Twitter Facebook Tumblr Pinterest Instagram

August 14, 2018

Ling Ma's Playlist for Her Novel "Severance"

Severance

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Ling Ma's novel Severance is an astute combination of workplace novel and apocalyptic tale. Smart and filled with humanity, this debut is one of the year's best books.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A biting indictment of late-stage capitalism and a chilling vision of what comes after . . . [Ma] knows her craft, and it shows. [Her protagonist] is a wonderful mix of vulnerability, wry humor, and steely strength.... Ma also offers lovely meditations on memory and the immigrant experience. Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written."


In her own words, here is Ling Ma's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Severance:



Severance is an apocalyptic office novel. It features Candace Chen, who works as a production coordinator of Bible manufacture as the world comes to an end. The Bibles, considered a labor-intensive product, are produced by suppliers in China. Although she works out of New York, the novel and Candace’s story spans Hong Kong, New York, Fuzhou, Shenzhen, and Salt Lake City. Similarly, I listened to a pretty wide-ranging mix of tracks (albeit almost all American) while writing this novel. I needed a good beat to keep the rhythm of my sentences, and to give the narrative energy. I also tried to find songs that tapped into emotions that informed the scene at hand. This is an incomplete playlist.


“Dark Fantasy,” Kanye
Sometimes my taste isn’t all that different from that of 20-year-old frat boys. But I love the maximalist emotional approach on this album: anger tempered by flashes of humor, sadness cut by bravado. Writing from Candace’s point of view, I wanted to capture that multiplicity. The energy on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is so infectious, its puns so sharp, that it jumpstarted a lot of my writing at the time.

“I Get Nervous,” Lower Dens
That ticker-tape guitar captures the anxious frequency of living in New York. The Lower Dens are fronted by Jana Hunter. Her solo work, particularly “Vultures” reminds me of my time living in New York, back when Cake Shop (rip) was still open.

“Fake Empire,” The National
When you’re single and you live in New York, that moment before the dusk comes and it’s dinnertime but you haven’t invested in making anything. Through the windows of surrounding buildings, everyone around you is making dinner. They have out their bags of rhubarb and veggies from the farmer’s markets. It’s a specific type of loneliness.

“Money Trees,” Kendrick Lamar
“A dollar just might make that lane switch.” Anyone can get bought out. I really vibed with this track while writing.

“More Than This,” Roxy Music
I associate the entire Avalon album with Hong Kong, and the particular romanticism of cities in southeast Asia. The way those cities look, to me as a kid, was so exciting. I remember riding in a car through city streets for the first time, how it was such a strange sensation. This was back when everyone still rode bikes. And at my aunt’s house, my grandpa and uncle smoking cigarettes while conversing with each other, their elegant ankle socks in slippers against the concrete floor.

“Unchained Melody,” The Righteous Brothers
Sunday afternoon TV infomercials introduced me to the Righteous Brothers, but this is one of those songs that you know even before hearing it. It has the feel of a religious hymnal, but the lyrics about secular love, and the desperation of the delivery, sound almost profane. “God speed your love to me.” Wow!

“Satisfaction,” Cat Power
I listen to this Rolling Stones cover when I need a palate cleanser, to reset. I like the lyrics about being sold to: “When I’m watching my tv and a man comes on to tell me / how white my shirts can be / But he can’t be a man cause he doesn’t smoke / the same cigarettes as me.” The languid pace says that I can take as long as I need.

“Crying,” Roy Orbison
This is classic. I like the strain of Orbison’s voice as he hits the high notes. I always thought Candace was more torn up about her breakup with Jonathan than she let on. I feel this song is a possibility for how she felt, if she had let herself.

“Ocean Floor for Everything,” How to Dress Well
If there’s an ocean floor for everything, then nothing is ever really lost. I liked that burst of light at the end. Tom Krell’s work throws back to 90s R&B, which is the genre that most reminds me of immigrating from China to the US. This live version is even better. And his cover of R Kelly’s “I Wish” tears me up.

“Who Is It,” Michael Jackson
I could recognize the opening strains of this track anywhere, its agitated mix of funk and R&B. I might’ve been in first grade when I first heard it. One of my Chinese friends had a cassette tape, and I duplicated it.

“Consideration,” Rihanna
Rihanna shows up a lot in Severance. I often thought of this track as Candace’s power song. I listened to this a lot as things got worse and worse for her. I might’ve been listening to this when I wrote the end.


Ling Ma and Severance links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Chicago Tribune review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

All Things Considered interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists






August 14, 2018

Julian Gough's Playlist for His Novel "Connect"

Connect

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Julian Gough's novel Connect is propulsive and ambitious, one of the most thought-provoking books of the year.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Connect imagines a world of systems within systems in which the alteration of a few human cells could have far-reaching and astounding effects on the universe. Recommended for those who enjoy near-future speculation coupled with an engaging and effective exploration of a fractured family."


In his own words, here is Julian Gough's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Connect:



I’m a word guy, so I tend to fall in love with songs for their lyrics. And I also like songs with dramatic or surprising structures – the arrival of the crazy-loud strings, halfway through Julie Cruise’s "Falling in Love"; the wild, wonderful, unsettling way Mary Margaret O’Hara sings "Body’s In Trouble". But, to my sorrow, I can’t listen to anything with lyrics, or anything dramatic, when I’m writing. Yet I do like to listen to something, if only to mask the passing trains, car horns, and random shouts of Berlin street life. So the stuff I listen to when I’m actually writing is very different to the stuff I listen to for pleasure. Unobtrusive modern classical stuff by people like Arvo Pärt; Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 (though that gets waaaaay too emotionally overwhelming towards the end). Side two of Low by David Bowie (the first album I ever bought; still endlessly new, endlessly good). Sometimes the low-fat version: Philip Glass’s Low Symphony. Or, above all…


Brian Eno, Music for Airports. This is the album I listened to again and again and again and again and again while writing Connect. It’s the album I listen to while writing everything. Except, of course, I don’t actually listen to it any more… Which is the whole point of Music for Airports. It was the first ambient album; the first album deliberately designed to exist in the background, at any volume, not drawing attention to itself. And after all these years, I don’t even hear it, it’s just a sound that subliminally tells me I’m at work. Very occasionally I’ll realise it’s on, and pay attention for a few moments, and, startled, realise: it’s a really beautiful piece of music.



I love the origin story of this album, this genre: Brain Eno had been hit by a taxi, and was in bed with a broken leg, recovering. He asked a visiting friend, just as she was leaving, to put on an album of harpsichord music for him. But she’d accidentally put it on at the wrong volume, far too low, and Eno could hardly hear it. He couldn’t get out of bed to change the volume, and so he had to listen to it in this unfamiliar way: the harpsichord music mingling on equal terms with the sound of the rain on the window and the wind in the leaves of the trees outside. And it gave him an idea for a new kind of music…

And so I still tend to think of Eno’s ambient music as music for people trapped, with a broken leg, unable to move. Which feels right, when I’m writing a book; as the day goes on, my feet get bored of sitting flat to the floor; my legs rebel, sick of the dark space under the desk, and they lift, writhe, and knot themselves into pretzels under me as I sit there in the chair, the chair, the chair, the chair, the chair, THE CHAIR in which I will be trapped for the next couple of years, inventing a world.

Sitting in front of a bright, clean screen for years (as my life, ignored, got messier), writing a novel about a boy who would rather live in a bright, clean virtual world than the living moment of this messy real world, got weirdly meta. Writing about alienation can get a little alienating. Working on a computer, writing a story about computers and how they change us.

And so, in the last couple of years of writing Connect, I fell in love with a whole other world of music, that exists outside of technology, a tradition that’s far older than Western civilisation; the singing and music of the Aka people, the Baka, the Mbuti, and the other peoples that the Greeks, two thousand years ago, called “pygmies”. (An aside: These culturally gifted but politically powerless people, by the way, are currently being raped, enslaved and murdered with impunity, particularly in the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That is a whole other story, but do google them, and their appalling situation, and if you can lean on a politician to do something about it, please do so.)

There are “official” albums of such music and singing, albums like Music for the Buma Dance, recorded in Cameroon, with drums, with everybody singing call and response, and all the kids singing harmonies. (That’s a Baka album.) There are formal albums of hunting songs available, too, powerful and structured. They’re great; but I prefer the more casual singing you hear in random clips of everyday Aka and Baka life posted on Youtube. It’s the opposite of Brian Eno, and yet it also the place Brian Eno is trying to get to. It’s music that is totally holistic, music you can’t unpeel from its place; in the opening moments, you might hear a bird sing. Then a woman, looking up casually from weaving, or cooking, will sing notes that feel like a response to the bird; another woman will join in. A man in the distance will join them. And all the time, you can also hear the sounds of the birds and animals to which the people are responding. And the birds, the animals, respond in turn to the human singing. Some go quiet; some change their call. Everything alive is a singer, everyone joins in. Singing isn’t separated out from life.




It’s a deep privilege to be allowed listen in on these moments. They’re a reminder that music used to be something we all made, not just something we consumed. Those moments exist still in the delightful and decadent west, they’re just hard to find. But they’re worth seeking out. Hell, they’re worth joining in. If you know nothing about music, that’s OK. Learn by doing. Start simple. Buy a harmonica; all the notes are in the same key, so you can’t play a bad note. Go for a walk with the harmonica in your mouth, and you’ll make music as you move, just breathing. Change the shape of your mouth, it’ll change the tone of the notes. Don’t tense up and “try to play”: relax, and mess about with it. Don’t think about tunes, notes, rules. Just move the harmonica around your mouth as you move. Learn to breathe music. Yes, people will laugh at you. So what.

