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May 18, 2007

Book Notes - Nick Mamatas ("Under My Roof")

The Book Notes series has authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

From his previous books, I knew that Nick Mamatas has a gift for being clever and funny. Under My Roof is a wonderful example of his talent, I found myself laughing through almost every page of the novel while being absorbed in the plot. First, the twelve-year old telepathic Herbie aids his father in building an atomic bomb (to be housed in a garden gnome), then he helps the family secede from the United States. The social relevance of this post-9/11 novel is clear, but never heavy-handed. Under My Roof is a book I will recommend to friends of all ages, and possibly a couple of presidential candidates.

Of the novel, the Los Angeles Times wrote:

"'Under My Roof' is accurate, fast-moving satire that transcends mere target shooting by virtue of its narrator, Daniel's 12-year-old son, Herbie. The novel affectionately captures his age-appropriate cynicism and insecurity; at times, he's a kindred spirit to the awkward protagonists of Daniel Pinkwater's young-adult novels. There is, however, one essential difference: Herbie can read minds. Mamatas lucidly and hilariously deploys his telepathy, allowing him to know all, see all and eventually transmit helpful information to allies in need."

Preview or download this playlist at iTunes

In his own words, here is Nick Mamatas's Book Notes essay for his novel, Under My Roof:

Under My Roof is about a kid who, among other things, doesn’t listen to much music. My little hero, Herbie Weinberg, is a powerful psychic and can read the minds of everyone on the planet. So he's too busy for music, though he does know something important: there is no such thing as God, and the transcendent religious experiences sages and saints have all had is just a simple mental phenomenon, namely the exact opposite of getting a song stuck in one's head. Teenage telepathy is pretty handy for Herbie, as Herbie's father Daniel father builds a nuclear device, plants it in a garden gnome, and declares his home's independence from the United States. Sounds like a They Might Be Giants song, but that band will not be appearing on my playlist.

Indeed, most of the songs and bands I love will not. I'm that most annoying of people, you see. I'm the guy who likes a song and plays it forty times in a row. (No religious experiences here!) My old roommate used to call my listening habit "rotationist maximus." As far as the writing of Under My Roof, there's only one important song, and it only became important three days before I finished writing the book. For your reading pleasure, though, here are several songs.

1. "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" by The Langley Schools Project.

This is the song central to Under My Roof. The song itself is just a bit of 1970s flotsam, given life and spirit by schoolkids recording on cheap equipment in an echo-filled gymnasium or something. It's haunting and the fact that a kid is singing about telepathy may make the choice a little obvious, but it worked for me.

2. "Pop The Glock" by Uffie

A rapper who can't rap, a producer who can't produce, an awful sample of a revolver spinning (Glocks aren't revolvers), but the song crawled into my ear eighteen months ago and still hasn't left. There is a joy and a wonder in not being the best and yet declaring that you're fully equal with anyone else. And it's apropos to the book. Hey America, "stop hatin'/playin' hard/ I got a loaded bodyguard." Ka-boom.

3. "These Lights" by The Forecast

It's about the Midwest, reminds me of Vermont, but still works for Long Island, or at least the Long Island of my youth from the time before the completion of Manhattan-to-Montauk mallification. Ever been a kid, in a car, stretched across the back seat, on a long trip down a dark highway? Shadowy trees, slate sky, and nothing else save the occasional dazzle from the lampposts on the side of the road? Yeah, that's the stuff.

4. "Fix Up, Look Sharp" by Dizzee Rascal

U.K. garage is what U.S. hip-hop used to be, before the producer eclipsed the MC. Or was, anyway. I should say that U.K. garage, much like U.S. hip-hop, used to be MC rather than producer oriented. God, I hate overproduced bullshit. (Good thing for me that I publish exclusively with independent presses then.) I love how Rascal's rap practically falls off the beat – music should have a ragged edge, like life does.

5. "T-Electronique" by Faust and Dälek

I think more rappers should base their beats on My Bloody Valentine and 1970s Kraut electronica, don't you? At least the ones who rap about revolution and the Five Percent Nation anyway? It's a world culture out there, baby! The borders of the nation-state are just the slave collar writ large.

6. "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" by Bruce Cockburn

The title says it all.

7. "4th of July" by X (demo version)

I wrote a big hunk of Under My Roof in California, and my first full day in that state was July 4th, 2004. I lived in the Bay Area, not L.A., but this song still works to bring me right back. The demo version is far more raw and thrashy than the single, and there is a break-up in the book (plus some explosions) so why not?

8. "Holding On To The Earth" by Sam Phillips

Solid gold question marks and all that. I've been about two weeks from getting everything all together since I was sixteen, but I really see the horizon now with the publication of this book and whatnot. I tease; really all I need is an A-bomb in a garden gnome. Then cleaning off my desk will really seem irrelevant. Yours too.

9. "Another Girl, Another Planet" by The Replacements

Yes, I know, this is another cover. I'm a cesspool of useless information, much of which I crammed into the book in the hope of getting rid of it. I even have a recurring daydream in which I've been hit by a taxi or something and a loved one is cradling my bloody head in her lap. My last words to her are, "Remember, if you're ever in a pub trivia contest one day, the first performers of 'Another Girl, Another Planet' was The Only Ones, not The Replacements. It's important to know this….urk!" Then I shudder and die. I truly believe that people are smarter now than they ever were, but that popular culture exists just to fill our brains to such a point that we cannot comprehend the world around us.

Nick Mamatas and Under My Roof links:

the author's website
the author's Livejournal
the author's Wikipedia entry

the book's page at its publisher

Bat Sugundo Show interview with the author
Bookslut interview with the author
Eclectica Magazine interview with the author
The Publishing Spot interview with the author
SF Site interview with the author
Word Riot interview with the author

Move Under Ground, the author's novel available as a free and legal download

reviews of Under My Roof:

The Believer
Los Angeles Times

see also:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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