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March 4, 2021

Julia von Lucadou's Playlist for Her Novel "The High-Rise Diver"

The High-Rise Diver by Julia von Lucadou

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

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

Julia von Lucadou's novel The High-Rise Diver is thoughtful and haunting, a remarkable work of dystopian fiction.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A searing work of speculative fiction."

In her words, here is Julia von Lucadou's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The High-Rise Diver:

Of all the art forms, music is the most emotional to me. In my novel The High-Rise Diver, music only exists at the fringes of society because the world the novel portrays is all about controlling emotion. My two main characters, Riva and Hitomi, have been trained to function like machines. Riva, the high-rise diver, is a successful athlete. For her dangerous, highly aesthetic performances she needs to be in perfect control of her mind and body. Hitomi is a psychologist tasked with analyzing and fixing Riva when she suddenly quits her career. Hitomi has been brought up in a ultra-capitalist childcare institute where she was taught that emotion makes you unproductive. But despite all their training, neither Riva nor Hitomi can keep their inner music from wanting to burst out.

“Watch Her Disappear” by Tom Waits

“You dance into the shadow of a black poplar tree. And I watched you as you disappeared.” This is the song I probably listened to most while writing The High-Rise Diver. It put me straight into Hitomi’s mind, watching Riva sweat in the summer heat in her apartment through hidden cameras. Just like the woman in the song, Riva is an object of desire and an enigma. Even though Hitomi obsessively follows and analyzes her every move, Riva still eludes her. She seems to disappear right in front of her eyes, dancing into the dark.

“Gnossienne No. 1” by Eric Satie

There is a beautiful improvisation by dancers Sergei Polunin and Kristina Shapran to this song which reminds me of the characters in my book. The music as well as the dance are somber, cold, and controlled, but there are glimpses of humanity: the scars and tattoos on Polunin’s body, the wild hair, the raw emotion on the dancers’ faces. While writing the novel, there were times when my characters went off-script and did unexpected things. Those became the most important scenes to me because they meant that even in a futuristic, ultra-capitalist world, human “faultiness” could not be optimized away.

Dance was an important source of inspiration for The High-Rise Diver. Sergei Polunin and Riva, the “dancer of the sky,” have a lot in common. Polunin often speaks about the time before he started ballet as the happiest time of his life, since being a star athlete comes with so many restrictions. On the other hand, you can tell dance is such an important form of expression for him. Riva is the same. She loves high-rise diving, it suits her, and she brings creativity to it, but at the same time it imprisons her in the perceptions and expectations of her audiences and competition judges and confines her life to a rigorous training schedule.

“Territory” by The Blaze

The French music duo The Blaze’s electronic soundscapes and the visual style of their music videos would be such a great fit for a film version of The High-Rise Diver (I wish! ha ha). Before I became a novelist, I worked in film and television. And you can probably tell from the narrative style of the novel, which is told mostly through the gaze of surveillance cameras, that I am still a visual storyteller at heart.

The song “Territory” deals with a longing for home, which is also a theme in my novel. In the book, people mostly grow up in the peripheries of the city, in poverty and without their so-called biofamilies. They have to show off their abilities and talents during regular casting competitions until they are awarded one of the coveted trainee positions for a career within the security of the city limits. But in spite of all the luxury the city provides, it never seems to satisfy their longing for home, for a place where they are loved.

“Sleep” by Godspeed You! Black Emperor

The post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor has always been one of my favorites. Maybe because they are Canadian and I love everything Canadian. Even though I am German born and bred, my inner home will always be Vancouver, Canada, where I spent some very happy years. It is also the place where I finally decided to quit my high-pressure job in television and write The High-Rise Diver to work through my own entanglement with our modern-day meritocracy. The nameless, nationless city in the novel was inspired by Vancouver’s shiny, beautiful, but eerily soulless waterfront properties and the rapid gentrification I witnessed there.

The song “Sleep” starts with the recording of a man reminiscing about the good old times of Coney Island, New York. The man’s nostalgia for a freer, more playful time is palpable and reminds me of what the characters in my novel have lost. But his memory also seems inflated. He is remembering Coney Island as a utopia it probably never was. In my novel people watch so-called nostalgia porn, pictures and videos of happy biofamilies, wishing themselves away to a utopian place instead of changing the reality of their surroundings.

“Queen” by Perfume Genius

One of my favorite characters in the book is named Zarnee and this is his soundtrack. Zarnee embodies the peripheries, wild, ragged, glamorous, and unafraid—like this song. Whereas Zarnee values the peripheries for the freedom they offer outside the control of productivity and surveillance, Hitomi is driven by a deep fear of the peripheries. She does everything she can to avoid being sent to this place she views as dangerous and disgusting. Her work and her life are constantly evaluated and every mistake she makes can mean a loss of financial credit, status, and eventually her privileged place in the city. As much as I identify with Hitomi’s plight, I also think that this fear and, on its flipside, the promise of wealth and security might be the biggest motivators in capitalist society, putting us, like her, at risk of manipulation.

“Take me Home” by Perfume Genius

“I’ll be so quiet for you. Look like a child for you. Be like a shadow of a shadow of a shadow for you,” Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, sings in this track. This is a mantra for a lot of my characters. Hitomi and Riva have become shadows of themselves, adjusting to the expectations of the high-performance, high-tech society they live in, until it’s hard to tell them apart from the bots they work with. Zarnee, on the other hand, quite literally pretends to be a child sometimes. He works for an agency that rents out family members to lonely people, so they can feel part of a biofamily.