I lived for years in Galway, in the west of Ireland, where music is also a living tradition, where there are still some places where a musical session (or “sessiún,” pronounced sesh-oon, in Irish) can break out at any time, with musicians turning up and joining in and leaving as they feel moved to. Here’s a tip, if you’re ever in Ireland: Upstairs in the Crane Bar, on Sea Road, has the best sessiún in Galway, but be respectful: you’re not in the audience at a gig, you are inside a living, unfolding moment that is not for your pleasure, that is just about itself. You have become part of it by turning up. Be present. Pay attention. And yes, join in, if you can, and if they give you the nod. You are not a spectator. You’ll hear tunes a thousand years old, and songs that are recent, but that sounded timeless the day they were written. Songs like "Raglan Road," a poem by Patrick Kavanagh (a fine Irish poet, perpetually penniless, who spent much of his life sleeping on friends’ sofas), set to music by Luke Kelly the year the Beatles released Revolver.



For years, I lived in a flat just a few hundred yards from The Crane; an ever-changing, international bunch of broke, scruffy, cheerful, traditional musicians lived in the flat above me. When I was in bed, I could hear, directly above my head, a foot tapping on their floor, my ceiling, keeping time in a never ending sessiún. I would drift off to sleep at midnight with the foot tapping away, and, more distantly, the sound of the uilleann pipes, a tin whistle, a fiddle, a balalaika. I’d wake for a moment at 4am, and the tap tap tap, the whistle, the drone, dreamily continued.

Years before that, thought, as a kid growing up in Tipperary, in rural Ireland, I grew up in a very different musical tradition: post-punk. And so, at 15, I decided I was going to be a pop star in my twenties, and a novelist in my thirties. In the end, my weird, underground, literary band, Toasted Heretic, released four albums, and had a top ten hit in Ireland.



So my first decade of writing was spent on the lyrics to pop songs. It has, I think, fed into the way I write novels. I write words to be heard through the air: the voice is conversational. (You can tell Henry James never fronted a post-punk outfit.) And I love a sentence with a bit of snap and crackle. As a result, Connect is full of epigraphs (they form a kind of book-within-a-book); mostly male voices, talking our world of technology into being. Sometimes they argue with each other, form a kind of call-and-response, like the three epigraphs introducing Section Eight:

‘There must be an immortal, unchanging being, ultimately responsible for all wholeness and orderliness in the sensible world.” — Aristotle

‘Aristotle could have avoided the mistake of thinking that women have fewer teeth than men, by the simple device of asking Mrs. Aristotle to keep her mouth open while he counted.’ — Bertrand Russell

‘Everybody knows that Aristotelian two-value logic is fucked.’ — Philip K. Dick

And sometimes the epigraphs are lines from songs, that illustrate the themes of the book. And sometimes they are just nods to artists that I love. I threw in a couple of mentions of Silver Jews, because American Water is one of my favourite albums, and because not enough people have heard it. (Main man David Berman’s book of poetry, Actual Air, is pretty great, too: go get that.) Stephen Malkmus and half of Pavement back Berman, and play a simple, harsh, American music, as Berman sings: so cracked and broken. You can hear his despair, his stage fright, his credit card debt. You can fit so much life, so much pain, into a three minute song.



Songs, songs, songs… Yes, sometimes, living now, in Berlin, I just want to listen to a song. Not the Aka. Not traditional Irish music. Not ambient. Something produced. Arranged. Recorded in a studio. And so, when I’m not writing… when I escape the chair, I go back to old favourites, and new ones, obsessively. Here’s a handful…

Tracey Thorn Oh, The Divorces!. The family at the heart of Connect has fallen apart before the book begins. But a family, like a war, never really ends. The cascade of consequences goes on for years after it’s officially over. And so the book is, in some ways, custody battle as apocalypse: As Colt’s parents struggle for his soul, Las Vegas ends up burning; collateral damage.

My own first marriage fell apart over the course of writing the book, so that’s all in there, somewhere. And, sensitised to the subject, I fell hard for Tracey Thorn’s “Oh! The Divorces”, from her 2010 album, Love And Its Opposite. It’s very English, very understated, very beautiful. “The afternoon handovers by the swings…” Thorn just gets better and better. Her new album, Record, might be her best. (Go check it out.)




Gil Scott Heron, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Gil Scott Heron’s smart 1970 deconstruction of mass media, of how TV culture masks reality in America, feels so brutally up to date right now. (Not surprising it popped up in Black Panther.) The technology has changed (swap “internet” for “TV”, and “algorithmic social media manipulation” for “advertising”), but the dynamics are the same.


Turtles All The Way Down, by Sturgill Simpson. This is insanely great. Gorgeous, lyrically wild, in the great psychedelic country tradition of Jimmy Webb (who wrote "The Highwayman," and "Wichita Lineman.") When country singers do magic mushrooms, wonderful things happen. That sense that it’s all connected, that there’s a greater meaning behind the chaos of our lives, and that no God is required for this: that the astonishing glory of this dynamic, self-assembling universe with its 1,000,000,000,000 galaxies, each containing 1,000,000,000,000 stars, is entirely enough, if you can see it clean. Connect is an attempt, over 500 pages, to see the universe, and our place in it, clean. But Sturgill Simpson does it in three minutes.



Nick Cave, generally. With and without the Bad Seeds. There are a lot of Nick Cave songs in the book. (Colt’s father, Ryan, likes Nick Cave.) And Sasha, the young hacker who upends Colt’s world, wears a black T-shirt with “Bad Seed” on it. That T-shirt actually belongs to the woman Connect is dedicated to, Solana Joy, who was upending my world (in a good way) around the time I wrote those scenes. (Reader, I married her.)



Kate Bush, Cloudbusting. Her amazing take on the life of Wilhelm Reich, whose lifetime of research was burned by the FBI… A song written from the point of view of a boy, whose parent is a scientist, whose research gets them into a lot of trouble with the government… So yes, "Cloudbusting" totally ties in with the themes of the book. But mainly it’s a song that makes me cry.


Anyway, all the above, in their various ways, fed into Connect. I can’t simplify the book here, or sum it up: it took me seven years to write because I was trying to do everything I’m capable of doing, in layer after layer after layer. Trying to do all the things my favourite music does, all at once. Thrill you; amuse you; console you; blow your mind. And so, if you’ve made it this far, I’ll ask you one small favour, directly, even though I know we are supposed to play it cool: go into your local bookstore (or if you don’t have one nearby, go click on Look Inside on Amazon), read the first five pages of Connect, and see if I wrote it for you. I tried to. I hope I did.


Julian Gough and Connect links:

the author's website

Guardian review

Irish Times profile of the author
Unbound Worlds interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Shorties (An Excerpt from Thomas Page McBee's Memoir, Jeff Tweedy's Forthcoming Memoir, and more)

Jeff Tweedy

Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Thomas Page McBee's memoir Amateur.


Jeff Tweedy's memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording With Wilco, Etc. will be published November 13th.


eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
A House Divided by Pearl S. Buck


The Oxford American features a new essay by singer-songwriter Julien Baker.


Work in Progress shared a conversation between authors Sloane Crosley and Zadie Smith.


Stream a new Henry Nowhere song.


The Millions shared a conversation between authors Jordy Rosenberg and Andrea Lawlor.


NPR Music is streaming the new Death Cab for Cutie album Thank You for Today.


Photographers, curators, and others recommend the photo books that have inspired them at The Observers.


Nate Chinen talked about his book Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century with Morning Edition.


Ling Ma discussed her debut novel Severance with All Things Considered.


Stream a song from Mount Eerie's forthcoming live album.


Bookworm interviewed author Lydia Millet.


Stream a new Cloud Nothings song.


David Joy discussed his novel The Line That Held Us with Weekend Edition.


Stereogum profiled the band Young Jesus.


Salon interviewed author Amanda Stern about her memoir Little Panic.


Pure Bathing Culture covered the Blue Nile's "The Downtown Lights."


Stereogum listed obscure cover songs better than the originals.


Stream a new Saintseneca song.



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

previous Shorties posts (daily news and links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)

Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
weekly music release lists


August 13, 2018

Nicole Rivas's Playlist for Her Flash Fiction Collection "A Bright and Pleading Dagger"

A Bright and Pleading Dagger

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Nicole Rivas's chapbook A Bright and Pleading Dagger is a testament to the power of flash fiction.

Rigoberto Gonzalez wrote of the book:

"For their thought-provoking denouements and skillful use of compression, the stories of Nicole Rivas beg comparisons to the celebrated stories of the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington. For their arresting strangeness, readers of Latin American literature will recall the stories of Clarice Lispector. But for their edginess and fearless wit, a more contemporary sister is Carmen Maria Machado. Yet Rivas will thrive on her own terms. A Bright and Pleading Dagger is truly a compelling and unforgettable journey into the dark but poignant experiences of women."


In her own words, here is Nicole Rivas's Book Notes music playlist for her flash fiction collection A Bright and Pleading Dagger:



I’ve heard the sentiment that the writing we do, the art we make, reveals just as much about ourselves--and our obsessions--as it reveals the interiority of the characters and worlds we create. More and more, I find this to be true. And how fun--obsessions are fascinating, especially if they’re not our own. Though I rarely set out to write around a certain theme or express a known-obsession, many of the stories in A Bright and Pleading Dagger share an interest in women and girls who are going through a profound life difficulty, whether it’s the feeling of artistic failure, social inadequacy, or engulfment by the complexities of sexuality and love. Women on the cusp of birth or death, women always at a crossroads. The following playlist contains songs and artists I’ve obsessed over throughout the years--often while at my own crossroads--and that inform their paired stories in some way or another:

Mirah - “Light the Match” ("Death of an Ortolan")
In “Death of an Ortolan,” a first few dates aren’t as conventional as one young woman expects, and she turns out to surprise even herself. Mirah’s accordion-laden song delights in the intensity underlining the most fiery and subversive of pairings.

