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July 29, 2016

Book Notes - Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan "Sarong Party Girls"

Sarong Party Girls

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Distinctively written in "Singlish," Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan's dark and funny novel Sarong Party Girls captures modern Singapore from a young woman's perspective.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A rowdy tale, memorable language, and a very distinctive protagonist."


In her own words, here is Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Sarong Party Girls:


Music was very much threaded through the canvas of my novel Sarong Party Girls -- quite organically, as this is a tale about a young woman in Singapore who finds herself in bars, clubs and karaoke TV lounges in her quest to find an expat husband. This satirical novel, which finds Jazzy, the brassy heroine, on a journey through Singapore's nightlife, colorful wet markets and gleaming office settings, is one that shows a young woman caught between a modern Asian society and old-world traditions.

Much like Jane Austen's heroines, Jazzy wants her friends and herself to make good marriages in order to achieve a certain social standing in life -- and their plan to go about it by marrying an expat Caucasian man acutely clashes with societal pressures and expectations to enter into a conventional marriage with a Singaporean man. Jazzy is a strident feminist in a way -- she is drawn to the world of expats as she is hoping to escape what she sees as a continuing patriarchal social structure beneath the sparkling veneer of modern Singapore. Even so, she still feels the pull of her parents' old ways and values.

So naturally, two rather disparate threads -- nostalgic Singaporean tunes as well as contemporary music that the upper strata of Singapore club-goers might enjoy -- inspired bits of this novel:



"Di Tanjong Katong"

"Di Tanjong Katong" is a folksy Malay-Singaporean song that's often sung around Singapore's National Day -- August 9, our independence day. I love this song because it's a nostalgic tune that references Tanjong Katong, one of my favorite Singaporean neighborhoods. Tanjong Katong is not too far from the sea and its narrow lanes lined with squat pre-war shophouses still give the neighborhood a deliciously sleepy, old-world feel even today. And the melody and lyrics of the song seem to embody that -- very much rooting it in the old Singapore setting that Jazzy finds herself mired in and drawn to while also simultaneously seeking to reject it.

The song comprises pantuns -- traditional Malay oral literature verses -- set to music, as explained by Malay-Singaporean poet Alfian Sa'at.

His translation of the first verse here:

Di Tanjong Katong, airnya biru,
Di situ tempatnya dara jelita;
Duduk sekampung, lagikan rindu,
Kononlah pula nun jauh di mata.

In English:

At Tanjong Katong, the waters are blue,
That is the place to find pretty maidens;
We live in the same village, yet I pine for you,
What more if you're beyond my eyes' reach.

"Productivity Song"

Singapore's history is littered with well-meaning government campaigns -- from the Courtesy campaign with its chirpy anthem that encouraged everyone to remember that "Courtesy is for free" to ones that nudged Singaporeans to "Eat Frozen Pork" or sterilize their pets. One of my favorite government campaign songs, however, comes from the productivity campaign in the 1980s, when a chipper mascot named Teamy the Bee was introduced and foisted on schoolchildren and the general citizenry. The productivity song we were all taught in schools at the time went something like this:

Good, better, best
Never let it rest
‘Til the good is better
And the better best!

These lyrics very much reflect the intrinsic spirit of Jazzy, who is a determined young woman who plays to win. From the first chapter of the novel,  in which she coolly lays out her strategy for finding that expat husband, this drive and determination to succeed is ever-apparent and this song might well have been one to fuel her on her journey.

"One Small Umbrella"
(Note: This is a rather modern, jazzed up version of this song.)

This romantic old Hokkien love song about a couple sharing a small umbrella in a rainstorm is a popular one in some clubs and karaoke settings in Singapore. It makes an appearance in Sarong Party Girls when Jazzy decides to check out a Chinese nightclub. Jazzy, though disdainful at the time of many things Chinese, finds herself momentarily moved by it. I love the nostalgic melody of the song and its simple sweet lyrics -- and it's a song that's very much entrenched in that traditional Singaporean culture that Jazzy wants to reject. (It is, for example, a song that's often popular with the Ah Bengs -- slightly out-of-step and uncouth Chinese-Singaporean guys -- whom Jazzy abhors.)

The first verse:

咱二人
Na Neng Lang
Two of us

做阵拿着一支小雨伞
Jhue Din Ghia Tio Ji Ki Sio Hor Sua
Together holding a small umbrella

雨越大
Hor Lu Tua
Rain is getting heavier

我来照顾你你来照顾我
Gua Lai Jiao Ko Li, Li Lai Jioa Ko Gua
I will take care of you, and you will take care of me

(Translation of lyrics above from http://blog.galvintan.com/2008/06/ji-ki-sio-hor-sua/)

"I Gotta Feeling" by The Black-Eyed Peas

This Black-Eyed Peas song is tremendously popular in Singaporean bars and clubs and it's one that you may hear multiple times in just one night out. When this novel was percolating in my head, I visited several nightclubs and bars in Singapore to gather scene and color and this song was everywhere. As I was writing the novel -- especially the evening scenes -- the first few lines of this song often popped into my head as they seemed like exactly the kind of lyrics that would pump Jazzy up before she left home for a big night out: "I gotta feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night …"

"Express Yourself" by Madonna

I've always loved this catchy song for its direct and rather bossy advice for women regarding love and relationships. I can almost hear Jazzy's voice and spirit in each line as the song aims to set down rules for what women should and shouldn't settle for, much in the same way that Jazzy lectures her own girlfriends. "Don't go for second best, baby" or "You don't need diamond rings or eighteen karat gold / Fancy cars that go very fast you know they never last no, no / What you need is a big strong hand to / Lift you to your higher ground." It's probably my favorite Madonna song.

"Lo Stadio" by Tiziano Ferro

Sometime during the revisions process of this novel, I spent two months writing and learning Italian in Sardinia, Italy. It was the summer of 2015 and "Lo Stadio" was one of the songs of the summer -- it was inescapable on every radio station. The better my Italian got the more I understood the lyrics of this song, and it struck me as very Jazzy in its ambitions and its heart-on-one's-sleeve desires -- striving to change the world and be a "voice, a choir that smashes the skies," for example. On the surface, Jazzy's desire to marry an expat man may seem superficial and materialistic but she is a feminist at heart and she wants to change the world -- or at least her world -- by marrying differently than her parents did. And she's at a crucial moment in her life when she believes this has to happen rather urgently. This lyric is especially poignant for me in light of that and I often thought of Jazzy whenever I heard it:

Il destino mi osserva stavolta
no non posso fermarmi

Destiny is watching me this time
No, I can't stop

"In The Upper Room: Dance IX" by Philip Glass

Despite my listing of disparate songs above, when it came to actually listening to music while writing Sarong Party Girls, there was always only one -- this eight-minute piece by Philip Glass. In the almost four years I spent working on this novel, I listened to this song on an endless loop whenever I wrote. I had seen the Twyla Tharp dance choreographed to Glass's In the Upper Room pieces some years back and the experience blew me away. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat at New York City Center, my heart a jackhammer, as the fluid movements unfolded in front of me -- writing and life should be that graceful and easy, I thought. This song has everything a writer needs to get through a blank screen -- lots of energy-packed crescendoes and forward-movements that propelled me through writing some key scenes, as well as sweet, reflective moments. Most important, it did not have lyrics to distract me from the words at my fingers.


Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Sarong Party Girls links:

the author's website

Kirkus review

Dallas Morning News profile of the author
Deborah Kalb interview with the author
Slate profile of the author
South China Morning Post profile of the author
The Sun 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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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July 28, 2016

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week - July 28, 2016

In the weekly Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week, the Montreal bookstore recommends several new works of fiction, art books, periodicals, and comics.

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly is one of Montreal's premiere independent bookstores.


Multiple Choice

Multiple Choice
by Alejandro Zambra

Widely translated Chilean novelist Alejandro Zambra’s latest novel is structured like a standardized test. In ninety questions, he playfully evaluates the limitations of meaning through multiple deconstructed narratives. Originally conceived of as a parody of the aptitude test, he critiques the education system as he challenges readers to think critically.


The Service Porch

The Service Porch
by Fred Moten

This new collection of poetry from activist and writer Fred Moten comprises an unfolding of reflections on black life, love, violence and the undertaking of art. Moten generates a dialogue with some of the most brilliant African American artists through a series of epistolary poems that are by turns mournful, fierce, and full of joy.


The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays

The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays
by Andrew Forbes

Forbes' new collection of essays, suitable for "seamheads" and casual fans alike, is a modern poetics of baseball. Praising the zen-like slowness of the sport, Forbes finds respite in the rituals and traditions of America’s national pastime.


Time Clock

Time Clock
by Leslie Stein

The third installment in Leslie Stein’s Eye of the Majestic Creature series centering around Larrybear and her talking guitar, Marshmallow. In her distinctively stylized manner, Stein seamlessly weaves fantasy into the quotidian. In this volume, Larry travels between the country where Marshmallow has started a pie business and her life in Brooklyn where working in the service industry and its contingent drinking problems collide with a hurricane that hits New York.


The Osama Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime

The Osama Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime
by Toshio Ban & Tezuka Productions

This graphic format biography examines the life and work of the titan of Japanese comics, creator of Astro Boy, Osamu Tezuka. Penned by protege Toshio Ban, the book strives to recreate the style and pacing typical of Tezuka’s oeuvre. A popular culture history of postwar Japan that will transfix anyone interested in manga.


Librairie Drawn & Quarterly links:

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly's blog
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Facebook page
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Tumblr
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly on Twitter


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

other Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly new comics and graphic novel highlights)
Book Notes (authors create music playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

July 27, 2016

Book Notes - Kelly Schirmann "Popular Music"

Popular Music

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Kelly Schirmann's poetry collection Popular Music is an impressive debut.


