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October 16, 2009

Book Notes - Laura van den Berg ("What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us")

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

In her debut collection of short stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, Laura van den Berg's characters engage the mystical world as they struggle to overcome their personal losses.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"In her affecting debut collection, van den Berg taps into her characters’ losses with an impressive clarity. Each of these stories is meticulously crafted, and often the protagonist is recovering emotionally from a staggering life’s blow."

In her own words, here is Laura van den Berg's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us:

What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, my collection of stories just out from Dzanc Books, is largely about how lost people go about trying to get found—a desire that assumes the form of a failed actress taking a job as a Bigfoot impersonator, a botanist searching for a rare flower in Scotland, a gang of scientists hunting the Loch Ness Monster, a missionary's growing obsession with a creature rumored to live in the forests of the Congo, a scientific expedition to Madagascar, a young boy trying to reach the other side of the world through a hole in the sidewalk. The characters in these stories try to find themselves through obsession and adventure, thorough scientific discovery and magic, through theft and betrayal. Sometimes they come up empty and sometimes they uncover elements of the self that are darker and more mysterious than they could have imagined.

I do write to music. It helps me focus and to locate the right kind of emotional tenor for the work at hand. Sometimes, when I'm struggling, it can even become a much-needed gateway into a particular fictional world. While each story in What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us has its own mood, there is some overlap in respect to the emotional landscape—a sense of longing, desperation, and loneliness. These characters feel the kind of sadness that overtakes us when we become unable to understand our own lives, and these are the songs that helped me tap into their sorrows.

1. "Autumn Sweater" by Yo La Tengo

There's a dreamy quality and a sadness to this song that always helped me sink into the world of my stories.

2. "Anarchy in the UK" by The Sex Pistols

Some days, I just needed to listen to something that made a good bit of noise.

3. "Just Like Honey" by Jesus and Mary Chain

This feels like the perfect song to listen to while working on the ending of a story—maybe because I love the end of Lost in Translation and remember how "Just Like Honey" kicked in at exactly the right moment in that final scene.

4. "Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed

I adore Lou Reed and the beauty and desperation in his songs. The voice in "Walk on the Wild Side" feels world-weary in a way that I find evocative and compelling.

5. "Untitled" by Interpol

I just love the sound of this song—edgy, beautiful, haunting.

6. "Edge of the World" by Sam Phillips

When it comes to writing music, I look for songs that evoke some kind of emotional response in me and whenever I hear "Edge of the World," I immediately and inexplicably feel like weeping, making it a regular on the What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us rotation.

But tears aside, this a really gorgeous, moody song. There's something introspective and lyrical and slightly enigmatic about it. The line "You're a secret that I tell myself" seemed apt for many of my characters.

7. "Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl" Broken Social Scene

I find this song to be completely hypnotic, in a way that would draw me deeper into the page. It also seemed to have extraordinary nostalgia-inducing properties. Even though it's a song I've only listened to as an adult, it had a way of taking me back to particular moments.

8. "The Goldberg Variations" by Glenn Gould

After I read The Loser by Thomas Bernhard, a book I am now obsessed with (it is amazing!), I started listening to a lot more Glenn Gould. This worked when nothing else did. I would think of Gould hunched over his piano and of The Loser's furious, failure-filled narrator and things would start to click.

9. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division

I love Joy Division and listened to their music all the time while writing this book, but this song is my favorite. There's certainly a correspondence between the lyrics and my characters' lives, and Ian Curtis' voice has that same kind of world-weariness that draws me to Lou Reed.

10. "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order

There's something upbeat-yet-melancholic about this song, a buoyant sadness. It feels happy to me when I listen to it—not in a way that's remotely saccharine, but in a way that's ambiguous and complicated, in a way that feels real.

Laura van den Berg and What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us links:

the author's website

The Believer review
Publisher's Weekly review

Art Throb profile of the author
Boston Phoenix profile of the author
HTML Giant interview with the author
L Magazine interview with the author
One Story interview with the author
Recommended Reading interview with the author
The Review Review essay by the author
The Rumpus articles by the author
She Writes profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks

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