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October 21, 2011

Book Notes - Ismet Prcic ("Shards")

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

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Innovative in form and startling in its storytelling, Shards is a brilliant debut novel from Ismet Prcic.

Shelf Awareness wrote of the book:

"Brilliant . . . With verbal glee, Prcic serves up a darkly comic vision of the terrors and misunderstandings of immigration. Tight, glorious little tales-within-tales abound, rattled off with a quick, artless naturalism. . . . The writing is packed with one original metaphor after another, language that's almost drunk with colorful, startling images. . . . Brimming with scraps of memory, regrets, and rationalizations, Shards leaves an indelible scar on the reader's imagination. Prcic has pieced together a young man's story from the torn and exploded remains of his former life, and the sheer power of his language leaves the reader shaken."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Ismet Prcic's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Shards:

You music people are going to be pissed off at me. For somebody who is a fellow artist, who believes in karma, I don't know what my favorite songs are called or who came up with them. If the Poseur Police stopped me in the high school hallway I would be busted for sure.

Most of the music I listen to nowadays is handed down to me by my best friend Eric Carlson (not to be confused with imaginary Eric Carlson in my book). We became roommates in 1997 and were living from paycheck to paycheck. I was supposed to make my first trip back home to Bosnia that year, first time after the war (I'm a refugee from there by the way), and Eric was petrified that I would end up staying in Bosnia and leaving him stuck with a lease he could not afford on his own. That caused him to assemble Izzy's Summer Holiday, Volume 1, a mixed CD of my favorite songs I heard that year interspersed with quotes from my favorite TV shows and movies that Eric painstakingly taped off of our TV. To date there are 9-10 volumes of this series with numerous additional compilations with tiles like Izzy's Punk, Izzy's Blues, Izzy's Weird Party I and II, Songs About Robots, Monkeys and U.F.O.s., etc.

This is the stuff I was listening while I was writing, or should I say, rewriting this novel. Like many writers I need complete silence when I write, which usually happens at the buttcrack of dawn. But when I'm done generating material in silence, when it's time to turn on the inner critic and go over what you've written and judge it sternly, I put on one of these albums in the background. They are artfully assembled and funny and familiar, and therefore very soothing for me, though most of the songs are uproarious and weird, funny and gnarly. The sad thing is that I cannot tell you the names of most of the artists or songs on these CD's because I do not know them.

What I can do is try to recommend the artists/songs that I can identify that illuminate the reading of this novel. I'm not gonna break it down chapter by chapter because it would take too long. My book is called Shards and it has numerous fragmented chapters. Actually, when I think about it, in its structure Shards really mirrors a classic mix CD: lots of seemingly disparate, clashing artists and styles of music mixed in with jokes and quotes into an eclectic literary gumbo made for a special person. If you're special and into gumbo, this book's for you.

Shards is all about duality, about memoir collapsing into fiction, about what is real and what is not, about the weird hybrids that occur when we put two different particles into a supercollider and supercollide them. I think, if you were to build a mix CD to listen to while reading this book, some of the themes would have to be: old world meets new world, old music done in a new way, covers of famous songs in different musical styles or languages -- but always, two things in conflict.

One artist that permeates this book in spirit, that even slips into some adjectives toward the end, is Tom Waits. His music is theatrical and moody in its execution with lots of European influences to satisfy my old-world-meets-the-new theme. It sounds as if you took a demented poet on mushrooms and driven him to the edge of a carnival with a tape recorder in his front pocket to capture the festivities and utterances and had him followed around at a slight distance by an experienced but inebriated quartet. I'd suggest Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs and Bone Machine. Barnes and Noble asked me to answer some questions for their customers and this is what I said about Waits: I would listen to this guy order Chinese takeout over the phone and fart into a half-full can of Pabst Blue Ribbon while sawing his kitchen counter in two. He'd make it sound amazing. You better believe it.

Both protagonists of this book are very snarky and that is evident in the music they listen to. Any kind of punk would do here but the protagonists prefer the Ramones, especially their live album It's Alive. I grew up listening to these guys almost exclusively so I know some of their energy and their spirit is a part of my outlook on the world.

Vangelis and his album Heaven and Hell were a huge influence on me as a theater artist and a writer. This record captures the classic battle between 0 and 1 that will move you. You might have to play it loud and stop reading for a while, but it will move you (despite synthesizers).

The Pogues -- traditional Irish music meets new attitude, beautiful poetic storytelling in every song. I'd recommend -- everything.

Gogol Bordello -- Eastern European traditional music meets punk. Gypsy Punk is perfect for the second part of the book, when two protagonists collapse into each other.

The Ukrainians -- "Anarchy in the UK" in Ukrainian, with accordions. Beautiful.

For the portions of the book that take place in Scotland I'd suggest the Rezillos. A little campy but with a heart in the right place. "Somebody's Gonna Get His Head Kicked In Tonight" and "I Love My Baby Cause She Does Good Sculptures" are my favorite.

For the portions of the book that take place in SoCal burbs you'll have to dig up Sluts for Hire.

For the final part of the book, the part my agent calls the "crazy part," you should listen to crazy music. I would recommend Duckstab by The Residents (disclaimer: you might not be able to read when this is on but, what can I tell you) or if you really want to drive yourself crazy listen to Lord Buckley's "Bad-rapping of Marquise de Sade."

Ismet Prcic and Shards links:

the author's website

Bookreporter review
Kirkus Reviews review
Oregonian review
Publishers Weekly review

Think Out Loud interview with the author
Wordstock interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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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