In her own words, here is Kelly Schirmann's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection Popular Music:



Bob Dylan: "Isis"

You began your life by slamming the screen door of something! You wore your favorite hat, you hid a crystal in your mouth! You squinted into the morning sun, carried an instrument, clapped your hands! You knew everything you'd ever need to know! Then you walked into the world, and you touched the world's tapestries, and you smelled the world's spices, and you fell in love! You began your life by falling in love! Now all you have is knowledge! Go out again, go back out into the sun! The words aren't important! Look! The cloud of your life, moving across the sky!


Townes Van Zandt: "I'll Be Here in the Morning"

Some songs move like a train. You are in the train car of the song, and it sways gently, carrying you along with it, along the bank of the polluted river, past the dirty shores of the city. You are free here, have never been more free than this, you think, watching the gears and machine parts, the office women touching their thin scarves. You know what The Highway means, you think; you hear the drunk trying to touch you through the dried grass of his voice. The pure pale green of youth shining in a dry palm. Longing is the only feeling, you think; you keep your true love far enough away and you long. You long and long for her, the pure green of her in your mind. She is so beautiful, beautiful as the trees and the dirty boats are beautiful. Beauty that hurts and doesn't stop hurting. You are going along a river the color of old fish and The Highway is singing. This is love, you think, and you love everything. The shrill laugh of these beautiful strangers. The dead river going right on by.


Joanna Newson: "In California"

Youth is the greatest loneliness. You get up on the roof with your thoughts, alone, eternal in your loneliness like the moon. Alone and singular in the night, above the soft noises of animals, alone. Young and in love with the source of your own destruction, young and alone and holding it there, where your chin touches your knees in the cold dark. There is no one to protect you, to carry you, there is none of you left to be destroyed. You are alone and so beautiful. You are alone and among the animals, you smell the pines and you have learned nothing. The sun of you grows and rises, dies into a moon, which fills you and empties you, your beautiful stupid body, holding the glow of your furious power, young and alone and emptied by the dark, by its strong clean wind.


Tanya Tucker: "New York City Song"

I didn't ask to be born into this world, but here I am alive anyway. You get lonely in it sometimes, all by yourself lookin' for money and something to cover your body with. You need shelter, alright, but it's not always that kind. You need to find some money and you need to find it fast. Lots of girls waste their lives in dirty rooms lookin' for money. They wanna fall in love with their lives and they fall in love with a man, you'll see. A man's got his own life, plus all the other lives he wants, when he wants ‘em. This city's nothin' but a big man. Only a man could make you feel that lonely. No real money and the wrong kind of shelter. He ain't worth singin' about, but here I am singin'. What else kind of song is there, besides what you can't let go of, or what never seems to wanna let go of you.


Ravi Shankar: "Prabhujee"

The world is endless and full of suffering. The world chants and rocks, lies prone beneath you, fat and beautiful and breathing. There is no world you do not sit with daily, that you could not suffer for, that you do not bleed into. There is the breath and the voice married to the breath, the life carried from the breath into the fat and living world. There is no world that is perfect and there is no perfection and there is no world. You are one body in a strong wind. You watch the water clear a space for itself.


Bill Callahan: "Drover"

The man moves slowly onto the stage. He squints under the bright lights, touching the microphone stand softly, bracing his tall sandy body beneath the glow. He is so large, so handsome, though when he leans forward to speak he struggles to say even this: that he is alone, that everyone has left. I don't know what he means, at first. I know his heart is broken, that's obvious, but there's something else. Something exciting. I keep listening. He's mad, I realize; he even seems a little crazy. I look around to see if anyone else is excited. A lot of near-empty bottles clink in the dark. The handsome angry man stands close; he hunkers forward, then lashes out – Tss! Tss! He lays out a timeline of his destruction, he spreads the map out as wide as it can go. The man is commanding, picking up speed. He whips his horses! I can hear him loping now, loping through the plains with his horses and his broken heart, the wind in his angry hair, and as he rides he swallows the wind, all this beautiful senseless wind, and then you see: he sees: something in the distance! He sees the song, he sees the wind of the song! Tss! Tss! He grips the hair of his handsome horse, he lopes and lopes and lopes. I lose sight of him then, all his pain and ecstasy burned into the gold smear of ancient sun, all my proud tenderness sailing straight toward his naked, angry heart.


Father John Misty: "Only Son of the Ladiesman"

God strides handsomely into the dark of his own mind. Outside, the shining angry gold death of the world blares cinematically. I know what it sounds like! God is here: he's not embarrassed. I'm here to walk with you, he says, I'm here to fuck you beneath the dying gaze of a thousand angels. I'm here, with my golden mouth on your nipples, with all the lights of Los Angeles ringing below us. Sincere waves of God pummel your soft body, loving you harder than you could ever love Him. It makes sense, you think, lost in the cinematic fucking of God's love, the liquid echo of the world's end cascading over us in waves, that we would fall just like this, full of beautiful skeptical pleasure, screaming and coming into death's open golden mouth.


Smog: "Let's Move to the Country"

One day the clean pure sun rolled in. I saw the whole world, I saw its clean lines. I saw all the clichés: holiday photos, beautiful naked asses, fresh lawns. I saw the reasons why towns and cars were invented, and canned fruit, I saw what families were doing holding each other in broad daylight. Nothing was mean anymore. The sun on the trees and the sun on the water and the dream of our babies. And I wrote songs for our babies, for the easy solitude of our babies and of us. I looked at the water, I said making love. I forgave the world by learning the names of trees. I had it wrong; there were no mistakes. I slept in a bed of clean white sheets and you were in the bed. I dreamed your clean smooth skin against mine. I dreamed the water. I dreamed the sun hitting the water of your skin.


Kelly Schirmann and Popular Music links:

the author's website
the author's Tumblr

Washington Independent Review of Books 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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

Book Notes - Gina Ochsner "The Hidden Letters of Velta B."

The Hidden Letters of Velta B.

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Gina Ochsner's second novel The Hidden Letters of Velta B. impressively melds history with magical realism.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"In Ochsner's...strange, vivid second novel, a woman in a tiny Latvian village traces the magic-infused story of her life...Through bizarre, often hilarious vignettes featuring a cast of colorful characters and slapstick moments, Inara's tale comes to light… Ochsner has created an entire town filled with characters who display eccentric habits and engage in sharp-tongued banter, bringing a touch of believability to even the book's most out-there anecdotes. Humor, mythology, and an immersive setting, as well as a few poignant and visceral moments as family secrets are revealed, render this a memorable tale."


In her own words, here is Gina Ochsner's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Hidden Letters of Velta B.:


I had no idea how much music would be at the heart of my latest novel The Hidden Letters of Velta B. The novel is set in eastern Latvia and follows the lives of a family who has been caretakers of the town cemetery. I knew early on in the research that history would be important. I thought I would collect old wives tales, jokes, recipes and thread a storyline out of the typical misunderstandings that all so often exist in small town populated by flamboyant and eccentric people. This was a fine place to start. But the more I travelled to eastern Latvia and the more I spent time simply listening, I realized that a huge part of Latvian culture is its music. Particularly important to Latvian culture are the thousands upon thousands of old songs called dainas. Just about everyone I talked to knew many of these old songs and had learned them as children. Some of the songs seemed to me of a more whimsical nature or like a riddle. Some described protocols of courtship and marrying. Some were laments. Others expressed outrage over the oppression Latvians have suffered at the hands of foreign occupiers. There were songs, Ligo songs, specifically sung for Jani Day or St. John's Day, a special mid-summer celebration that starts in the evening and goes until dawn. I attended a book fair in Sweden at which Latvia was featured as the "guest" nation. Several of the events showcased Latvian authors and issues relevant to current Latvian culture, politics and literature. At one event former president Vaira Vike-Freiberga explained the importance of language and music as preservers of identity and history for Latvians. She concluded her remarks by reciting a daina:

My mother died singing
And so did my father
And so will I
After I die, I will go on singing
With my sister
We'll stand on our gravestones and sing

That's when I knew that music had to be at the core of any story about Latvia.

Which makes the following track list especially baffling. Not one song is of Latvian origin. But somehow, to my odd, peculiar way of thinking, each of these songs shaped or spoke to a character in the novel. Maybe the better way to say it, is each of these songs spoke to me as I was thinking about characters and what they might be feeling. I've grouped them roughly into four categories: Klezmer, Romani, and Classical.



Klezmer

Klezmatics: Jews With Horns

Ever had a bad day when nothing, and I do mean nothing goes right? The toilet backs up, the dog gets sick all over Very Important Documents, and the transmission drops out in the driveway in a pile of metal and oily goo, and that's just the beginning? We've all had these kinds of days. The badness seems to create its own universe spiraling in a vortex, the center of which is you. That is the same day, of course—of course—you are Seriously Reprimanded at work, an email alerts you that someone has made fraudulent purchases with your credit card, a Close Personal Friend sends chilly vibes signaling the beginning of the end. What to do? Three options:

Weep and howl while yanking out your hair

Watch Roadrunner and Wiley Coyote and tell yourself you are just as smart and capable as the roadrunner, the rest of the world has yet to recognize this

Listen to Jews with Horns by The Klezmatics. Seriously. I can think of no one else whose music instantly makes me forget my troubles. Their work is, in their own words "wild, mystical, provocative, reflective . . " "Man in a Hat" for example is a song that makes your feet move, even if they feel like they weigh a hundred pounds. That's the enchantment of music. It speaks to the body and the soul. In the novel, one of the characters, Joels, is part of a Jazz/Klezmer band and when narrator hears them play she can't help but fall in love with this man who somehow takes a lifetime of sorrow and hurt and makes something magical out of it. She falls for him and he for her, like meat for salt. She learns that when he was young he was begrudgingly raised by an aunt who didn't like him and kept him cooped up in a mudroom most of the time. Most people would go barking mad. But Joels, a man she realizes has music thrumming through his veins, watched the play of shadow and light, the way the window cast lines—empty bars of music on the walls. Every sound from every bird, every call from an owl or rush of wind he translated into notes that rose and fell along the wall.

