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February 9, 2016

Book Notes - Amy Gustine "You Should Pity Us Instead"

You Should Pity Us Instead

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, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Amy Gustine's You Should Pity Us Instead is a outstanding debut story collection, one that draws stunning portraits of everyday people facing difficult predicaments.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"In this dazzling debut collection, Gustine shows tremendous range, empathy, and spark….Gustine’s language is uniformly remarkable for its clarity and forthrightness."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Amy Gustine's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection You Should Pity Us Instead:


I don't know that any art form can elicit emotion as reliably and strongly as songs. When I'm having trouble getting into the mind and heart of a character, I listen to a song that matches the mood of the story.

"Dear Father" by Colin Hay
You Should Pity Us Instead is mainly about the relationship between parents and children, and many stories deal with how it feels for one to lose the other—a beloved grandfather nears the end of his life, a daughter commits suicide, a mother drowns. Here's a song that speaks to the longing for our parents, the comfort of having pictures of them and the confusion over unresolvable anger that so often lingers long after their deaths.

"In My Solitude" (sung by Billie Holiday among others)
This jazz piece is from the 1930's. I imagine Caroline in "The River Warta" sitting in her spotless living room during The Great Depression, listening to it on the phonograph, thinking of her dead husband, Frederick.

"Remind Me Who I Am" by Jason Gray
This song reminds me of Lawan in "AKA Juan." A man with an uncertain identity, as the song and story titles both suggest, Lawan straddles two worlds, with two mothers, two families, two histories, two cultures. This is a lonely place to be. We're not made for it. We're made for belonging. For the rest of his life Lawan will work to shape an authentic identity and find somewhere he belongs. He's starting to look, though, and that's something.

"Welcome to the Cruel World" by Ben Harper
Harper's earthy voice can put you in a trance. A trance is the state I like best when I listen to music. I'm not a dancer; I'm a swayer. This song's slow tempo and sentiment—it's a cruel world, but try to enjoy your stay—could be the background tune for many of my stories.

"For a Dancer" by Jackson Browne
Apparently, Browne wrote this for a friend who died in a house fire. It's a favorite of mine about death because the song manages to exist in contradiction—simultaneously sad and joyful—and I'm a big fan of contradiction. I think it's the closest thing to truth we can access.

"Better Place To Be" by Harry Chapin
Several characters in You Should Pity Us Instead suffer from an abiding loneliness and this Chapin song is always the first one I think of when I think about loneliness—as a state, as a life, as an inescapable part of the human condition. I think it's the price we pay for being individuals. For having a mind that no one else can penetrate. Ultimately, we are trapped in there, alone.

"Where Will I Be?" by Graham Nash & David Crosby
This short song is a lamentation and has a lowing vocal quality. The lyrics make me think of Fredek and The Old Loaf in "Goldene Medene." Polish immigrants at Ellis Island, they are coming "home" to a strange land and have no idea who they'll be or what they'll do when they get there.

"Amazing Grace" as sung by Judy Collins
I grew up Catholic and certain songs bring back that feeling Jesus provoked in me when I was a child—the feeling of being loved perfectly, of being held in enormous, invisible, benevolent hands. In "You Should Pity Us Instead" Molly longs for that, but can't recapture the belief in it. She might listen to this song while lying on her musty futon, looking at the weeds in her yard she can't control. And whose heart doesn't soar at Collins' rendition?

"Arms Around My Life" By Janis Ian
A true prodigy, Ian was writing publishable songs in her early teens. She has wonderful range—from bell to a resonant, rich gravel. This song makes me think of Lavinia in "An Uncontaminated Soul" –the broken promises, shattered dreams, ache and loneliness that hides inside of her. That she longs to have set free. There's those cradling hands again—husband's mother's, father's, God's. Or Lavinia cradling one of h one of er 54 cats. And what it's like when she can't feel them. (Hint: This song is not on Spotify, but you can listen to it on Ian's website at JanisIan.com on her album Unreleased 2: Take No Prisoners.)

"Wars for Nothing" by Boggie
A soulful song about war from a Hungarian singer, Boglarka Csemer (known as "Boggie"), this would make a good soundtrack for "All the Sons of Cain," a story about the price of war, especially for women and children.

"Gun Shy" by 10,000 Maniacs
Here's a war song about the soldier from the point of view of his sister. It isn't so much a classic protest lyric as it is a personal narrative. You can feel the whole family situation here, the personalities, the tensions. Not surprisingly, I have a particular fondness for songs that tell a story.

"I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston
This one made the list because it's the song that Joanne and Tina sing about the boy they have a crush on in "Unattended." It's a song that professes great love, but the singer is leaving her lover. In "Unattended" most of the parents have gone AWOL and I imagine that this is how they feel—they will always love their kids, but they're leaving anyway. We like to perpetuate the myth that parental love is easy and complete. In truth it's often hard and fragmentary. Sometimes it demands sacrifice that people aren't willing or able to give. Sometimes it completely fails.

"Loves Me Like A Rock" by Paul Simon
The antithesis of ambiguity and difficulty, this song is about mother-love being the strongest thing that exists. It doesn't change. It can't be worn down. It's always there to sit on, lean on, stand on. I think of Cory in "Coyote" when I hear this song. She loves her boy like a rock, and that kind of love can drive you a little (or a lot) crazy.

"Skyline Pigeon" by Elton John (Harpsichord Version)
I imagine Sarah singing this song to Bea during their daily "song time" in "Half-Life." There's a great mixture of longing, of freedom and of being trapped in this song. The harpsichord version is the best. It's that tinkling sound —it reminds me of those silver triangles they give you to play in elementary school music class. There's a fantastic thing the song does by being both very adult and still invoking a feeling of innocence, by being both melancholy and hopeful, which maybe is the thing birds can pull off that the rest of us admire. Their delicacy is what allows them to fly, and their delicacy is what makes them terribly vulnerable. That's how Sarah is: strong and vulnerable. There are so many lines in the song that seem perfectly suited for her. That her eyes are like mirrors of the world outside, "thinking of the way the wind can turn the tide," and flying "away towards the dreams you've left so very far behind." Sarah has to go into the future to find the dreams she lost when she lost her mother. She longs for a family, and the only way she is going to get one is to create her own. In a sense, she has no past, but she has a future. That's why I put this story at the end of You Should Pity Us Instead—because having a future is hopeful and I wanted to end the collection on possibility.