“I’m A Mother” by Perfume Genius

I listened to Perfume Genius a lot while writing, which is why I included three of his songs on this list. This one reminds me of Hitomi and her relationship with her biomother who put her into a high-class childcare institute as a baby and then slowly distanced herself from her. Hitomi longs for motherly love but doesn’t allow herself such strong, unproductive emotion. In my favorite scene of the book, Hitomi, unable to sleep, uses a motherbot and is soothed more by its simulation of a loving mother than she ever was by her real relationships.

“One or Two” by Bodi Bill

The electronic music of the German band Bodi Bill feels futuristic in a down-to-earth way, appropriate for my novel, which hovers somewhere in that grey area between science fiction and contemporary novel. This song especially reminds me of my character Andorra, Hitomi’s best friend, with whom she grew up at the childcare institute, and who completely vanished from her life for mysterious reasons. Andorra, a charismatic free spirit, was the only person who ever truly loved Hitomi and the only person she ever loved. Their connection and the hole Andorra left in Hitomi’s heart when she vanished can be felt throughout the book—and in this song. “I call your name but you’re not there. I try to catch breath in your thin air.”

“hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have - but I have it” by Lana Del Rey

“I've been tearing around in my fucking nightgown. 24/7 Sylvia Plath,” sings Lana Del Rey in this ode to her favorite poet. It is no coincidence The High-Rise Diver starts off with a poem by Sylvia Plath. The book begins, after all, with a woman suffering from depression, despairing at the state of the world and her place in it. But just like Del Rey’s song, my novel is not meant to depress, to despair, or to tear down hope. One might think that authors write dystopian novels because they have lost hope but to me it is the opposite. My reason for writing this novel was a strong belief that we can change things for the better. So let’s end this list like Lana Del Rey ends her song: “Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have. But I have it. Yeah, I have it. I have.”

Julia von Lucadou was born in Heidelberg in 1982. She studied film and theater at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz and Victoria University of Wellington and earned her PhD in Film Studies in 2015. Lucadou worked as both an assistant director and a television editor prior to writing The High-Rise Diver, her debut novel, which was nominated for the Swiss Book Prize in 2018. She splits her time between Biel, New York, and Cologne.

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March 4, 2021

Elisabeth Sheffield's Playlist for Her Novel "Ire Land"

Ire Land by Elisabeth Sheffield

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

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

Elisabeth Sheffield’s novel Ire Land is a darkly comic and smart faery tale for our times.

Carole Maso wrote of the book:

"Elisabeth Sheffield’s Ire Land is an exquisite construction––as sly as Nabokov, as tender as Beckett, deeply intelligent and run through with heart and dark hilarity and great waves of rage and beauty. It possesses an undeniable cumulative power and a level of invention that is both thrilling and poignant."

In her words, here is Elisabeth Sheffield's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Ire Land:

“As Tears Go By” (Marianne Faithful, 2018 version):

“It is the evening of the day/I sit and watch the children play/Doing things I used to do/They think they are new/I sit and watch/As tears go by.” Marianne Faithful sang this song as a young woman but it’s the 2018 version I hear, the wondrously raspy yet still supple rag of her voice, a beautifully tattered banner rippling in the wind. Is it a surrender, or a final rally? This is where Ire Land begins, with Sandra Dorn watching the children who think they are new, doing things she used to do.

“Another One Bites the Dust” (Queen, 1980); “Ring Around the Rosies” (English nursery rhyme); All Fall Down (Mary Caponegro, Coffee House Press, 2009):

One night circa 1982 pogo-ing my young sticks to this song at the SUNY Purchase pub (“Are you ready for this hey are you ready for this”), I slipped on some fluid or semi-fluid and fell flat, smacking my chin against concrete. It was bruised to the bone for weeks, though it probably healed twice as fast as it would now. In Ire Land, the song precipitates Sandra Dorn’s first narrative downfall, the beginning of her spiral. That brings to mind the old children’s song/nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosies” (“Ashes to ashes/We all fall down”) which in turn summons up Mary Caponegro’s fabulous fictional meditations on the slinking, sloughing mortal coil in her story collection All Fall Down.

“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” (The Rolling Stones, 1965):

And “I” never could.

“Fairy Tale of New York” (The Pogues, 1988)

Ire Land is a faery tale, and this is one that I love, the spry old junkies, the endearingly embittered joined at the hip if not the fist lovers and partners in substance abuse still sparring away after all these years (I’m thinking of Beckett here, I’m thinking Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf). Such solidarity against/with the ravages of time might’ve been Sandra Dorn’s if she stayed with her long ago love Kevin Killeen, the one-legged mid-town Manhattan bartender slash poet from Belfast. “You’re a bum/You’re a punk/You’re an old slut on junk.”

“Gloria” (Patti Smith, 1975)

While it’s not in the novel, I think this is what the young, heavily pregnant and feeling very trapped Sandra Dorn hears as she takes Kevin’s even younger prod lover into his family’s heirloom four poster bed, as the rain runnels in correlative dissolution over the window panes and as Kevin, off in the city somewhere, drinks and schemes with the boyos.

“After the Gold Rush” (Patti Smith version, 2012)

“Look at Mother Nature on the run/in the twentieth first century.” Near the end of the novel Sandra Dorn, who has turned into a hare, tears over the grounds of an old mansion in upstate NY, fleeing her pursuers. Her pursuers are personal and situational, but at the same time, Sandra Dorn might finally be starting to slip the bounds of Sandra Dorn.

“Head Like a Hole” (Nine Inch Nails, 1989)

This is what the little man, in the drawing by Sandra Dorn’s “editor,” at the beginning of the final section of the novel, is dancing to.

“My Way” (Sid Vicious, 1978)

On the motif of dissolution/slipping the bounds of self, this song says it all. I love the way Sid Vicious turns Sinatra’s singular, melancholy pride inside out in the weird and warbling intro, pulling it like a pair of old man’s underwear over his head. And then he just cuts loose, shredding every vestige to pieces in a gleeful, centrifugal frenzy.

Introduction to Romeo and Juliet, the ballet (Prokofiev, 1935)

I first heard this in the summer of 1987 or 1988, opening an outdoor concert featuring the Smiths somewhere near Toronto. I remember feeling still irritated from the cramped ride up over the border in the back of a friend’s Volkswagen when Prokofiev’s prelude began pouring from the speakers overhead. As the decibels rose, in waves of sonic exaltation and dread, I was swept up and away and out of myself, all resentment of the longer legged occupants of the front seat washed away. This piece from Prokofiev is the sound of the end of Ire Land.

Elisabeth Sheffield is the author of the novel Gone. She teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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Shorties (The Best Child Narrators in Literature, Angel Olsen on Candi Staton, and more)

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker

Chris Whitaker recommended the best child narrators in literature at Literary Hub.

Angel Olsen shared her admiration for Candi Staton at Rolling Stone.

March's best eBook deals.

Today's best eBook deals.

eBook on sale for $1.99 today:

Return of the Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

eBook on sale for $2.99 today:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Ólafur Arnalds played a Tiny Desk Concert.

Book Riot recommended essential diasporic novels.

Paste recapped February's best songs.

BuzzFeed recommended March's best paperbacks.

TV Priest visited The Current for a virtual live session and interview.

Brit Bennett recommended books you should read this spring at Today.

Look What You Made Me Do interviewed Steve Albini.

Nadia Owusu recommended books about roots.

A new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album is coming in April.

W.S. Winslow shared books that depict Maine in all of its complexity at Electric Literature.

Late Aster covered Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams."

The Creative Independent interviewed author and philosopher Senthuran Varatharajah.

Stream a new St. Vincent song.

The 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award finalists have been announced.

Congratulations to Largehearted Boy contributors Deesha Philyaw, Mathew Sallesses, and Robin Wasserman.

Sister Souljah talked writing with Shondaland.

The shortlists for the Los Angeles Time Book Prizes have been announced.

Iggy Pop covered Donovan’s "Sunshine Superman"’ With Dr. Lonnie Smith.

The Millions recommended March's must-read poetry collections.

Bandcamp Daily shared a primer on the music of Arab Strap.

The Maris Review interviewed author Anakana Schofield.

The Hold Steady discussed their new album with Relix.

Bookforum interviewed Vivian Gornick.

The Oxford American interviewed singer-songwriter Kelsey Waldon.

Stream a new Tigers Jaw song.

Stream a new song by Islands.

Stream a new song by Pussy Riot.

Big Red Machine covered Sharon Van Etten's "A Crime."

Stream a new TOBACCO song.

Stream a new song by Bernice.

The Transmissions podcast interviewed author Amanda Petrusich.

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

March 3, 2021

Patricia Engel's Playlist for Her Novel "Infinite Country"

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

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

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

Patricia Engel's new novel Infinite Country is a pitch perfect tale of immigration and family that deserves to be required reading for our present time.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"The immigrant’s story might be well-traveled ground, but Engel (The Veins of the Ocean, 2016) constructs a layered narrative outlining how the weight of every seemingly minor choice systematically cements into a crushing predicament... Lively folktales of the Muisca peoples punctuate Engel's remarkable novel as it illuminates the true costs of living in the shadows. Told by a chorus of voices and perspectives, this is as much an all-American story as it is a global one."

In her words, here is Patricia Engel's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Infinite Country:

Algo Está Cambiando, Bomba Estéreo

To be an immigrant is to exist in a constant state of change. This song speaks to the need to evolve, to be the person you need to be in order to grow, and that inner push toward an uncharted space. Mauro and Elena are first inspired to go abroad by that sense of exploration, and over an accumulation of seemingly small moments, see their lives change radically and irrevocably.

Soñemos un Bosque, Aterciopelados

This song reminds me of the magic of the landscapes of Colombia, forested, green and mountainous, valleys, jungles, golden coasts and so much untouched land, which Mauro spends a good amount of time dreaming about, especially in relation to the ancestors and their sacred terrain.

Colombia Tierra Querida, Cabas

This is a classic by Lucho Bermúdez, reinterpreted by Cabas, that describes the inherent joy and optimism in Colombians despite being from a nation that has endured, and continues to endure, so much hardship. The biodiversity, culture, music, and spirit of Colombia is really unparalleled and its people have a profound love for its beauty and charms.

Me Muero de Amor, El Viejo Márquez

Everyone loves a good cumbia. Elena and Mauro, as young sweethearts in Bogotá, love to hit the music festivals and parties benchmarked by cumbia and aguardiente.

El Preso, Fruko y sus Tesos

A salsa classic and a tune you will hear on any respectable Colombian dance floor. Dancing figures into Infinite Country in subtle but important ways. It brings Elena and Mauro together early on as well as later on in the novel after their years of separation.

