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June 16, 2011

Book Notes - Jesse Ball ("The Curfew")

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

Jesse Ball's writing mesmerizes me. His poetic elegance combined with an economy of words creates vast worlds out of small volumes, and this is exceptionally true in his new novel, The Curfew. Ball's dystopian tale is cleverly told through the everyday life of a father and daughter. Few writers could tell a tale filled with such violence with compassion, but Ball manages to. This is one of the year's most striking novels.

Since moving to Brooklyn at the first of the year, I put one book in my messenger bag specifically for subway reading. Of the 10 or so subway books so far, The Curfew is the only one that caused me to miss my stop (several times).

Newcity Lit wrote of the book:

"What is especially cool about this book is how, while we’re busy being dazzled by his linguistic dexterity, Ball delivers an array of super-heavy, super-ambitious existential, social and meta-fictional insights. All without triggering the flight response many casual readers have to such idea-driven novels."


In his own words, here is Jesse Ball's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, The Curfew:


I wrote The Curfew in 2009. At that time, it was known as Meanwhile, a puppet show. This was on the north side of Chicago. Those days, I was listening to the following dangerous and troublesome folks:


Moondog: The Viking of Sixth Avenue

I had to look up his name just now. I always think of him as Moondog, but he's really: Louis Thomas Hardin. If my name had been Louis Thomas Hardin, I definitely wouldn't have changed it. I would have become a gunfighter. No choice, really, in the matter, with a name like that. When I found out about his name just now, I discovered that he was blind. Previously, I had understood him as a marvelous composer and musician who wore viking outfits and wandered in a homeless fashion through New York, going in and out of the lives of various other marvelous people who chose to help him. His music is astonishing. He's much more complicated and great than any idea about him or his strange life.


Stephane Grappelli: Verve Jazz Masters 11

An easy introduction: he could hold his own with Django Reinhardt. He was a master fiddler, and although he continued making music after he and Django (Quintette du Hot Club de France) split up, that initial period is my favorite.


Pink Floyd: Animals

This was one of my first Pink Floyd albums, in junior high school. It is still my favorite. When I listen to it, I can't tell anymore what it is, or what I'm listening to. Am I listening to myself listening to it, as a much younger person? Is that what I hear? My own imagining (long ago) of how things will eventually be for myself? Has that time already come and gone? Was I right? What's left?


Fela Kuti: Coffin for Head of State

Supposedly more than a million people attended Fela Kuti's funeral. I wasn't there. But I like to imagine what that must have been like. People like him, who appear to be more like weather than like living beings, whose ambitions seem to hope for continuous change of any kind at any cost -- it is always surprising when they can die. This is a marvelous album, long and flat like the bottom of a drinking trough, and then suddenly the bottom falls out and it goes down, down, down! You have to climb in! Leave your things behind. You won't need them down there.


The Watersons: Frost and Fire

The music I listened to growing up was mostly folk, and it has stuck with me. This tremendous album helps a person to feel he needn't have much to do with the place and time he lives in if he doesn't want to, which he doesn't want to. Instead, he will listen to the Earsdon Sword Dance Song. Best of all, though is: Christmas is Now Drawing Near at Hand, which is a bit like the part in Blue when Juliette BInoche drags her knuckles along the stone wall.


Joe Meek: I Hear a New World

I was put onto Joe Meek by musician, artist and regular wild-man Will Rahilly. This isn't much like anything else. I like to listen to the "Valley of the Saroos" while practicing not moving my toes at all. If the toes move, you have to start again from the beginning!


Tom Waits: Orphans

If you like Tom Waits, then this is the album you always hoped you'd discover in an old closet by accident. If you don't know him, I'd say start with Swordfish Trombones or Raindogs. Then come here. All three discs are splendid. The whole thing is endless. By the time you get to the end, you're curious about how it started. That means: go back and listen again! Day after day, week after week -- more Tom Waits. More Tom Waits! Who can complain when the world supplies us with things like this.


Jesse Stiles: The Target Museum

I can claim an acquaintance with this man, dating back to August of 1996. He has made all sorts of music, all kinds of instruments, put together performances of every conceivable sort in places all over the world. This album is a sort of melodic speech, a loud, long, harmonious display. His star is definitely on the rise. At the moment, he's the Music Director for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Particular tracks to look for: "Everything is Made of Something"; "Dead Skyscraper." Just now when I checked, I see that the second song isn't called that anymore. You can find it under the title: "The Building."


Paul Odette: Dowland: Complete Lute Works

Paul O'Dette's interpretations of Dowland's lute music. I like to play this in the early morning. It is skillful, clean; like laying down thin strands of lightning onto an endless fabric of fields, if you're capable of such a thing. Apparently Dowland was.


Jesse Ball and The Curfew links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

am New York review
Books on the Nightstand review
Fiction Advocate review
I Have Good Books review
jennIRL review
Kirkus Reviews review
Newcity Lit review
PopMatters review

The Believer interview with the author
HTMLGIANT interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for his novel The Way Through Doors
Time Out Chicago profile of 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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