Amy Gustine and You Should Pity Us Instead links:

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

Booklist review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

Publishers Weekly interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists

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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February 9, 2016

Book Notes - Rob Roberge "Liar"

Liar

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, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Rob Roberge's Liar is an intense memoir innovatively told in the second person, a poignant story of the author's addiction, mental illness, and recovery.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"In this absorbing memoir, novelist Roberge (The Cost of Living) shifts among memories of his youth, drug-fueled episodes from his young adulthood, and recent relapses into addiction that threaten his marriage and his work as a college professor…The sense of urgency in Roberge's writing is increased by his effective use of the second person…The rapid back-and-forth mirrors to some degree the diagnosis of bipolar disorder with rapid cycling, which he first received in the 1980s. But it is also the way Roberge is best able to try and make sense of his world and his experiences."

Stream this playlist at Spotify.


In his own words, here is Rob Roberge's Book Notes music playlist for his memoir Liar:


This one's a little hard because there so much music actually in the book that it would take forever to cover it all. So, I'll just go with some of the highlights.

Music to listen to after you've been dumped:

Bob Dylan's Blood On the Tracks. When my freshman year girlfriend dumped me, I ended up listening repeatedly to this album on my Walkman (how's that for dating myself?)…letting one side play, then flipping to the other when the tape reached the end. I drank beer and chain-smoked alone in my dorm room. Well, as alone as I could be with a roommate. At the time, in my self-wallowing pity, I thought I was the only person on earth who could feel as much pain as I was feeling. No one had ever felt the pain I was feeling. Except, of course, Bob Dylan.

A couple of years later, after another relationship had gone south, I spent all my time listening to Joni Mitchell's Blue. It was painfully clear to me, as I fell in and out of a opiate and alcohol haze, that Joni Mitchell would totally understand the pain I was in and would empathize like no one else. Well, except for Bob Dylan. Only Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan could possible get it.

Another year later, another breakup. At this point, I'd been kicked out of my girlfriend's apartment and was staying in a closet in my friend Jay's enormous rehearsal space. I'd tried to sleep in the equipment room, but it was too close to the rehearsal rooms, and the bass and drums would keep me up at night. So, I went with sleeping in the closet and listening to Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights. An album filled with songs about the end of a love affair, recorded by a couple who were breaking up during the recording. After repeated listenings, high or drunk on whatever I could get my hands on, it struck me that several of the songs didn't end on their root note. Richard Thompson had written a record about things ending with no obvious resolve, and the music reflected that. I thought he was a genius for doing this. I thought I was something of a genius for noticing it. John Cage once wrote that the human ear would listen to any amount of noise, so long as it ended melodically. They would think it was musical. Yet, take a piece of melodic music that ends in noise, or without resolve, and people won't find it musical. I sat in that closet night after night, thinking about the lack of resolve from my latest relationship, painfully aware of the fact that how things ended changed everything that came before. And, of course, I wallowed in the fact that only Richard Thompson could understand the pain I was in. Well, Richard Thompson, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, of course.

Best music to listen to while nodding on Dilaudid for a solid month:

A tape with The Velvet Underground's third album on one side and The Dream Syndicate's debut, The Days of Wine and Roses on the other side. Luckily, by this time, I had a tape player on the stereo that automatically flipped the cassette, so neither I nor my girlfriend had to get up.

Music that proved, to my nine year old chagrin, that my father had good taste in music:

I'd bought Springsteen's Born to Run at the local Sam Goody record shop and my father—a narcotics agent—had said that Springsteen looked like "a homeless fucking hippy" on the cover. Later, listening to the sax solo on "Jungleland" as loud as my mother would allow, my father stood there listening for a moment, and then said, "This guy sounds a lot like King Curtis. Or the sax player in Duane Eddy's band."

I said, "I don't think so," thinking my dad—the narc—could never know cool music at all. He went downstairs and got the two albums. And he was right. Bruce Springsteen's sax player sounded a lot like the guys he mentioned. Guys in his record collection.

I put on Eddy's "Rebel Rouser" as soon as it ended, listening to it at least five times through. It was, at that point, the greatest sound I had ever heard. How could my father the narc know anything about anything that sounded this good?

Record albums of my parent's I never listened to, but jerked off to while looking at the covers:

Carly Simon's No Secrets, and, especially, Playing Possum.

Best unknown Boston band mentioned in the book:

Dumptruck's D Is For Dumptruck. A great Boston band from the 80's who should have made it big. An album worth looking for.

Another great unknown Boston band who should have been mentioned in the book:

Scruffy the Cat, whose "My Fate" would have been a huge hit in a just world.

Song that was playing when I was robbed at gunpoint while working at an ice cream pallor:

Dire Straights' "Telegraph Road." The robber had me and a co-worker on our knees facing away from him as he asked for the combination to the safe, which neither of us knew. I thought, surprisingly calmly, so this is how I'm going to die. But, for some reason, he didn't shoot either of us, even though we had no idea what the combination to the safe was. I was wearing shorts. When I got up, I saw the indentations from the one-inch tiles on my knees and started to shake.

More evidence my parents had better taste in music than anyone else's parents in the neighborhood:

Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, Eric Anderson, Tom Paxton. Heavy on the folk side, to be sure, but worlds better than the Jerry Vale and Perry Como records my friends' parents listened to.

Music I listened to on repeat while writing the book:

An absolute ton of The Brian Jonestown Massacre on repeat. Which is not as annoying to others in the house as it may sound, because they have over twenty albums, so even listening to them over and over takes a bit of time to cycle through. Also played on repeat and shuffle, so I never knew what was coming next, The Ike Reilly Assassination. Some Jay Bennett. A bunch of The Dream Syndicate (who also happen to be the most frequently mentioned band in the book). A mix from the Nugget's CD's. And then, probably more Brian Jonestown Massacre. Maybe it did start to annoy people in the house.


Rob Roberge and Liar links:

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

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

CarolineLeavittville interview with the author
Fiction Advocate interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Cost of Living
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life
Los Angeles Review of Books interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists

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 (William Gibson on Paul Bowles, J Dilla as Jazz Innovator, and more)

William Gibson shared his adoration for Paul Bowles' novel The Sheltering Sky at PopMatters.


