September 10, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
In a year filled with wonderful debut novels, Emma Rathbone's The Patterns of Paper Monsters is one of the most satisfying. A coming of age tale set in a juvenile detention facility, the book captivates through Rathbone's perceptive 17 year old narrator. Rathbone immerses the reader into his personal world, including his boredom, frustration, love, and rage. Most surprising is the amount of humor in the novel, the narrator's analysis of his family, fellow inmates, and staff members often had me smiling.
Benjamin Percy wrote of the book:
"No matter how loudly I praised The Patterns of Paper Monsters, no matter how many classic coming-of-age stories I compared it to, the unforgettably sarcastic and broken and endearing narrator, Jacob Higgons, would no doubt roll his eyes and show his teeth in a smile that was more of a snarl and say, “Can’t you do better than that?” And I would want—as I wanted so many times when reading this debut novel—to slap him upside the head and strangle him into a hug. And you will feel the same way, utterly charmed and disgusted, ultimately moved, when you read what promises to be one of the best books of the year by one of our best new writers, Emma Rathbone."
My favorite thing about listening to music while writing is how a certain song can recharge your idea and help you zoom in on an elusive feeling you were trying to capture. Some songs are just so electrifying and skillful at evoking a specific world that it inspires you to find that verve in your own writing.
My book is about a seventeen year old boy in a juvenile detention center. His name is Jacob and he's filled with anger. While he's there, he meets a girl, and through their relationship he's able to wring some optimism out of the world. But things are complicated when he's forced to work on an oral presentation with a psychopath. He's ultimately presented with a situation that forces him to confront his worst impulses.
There are many times when I asked myself, what exactly is this juvenile detention center supposed to feel like? The lighting, the furniture—to what key am I going to tune the monotony? And what is the nature, the frequency, of Jacob's anger? These are the gradations I struggled with, and here are some of the songs that helped me finally figure out where to stake my claim.
Brian Eno "St. Elmo's Fire"
This one makes me grit my teeth with the kid-like early morning excitement of being about to go on a big trip. "Then we rested in the desert, where the bones were white as teeth sir, and we saw St. Elmo's Fire, splitting ions in the ether." Or it makes me nostalgic for a far ranging adventure I had in another life. I feel real gratitude for this song because it always manages to jigger me open and let out all this dormant optimism.
Bonnie Prince Billy "Rich Wife Full of Happiness"
If "St. Elmo's Fire" reminds me of an adventure, then this one reminds me of returning home. It's a really warm song, airborne with forgiveness. Like we've all finally decided to let go of our grievances and laugh about it.
The Clash "Rebel Waltz"
This little confection from the Clash starts out all pretty and twilit and delicate. It gets haunted when Joe Strummer's beautifully tattered voice starts singing about a lost revolution and you feel as if you're waltzing on the quarter deck while the whole ship goes down.
Kate Bush "Wuthering Heights
This song is so weird. When I first heard it I listened to it over and over again because I had to find the germ, the helix, of Kate Bush's world. And the video, oh man. It's the antidote to today's bland you're-better-off-without-him pop. Bush femi-lashes you with brilliant need. It's mesmerizing.
The Who "Pinball Wizard"
I am a huge Tommy fan. It's a rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind kid who becomes a pinball champion. He takes acid. His mom smashes a mirror. He busts out of his sensory shell to become a rock star. Possibly the best thing ever written, and all by The Who, the pinnacle of which is "Pinball Wizard." A great, galloping rock song.
The Pixies "Alec Eiffel"
This might be one of my favorite Pixies songs of all time. About half way through it a plaintive guitar line begins that just about liquidizes me with happiness. It's followed by a blowsy, magisterial chorus and if you could record the feeling of being in a dome or some soaring cathedral with all of history billowing out behind you, this is what it would sound like.
Eminem "Without Me"
For some reason this song spurred me out of more than just a few writing ditches.
Nick Drake "Road"
In the book, Jacob meets a girl named Andrea and basically falls in love with her, even though he doesn't know that's what's happening. To me, this song evokes both the tension and tranquility of that experience—when you recognize someone the first time you meet them.
Archers of Loaf "Wrong"
This is a gleefully angry song that reminds me a lot of high school. It's the kind of thing you slam the door to after fighting with your parents. And then as it plays you think of all the ways you're going to deftly get back at everyone with your scalding indifference, only to feel back to normal about ten minutes later.
Boards of Canada "Kanai Industries"
This song is really simple and evocative. With the title it has the loneliness of an unearthed corporate jingle from a lost world.
Emma Rathbone and The Patterns of Paper Monsters links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists