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January 5, 2011

Book Notes - Mike Young ("Look! Look! Feathers")

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

Mike Young's Look! Look! Feathers mixes modern life and internet culture with small town America in this vibrant and memorable debut short fiction collection.

The Rumpus wrote of the book:

"The twelve fictions in Mike Young's first story collection, Look! Look! Feathers, radiate with the maddening shouts and jeers of a motley and mottled chorus. They shimmer in a state of flux that is both enthralling and perplexing, and pulsate with dollops of MySpace-age jargon that stab into the familiar with ironic and mystifying consequences. Young's voice is fearless, and capable of leaving a lasting taste that is equal parts alkaline and sugar, pungent and reviving."

In his own words, here is Mike Young's Book Notes music playlist for his debut short story collection, Look! Look! Feathers:

Look! Look! Feathers is a collection of twelve stories—ten long, two short—about people trying to try. People spray Raid around their windowsills, lie, give up, have adventures, sing to win something, fight to keep something, and eat a lot of food sold in gas stations. I don't really listen to music while I'm writing because music distracts me too much, but I often have certain songs stuck in my head or rhythms I'm after. Also, I've always loved the Book Notes series, so I've used my opportunity here to write way too much, like how one time that scrawny kid made you a mixed CD that was so fussed over you realized he was probably most in love with his ideas of love. What a punk. Here we go:

"The Peaches Are Cheap": "Hope and Fulfillment" by Langhorne Slim

In this story, someone steals a penny from a charity saucer. Sunlight falls like an arm across a pillow. I remember the summer I wrote this was the summer I finally figured out what Oregon really smelled like. Langhorne Slim says "You can lose / just as soon / as you were tamed / as you're waiting for something." All the fiddles and Gatling gun strumming sounds like a beautiful ruckus in a tiny apartment, and most of the people in these stories wish their voices were bigger than their kitchens.

"Burk's Nub": "Happiness is a Chemical" by Darren Hanlon

Burk plays tuba and is rarely seen without a grilled cheese sandwich. He gets a cyst on his hand that he says is a Japanese nub allowing him to see the internet in the brain. Sure, everybody says. Darren Hanlon says "You're stripped of all your worldly powers / And staring at the opposite apartment block for hours, / You say that each window is just a TV channel, / And you'd surrender all your so-called friends for flowers." This song sounds like an Australian guy who's too nice to be a good boyfriend. Friendship is weird and belief is weirder. Fast food restaurants point their fans at the street to make you hungry. Loneliness is the primary mood of visionaries.

"Look! Look! Feathers:" "Devil as a Child" by the Felice Brothers

In the collection's title story, a couple finds a tiny baby in a medicine cabinet. They live downhill from Mt. Shasta, CA, which hippies say is made of magnetic lava. Their landlord has mother issues and pet ostriches. The Felice Brothers have convincing dust in their throats and pianos alike. "A stone on an inset before a storm / Ain't always standing in the morning, Lord." Nobody uses the train semaphores, but they're still there, and when you're next to a dormant volcano, it's easy for anyone to feel too small to be heard.

"Susan White and the Summer of the Gameshow": "Empty Pocket Waltz" by Connie Converse

The character of Susan White is based a little on Connie Converse, a 1950s NYC singer-songwriter who in 1974 packed all her belongings into her Volkswagen Beetle, sent goodbye letters to friends, and disappeared. Susan White—the town librarian—organizes tennis tournaments, Nature Walks, and convinces people to act in community theatre. When a weird neon huckster named Delbert Cray shows up to make Susan's town its own YouTube gameshow, Susan practices alone in her apartment with her Casio and her faucets. Connie Converse sings "And we're free / to be free / Come now and waltz / the empty pocket waltz / with me."

"The World Doesn't Smell Like You": "Young" by Kenny Chesney

Coach Schiel teaches P.E. and woodshop, enjoys little mustard packets, keeps scuffs off the gym floor, and has a testicular secret that isn't so secret except to the numbskulls who worship him. Kenny Chesney has made a career out of the kind of gag-worthy high school nostalgia that makes you worried he's going to end up hanging outside of gas stations begging teenagers to let him buy them alcohol. And maybe chill with them, please, for like, an hour? It's not easy to be a dude, especially when you have a pooka shell necklace, especially when you're in a metal band but you wear a cowboy hat. The boys in this story are vulgar and bewildered and they won't let you cross the bridge until you look at their arms.