A Blog Supreme on J Dilla as jazz innovator.


Literary Hub interviewed Tony Tulathimutte about his debut novel Private Citizens.


The band Giant Sand is breaking up.


Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Han Kang's novel The Vegetarian.


Stream a new Shonen Knife song.


Stream a conversation between authors Jeanette Winterson and John Irving.


Car Seat Headrest played a Tiny Desk Concert.


Rob Roberge discussed how his memoir Liar was edited at Signature.

The Rumpus shared an excerpt from the book.


Stream a new Rogue Wave song.


The longlist for the 2016 Stella Prize (best novel by an Australian woman) has been announced.


Vanyaland interviewed the members of the Prettiots.


The Advocate profiled author Eileen Myles.

Myles on love at The Cut.


Blurt reviewed the new shoegaze box set Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995.


Publishers Weekly interviewed Peter Straub about his new short story collection Interior Darkness.


Noisey profiled Ithaca's thriving all-ages DIY music scene.


VICE interviewed author Alvaro Enrigue.

The Los Angeles Times reviewed his new novel Sudden Death.


Bryce Dessner discussed scoring ballet and the next National album with Rolling Stone.


Vol. 1 Brooklyn interviewed Brian Chippendale about his new graphic novel Puke Force.


Weekend Edition profiled singer-songwriter Ane Brun.


Cultured Vultures recommended small presses to check out in 2016.


Composer Carter Burwell talked to Weekend Edition about scoring the Coen brothers' films.


The Guardian recommended February's best new books to read in honor of Black History Month.


Jenny Lewis discussed her solo debut Rabbit Fur Coat with Paste, 10 years after its release.


Alexander Chee offered tios on writing an autobiographical novel at BuzzFeed.


Lucinda Williams talked to Morning Edition about her new album Ghosts of Highway 20.

"You know, I have my moments of being comfortable, but I'm driven," she says, "and I have pain, I have sadness. And, of course, the older you get, the more loss you experience. The more loss and pain you experience, the more you need your art."


Jhumpa Lahiri talked to All Things Considered about her new memoir In Other Words.



also at Largehearted Boy:

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

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists
Essential and Interesting 2015 Year-End Music Lists

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)


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

February 8, 2016

Book Notes - Paul Goldberg "The Yid"

The Yid

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, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Paul Goldberg's debut novel The Yid is a darkly comic masterpiece centered around a 1953 assassination attempt on Stalin.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Goldberg ingeniously captures the brutality and lunacy of Stalin’s rule as well as Russia’s stoicism in this spectacularly incisive, humanizing, and comedically cathartic theater of the absurd."


In his own words, here is Paul Goldberg's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel The Yid:


A playlist was a writing tool I used constantly as I wrote The Yid, a dark comedy set in Moscow of 1953.

Songs helped me establish connections with Russian history and with my characters. This playlist is, in effect, the novel's back panel. Remove it, and you will see the wiring.

My relationship with these songs precedes The Yid. I grew up with most of them; I can sing most of them, though God knows I shouldn't.

The heart of The Yid's sound track is Paul Robeson singing in Russian and Yiddish. In 1949, in the midst of the Soviet anti-Semitic campaigns, Robeson sang the Song of the Warsaw Ghetto in Yiddish at the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow.

His diction in Yiddish is fascinating. I particularly like the way he sings the word oysgebenkte, final. He makes it sound like machinegun fire: oys-ge-ben-kte. In this remarkable interpretation of this remarkable song, it's somehow clear that the guns are ours.

In 1949, any Jewish role in victory over Fascism was denied by official propaganda. Yet, here was a hero of the Left singing the song of a major resistance movement, which was—yes—Jewish. Histories suggest that at the time he chose this song, Robeson knew that his friend, the Yiddish poet Itzik Fefer, was doomed. Indeed, he would be executed in 1952.

There are layers of complexity in this situation—not least of which is the slippery persona of Fefer—but one thing is undeniable: Robeson's choice of material constituted a clear affirmation of the Jewish role in the war.

It's fitting that an African American hero would sing the song of the fighters of the Warsaw ghetto. One of the characters in The Yid is an African American enlightened worker. Like Robeson, who had an extensive Russian and Yiddish repertoire, my character—Friedrich Lewis—speaks Russian and Yiddish.

Robeson sang in Hebrew, too. At the Tchaikovski Hall concert, he sang what the playlist refers to as Hasidic Chant. It's sometimes also called Kaddish of Levi Yitzhak, inspired by a Hasidic master from the town of Berdichev. In the novel, as in real life, the Robeson's song would have been the only possible source of a segment of the prayer for the dead—should one choose to pray for the dead.

One of the songs on this playlist—The Native Land (Shiroka strana moya rodnaya)—comes from a Soviet musical. The film, called "Circus," was released in 1936. It tells the story of an American circus star, who has a secret—she has a black baby. Circus includes an appearance by Mikhoels, a legendary actor and director of the Moscow Yiddish Theater—and one of the characters in The Yid. Mikhoels sings a Yiddish lullaby to the black baby. A line in that song surely appealed to Robeson and every other progressive then and now: "Net dlya nas ni chernykh ny tsvetnykh." Translation: To us there are no Blacks or Coloreds.

Marxism negates ethnicity and race. Alas, in the USSR, theory and practice diverged on this point. Hence, The Yid.

Mikhoels and Robeson knew each other. Both played Shakespearean roles on and off-stage. Mikhoels famously claimed Lear for the Yiddish-speaking Jews. (Indeed, who is Lear but an old fool with three daughters; a royal Tevye.) Robeson equally famously reclaimed Othello. As I tried to delve deeper into the lives of these characters, I turned to a recording of Robeson performing Othello's final soliloquy; skip to the end of this recording:

Soft you; a word or two before you go.

I have done the state some service, and they know't.

No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,

When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,

Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,

Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak

Of one that loved not wisely but too well;

Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought

Perplex'd in the extreme…

The cataclysms of the 20th century gave Robeson and Mikhoels a lot of material to be perplex'd in the extreme about.