Franz Lizst - “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” (Piano Version) ("Gretel's Escape")
In this brief fairytale reimagining, Gretel runs away from Hansel, seeking to break away from her written fate and an unwanted relationship. Just as she runs away toward predictability, Lizst’s hypnotic and nostalogic masterpiece simultaneously feels like a rollercoaster escape and a dreadful sentencing.

Beat Happening - "That Girl" ("Crush")
Nothing says ‘middle-school romance’ to me quite like clammy hands, bad microwaveable food, strange body odor, and the stabbing joy of firsts. As Calvin Johnston bellows in “That Girl,” “There’s a new girl in this town. She’s been a lot of places, worn a lot of crowns. I wanna touch her hair and tell her she is fine.” Easier said than done.

The Melvins - "Going Blind" ("The Staring Contest")
We’ve all heard the saying that eyes are the windows to the soul, but only some of us believe it. In “The Staring Contest,” speed dating is reimagined as a romanticized staring contest between a young woman and a much older man. The Melvins provide a sludgy, sardonic soundtrack to this unconventional affair.

Django Reinhardt - "I've Found a New Baby" ("The Woman on the Bus")
As the protagonist of “The Woman on the Bus” ensues in a physical and emotional struggle with her beau in a New Orleans café, this iconic tune plays in the background. I appreciate that Django Reinhardt’s full band version is both gaudy and beautiful, flippant and sincere, perhaps much like the throws of a new and enigmatic love.

Bikini Kill - "Feels Blind" ("Thirst")
This is one of my favorite Bikini Kill songs--it’s quiet, loud, morose, and angry, all in the span of a few minutes. Kathleen Hannah sings, “As a woman as I was told to I was being hungry. Yeah, women are well-acquainted with thirst. Oh, I could eat just about anything. We might even eat your hate up like love.” By the end of “Thirst,” our narrator seems to be able to well-relate.

The Mountain Goats - "Up the Wolves" ("A Bright and Pleading Dagger")
John Darnielle’s lyrics are well-known for their poetic bite and personal relevance, and “Up the Wolves” is no different. In “A Bright and Pleading Dagger,” two teenage girls share a traumatic experience at the hands of two men who offer them a ride home, and Darnielle seems to get to the core of the narrator’s heart when he sings, “There’s bound to be a ghost at the back of your closet, no matter where you live. There’ll always be a few things, maybe several things, that you’re gonna find really difficult to forgive.”


Nicole Rivas and A Bright and Pleading Dagger links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

Roo Black review


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


August 10, 2018

Charlotte Seley's Playlist for Her Poetry Collection "The World Is My Rival"

The World Is My Rival

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Charlotte Seley's poetry collection The World Is My Rival is an impressive debut offering thought-provoking insight into heartbreak and existence.

CAConrad wrote of the collection:

"There is a concern for our living bodies I look for in poetry and Charlotte Seley gives us the resonating conversation of the world through skin on every brilliant page! She gets me feeling the terrestrial simultaneously calculated as cosmic in the everyday everywhere!


In her own words, here is Charlotte Seley's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection The World Is My Rival:



1. “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” José Gonzales

Sure, I could've gone with the original by Joy Division. It's just as haunting—but love is a lot like a cover song. It's the same lyrics and general melody over and over; every rendition has a different nuance but all in all, it's all pretty much the same. While writing these poems, I felt this way a little, too. I was aware of all the recurring images and words, the way love is revealed and examined under all these different lenses and places within it, like a broken mirror reflecting back short and stretched and stumpy and tall versions of ourselves. Roland Barthes in A Lover's Discourse strives to find the language to talk about love, talk to his beloved, find himself in the other, but all the while the language causes a snag in the flow, like an untied shoelace. We tiptoe, tread carefully, blunder forward. Many times we think it's love that's threaded us tight and, just when we think we're wound together by it, it rips us asunder. In the end, it's love that tears apart love. Love will always tear us apart. Again and again. Over and over.

2. “Absolutely Cuckoo,” The Magnetic Fields

When I began writing this manuscript, I knew I wanted it to lean heavily into A Lover's Discourse. It's my favorite book, and it provided me with so much inspiration as I navigated poetry and the loves that inspired the poems. However, after writing a cluster of poems deeply borrowing from Barthes, I started to lose steam. I started to wonder if the collection was a lost cause. I thought, Can I really pull together 100 pages of A Lover's Discourse poems? For a while, I switched to writing poems inspired by the Magnetic Fields, conveniently forgetting that this was actually a continuation of the work I was doing—most of the poems stemmed from their album 69 Love Songs, and while Stephin Merritt claims they are not love songs but rather about love songs, I argue that love is about love too. If that makes any sense. We're always talking about it; it's nearly impossible to do it, or know we're loving as it's happening. Anyway, this is the first Magnetic Fields poem I wrote, “Absolutely Cuckoo,” named after the song with the same title, a song where I always felt an instant connection:

I must be crazy vexed even besieged by blank avatars
online dating profiles a cache of cuckoo holding cards
without faces, numbers, or suits to tip I built this persona
a curated dilemma person to toe the tides but inside I hide
ten thousand tiny tridents ready to pierce upward
I'm an anchorless anemone so run away and let me go —
I'm vexed mad with the shivers bitten by dynamite
what creaks in the night seeps in the cracks stumbles out
fumbling for a switch or glass of water a coronation for corroboration,
I'm crowned queen of crazy liars like I'd chase you
with a serrated knife or crash you deep into a fortress
of unmovable beasts. To sleep with me is to raid
the medicine cabinet—a bad trip they sometimes say
a hazy fade Read between the lines parse the lies
o let me go xoxo sudden conjuncture surprises
us in pallid ways. What I mean to say is run
while you can. The boat is still docked. Rip down
the curtains and show us what you've got. Loneliness
isn't worth brittle backstory of what's beneath
this mattress of uncomfortable coils pressing down
and the motley junk shoved underneath sighing
the cradle giving up ghosts between the sheets

3. “Ocean of Tears,” Soko

"I thought I was a witch, was I responsible / For the death of all the people that I love the most / Try to forgive myself for all the wrong I've done / Oh, God has a plan to kill us all”

Love begins and then it ends. Even when it doesn't end fully, it goes through all these little endings everyday. Throughout most of my life, not just my adult life, I felt as though I was the source of all bad things, or like if something had to end, its ending was my fault. It's kind of childish right? Or rather, we're told to think it's childish to want anything to last forever, especially love. What resonates with me about Soko's song in relation to The World is My Rival is that it encompasses the multitudes the speaker is so interested in understanding: fear, love, regret, nihilism, tenderness, and on and on. I think poetry is so much like that. I think love is like that too. Love encompasses everything, even the bad parts, the ugly and unwieldy. Some of these poems were super hard to write on a personal level, but the hard stuff was also a part of the speaker's story that couldn't be denied a voice. There's something bigger than all of us, not necessarily on a God level, but in this freeing way that makes it easy to let go and just write it, say it, just be. I'm not a witch, I'm not responsible for the happenstance of the world, the I in these poems is always just being. Oh, just let her be.

4. “No Children,” The Mountain Goats

When love goes awry, anger is an old friend, and sometimes where anger is, there are its cohorts self-destruction, masochism, and the staggering vulnerable raw-bits that howl sadness into a cold open night. “I hope you die / I hope we both die” is as scorned as it gets, both malicious and masochistic, and yet, the worst hasn't even happened. We're met with a repetition of “I hope.” There's hope. That it will and that it won't. The truth is that nothing is set in stone. The poems I wrote, I hope, always see what is and what could be. Even in its darkest hour, there's hope. There has to be. Hope comes and comes again as an obsession. These poems are obsessed. The speaker is obsessed. With herself, with the men, with love. She hopes in the end and when it ends, there's always love.

5. “Sad Girls Club,” Katie Ellen

The speaker in the bulk of these poems looks at her own womanhood through its conventions and knows that, especially in love, she'll always be seen as a dud. She is not a wife, mother, nurturer, or even kind sometimes. She drinks too much, revels in casual sex, becomes wickedly jealous when betrayed, and invests her time on even bigger duds than herself: The drug addicts and the dropouts; the band dudes and the abandoners. She knows she doesn't deserve this, but she also knows she can't be the woman society wants her to be. Sometimes she is a wildfire, sometimes she's a doe in headlights. Sometimes she understands the chorus in this song that says, “Sad girls don't make good wives.” No, she understands it all the time.

6. “Tits Up,” The Uncluded

“One day you're in love / One day your pills suck / One day your shit's fucked / nip tuck / tits up”

When did I start writing poetry seriously? I would say probably when I was in the third year of my undergrad program at Eugene Lang College of the New School in NYC. I liked Kimya Dawson a lot at the time and actually listened to “Loose Lips” approximately 56 times in a row drunk while writing my Feminist Film Theory final. I loved Aesop Rock too. I never knew these two had this project called the Uncluded together until I went on a road trip with my boyfriend and his friend Mitch from New York to Rhode Island then from Rhode Island to Kansas in 2017. The juxtaposition of Kimya's hopscotchy cute and Aesop's lyrical jabs, the poppy drum machine and the idea of being so down on your luck you're “tits up,” but also thinking of “tits up” as a way of “bucking up” is everything I hope for a reader to find in my book. Down has the potential to be up, I mean, sometimes you can turn around upside down.