Bajo El Agua, Manuel Medrano

When they meet, Mauro tries to prove he's worthy of Elena's love and they slowly move from strangers to friends, and finally to lovers who will have a family and a story that spans continents and decades. This song captures the hope that inspires new love and sustains it over the long haul, when it seems the world is doing all it can to pull you and your beloved apart.

Te Invito, Herencia. de Timbiqui

This song is an invitation for someone to love you for the sum of who you are, from your childhood, your roots, your firsts, your lasts, your future, your past, your ancestors, and every crinkly life detail in between. It's the kind of intimacy beyond intimacy that Elena and Mauro share, born from love, respect, and admiration that helps them see beyond each other's errors, traumas, and sorrows.

La Tierra del Olvido, Carlos Vives

Nostalgia and longing are the children of migration. A better word is the Spanish, añoranza, which is closer to capturing the profound ache for one's homeland that occurs through distance and time in another country. With that can come some idealizing, remembering only the good, rather than the things that pushed you to leave your country in the first place. This song portrays that blend of love, longing, and appreciation for what you left behind with innocence, which in a way can only happen in one's memory. In our mind's, our lost homeland becomes something new, and a refuge of sorts in order to better face the reality of this foreign and often challenging landscape.

Patricia Engel is the author of The Veins of the Ocean, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize; It's Not Love, It's Just Paris, winner of the International Latino Book Award; and Vida, a finalist for the Pen/Hemingway and Young Lions Fiction Awards, New York Times Notable Book, and winner of Colombia's national book award, the Premio Biblioteca de Narrativa Colombiana. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her stories appear in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and elsewhere. Born to Colombian parents, Patricia teaches creative writing at the University of Miami.

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

Shorties (An Interview with Courtney Zoffness, New Music from Japanese Breakfast, and more)

Spilt Milk by Courtney Zoffness

The Paris Review interviewed author Courtney Zoffness.

Stream a new Japanese Breakfast song.

March's best eBook deals.

Today's best eBook deals.

eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

Claudius the God by Robert Graves
Euphoria by Lily King
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

The A.V. Club previewed March's most anticipated album releases.

It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders interviewed author Torrey Sanders.

The Microphones are releasing a vinyl-only album that is "literally just the noisy fuzzed out tape loop of a ‘fog horn."

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

Stream a new song by Damien Jurado.

Town & Country recommended spring's best books.

Bad Brains' Darryl Jenifer discussed the band's '80s discography with BrooklynVegan.

BrooklynVegan also reconsidered the band's debut self-titled album.

Kazuo Ishiguro reflected on his books at Entertainment Weekly.

The Wall Street Journal profiled Ishiguro.

Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Ishiguro's new novel Klara and the Sun.

Stream a new Mdou Moctar song.

Shondaland, Stylist and CNN recommended March's best books.

Aquarium Drunkard looked back on the music of João Gilberto.

Book Riot recommended reading pathways to the books of Roxane Gay.

Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield shared her adoration of Fiona Apple's music at Rolling Stone.

Naomi Coster discussed her new novel with Bitch Media.

Stream a new song by Pom Pom Squad.

Viet Thanh Nguyen shard his favorite children's books at Vulture.

The New York Times shared an excerpt from Nguyen's new novel The Committed.

Stream a new Maple Glider song.

Debutiful recommended March's best debut books.

CarolineLeavittville interviewed Marcia Butler about her new novel.

The Rumpus Poetry Book Club interviewed Erin Belieu.

The Paris Review features a new essay by Melissa Febos.

The Los Angeles Review of Books interviewed Tod Goldberg.

The Los Angeles Review of Books interviewed author Lauren Oyler.

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

March 2, 2021

Flash Dancers: Ekphrastic Singles - "Monkey Parts" by Kyle Hemmings

The Flash Dancers: Ekphrastic Singles series is curated by Meg Pokrass. Authors share an original work of flash fiction inspired by a song.

"Monkey Parts" by Kyle Hemmings

Inspired by the Monkees' "Gonna Buy Me a Dog "

Parent-teacher night. Miss Hathaway with the hooked nose and dress so tight it smothers her breasts, tells Mom that I’m just “average”. “His mind,” she says with clenched teeth because of the dress, “seems to be elsewhere”. My mother comes home and tells me Miss H thinks you lost your mind. And that you’re just average.

Does that mean I will never grow beyond or under?

I can’t read the future, she says, chewing a raw carrot. She’s turning vegetarian so she can look like Goldie Hawn. Mom keeps reminding me that having me was not all her fault. Chomp. Chomp.

On the Monkees TV show, Mickey Dolenz sings how he’s gonna buy himself a dog. I’m gonna buy myself a propeller, attach it to my nose and buzz over the neighborhood’s rooftops. Just to get a different view.

Just to get them to look up.

My sister’s monkey, No Name, (she loves spaghetti westerns), sits in a high chair, holding a reading book upside down. My sister says he’s precocious. She also complains of stomach pains from a period whenever a date tries to go past first base. No Name escapes into Mom’s rose garden and leaves his precious droppings. I tell sis that sometimes I think her brains are made of monkey fertilizer. In my dreams, I am an outcast kid with an average face who must hide his tail in his oversized denim pants.

The summer No Name escapes for the last time into some distant rain jungle where there is no hope of rope bridges or free bananas, the summer my sister confides to me and her glass menagerie that she slept with John Lennon, Mother informs us that Grandpa (on her correct genealogical tree) was taken to the emergency room after complaining to my balding, UFO-obsessed uncle that his lungs felt like concrete. There is a sweet, putrid smell of cigar smoke around him. He denies the existence of rich invisible clouds, ones that you could walk on in your isolated kingdom.