The Giora Feidman Jazz Experience: Klezmer Meets Jazz

Several of the songs on the CD whirled though my mind as I was writing the opening chapters of the novel. I think I played the CD non-stop for about six months. My kids begged me to play something, anything else. But no. Giora Feidman it was. Why? Well, why not. Who else captures the quick light quality of joy which can only be understood as sorrow's shadow. The songs are a complex whirl, light and quick at times and at others dolorous and pensive. The intricate play of melody and harmony, the weaving together and apart, resolves and clarifies into singular lucidity. The notes rise and fall, it's a melody that haunts, piercing and raw like a toothache—you can't leave it alone. I found myself humming it while making soups or hanging laundry out on the line. I was thinking of the character of the grandmother, Velta, who had such a hard life marked with such few joys. But she did have music and music saved her. Ordinary language couldn't contain her grief and her sorrow. She had to find a more capacious, expansive language. Music became her refuge and hiding place where she could write her thoughts and observations coded in musical score, the notes flying across the bars like birds set loose. I listen to these songs , particularly "Freilach Chadash" and "Simply Nigun", appreciating the depth and complexity and loving the fact that they reflect a sort of truth: life isn't simple and it was never meant to be.

Romani

Luminescent Orchestrii

After six months of hearing my kids make alternate requests, I finally relented. To my surprise one choice that earned unanimous approval Luminescent Orchestrii's Too Hot To Sleep. "Amaritsi" in particular, I heard them play live at a McMenamins in Oregon. They played a "Kolemeike" a gorgeous lively reel and then they launched into a Moldovan lullaby. I've never heard anything that moved me more. As they played, the air left the room and we sat numb, silent, and utterly spellbound. The lullaby starts with one violin then another joins in, and then another. One violin is the tall grass by a river, the next the sway of the endless fields of sunflowers that mark the Moldovan countryside. Another violin is the wind rustling through the trees. And the final violin is a mother's quiet prayer. When they finished we sat, again numb, awestruck that something so beautiful had been created and shared and that we were so lucky as to have witnessed it.

Another track "Rabbi in Palestine" tugged at me and I found myself hitting the replay on it over. As with most of this group's work, strings carry the show. Listening to it is like listening to a story being told of a long history unfolding over time. The opening segment vocals have a folk sound, a sort of framing device to the body of the piece. Each segment returns to or incorporates somehow the opening melody. But each segment stands alone as a miniature story within the larger story. Each segment holds its own interior conversation even while adding to the whole. And I find again a similar trope: joy and sorrow. Why is it that one can't exist without the other? Listening to this piece calls to mind something Theodore Roethke wrote in "The Moment": "What else to say? --We end in joy." It's a sentiment echoed by Karl Knausgaard in his book A Time For Everything: "One does not argue with joy; one surrenders to it."

Via Romen: Noevo Russian-Romany Music: My Two Homes

Every one of these songs I imagined being sung by Stanka, a Roma character in the novel whose life is inextricably bound with the narrator's (Inara). Stanka is the wise woman who knows or claims to know the answer to any problem: how to get a man, how to get rid of man, how to curse in five languages and cause someone's tomato vines to wither, what to do if you've been insulted, how to cure eczema, the true and correct way to quiet a ghost. She dispenses advice whether anyone wants it or not. And she is a treasure trove of song. She knows the songs sung while traveling, the songs that tell what happened to so many of her tribe at Auschwitz, the songs that remind us that life is for living. In particular Vadim Kopakov's artistry radiates in track 1 "Amare Chavare" (Our Children) and track 12 "Remembrance".

Classical

For a period of about two and half years the research for the novel stalled. I simply could not move past page 211. I had written myself into a corner. After those two and some odd years (or maybe during?) I realized that I didn't know the characters as well as I needed to. I plunged into a mini-depression that I now refer to as a Creative Funk. I should have taken my own advice and listened to more Klezmer during this time period. Instead, I listened to what I call Sad Classical. In particular I seemed fixated on Clare de Lune by Debussy, Chopin's Nocturne in E flat Major, and Eric Satie's Gymnopedie and Gnossienne . I went through boxes and boxes of Kleenex. But the beauty of the lyrical lines restored my faith in beauty itself. It also solidified whatever despair I was feeling about my own work. After thirty six months of Sad Classical, I decided to move on. Push through. Write that damn ending even if it kills me, or most of the characters. What I learned from those months is that there is a sort of shambling value to my broken, not-quite-there-yet-work and that I shouldn't give up. I also discovered that art fosters art. Beauty cultivates beauty, truth—large and small—generates inspires more of the same. I am grateful to these masters for reminding me of this.


Gina Ochsner and The Hidden Letters of Velta B. links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
Shelf Awareness review

Keitzertimes profile of 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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

Shorties (The Man Booker Prize Longlist, New Music from Lydia Loveless, and more)

The longlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize has been announced:

All That Man Is by David Szalay
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
Hystopia by David Means
The Many by Wyl Menmuir
My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
The North Water by Ian McGuire
The Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Serious Sweet by A.L. Kennedy
Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves


Stream a new Lydia Loveless song.


Would you like to support Largehearted Boy? Here are a couple of ways you can help.


eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck
Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

A History of the Future by James Kunstler
Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume


Fader hosted a discussion between authors Yaa Gyasi And Hua Hsu.


The Quietus listed the best albums of the year so far.


Viet Thanh Nguyen explained how winning the Pulitzer prize changed his life and perception of his writing.


Stream a new Pansy Division song.


Electric Literature interviewed author Liz Moore.


Signature recommended authors' first books to read in your twenties.


Stream a new Dinosaur Jr track.


Electric Literature interviewed author Donald Ray Pollock.


Aquarium Drunkard interviewed Eric Bachmann of Crooked Fingers.


Powell's Books listed 25 books to read before you die that "highlight literature that exposes readers to cultures and ways of life that may be different from their own."


Noisey listed the best wrestling entrance theme songs of all time.


Literary Hub interviewed poet Tommy Pico.


PopMatters interviewed singer-songwriter and poet Saul Williams.


The Millions offered 50 reasons to read the fiction of Joy Williams.


Stream a new Regina Spektor song.


PopMatters shared an excerpt from Jennifer Kieshen Armstrong's book Seinfeldia.


Salon interviewed musician Tommy Stinson.


Ebook on sale for $2.99 today: Daniel O'Malley's novel The Rook.


SPIN reconsidered Fiona Apple's Tidal album twenty years after its release.


Susan Faludi talked to Morning Edition about her new book In the Darkroom.


Tanya Donelly talked to PopMatters about the Belly reunion.


All Things Considered interviewed comics writer Marjorie Liu.


Paste recommended songs about regret.


Dave Eggers talked to Weekend Edition about his new novel Heroes of the Frontier.

The Guardian reviewed the book.


Radiohead's Thom Yorke shared a "bedtime mix" of songs for BBC Radio 1.


Artist Lisa Yuskavage discussed her favorite books at the New York Times.


NPR Music is streaming Ryan Adams' Newport Folk Festival performance.


The Oxford American features new fiction from Megan Mayhew Bergman.


The Record profiled music critic Vivien Goldman, who is releasing her first album at age 64.


Tor.com interviewed author Warren Ellis.


The Paste staff shared a playlist of songs for summer.


The Quietus interviewed author Juliet Escoria.


Drowned in Sound interviewed members of the band Mudhoney.


The Chicago Review of Books listed the best Chicago novels of the 21st century so far.



also at 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
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (recommended new books)
weekly music release lists


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

July 21, 2016

Atomic Books Comics Preview - July 22, 2016

In the weekly Atomic Books Comics Preview, Benn Ray highlights notable new comics, graphic novels, and books.

Benn Ray is the owner of Atomic Books, an independent bookstore in Baltimore. He also runs the Mutant Funnies Tumblr.

Atomic Books has been named one of BuzzFeed's Great American Bookstores, as well as one of Flavorwire's 10 greatest comic and graphic novel stores in America.


Betty And Veronica #1

Betty And Veronica #1
by Adam Hughes

The Archie universe gets another modern upgrade, so to speak. This time Adam Hughes takes on the best of frenemies as they fight about a corporate takeover of a local small business.


Green Arrow By Kevin Smith

Green Arrow By Kevin Smith
by Kevin Smith / Phil Hester / Ande Parks

While Kevin Smith's movie writing skills can be pretty up and down, his comic writing (with one notable exception we won't talk about) is generally pretty solid. And his Green Arrow work is among some of his best superhero stuff. It's all collected here in one volume.


Plutona

Plutona
by Jeff Lemire / Emi Lenox

If you've been watching the Netflix show Stranger Things, you know that sort of trope of a group of kids on a journey of discovery (like Stand By Me, E.T., The Goonies, etc.) are hitting our collective cultural sweet tooth right now. And Plutona delivers just that as a group of kids discover the body of the world's greatest superheo one day in the woods after school.


Slash: A History of the Legendary LA Punk Magazine: 1977-1980

Slash: A History of the Legendary LA Punk Magazine: 1977-1980
by J.C. Gabel / Brian Roettinger (editors)

Slash collects pages from the legendary music magazine of the same name while also containing new essays and oral histories from John Doe, Exene Cervenka, KK Barrett, Pat Smear, Thom Andersen, Gary Panter, Vivien Goldman, Richard Meltzer, Cali DeWitt, and many more. It's a gorgeous book celebrating an important West Coast punk publication. No punk library is complete without it.


Snotgirl #1

Snotgirl #1
by Bryan Lee O'Malley / Leslie Hung

The creator of Scott Pilgrim has this new ongoing comic book series. For most people, that's all you need to know. For the rest of you, there are a lot of bodily fluids involved.


Questions, concerns, comments or gripes – e-mail benn@atomicbooks.com. If there’s a comic I should know about, send it my way at Atomic, c/o Atomic Books 3620 Falls Rd., Baltimore, MD 21211.


Atomic Books & Benn Ray links:

Atomic Books website
Atomic Books on Twitter
Atomic Books on Facebook
Benn Ray's blog (The Mobtown Shank)
Benn Ray's comic, Mutant Funnies


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

other Atomic Books Comics Preview lists (weekly new comics & graphic novel highlights)

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Book Notes (authors create music 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)
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

Book Notes - Martin Seay "The Mirror Thief"

The Mirror Thief

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Martin Seay's novel The Mirror Thief is an ambitious and entertaining debut, and has already earned him numerous comparisons to David Mitchell.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Grandly entrancing...Shimmering with intimations of Hermann Hesse, Umberto Eco, and David Mitchell, Sheay's house-of-mirrors novel is spectacularly accomplished and exciting."


In his own words, here is Martin Seay's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel The Mirror Thief:


The Mirror Thief alternates through three main settings: Las Vegas in 2003, where a recently-retired U.S. Marine is tracking down a missing gambler; coastal Los Angeles in 1958, where a Brooklyn-born juvenile delinquent is searching for an obscure poet; and the city-state of Venice in 1592, where a physician and alchemist is conspiring to steal secret techniques for making flat glass mirrors on behalf of a foreign power. In all three settings music plays an important role: as atmosphere, as commentary, and sometimes as backstory.

With a few exceptions, this playlist consists of music that's mentioned in the book—though the book often refers to imaginary versions, not the recordings provided here.



"Va, pensiero" from Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Temistocle Solera (1842), performed by the Ambrosian Opera Chorus and the Philharmonia Orchestra under the direction of Riccardo Muti (1977)

The famous chorus of Hebrew slaves from Verdi's opera about the Babylonian captivity. In the early pages of The Mirror Thief it's being performed solo by a gondolier at a Venice-themed casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Intentionally or not, every historical narrative also tells a story about its present. Within a short time after the premiere of Nabucco, "Va, pensiero" came to be understood as a coded anthem for Italian unification; the slipperiness of history when it gets repurposed as rhetoric and spectacle is a concern that recurs in the novel. The Las Vegas sections take place in the days just prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq; I liked the fact that "Va, pensiero" draws a powerful imaginary link between Italy and Mesopotamia. The text of the chorus is derived from Psalm 137, also the source for the well-known Rastafarian song "Rivers of Babylon," among many other musical settings from many other Abrahamic traditions. The psalm speaks of the plight of artists in unjust times, and of their struggle to keep their work from being recuperated by the powers that oppress them; this is, of course, a consideration for artists in every era, including poets in 1958 and painters in 1592.

"It's Only a Paper Moon" by Harold Arlen, Y.A. Harburg, and Billy Rose (1932), performed by the Lionel Hampton Quintet (1954)

"It's Only a Paper Moon" appears in The Mirror Thief twice: playing through an open window in 1958 Los Angeles, then being sung by a drunk in 2003 Las Vegas. In keeping with a numerological practice favored by one of my main characters, I've put it on this playlist three times rather than two.

This might be the version heard through that window—though it would've had to have been a bootleg, since this track didn't see official release until 1999. It was recorded during a session for the Lionel Hampton Quintet, but Hampton doesn't play on it; instead we hear drummer Buddy Rich, bassist Ray Brown, pianist Oscar Peterson, and a jaw-dropping performance by Buddy DeFranco, one of the few notable clarinetists of the bebop era.

"Tequila" by the Champs (1958)

One of the great pop singles of all time, and one of those lightning-in-a-jar moments that litter the cultural landscape of the twentieth century. The Champs weren't a band yet when they recorded it; they were just session players in need of a B-side for the Dave Dupree single that was the ostensible point of their gig. The band ended up named after the sponsoring record label, Champion, which was in turn named after the beloved horse of the label's founder, singing cowboy Gene Autry.

The song was written by saxophonist Danny Flores, who also sings its one-word lyric. Because Flores was then under contract as a vocalist to a different label, he was credited as Chuck Rio, a name that stuck with him throughout his career. As "Tequila" took off, Dave Dupree put his solo act on hold and joined the Champs under his real name, Dave Burgess. A lot of name-shuffling occurs in The Mirror Thief, too; "Tequila" is in the air in its 1958 sections: a local hit that suddenly breaks coast-to-coast. It also pops up in 2003: a bright electronic jingle played by an imaginary slot machine.

"Inútil Paisagem" by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Aloysio de Oliveira (1965), performed by Elis Regina and Jobim (1974)

A classic ballad by the father of bossa nova. In the book it's one of three numbers performed in the lounge at the top of Las Vegas's Stratosphere by an improbably arty and melancholy jazz trio.

"Mas pra que?" goes the first line—"And for what?"—thus setting up one of the best examples of urbane sadness to come out of the urbane and sad mid-1960s. This later recording—the last track on Regina's legendary album with Jobim—strips the song to its essentials. The lyric's faintly serrated edge comes from the perverseness of what it expresses: the notion that the singer's abandonment has rendered the wonders of the natural world "useless." How could anyone imagine that a landscape is available simply for their use? But of course everyone imagines this. Wounded idealism of this sort—idealism that's no longer capable of recognizing itself—brings a lot of misfortune, in the book and in the world.

"Invisible" by Ornette Coleman (1958)

The Mirror Thief includes a lot of jazz. This is partly because its Los Angeles sections are set in Southern California's Beat milieu, and jazz was what the Beats listened to, the music they took seriously. Partly, too, it's for the sake of backstory: Curtis, the main character of the 2003 sections, is the son of a jazz bassist, and jazz is one of the things that still connect him to his dad. It helps connect him to other people, as well: early in the book he catches a ride from an Egyptian-immigrant cab driver, and the two find music to be a subject of common interest, a way to approach other subjects.

"Invisible" is on the radio when Curtis climbs in: the first track from Ornette Coleman's first album, recorded at the same time and in nearly the same place that the novel's 1958 events occur. The title suggests a concern—also evoked by other tracks on the album: "The Disguise," "Angel Voice," "The Sphinx"—with the solving of riddles, the navigating of illusions, and the pursuit of otherworldly truth. Although pretty straight by comparison to the path-breaking free jazz that Coleman would play in the next few years, the solos on "Invisible" are crazy by 1958 standards. "It was when I found out I could make mistakes," Coleman is said to have remarked, "that I knew I was on to something." If there's a more profound axiom for pursuing innovation in the arts, I haven't heard it.

"Que C'est Triste Venise" by Charles Aznavour and Françoise Dorin, performed by Aznavour (1964)

Another number performed by the made-up jazz trio in the Stratosphere lounge; like "Inútil Paisagem," it's another song about the ways our attitudes and emotions change what we perceive. A city for lovers is unbearable after love has ended: "In vain museums and churches open their doors: useless beauty before our disappointed eyes."

A pop icon who might be comparable to, say, Frank Sinatra had Sinatra not only recorded but also written dozens of enduring hits, Aznavour is in many ways the definitive French singer of the twentieth century, even more so because he's the child of immigrants: Armenians who fled the genocidal purges of the dying Ottoman Empire. Fraught exchanges between the Ottomans and the West feature prominently in the novel's 1592 sections, an era closer to the height of the Sultanate's power.

"It's Only a Paper Moon" by Harold Arlen, Y.A. Harburg, and Billy Rose (1932), performed by Miles Davis featuring Sonny Rollins (1951)

Then again, this might be the version of "It's Only a Paper Moon" heard through that window in 1958: Miles Davis's, with Walter Bishop, Jr. on piano, Tommy Potter on bass, Art Blakey on drums, and Sonny Rollins on tenor. The track originally appeared on The New Sounds, Davis's debut LP as a bandleader, which dates from a difficult time for both him and Rollins: both were struggling with heroin addiction, and the latter was between stints at Rikers Island.

The recording captures Davis's move away from the cool-jazz experimentation of the late 1940s in the direction of hard bop: slower tempos, more rooted in the blues. These incremental changes in styles and strategies were topics of passionate debate among the Beats of Venice Beach, who recognized the vitality of the contemporary jazz scene and sought authentic ways to emulate it in their own work.

"Urania" from To the Muses: Nine Galliards by Vincenzo Galilei (1584), performed by Anthony Bailes (2014)

One of the foremost lutenists of his generation, Vincenzo Galilei was an important figure in the emerging science of acoustics, a core member of the Florentine Camerata, and a noted composer who helped to lay the theoretical foundations of Baroque music. He's best known, however, for fathering an astronomer and physicist who is arguably the single most important figure in the history of science.

In 1592, this gifted son was simply a young scholar angling for a university appointment at Padua. He makes an uncredited cameo in The Mirror Thief, playing the lute at a gathering of the Uranian Academy, a group of progressive Venetian intellectuals devoted to science, music, Neoplatonism, and cabalistic magic. This piece composed by his father—who had died the year before—certainly would have been on the program: Urania, to whom both this galliard and the academy were dedicated, was the eldest of the muses, associated with astronomy and universal love.