7. “Baltimore,” Cleveland Bound Death Sentence

An ex-boyfriend of mine got me really into Aaron Cometbus. He bought me a copy of “Lanky” and it was over, I was obsessed. The Magnetic Fields have a song called “Punk Love” where they just say “Punk Love” repeatedly for 58 seconds, which I always thought was really funny, especially in comparison to the economy of images in Aaron Cometbus's Punk Rock Love essay from one of his earlier Cometbus issues. I see a lot of similarities between that essay and this song, coincidentally a song he likely wrote for Cleveland Bound Death Sentence. In any case, I wanted to contribute to the conversation, as a homage to him, to the Magnetic Fields, and of course, to punk love, as young and reckless as it is:


hand me down love stitched as though
ripped on purpose i wanted those fables for us
tequila on the porch & astroturf
in the bedroom maybe I take it too earnestly
I mean all love is the same love is a rusted
truck where a first kiss once transpired
It's not a best practice to only say something's
special when it's gone like an impossible treasure
out with the trash I mean it we were so
young unwieldy & willing to lose love
is to give into the idea that it's already gone

8. “Parades Go By,” The Magnetic Fields

Stephin Merritt says he wrote this song “under the influence of H.P. Lovecraft” and I literally wrote my “Parades Go By” poem less than a block away from the Lovecraft birthplace plaque in Providence, RI's Wayland Square. I had a love-hate relationship with Providence, but always found it interesting that the spirit of Lovecraft seemed steeped in the city's fabric. Merritt sings, “The days go by / a million little nights and days go by / and I don't mind / Parades go by / So many beautiful parades go by,” and in the littlest state in the US, I felt this way sometimes too. It helps to know that the narrator of this song is supposedly dead. I think the speaker in my poem is a little too alive:

H.P. Lovecraft was my neighbor once I know because
they erected a plaque commemorating his birth place
I pass it every day waiting for the parade of buses.
while I live here I feel like a vampire hiding
in the shadows maybe I'm dead & don't even know
I love the burning wood & brick oven smell
of the brasserie across from Lovecraft's plaque
& garlic so I'm a horrible vampire or maybe one
that just won't die stuck between 2 hills in the downtown
valley of a wet river Native American names abundant
with vowels harvest to harbor ome of the cops still
ride horses & the horses shit in the streets parades
go by celebrating smallness as big as I feel I am also small,
a spectator waiting to commence. It's too loud—
trumpets & superfluous car horns but I love animals
out of context & sequins balloons & fried foods gondolas
metal scaled koi. The details pass the feeling
passes my therapist says this is not a forever feeling
The most merciful thing in the world is the inability
of the human mind to correlate all its contents I am
challenging this mercy every day I am always forgetting
to be kind undoing silence is the end of protection:
would you rather be the fanfare or its sharp & inevitable
end? In death we are silent & also protected
the soil is neutral I am where I am
what I am is dependent upon it

9. “Change,” (Sandy) Alex G

“Remember when you took too much / I didn't mind being your crutch / We loved you then / It's not the same / I don't like how things change”

Change is happening all the time in these poems, and the speaker has such difficulty with it. And yet, change is the only movement of energy, the only way she can illuminate and elucidate. If I didn't move out of where I grew up, I'd probably still be with the same dude who abused drugs and wasn't very good to me. Or I'd be haunting the same old bars with characters that roll through and find somewhere else to settle in and settle down. I am grateful for change but I don't have to like it. It's hard to mitigate the big waves of change, how you can love someone so deeply in one moment, and in the next, they are almost like a stranger. They get older and change, and their new girlfriends stay the same age.

10. “Silver Spring,” Fleetwood Mac

“Time cast a spell on you but you won't forget me / I know I could have loved you but you would not let me / I'll follow you down 'til the sound of my voice still haunts you / you'll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you.”

Sometimes poems seem synonymous with spells, sometimes hexes, sometimes incantations, sometimes ethereal monologue. How many times in your life have you thought “I wish I could Eternal Sunshine him” but also “I wish he loved me so much it hurt down to his marrow”? I've thought both of these things, and felt like a witch, but I know that when love has a stronghold on you, there's something witchy-magic about it. Someone once challenged me and said, “Yeah, but that's just lust,” and I thought, “No, not at all.” When you deeply connect with someone and there's a dynamic there, not even time can shake that bond. Even when time tries. Many of my poems seem haunted by voices, voices that time can't let go. Sometimes the speaker is haunted. But mostly she's confronted by ghosts that just want to stay inside her story. Sometimes she still loves them. Sometimes she doesn't. Near the end of the collection, I like to think the speaker exorcises all her demons. The voices have quieted and found their hosts.

11. “Reno Dakota,” The Magnetic Fields

Originally titled “Pantone 292” after a line in this song, my poem “Majestic Blues” was published in the online lit journal Vinyl. I ended up changing the title because I thought it played too close to the Magnetic Fields song, and I edited out a lot of the overt references. The one funny fact about this poem is that I actually utilized paint sample names as an entry into the poem, along with overlaying lyrics. In that way, “Pantone 292” still probably would've worked as a title. Oh well.

Sometimes, when I miss you,
colors come spooling out of me
organically. There's no cure
for the majestic blues. O you know
I'm a recluse, some deep longing
ajar like a petulant storm window
haphazardly hung. I am not
weatherproof nor winter ready. If you
never said it, I'd never wear gloves.
Let my hands get so merlot & cracked
in the malevolent January. This feeling
has a majesty, scattered headquarters
manufactured here & solid
as a coveted gem you'd keep
in a velvet drawstring sack. A shot
of Crown for your tribulations. O beautiful
fracture, interrupted amber waves
of grain. How did you fall into my lap?
I was lightly searching. Year of the
Radiant Orchid. Soon the blues
of lesser hues—Halogen. Zephyr.
Illusion. Opal. Wan. I miss
you in a twilight blue. A ball of yarn
unraveling across coasts, loop
and pull. Loose thread in the carpet
systematically undoing
the floor. My heart's carpeted shag,
soft to pass out upon after too many
blue sleeping pills, pulsing
a message: Don't play fast & loose
with me. Don't sleep here too long.
Expand your palette & ride
out the whispering blue wind.

12. “Demirep,” Bikini Kill

“I am hiding / the truth I show to you is just a lie / you take what you want / you get what you take / but I got something, man / that your fucking money cannot buy”

A message from the woman who dreamed up the speaker of the poems in The World is My Rival: This woman transmitting poems to you is all the things in “Demirep.” She's facetiously sorry she's getting chubby, that she's not some lame sorority queen taking you home to meet her daddy. She's speaking truth right through your lies. Sometimes you might not like it. Sometimes it's self-conscious. Sometimes it's a little too loud, or earnest in a very particular way. Sometimes she doesn't care. Sometimes she knows you don't know what it's like to be alive.

13. “I Want To Dance (With Somebody),” Whitney Houston

This song probably seems like an outlier in the playlist, but it was actually one of the inspirations of the most gut-wrenching (in my opinion) poems in the collection, “Elegy”:

The reporters said there was blood
on her legs. We said, oh no, she wouldn’t

damage those—we remembered her poise,
accentuated muscle, how they called her

The Voice, but we called her The Legs,
remembered it better than the bad interviews,

where she said Crack is whack, when we said
So sad, when we blamed it on Bobby.

I focused on the clock, sobbing
out the time, stricken hours, the TV’s

crackle and all its horrible humidity.
My breakdown was not broadcast

but I, too, was on the floor with nobody
who loved me. All I had were capsule shells

like cast-off claws from a baby monster.
A culmination of things once killed me.

When we were living, I called you Monster.
When we were dead, I called you Bobby.

Say you wanna dance I said, but we
were only shells. Nothing of substance.

We heard the news say accident, felt sad
but we liked that word, used it for our own.

I needed a bath to be just a bath, just
to loosen crimped and lacquered hair,

all my days belabored into restless nights.
I needed to loosen the grip of your claws

fallen from orange bottles, printed prescription
names of people who we had no relation.

I did not know then the difference in sound
between scattered pills and a tiny splash

or an empty room from the downtown lights—
we could not tell the people from monsters

my Baby from my Bobby, powder from poise.

The fever broke—or maybe it faded,
and the party carried on without us.

We knew then the legs weren’t sad,
it was all that they had to carry.

14. “Nobody Sees Me Like You Do,” Yoko Ono & The Apples in Stereo

Love really put Yoko Ono through the shit. I told my boyfriend I find Yoko way more interesting than John Lennon and we debated a bit, but I think what I meant is that she is a phenomenal artist and thinker, something a lot of people don't give her enough credit for. I'm sure the way I phrased it to my man was flippant and bratty, I just feel so hard for a woman who wants to create, illuminate, and love. I feel for the woman in the song who laments, “Why does it have to be like this / You & I / I wanted us to be happy.” I chose this song because it is entangled with so much wistfulness and ugliness but also hope. At the end of the day, the person closest to you can see you as the utmost perfection and also the devilish underbelly of your worst day. But isn't that the closest to the purest love that we can ever get? Isn't that so wonderfully and simultaneously tragic and beautiful?

An earlier version of “Majestic Blues” was first published in Vinyl.

“Elegy” was first published in H_NGM_N.


