I welcomed our first daughter into the world. Since then another baby girl joined our family. Unsurprisingly, a lot more parent-child relationships occupy the pages of this new book than the first. I’ve rarely heard another song that so honestly captures the complexity of parenthood. It is bursting at the seams with trembling parental love (tears still well in my eyes at the simple lyrics, “The face on you, the smell of you…”), but also acknowledges that one does not suddenly transform into a new person with the arrival of a baby. You’re still an actual human being. Or as O’Connor puts it, “no longer mad like a horse / I’m still wild but not lost / from the thing that I’ve chosen to be.” That “still wild” bit always felt like an act of self-generosity to me, the allowance of complex humanity to oneself even after becoming a parent. I hope the parents (and kids) in the book approach the level of compassionate complexity that O’Connor achieves in this song.

Bob Seger “We’ve Got Tonight”

Only a few minutes after I got an email from The Bennington Review accepting my story “We’ve Got Tonight” into the journal, I saw a post from a music blog announcing that after all these years, the music of Bob Seger would finally be available for streaming. I chose to take it as a sign that the universe approved of my nicking the title.

Ray Charles “Midnight” & Sturgill Simpson “The Promise”

Another case of title theft here. I was working on an idea for a story about a hipster indie band that has a breakout crossover Country hit, but it didn’t start coming together until I decided to steal/manipulate the titles of both Charles’s Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. I didn’t think much about it beyond that fact that I liked the name a lot (I ended up with “Modern Sounds in Country and Western”), but now I see that the idea of genre crossover runs through all three. On “Midnight” Charles takes a Chet Atkins tune and remakes it a jazzy, boozy, up-too-late heartbreak singalong. And on “The Promise” Simpson takes a loveably schmaltzy post-punk ballad and transforms it into an equally schmaltzy—and equally loveable—Country ballad.

Bruce Springsteen “Badlands”

Because it’s the song playing between the lines of the title story, and because it’s America 2020 and we all could use a reminder that it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.

Ian Stansel is the author of the novel The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo and the short story collection Everybody’s Irish, a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous venues such as Ploughshares, Poets & Writers, Salon, Joyland, Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing at the University of Louisville.

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Shorties (An Excerpt from Don DeLillo's Forthcoming Novella, Bill Callahan on His New Album, and more)

The Silence by Don DeLillo

Harper's features an excerpt from Don DeLillo's forthcoming novella The Silence.

Bill Callahan discussed his new album with the Austin Chronicle.

September's best eBook deals.
Today's best eBook deals.

eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux
Happiness by Aminatta Forma
The Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux
Lips Unsealed by Belinda Carlisle
Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion

eBook on sale for $3.99 today:

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaiter

NPR Music remembered legendary jazz critic Stanley Crouch.

The 2020 National Book Awards longlist for young people’s literature has been announced.

Congratulations to Largehearted Boy contributor Eric Gansworth.

Stream a new song by Mina Tindle. shared new fiction by Brian Evenson.

Stream a new song by Mary Lattimore.

Booker Prize judges discussed the challenges of curating the prize during a pandemic at the New York Times.

Stream the trailer for the documentary Harry Chapin: When In Doubt, Do Something.

Shondaland recommended books about sisterhood.

Pitchfork interviewed Alex Ross about his book Wagnerism.

The 2020 National Book Awards longlist for translated literature has been announced.

The Nation interviewed author Eula Biss.

Book Marks recommended fall and winter's best poetry collections.

This Is Horror interviewed author Daniel Kraus.

BuzzFeed shared an excerpt from Christopher Beha's novel The Index of Self-Destructive Acts.

Literary Hub previewed fall's best books.

Fiction Writers Review interviewed with Maryse Meijer.

Erica Barnett shared books that helped her in recovery with Literary Hub.

Curve shared an excerpt from Mariko Tamaki's graphic novel Luisa: Now and Then.

Barack Obama's next book A Promised Land will be published in November.

The Week UK listed the best books of the year so far.

Electric Literature interviewed author Ayad Akhtar.

The Creative Independent interviewed author Cory Doctorow.

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September 16, 2020

Daniel Hornsby's Playlist for His Novel "Via Negativa"

Via Negativa by Daniel Hornsby

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Daniel Hornsby's Via Negativa is a road novel as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. A brilliant debut.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Father Dan’s regrets and doubts about his impact as a priest come through amid acerbic humor, and the kinetic prose keeps the melancholic, slow burn kindled throughout. Hornsby has got the goods, and his stirring tale of self-reflection, revenge, and theological insight isn’t one to miss."

In his own words, here is Daniel Hornsby's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel Via Negativa:

Let’s get the title out of the way: via negativa—the “negative road” or the “way of denial”—refers to a loose theological tradition within Christianity that rejects language that tries to define what God is, preferring to dwell on what the divine isn’t. Christian practices of imageless prayer (like that laid out in the medieval text The Cloud of Unknowing) fall into this tradition, and you can get a good sense of it from the writings of Pseudo-Dionysus and John of the Cross. To put it simply (stupidly?), it leaves some room for mystery and acknowledges the limitations of human understanding when dealing with infinity. My novel follows a priest who is particularly fond of this tradition, occasionally wielding it to deny his own painful relationships and the responsibility that comes with them, especially with his willful ignorance of the sex abuse crisis. (A couple other quick plot points, so the songs make sense: on a cross-country road trip, he picks up a wounded coyote and tries to heal it. There’s also a gun…hopefully this hooks you.)