"How High the Moon" by Morgan Lewis and Nancy Hamilton (1940), performed by Sonny Rollins (1958)

More classic jazz on Curtis's cabdriver's radio, and another recording from 1958 Los Angeles: the New-York-based Rollins on tenor, plus legendary LA session players Leroy Vinnegar on bass and Barney Kessel on guitar.

"Somewhere there's music, how faint the tune," goes Nancy Hamilton's original lyric; "Somewhere there's heaven, how high the moon." One of many classic American songs of yearning, it differs from its peers by locating heaven specifically in the nighttime sky, evoking the moon as the traditional ally of forbidden lovers, and thus uniting them with other figures—poets, criminals, practitioners of occult arts—whose undertakings are unsanctioned by society. In alchemy, the moon is silver to the sun's gold, brain to the sun's heart; it's also associated with the opus magnum: the alchemists' oblique strategy for accessing the mind of God though the experimental interrogation of Nature. Gazed at directly, the sun blinds us; the moon intercedes on our behalf, stealing and distilling the harsh solar light to return it to the darkened world. In this sense, the moon is the first and foremost mirror.

"Floating Bridge" by Sleepy John Estes (1937)

The last of the three numbers played by the jazz trio in the Stratosphere lounge: an autobiographical tale by Tennessee blues singer Sleepy John Estes, who nearly drowned during the historic floods of 1937 when a car he was riding in skidded off a pontoon bridge. Like many blues songs, it refers to a trauma that has been survived but cannot entirely be overcome, an event that—like a ghost—recurs relentlessly, refusing to remain in the past. ("They dried me off and they laid me in the bed," Estes sings; "couldn't hear nothin' but muddy water runnin' through my head.") Even beyond the proximate suffering they bring, these traumas stand to disrupt the progress of normal narratives—personal, cultural, historical—and trap their sufferers in loops where the ordeal is continually relived or reenacted. Many such loops appear in The Mirror Thief.

A famous bridge of a very different sort also features in the book: the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal, which was less than a year old in 1592. In its planning stages the bridge was a political lightning-rod, dividing conservatives who favored a heavily-ornamented three-span design from progressives whose innovative and practical single-span approach finally carried the day. In early-modern Venice, where the wrong word in the wrong ear might lead to one's arrest (or worse) by the Inquisition or the Council of Ten, soliciting an opinion on the Rialto Bridge was a pretty good way to gauge the safety of speaking freely.

"Straight Life" written and performed by Art Pepper, from Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section (1957)

One of the great jazz stories of all time, and evidently maybe somewhat true: on January 19, 1957, LA-based saxophonist and junkie Art Pepper—who had not touched his horn in weeks (according to the liner notes) or months (according to Pepper's autobiography)—rolled out of bed to the news that his label had booked him a studio session that night with Miles Davis's rhythm section, in town from the East Coast. Along with Davis and a young saxophonist named John Coltrane, the rhythm section—pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones—comprised what has come to be known as Davis's "first great quintet;" Pepper idolized them, and understood himself to be in way, way over his head.

Then—so the story goes—Pepper soaked his dried-out reed, fixed a broken neck-cork in his alto with a Band-Aid, dragged himself into the studio, and gave the performance of his life. The story is embellished, but the album is extraordinary; it would have been spinning on a lot of turntables in 1958. (It also pops up in Curtis's cab in 2003.)

"Jam-e Narenji" (traditional); adapted and performed by Mohammad Rahim Khushnawaz (1993)

Although this is not a piece of music from the book, the sound of the instrument heard on this track—a short-necked lute with both plucked and sympathetic strings, known variously as a rubab, robab, or rabab depending on where it's being played and who's doing the transliteration—features in the memories of Crivano, the eponymous mirror thief, the main character of the 1592 sections. A Venetian born in Cyprus, Crivano was captured by the Turks in his early teens and pressed into service as a janissary soldier, fighting in campaigns across the full breadth of the Ottoman Empire, from Tunis to Tbilisi. Although this type of lute originated in Afghanistan, it spread westward into the lands surrounding the Caspian Sea; Crivano would have heard it in Turkey or Georgia. Because the Venetians he meets in 1592 aren't supposed to know about his janissary past, he has to keep this memory to himself, along with many others.

Performed here as an instrumental by the Herat-born Mohammad Rahim Khushnawaz, "Jam-e Narenji" is a traditional Dari song with lyrics that partake of themes common to minstrel traditions worldwide: impulse control, self-invited doom, adventures in masculine privilege. "Girl in the orange dress, on seeing your face I had to flee [. . .] you are a springtime flower that I must not pick."

"Let's Get Lost" by Jimmy McHugh & Frank Loesser (1943), performed by Chet Baker (1955)

Chet Baker's status as an icon—a product of his matinee-idol good looks, his haunted tenor croon, his junkie detachment, and the self-destructive thread that runs through his biography—tends to obscure his significant contributions as a pioneer of West Coast jazz: as the trumpeter in Gerry Mulligan's quartet, he helped establish a style that was softer, airier, more measured, and more self-consciously cerebral than that of their peers back East. Baker's later vocal tracks were widely derided as a cynical bid to appeal to young women instead of the chin-stroking male hipsters who made up the "real" jazz audience; while the record label's motives couldn't be clearer—the cover of Chet Baker Sings and Plays looks like a collage inside a high-school locker—the music sounds great, not despite but because of the limitations of Baker's voice, which hint at a mysterious, inaccessible interiority.

In The Mirror Thief, "Let's Get Lost" is a song that Curtis can remember his dad's combo playing. Doing just what the lyrics propose—simply vanishing, shaking off every entanglement, jumping the narrative rail of one's past, present, and future—is an impulse that several of the novel's characters flirt with.

"Redemption Song" by Bob Marley (1980)

The last song on the last Bob Marley album released during his lifetime, written and recorded while he was suffering from the cancer that would kill him, "Redemption Song" is his de facto valediction: a statement of his beliefs, tempered with acknowledgement of the difficulty of asserting freedom in the face of power. The lyrics paraphrase and expand Marcus Garvey's warning that the most effective mechanisms of coercion and control do their work inside us, below the threshold of consciousness, and limit what we're able to think. Like "Va, pensiero" and Psalm 137, Marley laments the limited power of songs to oppose injustice, and he leaves open the question of whether the only solution is apocalypse.

In the novel the song is sung by yet another Las Vegas cabdriver, who can't remember all the words, and keeps returning to the opening lines: the narrator's account of being removed from a slave ship's hold by pirates, only to be sold again. Their temporary intervention doesn't alter his status as an object, as property. Pirates appear at several points in The Mirror Thief, feeding off the inefficiencies of empire and capital.

"It's Only a Paper Moon" by Harold Arlen, Y.A. Harburg, and Billy Rose (1932), performed by the Nat King Cole Trio (1943)

The first song on which the legendary songwriting team of Arlen and Harburg directly collaborated, "Paper Moon," was commissioned by Billy Rose for a musical that failed; Paul Whiteman's orchestra had a hit with the tune in 1933, but after that it seems to have been largely forgotten until the war years, when Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Benny Goodman all recorded it. Maybe something in its concern with authenticity and artifice—its reach toward the real, toward genuine connection—is needed in a time of systematized violence.

Although it was composed earlier, there's a sense in which "Paper Moon" is a cooler shadow of the duo's most famous composition, "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz. Where the diurnal "Rainbow" expresses an almost gnostic yearning for an untroubled world beyond what can be seen—the barrier, after all, is presented as the visible spectrum itself—the nocturnal "Paper Moon" seems to discount this kind of transcendent communion with the divine in favor of one that's more human-scaled, though hardly less magical: the collaborative dreaming that occurs in the spaces between artists and their audiences.


Martin Seay and The Mirror Thief links:

the author's website

Booklist review
Chicago Tribune review
Guardian review
New York Times review
NPR Books review
Publishers Weekly review
Wall Street Journal review

Dead Darlings interview with the author
The Millions interview with the author
The Qwillery interview with the author
The Rumpus 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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

Shorties (Recommended Political Fiction, New Music from Sun Kil Moon, and more)

The Millions staff recommended political fiction.


Stream a new Sun Kil Moon song.


Would you like to support Largehearted Boy? Here are a couple of ways you can help.


eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck
Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

A History of the Future by James Kunstler
Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume


The OTHERPPL podcast interviewed Chuck Klosterman.


Literary Hub interviewed author Margaret Atwood.


PAPER interviewed Katheen Hanna.


Jenni Fagan discussed writing her second novel The Sunlight Pilgrims at Signature.


Stream a new Sin Fang song.


The Brooklyn Rail interviewed Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer about their new anthology The Big Book of Science Fiction.


Stream a new Rosemary Fairweather track.


The Wall Street Journal examined the popularity of online fiction in China.


Aquarium Drunkard's Transmissions podcast interviewed singer-songwriter Damien Jurado.


Salon interviewed Brad Watson about his new novel Miss Jane.


Robert Ellis visited World Cafe for an interview and live performance.


Bookworm interviewed author Vivian Gornick.


NPR Music is streaming Quiero Creedence, an album of Latin bands playing Creedence Clearwater Revival covers.


Lenny features new fiction by Alice Sola Kim.


NPR Music is streaming the new Lori McKenna album The Bird & The Rifle.


Electric Literature interviewed author Ted Chiang.


NPR Music is streaming the new Descendents album Hypercaffium Spazzinate.


Signature recommended entry points into the writing of Jesse Ball.


Paste interviewed singer-songwriter Meiko.


Literary Hub recommended more books about books.


The Guardian listed the best Orange Juice and Edwyn Collins songs.