Charlotte Seley and The World Is My Rival links:

the author's website
the publisher's page for the book


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


This Week's Interesting Music Releases - August 10, 2018

David Bowie

This week's archival releases include the following live recordings: David Bowie's Isolar II Tour 1978, Neil Young's Live in Concert: The Early Years, and Tom Petty's On the Box: The Best of the Television Appearances 1977-1994.

Vinyl reissues of The Fall's 45 84 89 A Sides, Gillian Welch's Soul Journey, and Neko Case's Furnace Room Lullaby are also in stores today, as is a remastered edition of Tom Waits's Blue Valentine.


This week's interesting music releases:


Allman Brothers: Fillmore East, February 1970
Bee Gees: Soundstage 1975
Ben Folds: Brick: The Songs Of Ben Folds 1995-2012 (13-CD box set)
Ben Khan: Ben Khan
Clairo: diary 001 [vinyl]
Cordovas: That Santa Fe Channel
David Bowie: Isolar II Tour 1978
Dawn Landes: Meet Me at the River
Deaf Havana: Rituals
Enuff Z'nuff: Diamond Boy
The Fall: 45 84 89 A Sides (reissue) [vinyl]
Foxing: Nearer My God [vinyl]
George Jones: Ten Classic LPs
Giant Sand: Returns to Valley of Rain
Gillian Welch: Soul Journey (reissue) [vinyl]
Il Divo: Timeless
Jake Shears: Jake Shears
Jason Mraz: Know.
Kodaline: Politics of Living
Liz Cooper: Window Flowers
The Magpie Salute: High Water I
The Mouldy Peaches: The Mouldy Peaches (reissue) [vinyl]
Neko Case: Furnace Room Lullaby (reissue) [vinyl]
Nicki Minaj: Queen
Neil Young: Live in Concert: The Early Years
Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis: Wild! Wild! Wild!
Sera Cahoone: Sera Cahoone (reissue) [vinyl]
Shovels and Rope: Predecessors [vinyl]
Shooter Jennings: Shooter
Sunn 0))): White2 (reissue) [vinyl]
Tom Petty: On the Box: The Best of the Television Appearances 1977-1994
Tom Waits: Blue Valentine (remastered) [vinyl]
Tomberlin: At Weddings
Various Artists: Boppin' By The Bayou - Flip, Flop & Fly
Various Artists: Freaky Friday Original TV Movie Soundtrack
Various Artists: The Trojan Records (13-disc box set)
The War And Treaty: Healing Tide
Warren Zevon: The Wind (reissue) [vinyl]


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

weekly music release lists

Book Notes (authors create music playlists for their book)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily book and music news and links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)


August 9, 2018

Joshua Mattson's Playlist for His Novel "A Short Film About Disappointment"

A Short Film About Disappointment

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Innovatively told through 80 film reviews, Joshua Mattson's novel A Short Film About Disappointment is a witty and thought-provoking debut.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Mattson’s intelligence, in the form of knife-sharp observations and acrobatic language, takes the novel’s center stage."


In his own words, here is Joshua Mattson's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel A Short Film About Disappointment:



Don’t Bother, in A Short Film About Disappointment, is a remake of a classic science-fiction comedy, which devolves into nationalist spectacle during the second iteration. Earth receives a signal from a distant star which indicates sentience. The narrator, a film critic, likes the first version.

In the original, the whole film passes in a conference room, where bureaucrats maneuver to wrangle the honor of making first contact with the aliens. After eighty minutes of slapstick, they agree to not contact the aliens, unable to decide which institution should have the honor.

The reboot, loathed by the narrator, is an invasion film, an advertisement for the military.

Logan Broder, the director of the reboot, thought himself to be a visionary filmmaker. He commissioned John Satmost, a janitor on the studio lot, to do the soundtrack to his film, after he heard him practicing scales in a boiler room. Three days later, Logan Broder received his soundtrack, which was one piece of sound, twenty-five and one-half minutes long. Broder used it to score the final act, the slaughter of the enemy. How did Satmost feel about the abuse of his music? Satmost had never seen so much money in his life, and his knees hurt from three decades of polishing banisters. What did it matter if his depiction of numinous experience was paired with a rather tasteless dogfight between seven hundred F-16 fighter planes and a swarm of scintillating orbs that fire indigo lasers? Even a janitor could understand that images have become bankrupt, that they have no meaning at all, that they can be invested with the opposite of the meaning which they allegedly convey.


Joshua Mattson and A Short Film About Disappointment links:

Publishers Weekly review

Literary Hub essay by the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Heather Abel's Playlist for Her Novel "The Optimistic Decade"

The Optimistic Decade

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Heather Abel's coming-of-age novel The Optimistic Decade is an impressive debut.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"A politically and psychologically acute debut… A strong sense of time and place anchors the story, and Abel’s well-crafted plot brings all the strands of the story together into a suspenseful yet believable conclusion. Without landing heavily on any political side, and without abandoning hope, Abel’s novel lightly but firmly raises questions about how class and cultural conflicts play out in the rural West."


In her own words, here is Heather Abel's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Optimistic Decade:



The first music I knew was protest music, learned at rallies or vigils and then listened to on my parents’ record player during the long hours I spent alone. I’d sit with my face pressed against the black mesh of the speaker, imagining myself as part of a crowd of singers, joining in the delicious call and response. I’d sing along until my sisters came home and told me to stop. I’m a terrible singer. Chorus teachers have asked me to mouth the words at concerts. Friends have laughed. My husband has said, in wonderment, “But how are you always out-of-tune? You’d think one time you’d land on the right note.” Now, my kids shush me. And yet I’ve never been happier than when singing an angry song in a large group; it’s the high I’ve sought my whole life, since those early protests, my first campfires. And while that experience is basically the opposite of the quiet aloneness of writing a novel, on very good days, I feel the crowd singing with me.

The Optimistic Decade takes place in 1990 and the early 80s, but it grapples with the question many of us are struggling with in the terrifying present: How to fight for change when so many attempts fail? The main characters in The Optimistic Decade aren’t all seeking the same sort of change -- Rebecca and her father, Ira, are furious at capitalism and the suffering it creates; the bankrupt ranchers Don and Donnie believe the federal government and coastal elites are destroying the West and its working people; Caleb is a utopian camp director and David his devoted camper -- but they’re all idealists. Their idealism is tested in the book, brought to the edge of the ravine of disillusionment – or smashed against the rocks below. And because they are all idealists, there are lots of songs in the book. What is an idealist without a song? Music is the aural manifestation of our togetherness, our euphoric readiness. Music creates groups, defines insiders and outsiders. Here are my character’s sing-alongs:


“We Shall Overcome,” as sung by Pete Seeger

Last night, a babysitter took my kids and I walked into town with a friend and when we happened upon a small protest, we joined it. It was intended, as far as I could tell, simply as a wail against the despair of this past week, our totalitarian-loving president lying while kids remain in cages. What can be said, really, of this horror? The first speaker, a white lawyer, tried to buoy our spirits by reminding us how much progress the Mueller investigation has made. The second speaker, an African American doctor, began by singing We Shall Overcome. My god she could sing. It was impossible not to join in, although I have lots of conflicted feelings about "We Shall Overcome," feelings I gave to Rebecca, who, like me, grew up singing "We Shall Overcome" while other kids were playing soccer and watching TV, who believed in the claims of each verse – We are not afraid, We’ll walk hand-in-hand, Black and white together -- and who comes to realize that all these promises might indeed be false. We shall overcome someday? Really? When exactly is someday?

The small protest I joined last night in Northampton, MA, was again not that elusive someday. There were maybe fifty of us, mostly white people, signing a song from the civil rights movement, holding with earnest signs. Before I wrote The Optimistic Decade, I would have walked home full of bile. Why bother? Nothing concrete would come of that rally, no substantive economic or political change. But I feel differently now. The fifty of us on the lawn were nourished by the protest, by standing together, upset and angry, by singing. We returned home with more strength to make phone calls, to read the news, to stand against it. Protest isn’t, as I used to believe, a clear cause and effect game. It’s food, it’s church, it’s how we stay hopeful when there’s darkness all around, it’s as powerful as a song.

“There is Power in a Union” as sung by Utah Philips
“The Internationale” as sung by Billy Bragg

Like me, the songs Rebecca listened to as a kid were union hymns, which means they began as Christian hymns with words changed to fit the labor battles of the early 20th century. Since I was raised by atheists, these were our only hymns, and I loved the clear and grand melodies, the twang of Pete’s banjo in the Almanac Singers, the call and response of voices in unison, and most of all, the grand vision of revolution: There is power, there is power in a band of working folks when we stand, hand in hand, That’s a power, that’s a power that must rule in every land. One industrial union grand.

This version is sung by Utah Philips, the great labor organizer, anarchist, and train-jumper. I used to join his sing-alongs in church basements. He was an incredible story-teller, and if you want to learn about – or relive -- the heyday of the labor movement, you could listen to his stories, recorded in his albums. Be sure to listen to "Hallelujah I’m a bum" -- and his story of asking the Feds to plow his garden.

By the time I was an adult, the labor movement had lost its power in the US. Like Rebecca, I was sort of shocked to realize that societal change would never come from the workers of the world rising up. These union songs can seem quaint, antiquated. Still, the Internationale, as sung by Billy Bragg in this version has a line I think about all the time: Freedom is merely privilege extended unless enjoyed by one and all. I’ll sing along to that any day.

