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February 25, 2011

Book Notes - David Shields ("Reality Hunger")

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

David Shields' Reality Hunger is a provocative and radical examination of the state of modern literature in the internet age.

The Sunday Times wrote of the book:

"The driving force behind this entertaining and highly persuasive polemic is a frustration with the contemporary mainstream novel. . . . I can’t stop recommending it to my friends. There is no more effective description (and example) of the aesthetic concerns of the internet age than this."

In his own words, here is David Shields' Book Notes music playlist for his book, Reality Hunger:

Daniel Johnston, Hi, How Are You?

Kurt Cobain wore a T-shirt with the album cover of Daniel Johnson's Hi, How Are You? on it. It's as if Johnston's music has found a way to hotwire his feelings directly into his tape recorder. He presents zero facade, only the inscape of his tortured self. The music, raw beyond raw, is the very definition of lo-fi. Emerson: "The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when all your arrows are spent." Johnston never had any arrows to begin with; he has always only had himself and a cassette recorder.

Joni Mitchell, Blue

Denis Johnson: "Write yourself naked, from exile, and in blood." On "River," "Blue," and "The Last Time I Saw Richard," Joni Mitchell opens a map of serious pain, regret, and an ego trying to stitch itself back together again. She wrote many of these songs while traveling in Europe after going through a bad breakup with Graham Nash. Blue is the sound of Mitchell healing, though there are still signs of blood in the wounds. The nakedness also manifests itself in the starkness of Mitchell's instrumentation.

Country Music via David Foster Wallace

In David Lipsky's Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, David Foster Wallace mentions that he came to like country music by imagining that the singer of each song was singing about him/herself.

Many country songs thus transformed for Wallace into the battle of a self against itself. When Patsy Cline sings, "I'm crazy for loving you," it's a statement of self-loathing. Hank Williams's "Your Cheatin' Heart" is a scathing self-indictment. Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night." Garth Brooks's "I've Got Friends in Low Places."

Isaac Hayes, "Walk On By"

Dionne Warwick sang the original version of "Walk On By," which was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Five years later, Isaac Hayes completely repurposed the song. The chords and lyrics are the same, but Hayes takes the original 1964 version and warps it nearly beyond recognition. What was a two-and-a-half-minute pop single becomes a 12-and-a-half minute soul epic whose introduction rivals Richard Strauss's "Also Spoke Zarathustra" in its massive swagger before imploding into the funk riff of a single guitar. Bacharach and David still owned the copyright, but this version is all Isaac Hayes. Only the veneer of the original is recognizable. Hayes takes the music of Bacharach, David, and Warwick to a place they wouldn't have gotten to in ten lifetimes.

Bob Dylan, "Song For Woody"

Very early in his career, Dylan was the James Frey of the folk movement. (Or at the very least the JT Leroy.) He lied massively about his past to any reporter who would listen. He invented an elaborate series of backstories for himself: travels with the circus, work on ranches, running away from home. He found his real life lacking authenticity, so he invented a folk music hero and then lived the role: "Song For Woody." By the time people caught on to his ruse, the truth didn't matter anymore. And unlike Frey, he never gave an explanation; he never apologized. Instead, he just moved on to another persona. I'm not there; neither are you.

James Blake, James Blake

The cover photo of James Blake's self-titled album shows his face as a blur, which is a fitting metaphor for his music. Blake's songs, occupying a demilitarized zone between genres, are simultaneously avant-garde instrumental music, piano-driven singer-songwriter R&B, and throbbing 808 spacey hip hop. At times, via Auto-Tune, he pushes his voice beyond recognition, beyond human tonality. Walter Benjamin: "All great works of literature either dissolves a genre or invent one."

David Shields and Reality Hunger links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
video trailer for the book
excerpt from the book

A.V. Club review
Barnes & Noble Review review
Bookforum review
Bookslut review
Globe and Mail review
Guardian review
Kirkus Reviews review
Literary Kicks review
Los Angeles Times review
New Statesman review
New York Magazine review
New York Times review
Observer review
Oregonian review
Salon review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Seattle Times review
Sunday Times review
Telegraph review
Wall Street Journal review

Bookslut interview with the author
Guardian Books Podcast interview with the author
Huffington Post guest essays by the author
Jacket Copy interview with the author
The Millions interview with the author
Nervous Breakdown interview with the author
The Quarterly Conversation interview with the author
The Rumpus interview with the author

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)
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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