Author Megan Abbott discussed books and reading with the New York Times.


Members of Belly discussed the band's reunion with Drowned in Sound.


Stylist recommended feminist books every woman should read.


Rolling Stone profiled the band The Tragically Hip.


Signature reconsidered Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring.



also at 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
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (recommended new books)
weekly music release lists


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

July 20, 2016

Book Notes - Matthew Cheney "Blood"

Blood

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Winner of the 2014 Hudson Prize, Matthew Cheney's short story collection Blood is diverse, dark, and entertaining.

Locus wrote of the book:

"Like Rhys Hughes and Don Webb, Steven Millhauser and Donald Barthelme, Matthew Cheney is a citizen of those strange lands 'beyond the fields we know,' who brings back fever-dream reportage wrapped up in packages both bloody and colorful."


In his own words, here is Matthew Cheney's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection Blood:


The stories in Blood were written over a period of roughly fifteen years, and I discovered when I set one story beside another that certain ideas and images had recurred without my being aware of them. The most surprising for me was the prevalence of music and audio equipment, particularly record players. It makes sense, though. Not only do I love all sorts of different types of music, but recorded sound seems like magic to me, and old records are some of the most wonderful objects in the world.

(Recently, I discovered that in 1914 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a concert violinist named Forest Cheney founded the Cheney Talking Machine Company and, for a few years at least, built and sold elegant phonographs. I don't think I am directly related to Forest Cheney, but it thrills me to know that there were Cheney phonographs out there.)

My stories mix and match various styles, genres, subjects, and tones. Perhaps they can be united not only by the pages of a book, but by the flows and twists of mood that music allows. Here, then, are some songs for the stories, and some stories for the songs…



"Love Is Stronger Than Death" – The The
This song (and, really, the entire album it's from, Dusk) makes a nice general theme song for the collection. I bought Dusk when it was released in 1993, and I remember a sticker on the CD shrinkwrap that declared the album to be "songs for the lost, lonely, and lustful". (I don't know if that's an accurate memory, but those three words have stuck with me.) The words fit the album, and would also make a good motto for Blood: Stories.

"Wicked Little Doll" – David Byrne
This song is so on the nose for the first story, "How to Play with Dolls", that I'm surprised I didn't have it in mind when I was writing. But I didn't. I was sitting in a hotel restaurant in Nairobi during a writers' conference, and I needed a very short story to read at an event that evening, and I had nothing, so I just started writing, without thought to music or anything other than getting one word to follow another. Still, "Wicked Little Doll" is a fine opening for the book: strange, energetic, a bit menacing, yet at heart not entirely wicked…

"Powderfinger" – Cowboy Junkies
The title story of the book, "Blood", was written with this recording of this song in mind. The story was partly inspired by my father, who owned a gun shop and had a tendency toward paranoia. He loved the Cowboy Junkies. We both did. People sometimes ask why I chose to write "Blood" from a female point of view. I talk about the need for one character to be outside the various sorts of masculinity in the story, I say it's just how I heard the voice, I come up with all sorts of explanations, a different one each time. The truth is far more prosaic: When I first started thinking of the story, Margo Timmins' voice, singing "Powderfinger", got into my head and wouldn't leave.

"Lift Him Up, That's All" – Washington Phillips
There are no sounds quite like those of Washington Phillips. He didn't record a lot, and musicologists have argued for decades about what his instruments were (probably fretless zithers, likely made or at least customized by Phillips himself). The mystery of the sounds and the man himself fit the mysteries of "Revelation", a story that might be a sort of post-apocalypse tale or might be a delusion, a story that never seeks to answer the questions it raises, but to convey some mysterious feeling, a feeling both unsettling and perhaps, momentarily at least, beautiful.

"And She Was" – Talking Heads
Here is a song about levitation, and it fits the oldest story in the book, "Getting a Date for Amelia", which is not about levitation, per se, but rather the beauty of escaping when you've been born to the wrong family. Amelia's brother, Joe, tells the story, and by the end he seems to understand that Amelia needed to get as far away as possible from their mother, who never seemed to find a way to see Amelia as anything but a repulsive burden. And Amelia does escape. It's not realistic, what Joe suspects happened to her, and he knows that, but Joe's the one who's right, not their mother, who doesn't believe in magic or flying away, and thus is forever stuck to the ground. What happened to Amelia? Nobody knows for sure. But I can tell you this: it's good she got away. "Joining the world of missing persons, and she was / Missing enough to feel all right, and she was…"

"Spiegel im Spiegel" – Angele Dubeau & La Pieta (composer: Arvo Pärt)
Here is perhaps the most melancholy song I've ever heard. It fits perhaps the saddest story I've written, "The Lake". I did not set out to write a sad story when I began it – I set out to write a Ray Bradbury story as if it were written by a young James Joyce. I thought it would be eerie and whimsical and end with an epiphany. But I wrote it after experiencing the death of a student at the boarding school where I worked and after getting to know her family and being amazed at their strength and resilience. I wondered what I would have done if I had been in their place. I didn't think I would be as strong as they were. That feeling infected the story. Though it ends with a theft of phrases from Joyce's "The Dead", I'm not sure it ends with an epiphany. But then, I'm not sure death always provides epiphany, especially the death of children.

"Lonesome Road Blues" – Sam Collins
This song is central to the story "Lonesome Road". It's one of my favorite songs, and I listened to it almost daily for at least a year after I heard it on a compilation album of old blues. I sought out everything Sam Collins had recorded (not quite two dozen songs). While all his recordings are interesting, and "My Road is Rough and Rocky" is almost as magnificent as "Lonesome Road Blues", and makes an appearance in a later story, but there's just nothing like this track in all the blues I know. (Some of Blind Willie McTell comes close, and is perfect in its own way; similarly, Henry Thomas; others, too, but not quite the same.) What is it about Collins's voice and casual guitar playing, his apparent improvisation of the song (which melds various blues songs into one) – what is it that so enchants? If I could answer that, I wouldn't have to keep listening. It's the sort of song that inspires ghost stories, and that is what "Lonesome Road" is, a story that asks: Is it the song the that's ghostly … or are we?

"Gold Dust" – Tori Amos
Lots of musicians have influenced the shape and style of my stories, and Tori Amos is toward the top of that list. Her catchy, surprising, often ethereal music is matched with lyrics that somehow feel like they make sense even when the words are almost as opaque as Gertrude Stein at her most abstract. I suspect that one of the attractions of Tori Amos's music is that it allows each listener to summon their own meaning for the mysteries. "Gold Dust" is, for me at least, a touching, maybe even heartbreaking, study of memory. It goes along with my story "Prague", a story that many readers tell me seems incomprehensible, but which has always seemed quite clear to me: It's told from the point of view of a woman suffering dementia at the end of her life and trying to put some pieces of memory together. In the end, she has lost all sorts of context and associations, but she knows that her son loves her, and really, that is enough. "How did it go so fast / you'll say / as we are looking back / and then we'll understand / we held gold dust / in our hands…" I'm old enough now to know the truth in those words.

"The Great Below" – Nine Inch Nails
I expect I had this song in mind when I wrote the story "In Exile". I don't remember, but it makes sense, given some of the lyrics – for instance, what in the song is "tired faith all worn and thin" gets personified in a character named Faith at the end of the story. Though I don't remember much about the writing of "In Exile", I know I wrote it around the time I was directing a production of Beckett's play Endgame (a few of the children in the story have Beckettesque names: Blin, Pin & Pem). We ended Endgame with this song and a two-minute fade of the lights from day to night. Such a slow, strange end certainly fits "In Exile", a story about a woman who has lost everything she ever cared about, and yet is writing letters to the husband and child and lover she has lost, as if saying, "I can still feel you even so far away." And she can, even as, by the time she tells this tale, she is ready to take her place in the Great Below.

"We Suck Young Blood" – Radiohead
I don't want to say too much about "How Far to Englishman's Bay", because it's a horror story and, as such, the less said the better. (Horror stories should not be explicated, but experienced.) The story will not explain itself, because the protagonist cannot explain what happens to him, but if you are itching for some sort of explanation, I'd suggest listening to "We Suck Young Blood" while reading and then thinking about how it all makes you feel.

"Deuteronomy 2:10" – The Mountain Goats
This might be the loneliest song ever written. It is a song about extinction and told from the point of view of animals who are the last of their kind: the last Tasmanian wolf, the last dodo, the last golden toad. It's the song I've chosen to accompany "The Last Elegy", a story not about extinction, but about the loss of friends – friends you might not have understood, but whom you loved, and loved well, in your own way, and for whom you might be the last witness. In that sense, I suppose, "The Last Elegy" is about extinction: not the extinction of a species, but the loss of the people who mattered most in your life. What is it like to be the last person left alive with certain memories of events that were once remembered by many? How should you live when you are the last?

"The Desperate Kingdom Of Love" – PJ Harvey
A very short song for a very short story: "The Voice". The lyrics of the song aren't an exact fit for the story, but PJ Harvey's voice is. Is hers the voice of the protagonist, or of the voice he hears? Either, or perhaps both.

"Whistle Down The Wind" – Tom Waits
I'm not all I thought I'd be/ I've always stayed around sums up the life of the protagonist of "Thin", Charles. I expect he would have liked this song. It's easy to get stuck in rural America, easy to feel like your life is a trap ("If I stay here I'll rust/ I'm stuck like a shipwreck out here in the dust"). For Charles, both his body and his life are a trap. He makes the best of it all, but he's a dog tied to a wagon of rain.