“Don’t Fence Me In” by Willie Nelson

When I moved to a small coal mining town in western Colorado in 1995 to write for the environmental newspaper, High Country News, the United Mine Workers signs along the highway were bullet-ridden and anachronistic. The unions held no power. Instead, the corporate-funded Wise Use movement courted miners and ranchers, rallying them in a hatred of environmentalists that Donnie shares. The town, which became Escadom in the book, was divided between enviros and miners, but when Willie Nelson came to play in the rodeo grounds in Ridgeway two hours away, everyone came -- the hippies and the ranchers. Everyone dressed like a cowboy. Who is a real cowboy anyway? Who belongs in the west? Does Donnie belong there, because his great-grandfather, a white pioneer, was given a free parcel of land by the government? Does Caleb belong there because he bought Donnie’s land and wears Donnie’s cowboy hat? Well, no. Neither of them do -- or we all belong there. A cowboy is a cover song. Its Willie Nelson singing a song made popular by Roy Rogers, written by Cole Porter, its words stolen from a highway worker from Helena.

What I love about "Don’t Fence Me In" as an anthem for the west, a place so intent on authenticity and myth, is that it’s completely inauthentic, rugged individualism as played by Hollywood. And yet I can’t listen to it without wanting to drive as fast as I can until I’ve crossed the 100th Meridian and I’m back in the wide open country that I love, away from all this greenery and civilization. Don’t fence me in.

“Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver

How do you get a group of teenagers to sing a campfire song without becoming ironic or sarcastic? "Rocky Mountain High," like all of John Denver oeuvre, lacks "Don’t Fence Me In’s" jaunty insouciance. It’s too reverent about the West. It display’s an outsider’s earnestness. But if you sing it enough times, it becomes something else. Like everything else at camp, repetition and ritual turns the mundane into the sublime. Here’s David, explaining how this works:

“At the first campfire, that first summer at Llamalo, Caleb and Mikala had taught them hippie songs: “Teach Your Children,” “For What It’s Worth,” “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Songs with repetitive choruses so everyone could join in. The last song that night was “Rocky Mountain High.” David had been sitting between Suze and Caleb. There’d only been thirteen kids that first summer. “This is ironic, right?” Suze had asked Caleb. And yes, it had started out with irony. They’d sung it the way Ira and Joe sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” when the police had come to arrest them. Too loudly, tongue in cheek. I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky. But in just a few nights, it was sung differently. With the sweet sincerity of believers. They sang it every night at every campfire that summer, and still they sang it, always the last song of the evening, standing and holding hands in an amoebic ring. It was how they said goodbye to the day.”

“It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by R.E.M.

At last we’ve reached a song that understands irony. Here was the anthem of my Gen X college days. We started jumping up and down as soon as we heard the galvanizing drum roll intro. But there are far too many words, and with no lyrics available in the liner notes, we all memorized it slightly wrong. Still, we’d shout out LEONARD BERNSTEIN, as if it meant something. What did it mean? It meant : Everything’s fucked; let’s sing. At the end of July, Caleb’s counselors leave Llamalo and wander into Escadom the rundown mining town that’s as odd to them as if they’d landed in a foreign country. How do they celebrate the euphoria of being a group? Through this song:

“Scott reached the bus first. He coaxed the engine, shoved a tape in the deck, and twisted the volume. Then he jumped out. That’s great, it starts with an earthquake. Scott was first to start dancing, and the way Scott danced was like one of those wooden animals where you depress a button and the strings fall limp. Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn. World serves its own needs. Saskia was next, and the way Saskia danced was more like pogoing, and the way Kai danced was hips and tits, like she was listening to an entirely different song, and the way Jeremy danced was to hop from foot to foot and huff out the words. Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped. Look at that low plane. Lights went on in the houses across from the park. The way Mikala danced was to grab hands with Scott and to swing their arms from side to side. You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light. Feeling pretty psyched. The way they all danced was to shout as one, It’s the end of the world as we know it.

One thing I love about this song is that, as a counterpoint to all the words, one voice (is it Stipe’s?) plaintively sings, “Can I have some time alone?” I like to think of this as the voice of the writer. If the high I’m always seeking is a sing-along, I know that to actually write a book, I have to leave everyone.

“Father and Son” by Yusuf/Cat Stevens

When I was in high school, I was part of a group that brought 100 high school students to the Nevada Nuclear Test Site outside of Las Vegas to protest the detonation of nukes on Western Shoshone land. We trained the other students in nonviolent civil disobedience, rented buses, and camped out among the activists who did this regularly. The night before we planned to get arrested, we couldn’t sleep. The moon was bright, and a group of us walked through the desert singing every Yusuf/Cat Stevens song. We knew all the words, or at least Blase did and the rest of us followed him. The best was "Father and Son," because we were young and angry.

David and his friends, hiking through the high desert outside Llamalo, sing this song for the same reason – the sheer joy of collectively shouting out their fury at being told that their dreams may not last (that their Optimistic Decade might end). From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen! But I also chose this song because my book is crowded with men -- with fathers, like Ira and Don and Caleb’s dead dad Robbie, and with sons like Caleb and David. I wrote about men because I was interested in masculinity in the west and how it gets learned and performed. And I also wrote about it because when I was young, like Rebecca, the leader of every group I was a part of – every activist org., every camp – was a man. She’s surrounded by men. They have all the power and in this book she’s learning how they abuse this power, she’s learning not to revere them, to find her own voice.

“Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill
“Waiting” by Sleater-Kinney

But before she finds her voice, Rebecca has to listen to men, men, men, including her new boyfriend Luke: “‘We are each only the sum of our signifiers,’ Luke liked to say. Luke was a senior she’d met in a seminar on postmodernism. After he’d eviscerated a paper she’d written—“Who Is the Dreaming Animal Really?: Representations of the Other in Kingsolver”—he’d asked her out to coffee, where he explained that all politics was aesthetics. Protest was an aesthetic choice. Capitalism had subsumed rebellion, making it just one more thing to purchase. Now, they were dating, which meant that every week she’d sit on Luke’s floor, his Panasonic cassette player between them, and he would lecture her. It was important to him that she learn which was the best Sonic Youth album, exactly when Nirvana was “dialing it in.” At some point in the evening, he would put on Galaxie 500 and they’d have quick sex on the floor, a jabbing in the general direction of her clitoris, a frantic humping.”

This comes toward the end of the book, but I love to think about the world Rebecca might enter after the last chapter. I can see her, headphones on, walking down the street in Berkeley with a new kind of bravery, because she’s listening to Bikini Kill’s "Rebel Girl." I can see her, in 1996, at her first Sleater Kinney show, maybe at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, shouting along to every word of "Waiting." It’s waiting for you, Rebecca. A new kind of protest music. A new euphoric belonging. A heroic fuck you to the patriarchy. It’s all there for you to find it.


Heather Abel and The Optimistic Decade links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
School Library Journal review

Book Talk interview with the author
Powell's interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


August 8, 2018

Laura van den Berg's Playlist for Her Novel "The Third Hotel"

The Third Hotel

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Laura van den Berg's The Third Hotel is a haunting and innovative novel, easily one of my favorite books of the year.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Laced through with sharp insights―not just on marriage and grief, but also on the pull of travel and the dynamics of horror movies―the layers of [The Third Hotel] fit together so seamlessly they're almost Escher-esque. The line between the real and the imagined is forever blurry, and the result of all that ambiguity is both moving and unsettling. Gorgeously haunting and wholly original; a novel that rewards patience."


In her own words, here is Laura van den Berg's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Third Hotel:



For every book, there is always a moment—or, more accurately, moments—when I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and think, with what feels like certainty, I will never finish this project. Experience has taught me that this kind of flattening doubt is typically a prelude to the work undergoing a major and necessary transformation, that I am about to jump off a new cliff narratively speaking and I am preemptively terrified, but nevertheless those sleepless nights can be a difficult psychic space to move through.

I love music and yet my approach to listening to music when I write is pretty scattershot. Sometimes I don’t listen to any music at all. Sometimes playlists. Sometimes one song on a loop, for a kind of sensory hypnosis. I often can’t remember what exactly I listened to when I was working on a book, let alone the timeline, because when I am really highly focused I stop hearing any sound at all.

However! I do tend to remember, with a little more sharpness, the songs that pulled me through the I will never finish this project 2AM night sweats phase, six of which I’ve listed below. Why these six, you ask? In their very different ways, each of them left me feeling energized and clear-headed and motivated, nudged me a little farther down the path forward (also, I firmly believe that listening to David Bowie will help with most problems).

1. Heroes, David Bowie

2. Doves, Future Islands

3. Room on Fire, The Strokes

4. Rolled Together, The Antlers

5. Fleur de Lys, Phoenix

6. I’ll Still Destroy You, The National


Laura van den Berg and The Third Hotel links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Booklist review
Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

Harvard Magazine profile of the author
Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for Find Me
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Isle of Youth
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for What the World Will Look
Paris Review interview with the author
WBUR interview with the author
Weekend Edition interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Jon McGregor's Playlist for His Novel "The Reservoir Tapes"

The Reservoir Tapes

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Jon McGregor's novel-in-stories The Reservoir Tapes is innovatively written and unsettling in the best of ways.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"[A] remarkable collection of linked short stories... McGregor demonstrates an extraordinary ability to create complex, multidimensional characters in only a few spare sentences. He is also a master of mood, investing his stories with an air of the ominous while proving also to be a superb stylist... Irresistibly readable, the book is, in sum, a memorable celebration of literary fiction."


