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January 21, 2009

Book Notes - Jonathan Baumbach ("You")

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

When Lauren Cerand recommends a book, I start reading it...The publicist, blogger, and literary happenings contributor to Maud Newton's blog has steered me to some of my favorite books in the several years (Anne Landsman's The Rowing Lesson and Rudolph Wurlitzer's The Drop Edge of Yonder, among others), so when she sent along You: Or the, Invention of Memory, I dropped everything else and turned to page 1.

Jonathan Baumbach's You: Or the Invention of Memory is an odd book to publicize. Published over a year ago and garnering only one major review (and then when the Los Angeles Times critic bought it himself), You is a great example of quality writing put out by a small press.

I have read several of Baumbach's short stories as well as a couple of his novels, and he has always impressed me with his inventive prose. You tackles the vagaries of memory and love in a tangled genius of a novel that few other contemporary authors could even attempt to write.

Visit The New You Project, a website dedicated to the book and the discussion it engenders.

The Los Angeles Times wrote of the book:

"You finish the novel not sure whom to believe and with no way of knowing which of the versions of their relationship is correct, if any. The wife is especially complex. One of Baumbach’s earlier novels is about a man’s seven wives; the wife here seems like seven women, or like a woman in a Cubist painting seen from seven angles simultaneously. By now, of course, you have realized that you’re not the author’s confidant, as the opening paragraphs led you to believe, but only an eavesdropper, picking up pieces of the story and supplying your own coherence."

In his own words, here is Jonathan Baumbach's Book Notes essay for his novel, You: Or the Invention of Memory:

As a partisan of the inexplicable, I have no idea, or only the vaguest idea what music has had impact on my fiction. I work intuitively as a writer and try to have as little as possible conscious notion of what I'm about when I'm about it. What I can tell you is what I listened to, what I loved listening to—mostly on CD in the car as I drove back and forth between Great Barrington, MA and Brooklyn, NY, my weekly routine—during the period YOU was written. In many cases—my eye more or less on the road—these songs had private, inchoate reference for me or no reference at all I allowed myself to understand. Anyway, the following have gotten under my skin and as a consequence, I suspect, built a nest in the unconscious.

"Coney Island Baby," Tom Waits …. An unequivocal reciprocal love song and all the more wrenching and innocent because it comes from someone who's just told us that "Misery is the River of the World." When you're from Brooklyn, CIB is the girl/woman you've been waiting for all your life. Squalid and heart-healing.

"Like a Rainbow," Rolling Stones … the charismatic love of my life, sexy as hell, this dazzling woman ("she comes in colors") I married over and over again, though never really touched.

"Helpless," the KD Lang version of a Neil Young song. …. I have no idea what it's about, though it understands me. The cry of helpless (not hopeless) seems a kind of lover's affirmation in that love requires relinquishing one's poise.

"It Ain't Me, Babe," Bob Dylan …. A nasty jubilant song of rejection. Escaping the woman whose demands, whose vision of love, requires an unacceptable renunciation of self.

"If It Makes You Happy," Sheryl Crow …. Is it post-coital depression or just the difficulty of being happy for an extended period without being brought down by anxiety?

"The Midnight Hour," Wilson Pickett ….. The moment when all restraints fall away and amorous pleasure is at its most intense. A celebration of passion and ease.

"In My Secret Life," Leonard Cohen … The sometimes sustaining compensations of the imagination after the real thing, if such a distinction exists, has been trashed or lost. For those of us who dwell in the landscape of the imagination, there is only the "secret life."

"Jackson," Johnny Cash and June Carter …. Sassy, high energy debate between lovers whose love has seemingly run its course. A way—their way—our way—of renewing passion through good-humored provocation and dare.

Jonathan Baumbach and You: Or the Invention of Memory links:

the author's website
The New You Project
an excerpt from the book
GoodReads page for the book
LibraryThing page for the book

American Book Review review
The Brooklyn Rail review
Conversational Reading review
Flavorwire review
Los Angeles Times review

Akron Ohio Book Publisher profile of the book's publisher
Fiction Collective 2 interview with the author
Flavorwire interview with publicist Lauren Cerand about The New You Project website
Maud Newton article by the author
The Rumpus.net profile of the author
Vroman's Bookstore profile of The New You Project

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2008
Largehearted Boy Favorite Graphic Novels of 2008
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
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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