I play in a band called Beauty School here in Memphis, and writing/listening to music has had a huge impact on my process. Music, which kind of wobbles between being axiomatic and non-axiomatic, with sounds coded and recoded with meaning, is just perfect for this dance between knowing and not knowing. There’s a lot of music in the book, and while I was writing it, I was constantly retooling playlists. Some songs evoked an idea, others a specific scene I was trying to figure out, and others were like training montage music, Jock Jams but for a writer (truly the opposite of a jock). This playlist is a bit literal, and (like my book) not quite as hip as I’d hope it to be, but some of these songs are true gems I’m happy to share with you.

Coyote - Joni Mitchell

How could I not? I mean, a road song with a coyote for a road novel with a coyote. Sam Shepard, who most people think is the titular coyote, is a favorite writer of mine. The plays, of course, but he’s put together some real good prose, too. There’s a little homage to one his shorts in my novel, in a scene set in a Cracker Barrel. And Joni has to be the most talented singer and songwriter—most people can do neither thing as well as her, none can do both (except maybe Dolly Parton). I love the narrator’s delighted bafflement with the whole affair here.

Sometimes It Snows in April - Prince

I could’ve chosen a number of songs by Prince, as he’s one of my all-time favorite musicians. As my priest narrator says, there’s a mystical theology to Prince. It’s not a stretch; here’s “I Would Die 4 U”: I’m not a woman, I’m not a man, I’m something you’ll never understand.” That’s the kind of negative theology I can get into. I chose this one because it’s full of that same sadness from “Purple Rain” (a track that haunts my narrator), but more personal here, telling the story of Tracy, the speaker’s dead friend. I think it nails some of the texture of the relationship between my narrator and his best friend, a bond that is at the heart of the novel. One of the saddest songs in the world, up there with “A House Is Not a Home.” Insert 7 or 8 weeping emojis. [Don’t really need to insert emojis.]

Make It Real - Dear Nora

This is one of those Jock Jams for artists. It’s a mantra song, and you get the sense songwriter Katy Davidson is singing it to herself, about making music. It’s a shorty, and it goes like this:

Make it real, or fade it out.
I need some help here.

Make it good, or put it to rest,
And do it with confidence.

Artists need to hear this. Go for it, or kill it. It’s especially useful for writers, who can waffle on a novel for way too long, wondering if it’s worth the time.

Wichita Lineman - The Meters

A bar owner subjects our narrator to a karaoke version of this one. I love this Meters version—don’t get me wrong, Glen’s is beautiful, but this replaces the excessive orchestral shit with a more stripped down, tremolonely soul arrangement. The song is thick with longing, a speaker driving across Kansas pining his ass off. To need more than want—what a line.

Suspended in Gaffa - Kate Bush

Kate Bush, our interdimensional duchess. This one seems to be about a kind of mystical experience that catches the speaker off guard—she gets it once, and then keeps trying to “have it all” again, and the divine is like, “Not till I’m ready for you.” This had to be common among the saints and mystics. What do you do once the Holy Spirit ghosts you? I used to get complex migraines and they actually gave me some insight into the brain, the nature of reality, that kind of bullshit (I gave these philosophical headaches to Fr. Dan). They were terrible, but with these bizarre effects (face blindness, strange geometrical absences). Sometimes I miss them.

Spirit in the Dark - Aretha Franklin

The queen of soul, and souls. This song is truly sublime. I love her God that sneaks around in the dark, that conceals Herself.

Cloud of Unknowing - Swans

On the nose, I know. Swans took the title from a medieval prayer guide that figures heavily in my book. But is there anything that conjures the terror of seeing God like drones and noise?

Brompton Oratory - Nick Cave

Kind of a nasty conceit, but also romantic in a way only Cave can be. He’s had sex with his beloved, and when he takes communion he can smell her on his fingers. “I wish that I was made of stone/ so that I would not have to see/ beauty impossible to define, beauty impossible to believe/beauty impossible to endure…the smell of you still on my hands as I bring the cup up to my lips.” That’s a nice bit of negative theology, too. (If this is too gross, by all means cut it, I’m sorry.)

Calm - Owl’s Head Mountain

This one’s by a friend, who is also a philosopher. One of OHM’s moves is to combine electronic music and Appalachian folk stuff, but it sounds much cooler than that description. The songs, in my opinion, have a spiritual dimension, something the soul of a banjo player trapped in a robot. (OHM really should be asked to score a movie.) I’ve played a few shows with him myself, and he’d tell me about phenomenology and Maurice Merleau-Ponty while he was finishing his dissertation and I was revising the manuscript. Rubbing elbows with these phenomenological ideas was helpful, actually, in thinking about the unfolding of events from my narrator’s point of view.

Random Rules - Silver Jews

“I asked a painter why the road was colored black/he said Steve it’s because people leave and no highway can bring them back.” When I was young and dumb I thought David Berman’s first name was Steve. This whole album is full of these bright diamonds, and he’s one of those mystical dudes (like Leonard Cohen), a standup delivering the cosmic joke. Here’s a line from “We Are Real” that could go on my grave: “My ski vest has buttons like convenience store mirrors and they help me see/that everything in this room right now is a part of me.” The mystical insight! The cover of my book pays tribute to the cover of American Water, an absolute treasure since I discovered it when I was 20ish.

Daniel Hornsby was born in Muncie, Indiana. He holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan, and an MTS from Harvard Divinity School. His stories and essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Electric Literature, The Missouri Review, and Joyland. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee.

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