Robeson's material also included a translation of a Soviet song From Border Onto Border (Ot kaya I do kraya) A basic glorification of the Red Army and the Soviet way of life, it sounds inspirational in Robeson's rendition. I can't decide what I like more: his accent in Russian or the charmingly awkward translation.

Another character in The Yid—Kima Petrova—is informed by a song by one of my favorite contemporary Russian poets, Aleksandr Galich. Galich played guitar and sang extraordinarily intricate compositions—it's difficult to call them songs. One of these compositions, called The Song of the General's Daughter or Karaganda, was the story of a semi-literate young woman who lives in squalor and harbors dim memories of a happy early childhood in Leningrad.

Her parents—the general and his wife—were executed. Now, the protagonist lives in Kazakhstan, the coal-mining city of Karaganda. She is having an affair with a married truck driver. The relationship begins with what sounds a lot like rape. But the protagonist isn't bitter. In fact, she plans to obtain some herring and, as a charitable gesture, send them to her lover's wife.

Kima, one of my conspirators, is the daughter of a martyred commissar. (The commissar I chose, Yefim Zeitlin, was a distant cousin of mine.) The protagonist of Karaganda seems to work at some nebulous Soviet enterprise, probably a food store. My Kima works in bottle redemption. The difference between them is that Kima is not a docile, charitable victim. She seeks revenge, and she takes revenge.

Two of my principal characters, Solomon Levinson, an actor and leader of the plot, and Aleksandr Kogan, a surgeon, were once members of a band of Red partisans. For inspiration, I listened to some of the campy Civil War songs, including Chapayev the Hero (Chapayev geroy), which describes battles along the Ural Mountains that are a part of the flashbacks in The Yid. Vasily Ivanovich Chapayev was the subject of a pretty good movie and a series of hilarious jokes. This is simple folksy, hero-worship dreck, which I love, but I wouldn't recommend listening to it when sober. Singing it while sober is so unthinkable that I am certain that it has never been done.

Another song from the same time and place is the Partisan's Song (Po dolinam i po vzgoryam). It turns a real military campaign into mythology. I like it so much that I made it into a bedtime song for my two daughters.

The Samovars song by the Red Army choir, kitschy as it is, is also one of my favorites. It's not about samovars at all. It's about Red Army tanks blasting away at the Nazis, scalding them, at it were. It's possible that the Nazis had a similar song—a counterpoint—but I prefer this one.

The song that matters more is The Dugout (Zemlyanka). The song is literally a love letter from the trenches of the 1941 Battle of Moscow. The lyrics were written by Alexei Surkov, a war correspondent. It's a small-scale song; no heroics. Surely a German could have written something similar, but I'd like to think that a Nazi couldn't have.

Zamlyanka has been performed by the Red Army choir and many others. I don't like the version on this playlists. It sounds like something performed at a night club on Brighton Beach. Alas, this is the only version that exists on Spotify—and all the words are intact. The version I love was performed with a slight Yiddish lilt by the American klezmer singer Michael Alpert. It's part of the soundtrack of one of my favorite documentaries, Partisans of Vilna.

Finally, The Yid is about my native city, Moscow. Sometimes it's entertaining to wonder what a city would sound like if it were a song. I am convinced that Moscow would sound like Bulat Okudzhava, a singer-poet who can best be compared to Paris's Yives Montand.

In The Yid's finale, as my characters drive toward what could very well be their doom, they hear songs that are yet to be written—and may never be. As they drive along the nighttime Arbat, they could very well hear the yet-to-be-written Okudzhava song about the human cost of heroic adventures, Song About the Soldiers' Boots (Pesenka o soldatskikh sapogakh).

The final song on this playlist is also Okudzhava. Trolley Runs Down the Street (Shel trolleybus po ulitse). It's about a Moscow trolley passing a beautiful woman,

And all the men in the trolley looked at her for a long time
Only the trolley driver didn't turn his head,
Because somebody must always look ahead.

It's about love, humanity, hope—all the aspects of life that Comrade Stalin and his heirs would regard as frivolous.


Paul Goldberg and The Yid links:

the author's website

Booklist review
Fresh Air review
Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
New Yorker profile of the author
Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

Duke Chronicle interview with the author
Slate essay by the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists

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 - Ada Calhoun "St. Marks Is Dead"

St. Marks Is Dead

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, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Ada Calhoun's St. Marks Is Dead is engaging and informative, an essential book of NYC history.

The Village Voice wrote of the book:

"Fascinating…through exhaustive research and vivid storytelling, Calhoun recounts the happenings and personalities that dotted both the literal and metaphorical landscape of the iconic East Village Street."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Ada Calhoun's Book Notes music playlist for her book St. Marks Is Dead:


Because I wrote this book on my laptop at too-loud coffee shops and too-quiet libraries, for three-plus years I used iTunes as a white-noise machine. Music I liked and knew well enough to tune out was ideal, so I shunned the new (with a few exceptions, like Wussy) and stuck to standards like Guided By Voices, Drive-By Truckers, Ass Ponys, Old 97s, The Rolling Stones, plus a playlist of songs that mention St. Marks Place by name. On a couple of book-tour stops, friends have covered some of these songs, and it has been a particularly delirium-inducing experience to hear—at the same time that this book I had in my head is suddenly out in the world—the songs I had on repeat in my headphones performed out loud, too.

"Avenue A," The Dictators (+ cover by the St. Marks Zeros)
Handsome Dick Manitoba is quoted a lot in my book, and this song about the crème brûlée-phase of the neighborhood to me is the quintessential St. Marks Place-of-2015 song. I like the idea that it's all over when you see a Range Rover.

"Detachable Penis," King Missile (+ cover by Neal Medlyn, aka Champagne Jerry)
This silly song was on pretty much every indie mix tape exchanged in the early-1990s East Village. I miss the 24-hour diner Kiev, which is where I used to go for eggs in the middle of the night. It's also where John S. Hall wrote this song.

"40 Shades Of Blue (For Kevin Wherever You Are)," Black 47
When I was in high school I obsessively listened to Vin Scelsa's "Idiot's Delight" radio show, and that's where I first heard this song. I think getting into Black 47 and The Pogues when you're 15 sets you up to fall half-in-love with all difficult Irish men for the rest of your life. There are worse fates.