"For Shame of Doing Wrong" – Richard Thompson
If you've ever seen Richard Thompson in concert, you know he has not just an astounding mastery of the guitar, but also a marvelous stage presence: friendly, funny, warm. And yet his songs are full of darkness, death, suffering, betrayal… I love that about him. "For Shame of Doing Wrong" is hardly his bleakest or most coruscating song, but it isn't very happy either. In any case, it's beautiful, particularly in the rendition on the Chrono Show album, and it fits the story "The New Practical Physics" in many ways. I'm not sure which of the characters it best fits; maybe all of them. Certainly, the utterly flawed couple at the center of the story, Ben and Miguel, are familiar with fear and shame; indeed, fear and shame are tearing their relationship apart. Since writing the story, I've often wondered if Ben and Miguel will stay together. They end the story okay, so I think there's hope for them. But I'm not sure. They may finally have to part, and spend their days cursed with the ache that this song evokes.

"Wallflower" – Peter Gabriel
At various times in "Mrs. Kafka", either the doctor, who is the narrator, or Mrs. Kafka, who is his patient, could be the one to say, as Peter Gabriel does, "You may disappear, you're not forgotten here/ And I will say to you, I will do what I can do…" The question of who in an asylum is insane is one that has been explored in plenty of literature (Chekhov's "Ward 6" comes to mind), but it's quite clear in this story that Mrs. Kafka is nuts. She also seems to know more than anybody else about what the future holds. Which may be why she's nuts.

"Clutch" – Mason Jennings
The question in the chorus of this song – "What was so rough, was it the freedom that freaked us out?" – is one I come back to a lot as I get older. Also: "What's the moment in your life that you just would not trade/ If you had a time machine would you go back there today?" The Ronald Reagan of "Where's the Rest of Me" is a man haunted by his desires and choices. He sacrificed perhaps the only true love of his life for safety, fame, and wealth. It destroyed him. The story ends with that one moment he would not trade. He should have lived in a dream.

"Garden of Simple" – Ani DiFranco
If I wanted to give you a song to encapsulate the feeling of the story "Expositions", I'd give you a song I loved on the old Dr. Demento show, "Existential Blues" by Tom "T-Bone" Stankus. The hyperactive surrealism of that song, making any settled reality impossible, is very much in line with "Expositions", a story that tries to see if you can have a story without a settled reality. However, that song is much too manic for what "Expositions" ends up being, and so I've chosen a different song about a different sort of dream. Ani DiFranco sings, "And the big plan is just to keep spinning/ Cuz the big bang is only just beginning/ And sometimes it's all that we can do just to hang on," which is true of the characters in "Expositions" just as much as it's true for us, the readers who toil under the delusion that our reality is more settled than that of the story.

"Rambling Man" – Laura Marling
"It's hard to accept yourself as someone you don't desire," is the secret theme of the story "The Art of Comedy", a story about rambling people. I don't know if, in their ramblings, they find a version of themselves they do desire, but I know that they find some happiness here and there, some love now and then, some success in amidst all their failures. There's a sense of triumph, or at least self-possession, at the end of this song, and while "The Art of Comedy" doesn't end with triumph, it does end with self-possession, and the final notes of the song are appropriate for the final sentences of the story.

"I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground" – Bascom Lamar Lunsford
I'll be honest: When I began "Walk in the Light While There Is Light", I had no idea where it was going. I was listening to this song over and over again and just typing out images that occurred to me as I listened. Eventually, some of those images coalesced into a story. Interestingly, the song is in many ways more surreal than my story, and the story's pretty surreal. Sam Collins makes an appearance here, too, this time not with "Lonesome Road Blues" but with "My Road Is Rough and Rocky". A Charley Patton song is in the story as well, a bit of "Mississippi Boweavil". But it's the bizarre beauty of "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground" that is the unsung core of "Walk in the Light…" rather than any of the songs explicitly referenced. One of the attractions to me of old recorded music is the way it preserves what Greil Marcus (adapting Kenneth Rexroth) famously dubbed the "old weird America". I like the old weird everything. The past is not just another country, it's another reality, which is why even the most straightforward old music has a tinge of the strange to it. And the truly weird old music makes Kafka and Magritte seem ordinary.

"Cowtown" – They Might Be Giants
I think of "The Art of Comedy", "Walk in the Light While There Is Light", and "A Map of the Everywhere" as a kind of loose trilogy. All three are basically surrealist in their inclinations, and all three tell a tale of love and struggle. In the first two stories, the love is lost, but "A Map of the Everywhere" is a happy story in the end, hopeful even, and "hope" is not a word usually associated with my endings. Thus, to accompany it, we need a song that's both weird (even gonzo) and yet full of energy and optimism. Who better to turn to for such a song than They Might Be Giants? They've seldom recorded a song as peppy, fun, and bonkers as "Cowtown", and that's really saying something for a band that is pretty much the human embodiment of bonkers.

"I See a Darkness" – Bonnie "Prince" Billy
Whatever joy and hopefulness "A Map of the Everywhere" left you with will be extinguished with "Lacuna", one of the most nihilistic stories I've ever written. (I could only do so because I wrote it at a fairly happy time in my life.) Now and then I've thought that a good summary of my writing might be a line from the young Bob Dylan: And if my thought-dreams could be seen/ They'd probably put my head in a guillotine. Bonnie "Prince" Billy's "I See a Darkness" charts similar territory, but does so as an affecting paean to homosocial friendship. I love the ache in the song. It's more hopeful in the end than "Lacuna", because the narrator of the song still has hope of being saved, while the narrator of "Lacuna" has no hope left in love, in writing, in life. That raises a question: Why read or write such a story? I don't know. Really, I don't. I just know that it was a story I needed to write, and a few readers have told me it is one they needed to read. Sometimes, it's healing to look into the abyss and let it look into us. Sometimes, we need to see a darkness.

"The Island Unknown Part 1" – Eck Robertson & Family
The song in my story "The Island Unknown" is not quite Eck Robertson & Family's "Island Unknown" — the words are a little different, and I would bet the tune is a bit off. But that's because of the turtles. Everything in the story is the fault of the turtles.

"Hallo Spaceboy" – David Bowie
Here's some exit music, something to listen to while you remember the stories you've read, and while you forget them. Moon dust will cover you.


Matthew Cheney and Blood links:

the author's website
the author's blog
video trailer for the book

Locus review

NHPR interview with the author
One Story interview with the author
Weird Fiction Review interview with the author
Written in the Edge 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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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Shorties (The New Yorker Staff's Summer Reading, An Interview with Nico Muhly, and more)

The New Yorker staff shared its summer reading.


The Literary Hub podcast continued its conversation with composer Nico Muhly.


Would you like to support Largehearted Boy? Here are a couple of ways you can help.


eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck
Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

A History of the Future by James Kunstler
Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume


Birds of Chicago visited World Cafe for an interview and live performance.


Author Shawn Vestal on leaving the Mormon Church at Catapult.


Stream a new Quin Galavis track.


Zadie Smith on the Brexit.


Stream a new song by Jenn Champion (Carissa's Wierd).


Book Riot recommended books with classic authors as crime fighters.


Led Zeppelin is releasing The Complete BBC Sessions box set in September.


The Oxford American features three new poems by Kwame Dawes.


Queen has asked the Trump campaign to stop using their music.


Bookforum interviewed author Emma Cline.


All Songs Considered previewed this weekend's Newport Folk Festival.


Book Riot recommended podcasts for writers.


Browse Jeff Buckley's record collection.


The Los Angeles Times interviewed author Ursula K. Le Guin.


Drowned in Sound profiled the band nonkeen.


The Paris Review interviewed Claire-Louise Bennett about her novel Pond.


Paste interviewed Hooray for the Riff Raff's Alynda Lee Segarra.


Scott McClanahan discussed his favorite books with the A.V. Club.


Jane Austen's sheet music collection has been scanned and is available online.



also at 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
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (recommended new books)
weekly music release lists


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July 19, 2016

Book Notes - Jenni Fagan "The Sunlight Pilgrims"

The Sunlight Pilgrims

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Jenni Fagan's compelling dystopian novel The Sunlight Pilgrims magnificently deals with big themes (climate change and gender) through its sympathetic characters and lyrical storytelling.

The Times Literary Supplement wrote of the book:

"Fagan …explores some big ideas; namely the environment, gender and familial structure. She addresses these themes with an infectious, otherworldly hilarity, assembling an eccentric cast of characters who triumphantly flout convention."


In her own words, here is Jenni Fagan's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Sunlight Pilgrims:



The Clash — "London Calling"

The Sunlight Pilgrims begins in this tiny little art-house cinema in London. Dylan Mac Rae is an overly tall, tattooed, man who was brought up being told he was a nephilim. He wakes hungover in the one room cinema in Soho he grew up in with his mother and grandmother. Outside freak winter conditions are being reported as the beginning of a potential ice-age. Some say it is the end of times. He has a ticket to travel to a tiny caravan his mother has left him, it is over 500 miles away and he has to go now.

"London Calling" by The Clash sings about the ice-age coming, it shows the demise of this amazing city, while the eyes of the world look toward it.


Sigur Rós - "Olsen Olsen"

I wanted to write a novel that sounded like a Sigur Rós album. This song features Ágætis Byrjun in the snow, I think it is stunning.

I adore vast landscapes. I have memories of being surrounded by snow as a child, the wildness of the mountains and the quality of silence in winter. I was obsessed with light quality in winter, and this idea of three suns, and living somewhere that nature is so dominant you cannot help but look at the stars, see the aurora, or connect to the planet in a profound way.


