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August 26, 2011

Book Notes - Alex Shakar ("Luminarium")

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

Alex Shakar's Luminarium is an ambitious, dense, and intellectual post 9/11 novel that isn't afraid to tackle big questions about technology and spirituality.

In the Washington Post, Ron Charles wrote of the book:

"Days after finishing Alex Shakar’s "Luminarium," I'm still stumbling around the house in a mixture of wonder and awe. His new novel considers how our perceptions of the world are manipulated and controlled. I can't claim to have understood all of it, but I did find it completely absorbing, and anyone hungry for a deeply philosophical novel that, nonetheless, maintains its humility will find here a story worth wrestling with."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, request an invitation.

In his own words, here is Alex Shakar's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Luminarium:


1. The Beatles: "Within You Without You"

As Luminarium begins, our hero, Fred, enters a clinical trial, in the first session of which, an electromagnetic helmet hurls him into a mystical oneness experience. Then Fred starts getting assailed by mysterious emails claiming to be from his twin brother, George—but George is comatose and dying in a hospital. The sender claims his messages are coming from the Pretaloka, an astral, Hindu limbo. This Beatles song resonates with both the helmet sessions and the Hindu cosmology in the novel, and could serve as an overture for the story as a whole.


2. Ween: "Tender Situation"

The late 90s were Fred and George's golden age. They were co-CEOs of a software startup with loads of venture capital at their backs. Fred was living large in a luxury high-rise with his gorgeous fiancé, “tasting the waste” of that boom-time dot-com era. Now it's all vanished—the girl, the money, the company, and soon, too, it seems, George. So yes, a “tender situation” all around; and the doubled voices in the song remind me of Inner George—the ghostly, simulated voice of his brother Fred carries around in his head.


3. The Magnetic Fields: "I Looked All Over Town"

Poignant, funny, sad—could be Fred's theme song. Picture him down and out, playing the fool, in love with his unapproachable experimenter Mira, wandering around town in his brother's checkered shoes. Out of grief, Fred's father Vartan has resurrected the magic shows they did when Fred and George were kids. Out of lostness and loyalty, Fred participates, the two of them performing for children in their ill-fitting white tuxedos. And then there are the lingering out-of-body experiences….


4. Monolake: "Invisible"

I can see this track coming on over Web radio, as the coders of Fred's former software company do their emergency-response test run through the burning virtual Empire State Building. I can see them going empty-eyed, the synth drums making their heads judder on their necks, the robot lady voice taking over their brains . . . before the lead programmer Jesse comes to his senses and changes the station.


5. The Icicle Works: "Nirvana"

A song Fred and his late-eighties, dark-clad high-school cohorts probably had on their boom box at the Coney Island beach one night. No one listened to the lyrics, but the sacrificed, plundered empire imagery fit the mood. And then there's all the “elusive one” stuff.


6. Jimmy Buffet: "Margaritaville"

Enough to say that you can expect a strange bender or two on this journey. One involving a crazed godfather in a theme park.


7. The Mountain Goats: "Samuel 15:23"

This track for Fred's mother Holly and her brave band of Reiki adventurers (and maybe, too, for Fred himself?), as they ply their powers to George, the hospital throng, and the city at large. I love the line: “Go down to the Netherworld / Plant grapes.”


8. Radiohead: "How to Disappear Completely"

Is this what Fred wants? Is this what he gets? Anyway, nice song, album, title: Kid A.


9. Jon Mueller: "Hearts"

A track for a passage into the total unknown. The mantric element, the relentless drums, the mounting energy. Leap in. Keep on falling, rising, both.


10. Psapp: "About Fun"

Where will you get to? Here? There? Anywhere? Regardless, this woman's voice and the playfulness of the arrangement balance out the list for me.


Alex Shakar and Luminarium links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Chicago Reader review
Chicago Tribune review
Kirkus Reviews review
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review
Publishers Weekly review
Seattle Times review
Wall Street Journal review
Washington Post review

BOMBLOG interview with the author
Gothamist interview with the author
The L Magazine interview with the author
The Nervous Breakdown interview with the author
New York Observer profile of the author
TriQuarterly interview with the author
Wall Street Journal essay by the author (on novel writing)


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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