"Downtown," John Waite (+ cover by Kathleen Hanna and Adam Horovitz)
I didn't realize quite how sad this song was until I heard Kathleen sing it. She captured something so profound about feeling lonely in a city. It made me realize how I probably wouldn't be nearly so happy in New York if it weren't for my friends.

"Kids (Don't Know)," The Orange Mothers (+ 2015 version by Ethan Azarian)
This is the book's theme song. I went to see this band a lot when I was in my early twenties in Austin, Texas, and a lot of the book is about that feeling of being newly in love with a place that makes you feel free. And it's about the thought "This place is dead now and kids today are idiots" that the book tries to show is an eternal lament.

"Alex Chilton" The Replacements (+ cover by The Late Joys)
When I realized that my favorite band name-checked St. Marks Place—Alex Chilton checks his stash by the trash on St. Marks Place—it was like that feeling you get when you find out the person you have a crush on has a crush on you back.

"Questioningly," Ramones
To me the Ramones are the most romantic band ever. I had to stop reading Ramones biographies and memoirs, because I didn't want to know how thuggish they'd been in real life. I found this song on the great 100-song playlist by Luc Sante, who is in my book. "I knew my building might fall down at any moment," Luc told me of his time on St. Marks Place. "But so what? I was twenty-three."

"Forever Young," Alphaville
When you're thinking about cycles of history, it's good to listen to hyper-dramatic mid-1980s songs like this or The Bangles "Eternal Flame." What's key is the singer should be hot and project total confidence in his or her concept of "forever." This allows us to reflect on how even the sexiest people get old, the cities we love vanish, and it's part of our "responsibility as a human," as Louis CK just eloquently put it on "Fresh Air," to die and "get out of the way."

"My Year," Champagne Jerry / "This Year," The Mountain Goats
Speaking of meditations on time, I love songs about how this year sucks but we're going to get through it, or how last year sucked but next year (probably) won't. These are my two favorite this/last-year songs. The only problem is that this Mountain Goats song was once my ringtone and so now whenever I hear it I reach for my phone.

"Welcome to New York," Taylor Swift
Have you heard children sing this song? When you do, you realize it's a profound meditation on the gift of finding somewhere that lets you be yourself, or lets you pretend to be who you wish you were. New York is still that place for lots of people.


Ada Calhoun and St. Marks Is Dead links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Atlantic review
Kirkus review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review

Metro interview with the author
New York Times essay by the author
Village Voice profile of the author
WGN Radio interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists

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 (Alison Bechdel's Favorite Books, Spike Lee on Michael Jackson, and more)

Cartoonist Alison Bechdel's favorite books.


Spike Lee discussed his documentary Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall at Morning Edition.


The Los Angeles Review of Books interviewed author Tessa Hadley.


Stream a new Andrew Bird song.


California Sunday Magazine profiled cartoonist Daniel Clowes.


Stereogum ranked Fiery Furnaces albums.


Literary Hub listed the best literary writing about sex.


Stream a new song from the Lumineers.


A.O. Scott talked to Salon about his new book Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth.

The Los Angeles Review of Books reviewed the book.


Dr. Dog visited World Cafe for a live performance.


Omnivoracious interviewed author Charles D'Ambrosio.


Stream a new song by Mogwai.


Salon shared an excerpt from Marc Weingarten's book Thirsty: William Mulholland, California Water, and the Real Chinatown.


Weekend Edition discussed cultural appropriation in pop music.


Tin House interviewed Tony Tulathimutte about his debut novel Private Citizens.


The Village Voice profiled singer-songwriter and composer Gabriel Kahane.


Authors Kevin Nguyen and Laura van den Berg discussed speculative fiction at FSG Originals.


SPIN profiled singer-songwriter Aaron Maine (who records as Porches).

Pitchfork reviewed his new album.


CarolineLeavittville and Electric Literature interviewed Rachel Cantor about her novel Good on Paper.


Slate interviewed Alexander Chee about his novel The Queen of the Night.


Weekend Edition profiled the band School of Seven Bells.


Han Kang discussed her novel The Vegetarian with the New York Times and the Guardian.


All Songs Considered interviewed singer-songwriter Andrew Bird.


Your Middle East recommended books set just before, during, and after the Lebanese civil war.


R.I.P., singer-songwriter Dan Hicks.


The Globe and Mail remembered author Oliver Sacks.


NPR Music remembered Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire.


Howard Jacobson talked to Weekend Edition about his new novel Shylock Is My Name, a reworking of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.



also at Largehearted Boy:

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

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists
Essential and Interesting 2015 Year-End Music Lists

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)


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

February 7, 2016

Largehearted Boy Weekly Wrap-Up - February 7, 2016

A list of the past week's Largehearted Boy features:


Book Notes: (authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates to their book)

B.J. Hollars for his essay collection This Is Only a Test
Genanne Walsh for her novel Twister
Kathleen Spivack for her novel Unspeakable Things
Paul Lisicky for his memoir The Narrow Door
Paula Bohnice for her poetry collection Swallows and Waves
Richard Fifield for his novel The Flood Girls
Ryan Gattis for his novel All Involved


Lists:

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists (a collection of year-end book lists)
Essential and Interesting 2015 Year-End Music Lists
Largehearted Boy Favorite Food and Drink Books of 2015
Largehearted Boy Favorite Nonfiction of 2015
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2015
Largehearted Boy Favorite Short Story Collections of 2015


Weekly New Book Recommendations:

Atomic Books Comics Preview (recommended new comics and graphic novels)
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (recommended new books)


New Music Recommendations:

The Week's Interesting Music Releases


And of course, the daily literature and music news ans link posts:

Shorties (news & links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)


also at Largehearted Boy:

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines
Atomic Books Comics Preview
Book Notes
Contests / Giveaways
Cover Song Collections
Lists
weekly music release lists
musician/author Interviews
Note Books
Soundtracked
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week


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February 5, 2016

Book Notes - Kathleen Spivack "Unspeakable Things"

Unspeakable Things

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, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Kathleen Spivack's novel Unspeakable Things is an ambitious and surreal debut that is imbued with music.