In his own words, here is Jon McGregor's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Reservoir Tapes:



Each Spring, in the village where my story collection, 'The Reservoir Tapes' (and the novel that preceded it, 'Reservoir 13'), is set, the village hall plays host to a dance in aid of charity. Although it’s popular with the area's teenagers, the dance is attended by all ages; the DJ always has a difficult balancing act keeping everyone happy and the dance floor full. This year, Mike Jackson has been allowed into the booth for the first time, and after an hour or so of generic hits from the 80s and 90s he decides to get the dancing started by playing:

COME ON EILEEN, DEXY'S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS
The violins, the dungarees, the shoutalonga-chorus: all the ingredients are there for instant recognition, and the type of dancing which doesn't really require dancing at all but more of a whirling around with arms in the air. Mike has chosen well. The dance floor fills, with the older Jackson brothers leading the way, pint glasses held steady. As the chorus repeats to fade, Mike cues up:

SALLY MCLENNANE, THE POGUES
More violins, for continuity, and another shouty chorus to join in with, although no-one really knows the words. A couple of the Jackson brothers slope off towards the bar. Mike notices that most of the teenagers are still standing around at the edge of the hall, watching him sceptically. He reaches for the segue he’s been planning for a while:

COUNTRY ROADS, TOOTS & THE MAYTALS
A song that the older folk recognise, from the John Denver version, in a form that will bring the younger ones on to the dancefloor and pave the way for the bolder choices he’s got lined up. Mike is feeling pretty pleased with himself at this point. He looks up. The teenagers haven’t moved. What is wrong with them? Do they not recognise the power of the off-beat? He was lining up Parliament’s ‘Everything is on the One’ to emphasise the musicological point, but the dancefloor is starting to empty so he skips that and goes straight ahead to:

HAPPY, PHARRELL WILLIAMS
And the dancefloor fills once more. He slightly resents the popularity of this song, and the fact that it works as music your granny can dance to; but his job this evening is literally to play music for people’s grannies to dance to. And there is no disputing the pure pop polish of the track. And here come Irene and Winnie from behind the bar, coaxed out by the two Hunter girls. Irene is quite the mover, it becomes clear. Mike makes an easy switch to:

HEY YA, OUTKAST
This is the ‘Come on Eileen’ of the noughties, Mike thinks, as he watches everyone waving their arms in the air again. There is still nobody really dancing, but they’re all out on the dancefloor and enjoying themselves, so he supposes he should count this as a success. This isn’t the sort of DJ he wants to be, but it’s a start. He notices his brother, Will, dancing with that new teacher from the school. She seems to be enjoying herself. Everyone does. He wonders if he can get away with some real hip-hop.

BLUE FLOWERS, DOCTOR OCTAGON
Some of the older folk needed a break anyway. Irene and Winnie are back serving behind the bar, and just about everyone of legal drinking age heads that way, leaving space for the younger teenagers to have a go at what they imagine might be called body popping. It doesn’t go well, but at least they’re trying. Mike is just lining up ‘Forgot about Dre’ by Dr Dre when Clive comes over to the booth, shaking his head. Mike can’t quite hear what he’s saying, but the phrase “appropriate language” stands out. Clive is on the Committee, so Mike puts Dre back in the box.

SOUL LIMBO, BOOKER T & THE MGs
If they’ve heard it on the BBC, they’ll let him play it. Everyone knows this song as the introductory theme to the Test Match Special cricket commentary, and although no-one is quite dancing to it there’s still a general movement in the direction of the dancefloor, and some cheering. They all love the idea of cricket, even if the village team hasn’t won a match in half a generation.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T., ARETHA FRANKLIN
Trying to get back to some music he can respect, Mike starts with this one. Even if they don’t know much about Atlantic Records-era soul music, they’ll know this from watching the Blues Brothers. His hunch is good, and they’re all off again; arms in the air, singing the chorus into each other’s faces, laughing at each other’s dancing. This might not be the pure DJing of the clubs in Manchester and Leeds, but there’s a strange satisfaction in getting this group of people – people who don’t pay much attention http://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/mt/mt-static/images/formatting-icons/bold.gifto music, and might not have been planning to dance – careering around and laughing.

I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER, ARETHA FRANKLIN
Because they probably only know the Dusty Springfield version, and Mike wants them to know about Aretha’s better, up-tempo version. He’s really got them moving now. The drinking has probably helped. He works through a sequence of northern soul classics – Edwin Starr, Jackie Wilson, The Vibrations – before his brother, Gordon, heads over to the booth and lets it be known that “it’s time for a few slow ones.”

TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS, OTIS REDDING
And suddenly it’s like a school disco out there. The married couples are first, arms around each other’s waists, swaying from side to side. Then a few of the teenagers, shoved forward from the side of the room by their friends, glowing bright red. Then a few unexpected pairings: Will and the new teacher, Cathy Harris with a man from Cardwell that no-one recognises, even Clive and Irene for a turn or two. Mike plays it safe with some more slow numbers in the same vein – Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass – and then brings things right back to where he started with the broken-toothed beauty of Shane MacGowan:

I’M A MAN YOU DON’T MEET EVERYDAY, THE POGUES
Clive turns the lights on, Irene rolls down the shutters on the bar, and the doors are flung open to the dark evening. In the car park someone is shouting. Clive is already sweeping the floor. Mike watches the room empty. His brother, Gordon, is the only one who turns to thank him as he leaves, giving him a thumbs up before hurrying out after someone. Mike is happy with the way things have gone. He’s thinking something sentimental about the way music brings people together – about the way this community is made up of people who don’t always have much in common beyond living in the same place and relying on each other, but that the right piece of polished pop music can bridge the gaps between them – when Clive comes marching towards him and tells him to turn that racket down because he can’t hear himself think.


Jon McGregor and The Reservoir Tapes links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Financial Times review
Guardian review
Irish Times review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


August 7, 2018

Lisa Locascio's Playlist for Her Novel "Open Me"

Open Me

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Lisa Locascio's novel Open Me is an impressive political and erotic debut.

The Village Voice wrote of the book:

"A bildungsroman that's not merely erotic, but a delicate investigation into migration, belonging, and the female form."


In her own words, here is Lisa Locascio's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Open Me:



My first concert was Lilith Fair 1997 at the New World Music Theater in Tinley Park, Illinois, featuring Jewel, Sheryl Crow, and Sarah MacLachlan. I was twelve. My parents, who accompanied me, bought me a t-shirt featuring the Lilith Fair sigil—a fertile, welcoming nude woman surrounded by flowers—that I got in trouble for wearing to school. I was hooked. I’ve listened to music every day since, developing occult rituals of repetition, curation, and adoration now as ingrained in me as my shower routine. When I started out, making playlists meant waiting with an audio cassette in my tape deck as my favorite radio station played, my finger poised above the record button, ready to capture a beloved song. Like so many people I loved making mix tapes for my friends and family, but most of all for myself. Making a playlist to accompany my first novel feels like a similar project, except my object of desire has become the whole reading public.

Open Me is the story of eighteen-year-old Roxana Olsen’s summer of unexpected discovery in rural northern Denmark, where she undergoes an initiatory immersion in pleasure and pain through intense encounters with two men and with herself. It is a story about a young person confronting questions of identity, freedom, and captivity. It is both a psychological thriller about an unhappy relationship and an openhearted coming-of-age bildungsroman featuring a love triangle. Oh, also, there’s a lot of sex. I dove deep into my memory and feeling and iTunes records to compile this companion to the book.

I hope all of it brings you pleasure.

Mild Confusion by Tamaryn

I moved from New York City to Los Angeles to begin a PhD program in 2009, and Open Me was the central project of my doctoral years. There is no artist I associate more with my book, the years I spent writing it, or the place I lived for most of that time—California—than Tamaryn, the Kiwi shoegaze/New Wave witch goddess of my dreams. I discovered her album The Waves in September 2010 (shoutout to Bust magazine for putting it on my radar), right after I began writing the novel.

“Mild Confusion” is the last song on The Waves, but when I saw Tamaryn play songs from that album live—three different times, between 2011 and 2014—she began her sets with this song. It’s an ecstatic, high-winging immersion into a new world, a great place to begin and finish. It is the invocation that brought me into the work and world and people of the book.

Young Girl by Dawn Landes

I discovered Dawn Landes’s music via Chris Onstad’s webcomic Achewood, which all of my cool high school friends were into. Landes’s song “Twilight” was linked from the character Molly’s blog (yes, I read the blogs of characters in a webcomic).

“Young Girl” is from Landes’s 2010 album Sweetheart Rodeo, and captures so much of what I wanted to evoke in Open Me: the excitement and danger of feeling your power and also coming to understand how it can be used against you, the terrifying, intoxicating ride of coming into your own and realizing how fleeting that sense of self-ownership can be, or, as Landes puts it, “Don’t you know? Time’s a rodeo.” These are the experiences and realizations upon whose cusp my protagonist Roxana is at the beginning of the book.

We Used To Be Friends by The Dandy Warhols

“We Used To Be Friends” was released in the spring of my senior year of high school and quickly became an anthem for myself and a close friend with whom I would later lose touch, this breakup topped any of my romantic ones for pure suffering until my divorce and inspired and fed my protagonist Roxana’s relationship with her friend Sylvie, which is a pivotal link in the chain reaction that lands her in Denmark. With their synth-driven spaceout, the Dandys really nail the melancholy and inevitability of the way that some friendships pass out of their sacred intimacy and intensity and begin afterlives as passing acquaintances or less—a truth hard for me and my main character alike to accept.