We visit Grandpa in the hospital. The room seems to tilt. He says he wants to get back to his gardening because he always finds rare coins in the soil. The flesh on his arms is papery and deeply bruised. “They give me more needles than after I fought at The Sommes.”

My mother says Grandpa served as an ambulance driver in Italy during the war. When he tells us how he held off a long, jagged line of Germans with a Gatling machine gun, how General Pershing pinned no less than five bronze medals on his chest, the room expands with old testosterone.

Kyle Hemmings has work published in Sonic Boom, Unbroken Journal, INCH, and elsewhere. His work has been featured in Best Micro Anthologies. His latest collection of text and art is Amnesiacs of Summer published by Yavanika Press. He still listens to 60s garage bands who never had a major hit.

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

Alexander Wolff's Playlist for His Book "Endpapers"

Endpapers by Alexander Wolff

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

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

Alexander Wolff's Endpapers is an engrossing combination of memoir and multi-generation family biography.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Wolff delivers a poignant portrait of his grandfather, Pantheon Books founder Kurt Wolff, and his own father, Niko Wolff . . . Wolff skillfully contextualizes his father and grandfather's tales with military and political history . . . History buffs and literary enthusiasts will be rewarded."

In his words, here is Alexander Wolff's Book Notes music playlist for his book Endpapers:

Endpapers is a book about books. My grandfather Kurt Wolff was a publisher in Germany—of Franz Kafka, Karl Kraus, Heinrich Mann, Joseph Roth, Franz Werfel and other masters of the early twentieth century. After the Nazis seized power in 1933 he chose exile, eventually landing in New York in 1941, where he founded Pantheon Books and published mostly European writers in translation, from Albert Camus to Boris Pasternak to Günter Grass. But for all his devotion to the literary life, Kurt lived a parallel one rich with music. He was a fine amateur cellist, with a father, grandfather and great-grandfather who had all been performers, conductors and composers in the Rhineland—the first two of them collaborators with Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

When I moved to Berlin in 2017 to begin fleshing out the family story, I knew the rough outline that Endpapers would take. But I had no idea how much the narrative would come marbled with sex and drugs and classical music, the rock ‘n’ roll of its time and place.

• J. S. Bach, Cantata No. 169, “Gott soll allein mein Herze haben,” first movement, Sinfonia. Kurt’s father Leonhard Wolff made the study of Bach a central part of his life. In 1913 in Leipzig—where Bach himself worked for nearly three decades before his death—Kurt published his father’s J. Sebastian Bachs Kirchenkantaten: Ein Nachschlagebuch für Dirigenten und Musikfreunde (The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A Reference Book for Conductors and Music Lovers). Bach’s most dazzling pieces can have a pulsating, almost enervating quality, but I love the opening of this cantata for its enveloping reassurance.

• George Frideric Handel, Messiah, “For Unto Us a Child is Born.” Leonhard was conducting the Handel oratorio in Bonn’s Beethovenhalle on March 3, 1887, when his wife Maria gave birth to Kurt. The title of this famous passage has been a standing family joke ever since.

• Johannes Brahms, A German Requiem, Op. 45, fourth movement, Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen. Leonhard’s father Hermann was forced to leave his position as music director in Krefeld after public disapproval of a performance of this work, apparently too adventurous for mid-nineteenth century audiences. After taking up a similar post in Bonn decades later, Leonhard foisted the same piece on concertgoers there, to a much better reception.

• “Abendlied,” words by Matthias Claudius, tune by Johann Abraham Peter Schulz. When young Kurt would tire of the usual children’s bedtime stories, he asked his mother to sing this lullaby, based on the words of an eighteenth century poet. During a visit with Karl Kraus in Vienna just before World War I, Kurt and Kraus bonded over the Abendlied, beloved by generations of Germans, most of whom know it by its first line, Der Mond ist aufgegangen (The moon is risen). At the request of the deceased, it was sung at the 2015 funeral of former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt; during the coronavirus pandemic, Joan Baez posted this performance of it, in German, from her home as she rode out quarantine.

• Ludwig von Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2, “Moonlight,” final movement. A piano prodigy and the daughter of Bonn’s justice of the peace, Elly Ney lived across the street from Kurt’s secondary school. As a teenager my grandfather would skip gym class to slip into her salon and ply her with requests. If I had been in Kurt’s place, this would have been at the top of my wish list—an example of Beethoven at his most audacious and, in its technical and artistic challenges, the ultimate test for any aspiring virtuoso.

• Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Requiem in D Minor, K. 626, Lacrymosa. The conductor Bruno Walter, who performed this many times, fled Berlin in 1933, just as my grandfather had. Two years after that, during their respective exiles, Walter paid a two-week visit to Kurt at his villa, Il Moro, outside Florence. With its D Minor mood and reference to “this tearful day,” the Lacrymosa captures the dread that must have been top-of-mind for two artistic refugees in the crosshairs of fascism. Walter made it to the U.S. via France in 1939; in 1937, on a tip, Kurt fled Il Moro with 24 hours’ notice, after Mussolini began to do Hitler’s bidding by ramping up actions against exiles and Jews.

