September 13, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
With the Harry Potter series ended, I have been recommending Lev Grossman's excellent The Magicians and its sequel The Magician King to readers looking to fill the magical fiction void. I can now add Erin Morgenstern's debut novel to that list.
The Night Circus is elegantly crafted and lush with descriptions of its fantastic world and denizens. Morgenstern's history as a visual artist serves her prose well in this wholly entertaining story of magic and romance.
The Kansas City Star wrote of the book:
"Morgenstern’s debut is lifted by its poetic writing, winking literary allusions and thematic cohesion."
It might be worth noting that The Night Circus was written (and rewritten) over a period of more than three years, so I listened to a lot of music while writing. A whole lot. Several of these tracks could really be full albums, put on repeat and cycling over and over through black-and-white striped tents.
"A Seated Night," Moby
My teenage mix-tape making self is going to show through immediately, since I can't structure a playlist without giving it a carefully chosen tone-setting opening. Since the book begins standing outside the still-closed circus gates it needed a proper overture and this fits the bill perfectly and is a sound I always love, almost-classical with a modern bent
"Prelude" and "Rooftop," Bernard Herrmann (from the Vertigo film score)
With a top hat tip to both Hitchcock & also Punchdrunk's Sleep No More, Bernard Herrmann has composed what became the soundtrack to my dreams over the last few years. I have wandered darkened hallways to these notes and they are deeply embedded in my writing brain, moody and mysterious with something disconcerting lurking just around the corner.
In those bleak moments when I couldn't find my story in all the drafts and rewrites and second guessing, I would put my headphones on, put my hands over my eyes and picture every key moment of the book movie-trailer style in my mind. Seriously, I did. I also decided it was a good minute or two too long to be a really good trailer, but it still sounds circusy in my head and was always helpful for focusing.
"White Winter Hymnal," Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes was my revision music of choice for the last few rounds, in that constant repeat way, maybe because there's something timeless about their sound. It took me a while to realize the appropriateness of the lyrics in this particular track, with the scarves of red and all.
"Favorite Cities," Azure Ray
I often write to Azure Ray, they have a wonderful tone to their beautiful, layered voices and this particular song was so circus-evocative to me that I ended up sneaking the title in to the book.
"Cataracts," Andrew Bird
For a long time Andrew Bird was that guy my friend Carey knew, and I still regret that it took me so long to actually start listening to his music. Another album that got the constant repeat treatment, this track in particular, especially for the moments of melancholy.
"All I Need," Radiohead
I'm starting to feel repetitive now. I write to Radiohead frequently and In Rainbows was on heavy rotation during circus construction. This track in particular has always been my favorite.
"Behold! The Night Mare," Smashing Pumpkins
True story: my very first live concert was a Smashing Pumpkins show that I was dragged to by friends even though I barely knew their music. I became more familiar with them years later, post band break-up. This was always a walking around the circus late at night with a single red rose kind of song.
"Sister Janet," Tori Amos
I had to include a Tori song, she's one of those artists who I started listening to at age 13 and grew up and evolved with. Between the tone and the "wizards, black and white," this one is the one that ended up on the circus soundtrack.
"Lonely Ghosts," O+S
Playlist trivia: O+S is a group featuring Orenda Fink from Azure Ray. Always an Isobel song, we stay because we don't know where else to go.
"Signs," Bloc Party
Pandora kept throwing this one at me and it would catch my ear every time, with that twinkling light Ice Garden sound. Is it a glockenspiel or something? I have no idea, but it caught my attention so much that I would stop and listen to it and between the ravens in the oak tree and the sadness at the funeral it needed to be a circus song.
"Cosmic Love," Florence + the Machine
A night-sky love song. This one I'm not explaining beyond that, I love Florence + the Machine too much to try.
"The Trapeze Swinger," Iron & Wine
Always my ultimate circus song, epic and swooping and carnival-laden. It now has a number of circus-driven memories both book-related and personal tied to its notes and layered over the lyrics, high highs and low lows all around a frightened trapeze swinger.
Erin Morgenstern and The Night Circus links:
The Book Lady's Blog review
The Book Smugglers review
Boston Globe review
Christian Science Monitor review
Denver Post review
The Kansas City Star review
Kirkus Reviews review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Publishers Weekly review
USA Today review
Wall Street Journal review
Guardian profile of the author
Huffington Post interview with the author
Novel Novice interview with the author
School Library Journal interview with the author
Wall Street Journal 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)
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