AF607105 by Charlotte Gainsbourg

This song, with its driving piano chords and hilariously French pronunciation of “Saskatchewan,” is about a flight, and because I’m relentlessly obvious, I like to listen to it when I’m on planes. Its sleepy, chanty repetition, with Gainsbourg’s bedroom-eyes voice intoning a list of extraordinary experiences rendered commonplace by the ordinariness of traveling by plane masquerades as soothing, if very emotionally invested in the flight time. Then, at 2:26, the song takes a turn—I live my life tracking and feeling deeply such song turns—and Gainsbourg offers a paean to the miracle of skybound mobility: “All the things I carry with me, and all the things I left behind / All the things that wait to meet me hover in the air tonight / If I can only keep on moving and never stop and think of me, and freefall through the years and decades, terminal velocity.” It’s a sentiment I feel very close to Roxana on her flight to Denmark. She is shot through the air to a place she has never been before, where the temporary exile of travel will render her a new person.

Space For Rent by WhoMadeWho

WhoMadeWho was an opening act I had never heard of, but I arrived early to get a good spot near the front, figuring I could always slip off to the bar if the opener was lame. But they were amazing, these two guys in black-and-white unitards fronting a band with sharp choreography and flair to spare, Freddie Mercury meeting Busby Berkeley. I immediately began listening to their albums; their 2005 self-titled release was my favorite, and “Space For Rent,” with its sleazy, sexy feel, became my mantra as a bumbling, newly single person. Now it reminds me of my character Søren, who like the band is Danish, and presents a dizzying, magical new world to Roxana, a place he promises to guide, protect, and delight her. To me this song is all about the darkly glittering promise of going out into the night.

If I Had A Heart by Fever Ray

Is this song too obvious? Not only is it by half of perhaps the most famous Swedish musical act of recent years (Fever Ray is the solo project of The Knife’s Karin Dreijer), but the song is doubly Scandinavian-associated as the music for the opening credits of the surprisingly good History Channel series Vikings. Funnily enough, Open Me began life, once upon a time, as a book about Vikings and time travel.

No song better encapsulates the glimmering, long-sought, bloody knowledge of body and desire Roxana finally accesses when she and Søren become lovers. “This will never end because I want more” is as apt a description of Roxana’s discovery of her appetites as anything I wrote in the book.

Hare Tarot Lies by No Joy

A friend of mine who read many drafts of Open Me jokes that Søren is like a Bond villain, this sexy guy who shows up promising Roxana the world, his sinister self-loathing cloaked in his genuine belief that what he’s offering will be good for them both. He wants emotional rather than world domination. Roxana has always wanted to be seen, and Søren’s lust for her whole person is a hit of the purest stuff she has yet tasted. She is absorbed into his universe and quickly implicated in the losing game of Søren’s wellbeing—a responsibility she rises to rather than shies away from. This song feels like the freefall of joining your life to another, of not even considering that something could go wrong.

Honey by Best Coast

Best Coast does stoner obsession better than anyone, and this song—always one of my favorites off their debut Crazy For You—takes a darker turn away from Bethany Cosentino’s neon palm-laden universe. Rather than chilling with a cat named Snacks, she’s suddenly wailing about a life spent waiting for an absent beloved. I can think of no better anthem for Roxana and Søren’s evenings high on the couch, discovering and avoiding each other.

Peace Signs by Sharon Van Etten

I remember reading an interview with Sharon Van Etten in which she said that she had begun making music only for herself but then heard from her friends that it “helped” them, which led her to decide to release it. This is as elegant a summation of the artist’s drive to share their work as I’ve ever heard, and reminds me of what my therapist said during the long years I despaired of ever finishing my book: “Imagine the person who’s out there waiting to read it.” That sense of invisible connection was a huge motivator for me.

This song is about the heartbreaking feeling of waiting for someone to realize that you love them, about keeping the faith that they will treat you right while knowing they won’t. Its driving tension evokes the way a bad relationship can feel like a worthy adventure, a meaningful undertaking, even as it eats you alive.

She Wants by Metronomy

Writing a book about a woman’s frustrated desire was difficult because so little space has been created in art and literature for discussion of the lusting female body and mind. I wanted to aestheticize the state of wanting, the way it heightens every experience, frustration, and perceived slight. Metronomy makes some of the sexiest music out there in large part because Joseph Mount understands that frighteningly powerful aggravation is the b-side to longing—an edge dramatized nicely in this song.

My Twin by Eleni Mandell

This song’s vibe of spywork and sleazy inquiry reminds me of Roxana’s tracking of Geden across the park where she knows he works. That secret feeling of wanting more information.

The Garden By Tamaryn

The other residency song on this playlist, “The Garden” is the lead single off Tamaryn’s second album Brave New Signs, which came out just as I departed for my first-ever residency at Prairie Center of the Arts in Peoria, Illinois. It was a strange, hazy two weeks in October. I lived in a McMansion basement, worked on my book, and took long, perilous walks though the sidewalk-less subdivision to buy pasta at the dollar store. “The Garden” always takes me back to that basement, where I wrote the scenes of Roxana’s increasing obsession and isolation as she paces around Farsø.

T by Glasser

A song of communion and shared space. This is the soundtrack to the sacred time Roxana spends with Geden in his unexpectedly lovely home, the feeling of deep realization that accompanies like recognizing like. Together they experience an unprecedented trust—an invitation to remove each other’s armor and breathe into the sensation of being joined.

Creature by Lia Ices

There is no song I’ve listened to more, no witchier anthem, no greater affirmation than this track by Lia Ices, whose work I discovered on, of all places, an episode of MTV’s Catfish. I recently realized that some of my intense attachment to this song is premised on lyrics I now realize I misheard. I thought Ices sang, “How should I dream of you in the bed full of sores?” a vivid question that reminded me of the David Lynch painting Suddenly my house became a tree of sores and seemed such a concise, brutally real statement of the way life is everything all at once, never just good or bad. That question really meant a lot to me, but I guess the line is actually “I'll share a dream with you in a bed full of soil” which is cool too. I got most of the lyrics it right, though. “I will howl for you”: I address those words to myself, to my readers, and most of all to Roxana, whose experiences and feelings I sought to make visible, real, important. This is a song of celebration and mourning all at once, The Fool tarot card, the recognition that something must die in order to begin again, the invitation to the rest of your life.


Lisa Locascio and Open Me links:

the author's website

Kirkus review


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Jennifer Spiegel's Playlist for Her Novel "And So We Die, Having First Slept"

And So We Die, Having First Slept

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Book Notes playlists have been many things, but this is the first anniversary present.

Jennifer Spiegel's novel And So We Die, Having First Slept is a smart and dark portrait of a marriage.

Tim Horvath wrote of the book:

"Jennifer Spiegel's much-anticipated second novel teems with intelligence and candor, assuredly. But oh, more than that, even, it's that voice--it darts, it vamps, it dives, and most of all it scrutinizes, squarely, head-on, witty and withering. In this multitudinous soliloquy of a book, we get the relentless quest of a self-determined to narrate itself into being and becoming"


In her own words, here is Jennifer Spiegel's Book Notes music playlist for her novel And So We Die, Having First Slept:



Well, it’s a little epic. Don’t painters say things like, “I think in color”? Um, I think in old songs? This is a novel about marriage and Sappho and brain damage and drugs. Rather than explain things, I’ll just let the music do the talking . . .


Prologue:
“No Light, No Light” by Florence + The Machine

Part One:
“Day By Day” from Godspell
“Jane Says” by Jane’s Addiction
“Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
“My First Lover” by Gillian Welch
“God” by Tori Amos
“Fire and Rain” by James Taylor
“Late Night, Maudlin Street” by Morrissey

Part Two:
“Cold As Ice” by Foreigner
“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane
“Coming ‘Round To Get You” by Farewell Milwaukee
“House of the Rising Sun” by Bob Dylan
“Go It Alone” by Beck
“The Waitress” by Tori Amos

Part Three:
“Love is Blindness” by Jack White
“Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
“Moment of Surrender” by U2
“It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls
“Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac
“It’s Easy When You Smile” by Lori McKenna
“Danny’s Song” by Loggins and Messina
“Physical” by Olivia Newton John
“Sister Golden Hair” by America
“Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
“When Doves Cry” by Prince
“Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen

Part Four:
“U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer
“We Float” by PJ Harvey
“Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
“Wasting My Time” by Default
“Saint John” by Cold War Kids
“It’s Been Awhile” by Staind
“Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” by Cage The Elephant
“False Hearted Lover Blues” by Levon Helm
“You Never Get What You Want” by Patty Griffin
“Long Time Running” by the Tragically Hip
“My Man’s Gone Now” by Nina Simone
“Chainsmoking” by Jacob Banks
“Broadripple is Burning” by Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s
“C’mon Billy” by PJ Harvey
“Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” by The White Stripes
“Divorce Song” by Liz Phair
“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” by Led Zeppelin

Part Five:
“Sail” by AWOLNATION
“Lord O Lord” by The Ferocious Few
“Emmylou” by Vance Joy
“Write It All Down For You” by Elliott Brood
“The Special Two” by Missy Higgins
“Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon
“Coffee Stained” by Kate Peterson
“Angel’s Wings” by Social Distortion
“Wolves” by Down Like Silver
“Wayfaring Stranger” by David Eugene Edwards
“Rivers and Roads” by The Head and The Heart
“Light of the World” from Godspell
“Praying Arm Lane” by 16 Horsepower
Love Song” by Melissa Ferrick


Jennifer Spiegel and And So We Die, Having First Slept links:

the author's website
the author's blog

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Dead Inside
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for The Freak Chronicles
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Love Slave


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Google
  Web largeheartedboy.com   


1 | older