Cœur de pirate — "Wicked Games"

This is a cover of a song by The Weeknd. It has a great stripped back quality. In The Sunlight Pilgrims one of the protagonists is Stella, a goth teen who lives with her mother Constance, a woman who is known for having had two lovers for decades. Stella is going through her transition to female in a small community. She wants to rebel against her mother by being a conventional girl, one who gets married, has kids, lives in a house with bricks, all those kinds of things. However she finds in herself that the daughter of a wolf, regardless of how much she wants to be a lamb, is never going to leave cloven footprints in the snow.


Nina Simone — "Here Comes The Sun"

This song would have to be at the start of The Sunlight Pilgrims when it is not yet certain how far the temperature is going to plummet. Stella meets a woman who tells her about The Sunlight Pilgrims, a group of monks who lived on an island far North of Scotland. They were rumoured to be living on light, drinking light to sustain themselves. They all went mad and died apart from one. The only one who survived appears, possibly, to be related to her. Stella begins to practise drinking light in a hope it will help her to get through winter.


Sister Rosetta Tharpe — "Trouble In Mind"

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was the original uber cool guitar playing/writing woman, all the grunge and punk-rock girls, their journey started with her.

This song talks about a character being old enough to change her name. Stella has taken her new name as part of her transition and her mother things she is old enough to do so, even if the doctors need some convincing. It's a hopeful song though, it says the sun will shine, the wind will blow these blues away, time will pass, things will change.


Tori Amos — "Winter"

I love how she sings about her heart getting warm when she thinks of winter. There is something about winter. The starkness. Of course we all have our own winters and Stella is certainly having to learn to deal with change, and learn to value herself regardless of her peers.


Belle & Sebastian — "The Fox In the Snow"

I was working in a record shop in Edinburgh when Belle & Sebastian first came onto the scene, somehow I always associate them with that time in my life. The fox in this song has to tell someone else the truth before it kills them. Its about being true to yourself. The characters in this novel are all doing that for better or worse, with all the challenges it brings.


Boss Hogg — "I Dig You"

Dylan falls in love with Constance the first time he sees her. I wanted to capture that intensity of wanting someone but not knowing if they will want you back. Also, the rarity of just getting who another person is in a way that makes sense, as if you can't imagine what life was like before you knew them.


Jack White — "Love Is Blindness"

I like the heat between Constance and Dylan. It is only made more acute by the plummeting temperatures. There is ice and snow everywhere, these extreme snowstorms coming down over the mountains and they are at the bottom living in these silver bullet caravans. Dylan feels like if he kisses her or they hook up, that it will take away the intensity of his feelings toward her, however sometimes that only makes you want a person more.


The Flaming Lips — "Do You Realize"

Dylan is dealing with the grief of losing his mother, grandmother and family business all in the space of six months. He is really looking outwards for the first time, toward these vast landscapes, the skies, other people. Winter and his recent bereavements are showing him how fleeting life is, with is only making him connect to it in a more intense way.


Nirvana — "Where Did You Sleep Last Night"

This is a cover of a traditional American folk song, it dates back to the 1870s. Lead Belly first brought it to prominence in the 1940s. I love this version, that biting feeling of jealousy and danger when a lover wants to know where his partner has been the night before. While Constance's younger lover is absent, her older lover lives in a cottage up on the mountain and it turns out his story is way more entwined with Dylan's than anyone could have predicted. Dylan simmers with a loathing for this other man at times but if he wants Constance, he still has to accept this other relationship as something that may, or may not, be part of their future.


Wolf Alice — "Blush"

This song makes me think of Stella becoming happy. She's such an amazing character and all I wanted was for her to realise, in some way, how great she is as a human being. Dylan sees that in her straight away, they were both raised by non-conventional females and they have that in common.


Ane Brun — "All My Tears"

This is a song about loss. Each of the characters are having to deal with loss in some profound way and there is a gothic sensibility to the way they look, and how they deal with the inevitability of fate, they can't control nature, they can only live with it.


Bill Ryder-Jones — "Put It Down Before You Break It"

I love this song, its one that you just keep playing it over and over. I can see Stella walking through the snow, thinking of waking up as a different person, i.e. as herself — not how other people see her. She has to stop feeling like she needs male approval though, all girls have to get to that point. She's hurting herself but she can walk away from that. Bill Ryder-Jones is one of my favourite songwriters, I reckon she'd love this.


Hawksley Workman — "Ice Age"

It's all in the title. It's ALL IN THE TITLE.


Nick Cave & Warren Ellis — "Martha's Dream"

This song reminds me of how it would feel in a little cottage, cut off from the world as a vast snowstorm comes down over the mountains, not knowing how or when it will end.


Jenni Fagan and The Sunlight Pilgrims links:

video trailer for the book

Financial Times review
Guardian review
Kirkus review
New Statesman review
New York Times review
Spectator review

Big Issue North interview with the author
Financial Times review
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for The Panopticon
The Skinny 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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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Book Notes - Maggie O'Farrell "This Must Be the Place"

This Must Be the Place

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Maggie O'Farrell's novel This Must Be the Place is engrossing and filled with engaging characters.

The Guardian wrote of the book:

"Stylistically, narratively, emotionally, This Must Be the Place is a tour de force, a complex and nuanced story leaping effortlessly across multiple characters, continents and time frames….This Must Be the Place is a rare literary beast: both technically dazzling and deeply moving. It has all the structural and temporal playfulness of a Kate Atkinson novel while retaining the hallmark of emotional intensity for which O’Farrell has become renowned. It is her best novel to date, a book that surely confirms her as one of the UK's most assured, accomplished and inventive storytellers."


In her own words, here is Maggie O'Farrell's Book Notes music playlist for her novel This Must Be the Place:



"Train Song" – Vashti Bunyan

"Train Song" is a delicate thing, just a woman and a guitar. The ethereal voice dips and whispers over the chords, the strumming echoing the relentless pouding of a train. It speaks of longing, of displacement, of unease and uncertainty. Who is the woman and where is she going? Why has she nothing in her head to say to the man? What is it that has wiped her thoughts clean? Where is the man and why are they apart?

I can't write with music playing: I need to cocoon myself in total silence and I often put on a soundtrack of white noise, to blot out any aural distraction. Music is important, however, to transport myself to a place where I can take flight from my ordinary life, to create an opening or a portal to that other world.

I listened to this song, again and again, when I was mulling over the character of Claudette in my novel. She is a former film-star, notorious for having disappeared at the height of her fame. She escapes to rural Ireland, where she holes up in a remote farmhouse. Something about "Train Song's" wistful longing encapsulated Claudette's urge for a different life.

I was well into a third or fourth draft of the book before it struck me one day that I should look for more of Vashti Bunyan's music. When I did, I discovered that Bunyan had herself done a vanishing act. After a disappointing response to her first album, she took off for rural Ireland and then Scotland, and lived quietly for years, unaware that her music was garnering a cult following among contemporary folk musicians.

"Rewrite" - Paul Simon

How many songs are there about a writer working on multiple drafts of a book? I'm going to stick my neck out and say just one: this. Quite apart from its quietly elegiac melody and its constantly u-turning accompaniment, it has lyrics that any writer will immediately relate to. 'I'm going to change the ending,/Going to throw away my title,/and toss it in the trash.' Sound familiar?

"One Horse Town" - The Thrills

If "Train Song" is my Claudette-track, "One Horse Town" is my Daniel-track. Daniel is the American linguistics professor, in Ireland on holiday, who comes across a woman whose car is broken down at the side of the road. He doesn't immediately clock that she is a former film star, now living as a recluse. They fall in love and Daniel transplants his life to her remote Donegal farmhouse.

I love the energy and irreverence of this track – I've always had a soft spot for a jangling, indie guitar riff – and also the lyrics which profess surprise at having settled down 'in a one-horse town'.

When I found myself stuck with Daniel's narrative, which is as complicated as his life, I would put this album on my iPod and go for a speedwalk around the Meadows, a green space in the middle of Edinburgh. Its heady, fast rhythms and lyrics about confusion always released something for me, making me able to go on.

"This Time Tomorrow" -The Kinks

The whistling shriek of an aeroplane, the minor-inflected tangle of the guitar, then Ray Davies' disaffected, longing voice asking, 'This time tomorrow, where will we be?' It's a song about travel, exhaustion, restlessness, dissociation, the unreality of looking down at the world from a plane. My novel has fifteen different locations and my main character, Daniel, flies to and fro across the Atlantic. I had this track on shuffle almost constantly while writing the book.

"Moses" – Elizabeth Fraser

I had all the Cocteau Twins' albums when I was young. Elizabeth Fraser's is a voice that is instantly recognisable; its soaring, celestial soprano tones were the soundtrack to my late-teens. I was over the moon when she released this single, back in 2009, as a memorial to her friend, musician Jake Drake-Brockman. It's haunting, enigmatic, full of incongruities – dub rhythms and East European accordians. No one knows if it's a one-off or a forerunner of a new album. Fraser is keeping quiet on that front but I've my fingers crossed for the latter.

"Hurt Feelings" – Flight of the Conchords

Because everyone needs a laugh at the end of a long day of writing. Because this is my kids' favourite song (I have to always clear my throat loudly over the word 'asshole', which incidentally is here an inspired rhyme for the word 'profiterole'). Because music that is not only good but funny is a rare beast. Because who hasn't, at one time or another, needed a song with a good sing-a-long chorus about having your feelings hurt? Because how can you not love a song that includes someone asking, in a voice that is both plaintive and polite, 'Bring me a small man's wetsuit, please'? Genius.

All together now: I've got hurt feelings, I've got hurt feelings, I've got hurt feelings...


Maggie O'Farrell and This Must Be the Place links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Guardian review
Irish Times review
Kirkus review
NPR Books review
Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

Belfast Telegraph profile of the author
Financial Times profile of the author
Independent profile of the author
Irish Examiner profile of the author
Irish Times profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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