Shelf Awareness wrote of the book:

"In her first novel, poet Kathleen Spivack (With Robert Lowell and His Circle) strongly seasons a realistic story of World War II refugees, longing to escape their past and establish themselves in America, with surrealistic elements to create a convincing portrait of the pain of displacement and dislocation."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Kathleen Spivack's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Unspeakable Things:


Music has been at the core of many of my books, each differently. As a young girl, I studied the cello, and went on to play chamber music much of my adult life. I played the cello at Oberlin College and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. The composition courses, both in writing and in music began with the setting of poems--usually those of Emily Dickinson--to music. The rhythm of words and the formal tonality of music blended and fascinated me. Later I performed some of my written work with jazz musicians & toured; I learned about music and text. Some of my work has also been set to original music, and performed as song cycles , opera and theatre pieces in the U.S. and in France .

In my recent novel, Unspeakable Things, (Alfred Knopf, 2016,) European classical music drives the book. Unspeakable Things is about German and Austrian intellectuals, refugees, struggling to stay alive in New York City during the last years of World War II. European classical music is what they listen to. It carries memories of their lives, both of their "before," chiefly in Vienna, and their penurious "after" in New York City.

I loved doing the research for this book. The book is factual in its recounting of the importance of music and how it was controlled during this era. But fiction and magic come into it. More importantly, as I wrote, each character chose his or her music. While writing, I heard the music of each character, and put on the appropriate tape. The first drafts were written while CD's had not yet superseded tape recordings and I was still mourning the silence imposed upon classical record collections.

Alone in the room in an absent friend's apartment, I turned up the volume until my ears were so filled with music that I could, via the ladder of music, enter my characters' souls.

Perhaps you have done the same. And perhaps you have not yet read Unspeakable Things. If so, here is a shorthand guide to the music that shaped and haunted my characters and by transmission, me.

Sound flooded the room where I sat writing. I let my 'self' dissolve: I couldn't tell the demarcation between my characters and the swirl of music that was their signature. "The Rat," a central character, was Schubert's "Death and the Maiden," Quartet No. 14. "Rasputin," the Demon Lover, was written to Mussogorsky’s* "The Great Gate of Kiev," from "Pictures at an Exhibition. " "Herbert" was Brahms, of course, both tough and tender; his was the Brahms "Requiem": the music of a heart cracking. And the "Tolstoi Quartet" was written to the music of Mozart. At first look, in the early stages, and in the early life of my naive Quartet, their Mozart - music seems to have a playful mischievous child-like nature,. But later, as I came to know the "Tolstoi Quartet" better, I heard a more imperative Mozart: hints of pleasure, of secrets, of schemes and hidden messages.

The triumphant self-confident can-do New World chapters were accompanied, as I wrote them, by Louis Armstrong, by a 'brace of trumpets,' the big swing bands, and the swooping American confidence, each passage as if created spontaneously, of George Gershwin.

The "Doktor Felix" chapters were written to "The Rakes Progress," by Stravinsky, and parts of "Carmina Burana." Felix is also the wicked puppet master of so many ballets. He takes possession of your body and your will. Like Herr Drosselmeyer, he makes you dance until you drop - as in Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker," "Coppelia" and in the ballet/movie "The Red Shoes."

While writing Unspeakable Things, in that meditative trance, or "flow," where one is concentrated, deeply within and yet at the same time without; shaping the piece, I seemed to hear Bruch's "Kol Nidrei." It was the underground river running through the whole endeavor. It was and is the lamentation of the Earth herself. I sensed again the caramel caress of my beloved cello. To weep, and expiate: to heal, soothe; perhaps to accept, and even laugh & maybe find happiness somewhere....

In Unspeakable Things, with its contrapuntal "New World Symphony" clashing with "Kol Nidrei" and everything else, I sat alone and let the book almost write itself. Words were streaming from my fingers faster than I could catch them. It was like liquid silver, writing that first draft. And suddenly, despite myself, sweet Hope sprang up, demanding to be heard.


Kathleen Spivack and Unspeakable Things links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Booklist review
Boston Globe review
Paste review
Shelf Awareness review


also at Largehearted Boy:

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

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists

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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Atomic Books Comics Preview - February 5, 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.


Crickets #5

Crickets #5
by Sammy Harkham

Harkham's "Blood of the Virgin" serial continues. This issue also features an appearance by The Blobby Boys. Crickets is one of the best ongoing currently going.


Devil Tales

Devil Tales
by Steve Banes / Mr. Karswell

Satan stars in over two dozen demonic, horror-classic tales by the likes of Don Heck, Gene Colan, Dick Ayers, Lou Cameron, Bob Powell, Howard Nostrand and more!


Eek The First #1

Eek The First #1
by Jason Yungbluth

The horrific Bill Cosby caricature on the inside front cover sets the right tone for what to expect with this collection of Yungbluth's excellently illustrated comics satires.


Inside the 2015 Milky Milky Milk Tour: Miley Cyrus and Dan Deacon

Inside the 2015 Milky Milky Milk Tour: Miley Cyrus and Dan Deacon
by Kevin Sherry

Okay, so the only way to get this comic in a physical copy is to pick the City Paper, Baltimore's free alt-weekly. But you can read the story of what happened when Dan Deacon went on tour with Miley Cyrus and the Flaming Lips for free, online, as told by merch guy and artist Kevin Sherry. Tell me that ending doesn't make you almost tear up ,and I'll call you a liar.


Haunted Horror Pre-Code Cover Coloring Book

Haunted Horror Pre-Code Cover Coloring Book
by various

This collection of Pre-Code horror comic covers in coloring book format is enough to convince any of the "I'm over adult coloring books" naysayers to reach for a marker.


Prez Volume 1: Corndog In Chief

Prez Volume 1: Corndog In Chief
by Mark Russell / Ben Caldwell

Corporations can run for president. The poor are used as human billboards. Tacos are delivered by drones. And Beth Ross is the first teen-aged President of the United States.


Spider-Man #1

Spider-Man #1
by Brian Michael Bendis / Sara Pichelli

It's finally official! Miles Morales is a member of the Marvel Universe. This is the first issue of the new ongoing Spider-Man series - and it's gonna go fast.


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:

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)

This Week's Interesting Music Releases - February 5, 2016

Elliott Smith

The soundtrack to the Elliott Smith documentary Heaven Adores You is in stores this week, and features several rarities from the singer-songwriter.