"What the Fuck Is An Electrolyte?": "People" by Andrew Jackson Jihad

No one knows why people do things. Things like win big in Reno and go deaf. Things like get beat up by soldiers in the Bow & Arrow Lounge. Things like finish third in the YMCA Battle of the Bands, things like get a Christian fish tattoo on your bicep, things like make out with your girlfriend in your boyfriend's car, things like leave and come back. You can find a video on YouTube of folk-punkers Andrew Jackson Jihad playing "People" in the middle of their audience, where they sing "People are selfish / and people are prone to hate / but God, I love some people sometimes / because people are the greatest thing to happen."

"Same Heart They Put You In:" "I'm No Lover" by Antarctica Takes It!

This story is about the light in Napa Valley and crying for no reason. One character cuts open a seagull and says "I've been back and forth with the same goddamn heart they put me in." But the title of the story says Put You In, and this is the gap everybody's worried about. Other characters write 80085 on their calculator and fart when the DARE officer gets to the solemn part of his speech. In "I'm No Lover," Antarctica Takes It! says "I'm not a lover, I'm a fighter / and I will burn your house down," but it's like a baby snow rabbit is singing this, and the only thing that stops you from completely disbelieving him is the the way he keeps eye contact.

"Snow You Know and Snow You Don't": "Fox In the Snow" by Belle & Sebastian

Back to Mt. Shatsa, where Eureka has secrets. Or she has worries and can't tell the differences. So she and her boyfriend Dan Mac, who drives taxis and saves people even when they don't want to be saved, what they do is buy necklaces of bluebird bones from roadside vans. Eureka writes a letter to her unborn daughter. Belle & Sebastian croons somewhere between helpless and beautiful and says "You're going up / you're going down / you're going nowhere," but Eureka says "When people say ‘I give up,' they mean ‘Show me what's next.' What we're doing is true giving up. Giving ourselves up to all the quiet and sternness above us, the mountain and its weather."

"Mosquito Fog:" "The Pugilist at 59" by Tom Russell

Russell drives a mosquito fogging truck and lives alone. His daughter is trying to move away. Harrison Ford's voice on the late night movie doesn't sync up with his face. Some of that information they ask us to put on Facebook is a little private, isn't it? Some of that chili they put on the label of the can doesn't look like the chili inside. There is a not-so-modest genre of songs about old men trying to make it all alone ("Sunday Morning Coming Down" being maybe the hungover granddaddy), but Tom Russell's "The Pugilist at 59" has the most heartbreaking small details—cold chicken salad and old medicine balls—and Russell's hard-won low notes. Plus I just realized his last name is Russell and Russell is the protagonist in "Mosquito Fog," so there you go.

"Stay Awhile If You Can:" "Get It While You Can" by Howard Tate

"So if someone comes along," bellows Howard Tate, "who gives you gen-u-wine affection—" and here comes that mighty soul choir — "Get it while you can!" In this story, Reid replaced his uncle as his Oregon town's mural painter, and he likes to do things like stand and watch his murals get wet and wonder about his girlfriend's vitamin habit. That is to say, he doesn't do much. Meanwhile, disco balls hang from barns and kittens are sold at bus stops and punks drive auctioned police cars. That is to say, we do what we can't and call it what we can.

"Restart? Restore?": "I Don't Wanna Die (in a Hospital)" by Conor Oberst

Orrin and his wife Rhonda planned to drive the rest of their lives together, meandering around the country in their R/V. When Rhonda dies, Orrin has to park himself in somebody else's story. But who has room? Do brothers have room? Do daughters? Conor Oberst asks somebody to help him get his boots back on, but one person's hootenanny is another's shit show. There are tricycles and busted pumpkins and drivethrough redwoods and lighthouses: everything wants to belong and life is a long thing to win.

"No Such Thing as a Wild Horse:" "Our Town" by Iris Dement

My friend Missy told me the story that led to this story, sitting on the couch drinking seltzer one morning before we were set to go to a local fun park for a friend's birthday. The theme of the party was "white trash," and we were all dressed up in wifebeaters and Corona sweatshirts and trucker hats. But many of us came from what we were making fun of, which is usually the case. As the narrator says at the beginning of this story, "Sometimes the SYSCO trucks spill and the drivers will say shit and sit down and eat the peaches with you, smile and close their eyes when you offer to help lie to their boss." And as Iris Dement sings—her voice its own brand of violin, made of driftwood and glued with buttermilk—you can't help but want to kiss the things you know before the sun is done with them.

Mike Young and Look! Look! Feathers links:

the author's blog

As You Recognize Your Transience review
Brooklyn Rail review
decomP review
Glorified Love Letters review
Nylon review
The Rumpus review

Fictionaut interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

Online "Best Books of 2010" lists

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)
musician/author interviews
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

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