• Felix Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 5, Op. 107, “Reformation,” final movement. Kurt’s mother Maria came from a long line of Rhinelanders of Jewish descent, the most recent of whom chose conversion or baptism. Mendelssohn followed the same path, famously celebrating Protestantism with this piece—though that didn’t keep the Nazis from invoking his Jewish roots to ban his music. Since encountering the Reformation Symphony as a cellist in my high school orchestra, I’ve loved Mendelssohn and his soaring, headlong style. But only from working on Endpapers did I learn how many of my great-grandmother’s ancestors had, like Mendelssohn and some 22,000 other Germans during the nineteenth century, “crawled to the cross,” as the convert Heinrich Heine once regretfully put it.

• Franz Schubert, “Du Bist die Ruh,” Op. 59, No. 3. The African-American tenor Roland Hayes dazzled critics and audiences with his European tours during the twenties. After Hayes embarked on an affair with a Hapsburg countess, her cuckolded husband set her up in a castle in southern France so that she, and the daughter of Hayes’ she would bear, could be kept far from the light of scandal. That’s why the countess was positioned to shelter my step-grandmother Helen, and eventually Kurt, in the hills outside Toulouse after each was released from French internment camps following the 1940 armistice struck between the Vichy government and the Nazis. During a 1924 concert in Berlin, Hayes had silenced the boos and whistles of a hostile crowd with this Lieder.

• Max Bruch, Kol Nidrei, Op. 47. Thea Dispeker, a Jewish émigré who had fled Berlin during the late thirties, became a successful Manhattan-based agent for classical musicians. She also served as founding director of the Pablo Casals Festival in Pardes, France, which featured the cellist who made this piece one of his signatures. Thea figures in Endpapers twice over. In 1940 she swore out the affidavit that helped lead the U.S. to grant the emergency visas that sprang my grandfather and step-grandmother from Vichy France. Then, during the early fifties, she threw the holiday party at which my parents met. It’s said that the cello comes closest to capturing the sound of the human voice; for the Kol Nidrei, Bruch, though a Protestant, was inspired by the cantor chanting the liturgy on Yom Kippur.

• Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 5, fourth movement, Adagietto. During exile and the postwar, Kurt carried on a correspondence with the novelist Thomas Mann, whose verdict on German responsibility for the war—“It is impossible to demand of the abused nations of Europe, of the world, that they shall draw a neat dividing line between ‘Nazism’ and the German people”—he concurred with completely. In the Luchino Visconti film adaptation of Mann’s Death in Venice, as plague spreads through the city, Aschenbach is immobilized by his infatuation with the young Tadzio while these ten achingly beautiful minutes of music swell in the background.

• Ludwig von Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-Flat Major, Op. 110, final movement, Adagio ma non troppo – Allegro ma non troppo. Left behind in soon-to-be Nazified Germany after Kurt’s divorce from my grandmother in 1930, my father Niko served in the Wehrmacht on two fronts, spent time in an American P.O.W. camp, and returned to the rubble and hunger of Munich for three years before Kurt helped him land a visa to come to the U.S. to study. Within days of Niko’s arrival in August 1948, Kurt and Helen took him to the home of friends in Vermont, where visiting musicians like Claude Frank, a young émigré prodigy who would become a master interpreter of Beethoven, filled the evening air with chamber music. Here a solemn arioso and a defiant fugue spar with each other until, its way cleared by a protective phalanx of chords, the fugue returns in triumph. The composer’s marking in this section of the score—“gradually coming back to life”—constitutes a kind of nod to the refugee. And to someone like my father, who packed a violin when he was sent off to war, this passage evokes the Nazis’ defilement of music, books and art.

• J. S. Bach, Italian Concerto, BWV 971, final movement, Presto. When my father met my mother at that holiday party, Mary Neave was a piano student at Manhattan’s Mannes School of Music. He rushed to her aid after she spilled hors d’oeuvres on the wife of the dean who would soon be grading her finals. Knowing how much I loved this piece, my mother recorded it on a cassette tape during the seventies and gave it to me for my birthday.

• Christian Wolff, Exercise 13, for piano and percussion. By age 16, Kurt and Helen’s son, my half-uncle Christian, had begun studying composition under John Cage and quickly fell in with “the New York School” of avant-garde composers. He’s 87 now, but still composes and performs, affirming the same devotion to das Neue (“the New”) that his father had shown toward cutting-edge literature nearly a century earlier.

• Franz Schubert, String Quintet in C Major, D. 956, second movement, Adagio. My late father Niko had a knack for lowering his voice to interact with his grandchildren, who would go rapt to hear what their Opa had to say to them. A decade before his death, listening to a live performance of this quintet, he whispered delightedly to my wife beside him, “They’re taking the repeats!” It’s impossible for me to separate Niko’s love for these fifteen minutes from the way Schubert organizes them, with two almost impossibly quiet passages bookending a turbulent midsection. Such was the arc of my father’s life—peace working both ends against the middle.

Alexander Wolff spent thirty-six years on staff at Sports Illustrated. He is author or editor of nine books, including the New York Times bestseller Raw Recruits and Big Game, Small World, which was named a New York Times Notable Book. A former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton, he lives with his family in Vermont.

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Shorties (An Interview with Isabel Allende, An Interview with Cassandra Jenkins, and more)

The Soul of a Woman by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende discussed her new memoir The Soul of a Woman with the Los Angeles Times.

Pitchfork interviewed singer-songwriter Cassandra Jenkins.

March's best eBook deals.

Today's best eBook deals.

eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Vulture made the case for live albums being the essential recorded music experience.

BuzzFeed recommended the week's best virtual literary events.

Stream "Suzanne" from First Aid Kit's Leonard Cohen tribute concert album.

Naima Coster discussed her new novel What's Mine and Yours with All Things Considered.

Good Housekeeping listed the best true crime books of all time.

John Darnielle talked to Under the Radar about the latest Mountain Goats album.

O: The Oprah Magazine and Bustle recommended March's best books.

Bustle recommended the week's best new books.

BBC News profiled Kazuo Ishiguro.

SyFy Wire interviewed author Lev Grossman.

Rolling Stone examined the poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Isabelle Allende discussed her new memoir with the Los Angeles Times.

Fiction Writers Review interviewed Danielle Evans.

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March 1, 2021

Darrin Doyle's Playlist for His Story Collection "The Big Baby Crime Spree and Other Delusions"

The Big Baby Crime Spree and Other Delusions by Darrin Doyle

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

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

Darrin Doyle's The Big Baby Crime Spree and Other Delusions is a collection of stories that both haunt and amuse.

In his words, here is Darrin Doyle's Book Notes music playlist for his story collection The Big Baby Crime Spree and Other Delusions :

Since a young age I’ve had an affinity for country music; I loved to watch Hee Haw, and one of the first tunes that really moved me was Kenny Rogers’ “Coward of the County.” While I don’t listen exclusively (or even primarily) to country music, compiling this list has shown me that classic country has probably touched me more than any other genre. The songs are simple on the surface, but the range in tone and mood – threading humor with pathos; comedy with tragedy; aggression with tenderness; pain with joy – is an aspect I strive for in my art, and especially in my story collection, The Big Baby Crime Spree and Other Delusions.

“The Pusher” – Hoyt Axton

Hoyt Axton is criminally under-appreciated. His amazing voice can jump effortlessly from tender-as-a-Teddy-Bear into a frightening guttural growl. This tune is an especially great showcase for his throat skills, and it works as a cautionary tale like my short story, “The Art of the Dead,” which tells of an artist who is a heroin addict and a stalker. My favorite line from this song is “I seen a lot of people with tombstones in their eyes.” This sort of figurative language is very much in line with the narrator’s wild, unhinged point-of-view in “The Art of the Dead.”

“I Dream of Highways” – Hoyt Axton

This song features Axton at his most tender, displaying a range from warm buzzsaw to smooth falsetto. The ethereal harmony by co-writer Renee Armand elevates the tune into a beautiful, heartbreaking sadness: for missed opportunities; for lost chances; for strained relationships. The lyrics evoke an unnameable melancholy that perfectly complements my story “The Kaleidoscope,” which deals with a young married couple returning to the United States after living in Japan for a year – only to find themselves feeling like foreigners in their own homeland.

“Stand By Your Man” – Tammy Wynette

The unadorned, vulnerable-yet-strong vocals begin quietly and end with a sad (or is it triumphant?) crescendo. The lyrics are ambiguous, starting with a feminist nod (“Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman”) before seeming to capitulate to a husband’s bad behavior (“But if you love him, you’ll forgive him”). And what should listeners make of the line “After all, he’s just a man”? Is she giving the old excuse “boys will be boys” or saying that men are inherently, well, lesser? Is the narrator a weak woman or a strong one? I love that there’s so much depth and complexity, which is exactly what I was aiming for in my story “The Baby Doll” – about a wife who ultimately decides whether to stand by her husband after he was unfaithful and possibly involved in a suspicious death.

“In the Summertime (You Don’t Want My Love)” – Roger Miller

I’m a fan of songs that sound happy but are actually about sadness. The music here is gleeful and bouncy, fast-tempoed and light, with images of colorful birds and trees in bloom, and yet these things only remind the speaker that his heart is broken: “In the summertime, when all the trees and leaves are green / And the redbird sings, I'll be blue / 'Cause you don't want my love.” Plus you simply can’t beat Miller’s amazing vocal scatting. My story “The Odds” tells of a gambler whose grandmother needs a lifesaving operation – and he makes a wager on Death. The story uses humor to discuss the bigger, more grim questions about how we handle grief.

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down” – Johnny Cash

This gospel standard is the Man in Black at his most apocalyptic: “Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand / Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man / But as sure as God made black and white / What's down in the dark will be brought to the light.” His quivering voice, like a wizened grandfather, warns sinners that their day of reckoning is nigh. My story “The Big Baby Crime Spree” is about a hospital custodian whose father is in late-stage dementia. The custodian hatches a wild plan to kidnap newborn infants to help him with a string of robberies. But all of this is of course a delusion meant to stave off the inevitable death that we all have to face.

Darrin Doyle teaches at Central Michigan University. The Big Baby Crime Spree and Other Delusions is his fifth book of fiction. He’s the author of the story collections Scoundrels Among Us and The Dark Will End the Dark (Tortoise Books) and the novels The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo (St. Martin’s Press) and Revenge of the Teacher's Pet:A Love Story (LSU Press). He lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan with three other humans and a cat. His website is

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March's Best eBook Deals

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February 26, 2021

Robert Jones Jr.'s Playlist for His Novel "The Prophets"

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.

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

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

Robert Jones Jr.'s novel The Prophets is a startling debut, a love story filled with exceptionally drawn characters both tender and cruel.

The New York Times Book Review wrote of the book:

"[An] often lyrical and rebellious love story...Jones seems to be reaching across centuries of blood and memory in an attempt to shake awake a warrior armed with weapon and wit that lies sleeping in his imagined, beloved, Black reader....Jones proves himself an amazing lyricist, pulling poetry out of every image and shift of light....What a fiery kindness that ending, this book. A book I entered hesitantly, cautiously, I exited anew—something in me unloosed, running. May this book cast its spell on all of us, restore to us some memory of our most warrior and softest selves."