Dr. Dog's The Psychedelic Swamp, Freakwater's Scheherazade, Lucinda Williams' The Ghosts Of Highway 20, and The Prettiots' Funs Cool are all albums I can recommend.

Reissues include a vinyl edition of Grimes' Geidi Primes album.

What new releases can you recommend this week?


This week's interesting music releases:

Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Pond Scum [vinyl]
Breakbot: Still Waters
Burnt Palms: Back On My Wall
DIIV: Is The Is Are
Dr. Dog: The Psychedelic Swamp
Dressy Bessy: Kingsized
Drowning Pool: Hellelujah
Elliott Smith: Heaven Adores You (soundtrack)
Elton John: Wonderful Crazy Night
Field Music: Commontime
Fleshgod Apocalypse: King
Francis: Marathon
Freakwater: Scheherazade
The Giraffes: Usury [vinyl]
Grateful Dead: Dick's Picks Vol. 2 Columbus, Ohio 10/31/71
Grimes: Geidi Primes (reissue) [vinyl]
Hey Marseilles: Hey Marseilles
High Highs: Cascades
Infamous Stringdusters: Ladies and Gentlemen
Jagged Leaves: Nightmare Afternoon
John Cale: Music For A New Society / M:FANS
Johnny Cash: Koncert V. Praze
Junior Boys: Big Black Coat
King: We Are King
The London Suede: Night Thoughts
Lucinda Williams: The Ghosts Of Highway 20
Luther Dickinson: Blues & Ballads (A Folksingers Songbook) Volumes I and II
Majid Jordan: Majid Jordan
Mass Gothic: Mass Gothic
nonkeen: the gamble
Nothing But Thieves: Nothing But Thieves
Porches: Pool
Prettiots: Funs Cool
Rihanna: Anti
Sunflower Bean: Human Ceremony
Various Artists: Still in a Dream: Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995 (5-CD box set)
Various Artists: Swamp Pop By The Bayou - Troubles, Tears and Trains
Various Artists: Why The Mountains Are Black - Primeval Greek Village Music: 1907-1960
Wild Man Fischer: An Evening With Wild Man Fischer (reissue)
Wiz Khalifa: Khalifa


also at Largehearted Boy:

weekly music release lists

Essential and Interesting 2015 Year-End Music Lists

100 online sources for free and legal music downloads
Book Notes (authors create music playlists for their book)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

Shorties (The Tournament of Books Brackets, The Prettiots on Their New Album, and more)

The bracket for the 2016 Morning News Tournament of Books has been released.


The Prettiots broke down their album Funs Cool track-by-track with Paste.

The Guardian reviewed the album.


0s and 1s Reads interviewed author Sheila Heti.


Pitchfork reviewed the Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995 box set.


Vol. 1 Brooklyn interviewed author Garth Greenwell.


Rolling Stone interviewed singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams.


Author Dato Turashvili listed the top works of Georgian literature.


Stream a new song by Sarah Neufeld.


Minneapolis City Pages profiled author Marlon James.


Rolling Stone listed things you didn't know about the Ramones' first album.


Electric Literature previewed 2016's book-to-television adaptations.


Stereogum reconsidered J Dilla's Donuts album on its 10th anniversary.


Refinery29 recommend February's best new books.


PopMatters interviewed Dave Stewart about his memoir Sweet Dreams Are Made of This.


Entertainment Weekly previewed 2016's most anticipated book-to-movie adaptations.


Read a conversation between John Cale and Brian Weitz and David Portner (aka Geologist and Avey Tare) of Animal Collective.


Maximilian Uriarte discussed his graphic novel about the Iraq war, Terminal Lance: White Donkey, with the Wall Street Journal.


Stream Amanda Palmer's David Bowie tribute EP.



also at Largehearted Boy:

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

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists
Essential and Interesting 2015 Year-End Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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)


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

February 4, 2016

Book Notes - B.J. Hollars "This Is Only a Test"

This Is Only a Test

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, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

B.J. Hollars' collection This Is Only a Test is filled with moving essays of disasters from a distinctly human perspective.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"The thread that binds these essays on death and mayhem is the author's love for his children and wife, which offers readers a respite from the inherent grief and devastation he poetically describes."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In his own words, here is B.J. Hollars' Book Notes music playlist for his essay collection This Is Only a Test:


It's difficult to select a soundtrack for disasters, mostly because disasters are experiences we'd just as soon forget. Yet to some extent, my essay collection, This Is Only a Test, serves as proof that disasters can never be fully forgotten; they remain with us, rattling back into our lives at unexpected moments. My collection attempts to capture the aftershocks of disasters, to help readers understand that for victims, the trauma never ends—it merely changes forms.

After a tornado struck my town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I immediately took to my computer. I began with a single line—I am trying to write my way out of disaster—and soon found myself repeating that line again and again, cluttering pages with my mindless repetition.

Eventually, this line became the collection's refrain, though no matter how many times I tried to "write my way out" of tornadoes, drownings, bombings, and the perils of parenthood, the more I realized just how powerless my words really were. Indeed, I could control the letters on the page, but very little beyond that.

Simply put, writing these essays was a lesson in humility; a reminder that essays are only temporary shelters. At some point the words run out and we're forced to face the day.

"Goodbye, Tuscaloosa"—"Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife" by Drive-By Truckers

In the book's opening essay, my wife and I are huddled in a bathtub, waiting for a tornado to pass. We'd just learned that we were pregnant, and as we crouched in that tub, dark thoughts began to emerge. What if we die here? we wondered. And if so, what about the unborn person who will die with us?

Drive-By Truckers' "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife" captures our contemplation by recounting the story of a man at the gates of Heaven. "Memories replay before him," Jason Isbell sings, "All the tiny moments of his life / Laying round in bed on a Saturday morning / Two daughters and a beautiful wife…"

Later, when I first heard this song, I thought of all the Saturday morning we might've lost had the tornado's trajectory moved a little to the left.

"A Test of the Emergency Alert System"—"Everything In Its Right Place" by Radiohead

After the tornado struck, all our students went home. I was an instructor at the University of Alabama then, and rather than keep tens of thousands of students on campus for final exams, we just told everyone to go home. Given that the tornado struck late in the term, I'd already created my multiple-choice final exam; the problem, though, was that I no longer had any students to give it to. And so, I re-appropriated the multiple-choice format for this essay, thereby forcing myself to take the test. (I only pass it on occasion.)

