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June 10, 2011

Book Notes - Tayari Jones ("Silver Sparrow")

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

Before this year I hadn't read either of Tayari Jones's first two novels. As her novel Silver Sparrow's publication neared, though, I became fascinated with her online writing. Whether on her blog, in guest essays, or when interviewed, her words carried a rare depth of sincerity and intelligence, so I dug my review copy of the novel out of my to-read pile, ordered her first two novels, and started reading her fiction.

Silver Sparrow is indeed smart and sincere. The story of two daughters fathered by a bigamist to different mothers is powerful, haunting, and pitch-perfect.

The Washington Post wrote of the book:

"Jones writes dialogue that is realistic and sparkling, with an intuitive sense of how much to reveal and when. Occasionally, she inserts a spot-on Southern bon mot that might have been handed down from one generation to another: "With wives, it only matters who gets there first. . . . Wives can afford to let themselves go. Concubines must be vigilant." And lest anyone think the bigamist a regular Don Juan, he "wore glasses thick as a slice of Wonder bread.""


In her own words, here is Tayari Jones's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Silver Sparrow:


1. "I Got Two Little Girls" by Jimmy Witherspoon.

Silver Sparrow is the story of the two wives and two daughters of James Witherspoon. Last week on Twitter, someone asked if I was inspired by this song. It felt like fate to me. The backdrop for the opening credits.


2. "A Family Affair" by Sly and the Family Stone

When James and Gwen meet. The rest of the country is participating in free love and these are two folks who are just working hard trying to keep food on their tables but also longing for a human connection. This song is perfect-- Sly singing about good old fashioned values of love and kinship while living a subversive life. The perfect music for Gwen, divorced, yet proper, and James a man who respects his wife, yet cannot resist Gwen.


3. "When Doves Cry" by Prince and The Revolution

Jailbait Dana encounters Marcus in a grocery store when Atlanta is the path of a raging snow storm. The weatherman predicted three inches or more. During the frenzy to stock up on supplies, Marcus tugs her by her beltloops. Prince sings, "You've got the butterflies all tied up. Don't make me chase you." She doesn't make him chase her.


4. "What You Won't Do For Love" by Bobby Caldwell

This song is for every character in Silver Sparrow since each of them is motivated by a desire to love and be loved (aren't we all?). Most of us have no idea how far we'll go for love, but these folks know and the answer is not pretty. That said, this is Raleigh's theme song. All though he's a minor character, he may be the most vulnerable. James's wingman; Laverne and Gwen are his two wives, too.


5. "Grandma's Hands" by Bill Withers

Dana and Chaurisse have the most amazing grandmother, Miss Bunny. I was actually inspired by this song when I envisioned the character. Although many of the lyrics are sort of run-of-the-mill praise for a doting grandma, I was moved by this line. "Grandma's hands soothed the local unwed mother. She said, Baby Grandma understands that you really love that man. Put yourself in Jesus hands." That's wisdom.


6. "Cha Cha Cha" by Sam Cooke

James and Laverne are just kids when they meet as James hosts a little get-together at his "famously unsupervised" home. There's spiked sherbert punch in the punch bowl and lives are changed forever. I can just imagine Sam Cooke chirping in the back ground about a young man teaching his girl how to "cha cha cha."


7. "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper

This is the quintessential '80s song. It's a perfect tune for Chaurisse and Dana-- one "silver" and one not, as they shoplift cosmetics from the mall. And, in this context, the line "Oh Daddy, dear, you know you're still number 1," hangs in the air like a dark cloud.


8. "Against All Odds" by Phil Collins

When I was a teenager, this was the saddest song ever. I would play it as a tribute for any disappointment. Boy trouble-- Against All Odds. My brother left to go to college-- Against All Odds. Bombed at the science fair-- Against All Odds. Total teenage self-pity music.


9. "The Men All Paused" by Klymaxx

This is what passed for Girl Power in the 1980s. When the singer said "Gianni Versace," I had no idea that this was the name of a designer. It just was a stand in for something exotic and sensual that was out there to be discovered and experienced. This song was the secret handshake for a society of girls on the verge.


10. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Aretha Franklin

I know that Simon and Garfunkel made this song famous, but the Queen gave it soul. The "silver" in the title comes from the lyric "Sail on Silver Girl... Your time has come to shine, all your dreams are on their way."


11. "His Eye is On The Sparrow" by Lauryn Hill

This is the second half of the title. Every black singer with any southern roots at all has recorded this song. But I'm choosing Lauryn Hill because she took a classic and put a Gen X spin on it. Dana and Chaurisse, this one is for you.


Tayari Jones and Silver Sparrow links:

the author's website
the author's blog
excerpt from the book

Atlanta Journal-Constitution review
Cavalier House Books Blog review
Color Online review
HTMLGIANT review
New Jersey Monthly review
O review
Publishers Weekly review
Vol. 1 Brooklyn review
Washington Post review
The Well-Read Wife review

1st Books essay by the author
All Things Considered profile of the author
Andi Lit interview with the author
Art & Literature interview with the author
Bat Segundo Show interview with the author
Bookslut interview with the author
CarolineLeavittville interview with the author
Katrina Spenser interview with the author
Lansing City Pulse profile of the author
Metro interview with the author
OnlineAthens 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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