In his words, here is Robert Jones Jr.'s Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Prophets:

It was somewhat difficult to compile a musical playlist for The Prophets because the book takes place in eras that predate recorded music, which severely limited my options if I was seeking to be historically authentic. So rather than strict authenticity, I relied primarily on emotion in the selection process. These songs evoke in me the same feelings or moods conveyed in particular passages.

“No More Auction Block For Me” by Sweet Honey in the Rock: This song reminds me of two characters in The Prophets—Maggie and Samuel, both of whom make decisions that draw a line in the sand in terms of their own liberation. They mean not to be anyone’s chattel and are willing to go to desperate extremes to ensure that. They really, truly mean “give me liberty or give me death.” The harmonious balm of a way in which this sentiment is conveyed by Sweet Honey in the Rock belies the fact that it is also a sword.

“I Heard The Voice Of Jesus” by The Famous Ward Singers: When Amos experiences a transformation shortly after converting to Christianity, the swirling of it all is at once confusing and comforting. The way in which The Famous Ward Singers sing—in that old gospel style harmony—reminds me of that tradition, like a heavenly choir watching over someone being baptized for the first time and welcoming them into the Christian way of being.

Matondoni Wedding Song (Traditional African Tribe Musicians): As I wrote of Kosii and Elewa’s ceremony, I heard music very similar to this in my head. The drums, the clashing of metal instruments, and the chanting all combining to reach the heights and frenzy of celebration. I can actually visualize the joy when I hear this.

“Sissy Blues” by Ma Rainey: The fact that Ma Rainey was singing about queerness this early in Black cultural production is astounding. The tensions described in the song (that arise from Black people not performing in their socially defined roles) captured, for me, the entire tension at the center of The Prophets in regard to Samuel and Isaiah’s love and how it’s seen by those who surround them.

“Crucifixion” by The Roberta Martin Singers: This feels like a song one might sing at a funeral and that was really the energy I felt at certain points in the book when certain characters met certain fates. It’s a heavy song, heavy vocals and heavy lyrics; and that weight has a color: blue. And it lays itself on many things in the book and I’m certain this song is the sound that burden makes.

“I’m Gonna Lay Down My Life For My Lord” by Bessie Jones: Often, to keep time and to pass time, and also to pass messages, enslaved people would sing while they were forced to work. To listeners, it sounded as though they were happy. Those listeners were mistaken. They were sad, angry, and ready. Despite its submissive lyrics, this song sounds like that to me: ready. Ready to lead. Ready to fight. Ready to be free.

“I Be So Glad When The Sun Goes Down” by Ed Lewis: This is a work song, but I also interpret it as a love song expressing a longing not just to rest, but to lie down beside a loved one, to be intimate, to make love after a long day of toil. That is exactly what I tried to capture in Samuel and Isaiah’s relationship.

Akamba Witch Doctor: Traditional African Tribe Musicians: This song makes me think of my ancestors, particularly the ones I’ve never met, who were in their own lands before they were kidnapped, who maybe made it to these cruel shores, or who, instead sacrificed themselves rather than be enslaved. There is a kind of old wisdom in this and I tried to capture this same sense in the chapters in The Prophets where the ancestors speak in direct address.

“There Is A Balm In Gilead” by Mahalia Jackson: I have a similarly named chapter in the book, a chapter about healing. And that’s what Mahalia Jackson’s voice sounds like: a healing. Somber, gentle, patient, warm, like hands laid on bodies that need touch. I can see the women of “the circle”—Maggie, Essie, Sarah, Be Auntie, and Puah with their hands raised, channeling something not many have access to in order to do some small act of good in an evil place.

African Drums Of War: Drums World Collective: Deceptively simple, this song has a very distinct purpose: to gather people for war. This is old, predating Western society certainly. But it also carries resonance for something like a slave revolt. There is something very Black about the methodical way in which this song builds, emulating the ways in which consciousness building works so that change becomes opportune.

Robert Jones, Jr., was born and raised in New York City. He received his BFA in creative writing with honors and MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College. He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Essence, OkayAfrica, The Feminist Wire, and The Grio. He is the creator of the social justice social media community Son of Baldwin. Jones was recently featured in T Magazine's cover story, "Black Male Writers of Our Time." The Prophets is his debut novel.

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Shorties (An Excerpt from Rebecca Carroll's Memoir, Three Interviews with Julien Baker, and more)

Surviving The White Gaze by Rebecca Carroll

BuzzFeed shared an excerpt from Rebecca Carroll's memoir Surviving The White Gaze.

The Cut and Noisey interviewed Julien Baker.

February's best eBook deals.

Today's best eBook deals.

eBook on sale for $1.99 today:

Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison

eBook son sale for $2.99 today:

Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez
Crazy Horse and Custer by Stephen E. Ambrose
Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino

Coming soon: a Blondie graphic novel.

Vulture applauded the ending of Ian McEwan's novel Atonement.

Craig Finn discussed the new Hold Steady album with the Spokesman-Review.

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

Bandcamp Daily explored Sun Ra's albums on the platform.

Vol. 1 Brooklyn interviewed author Troy James Weaver.

Stream a new song by Bachelor (Jay Som and Palehound).

Orion Magazine features a new essay by Emily Raboteau.

Stream a new Flock of Dimes song.

Vol. 1 Brooklyn interviewed author Keith Rosson.

Stream a new song by L.A. Exes (Jenny Owen Youngs' new band).

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