The high synths of Radiohead's "Everything In its Right Place" immediately reminds me of the piercing squalls of the Emergency Alert System warnings we've all heard broadcast from our TVs and radios. Even today—five years removed from that tornado—every time I hear that squall (or this song) I can't help but think of Tuscaloosa.

"Epistle to an Embryo"—"The Wind" by Cat Stevens

A few weeks following the tornado, a grocery clerk in Tuscaloosa wished my wife a happy mother's day. "Are you a mother?" the clerk inquired. She wasn't—not yet—though the baby was growing inside of her. We hadn't told anyone, and yet this store clerk—so perceptive, or so bold—seemed to know our secret.

I witnessed their encounter from the opposite end of the cereal aisle, and since I was in earshot, I heard my wife's reply: "No," she said, "I'm not a mother. But maybe one day."

As we pushed our cart into the parking lot 15 minutes later, Cat Steven's "The Wind" infiltrated my ears. Steven's simple plucks of the guitar, coupled with his edging-toward-optimistic lyrics—"I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul…"—helped us begin to see our lives through a future lens rather than the destruction of the recent past.

"The Longest Wait"— "Steady" by The Staves

A month after the tornado struck we left Tuscaloosa for good. We moved to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where a job awaited me. Months passed, my wife's body expanded, and our son's due date came and went. My wife's frustration grew along with the extended time line, and with each passing day, she concocted new way to will herself into labor. Those final days were interminable, and since I had no physical trials ahead, I tried to remain calm for us both.

"Steady, steady, steady…" The Staves remind, the trio of female voices serving as a near-perfect soundtrack for that moment.

"Dispatches from the Drownings"—"American Beauty" by Thomas Newman

When confronting a fear, I empower myself by learning all I can of it. It's as if I think that if I read enough about it, I might diminish its power. This diluted thinking is what led me to this essay—a fragmented listing of drowning facts told in 45 brief sections. The sections eventually circle back, but in the time between, readers are left wondering how the pieces fit together. It can make for a complex reading experience, and admittedly, one that likely prompts half of my readers to hurl the book across the room.

But if one sticks with it, I like to think the essay's logic begins to emerge; at first I try to showcase the beauty of complexity, though by essay's end, I aim for the beauty of simplicity, too.

I know of no song that better captures the raw, emotional power of simplicity better than Thomas Newman's hauntingly composed "American Beauty."

"Buckethead" & "The Changing"—"Linger" by every person who's ever been to summer camp

In these linked essays—both of which describe encounters experienced at summer camp—it's only fitting that they share a song. "Linger" has no single artist, but instead, is a song that's been sung around campfires for decades (and probably much longer than that). Like any good campfire tale, I'm uncertain of the song's origin, but as someone who has sang it around hundreds of campfires (first as a camper, later as a counselor), I know all too well of the song's remarkable power.

As any former camper knows, the beauty of summer camp resides in its evanescent nature. You get there, you make friends, and then, within a week or so, you go home kicking and screaming. There's no better way to say goodbye to the experience than to acknowledge what's being lost. On the last night of summer camp, tradition dictates that campers sit around the campfire, sling arms around their friends, and sing: "Oooo, I want to linger / Oooo, a little longer / Oooo, a little longer here with you…"

These essays attempt to capture that magic, to offer a few more stanzas to that song.

"The Year of the Great Forgetting"— "Fourth of July" by Sufjan Stevens

A friend once referred to the first year of parenthood as "the year of the great forgetting." He told me that I'd love every second of it, but that I wouldn't remember a thing. Indeed, sleep deprivation would leave a hazy cloud over my son's first year of life, but I was surprised to find that this haziness continued into his second year, too; that is, until a never-ending low-grade fever suddenly put me on high alert.

It's only natural to feel helpless in the face of natural disasters, but there's nothing natural about feeling helpless about disasters that effect the people you love. Let me try again. What I mean to say is: of course you feel helpless when your son has a continual low-grade fever you just can't shake, yet despite all you can't do, there's always a lingering feeling that there must be something you can do. You beg the universe for answers. You plead for a chance to do something.

Last summer I heard Sufjan Stevens' sing "Fourth of July" at an outdoor concert a few miles from my home. There, on a warm July night, the speakers trembled as Stevens' repeated his own line again and again: "We're all gonna die." It was a dark message, sure, but there was also some light in it. We all are going to die, after all, but our helplessness—at least related to mortality—can sometimes be our comfort.

"Punchline"—"Tracks of My Tears" by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles

Sleep deprivation can effect a person in a number of ways, including one's sense of humor. When I wrote "Punchline", I tried desperately to explain a joke that only really makes sense if you're a sleep-deprived couple with a young child. Trying to expand the joke to a wider audience was all but impossible, but I think—I hope!—that by sharing a joke that could never successfully be shared, I highlighted something about the nature of our relationship.

"Tracks of My Tears" gets at that same idea of the intimacy of laughter. "Although I might be laughing loud and hearty," Smokey Robinson wails. "Deep inside I'm blue…"

"Bedtime Story— "Crown the Pines" by S. Carey

In the closing essay, I'm faced with another "crisis" of parenthood: an ultrasound that only ever shows half the picture. My wife endured one ultrasound after another, but each time, the tech could only see a portion of our daughter. What part can't we see? we wondered. What part of our daughter is missing?

Throughout the coldest nights of winter, I'd walk home after my evening classes with S. Carey blaring in my ears. S. Carey and I share a town, and I took comfort in knowing that he was singing of a landscape we both knew well. As I trekked up the snow-capped hill, crossed the empty street, and wandered back to the house with the light on, the lyrics to "Crown the Pines" always resonated: "I am in love with this place / But I fear for its grace…"

Directly following the final ultrasound (which revealed our daughter in good health), my wife and I drove to the local record store to pick up an autographed copy of S. Carey's "Range on Light". Every time I spin it now, I think of one word: gratitude.


B.J. Hollars and This Is Only a Test links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Kirkus review
Library Journal review


Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Sightings


also at Largehearted Boy:

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

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists

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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