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January 19, 2012

Book Notes - Ben Marcus "The Flame Alphabet"

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.

With his new novel The Flame Alphabet, Ben Marcus once again proves he is one of America's most ambitious writers. In this dystopian tale the speech of children causes illness in adults, and Marcus cleverly weaves this apocalyptic premise into one family's struggle to fight back.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Biblical in its Old Testament sense of wrath, Marcus’s novel twists America's quotidian existence into something recognizable yet wholly alien to our experience."

Ben Marcus will be reading and celebrating the book's launch at BookCourt in Brooklyn tonight.

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 Ben Marcus's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, The Flame Alphabet:

My novel, The Flame Alphabet, is about the end of language. It opens with the narrator, Sam, and his wife, Claire, who are sick for reasons they can't understand. Soon they figure out that it's the speech of their daughter Esther they can't bear—literally. They don't want to believe this, but there’s no other explanation, and it becomes clear that everywhere the speech of children is making people physically sick. The novel tracks the narrator's attempt to keep his family together as people are abandoning their children. He experiments with medicines at home, getting in way over his head, possibly making the situation worse. And he meets a suspicious character named Murphy who would seem to offer him a way out of his problems, but at a terrible cost.

For a book about the end of speech it made sense to select some instrumental music. I've also picked some music with treated, altered vocals, because these songs bring out what is so essentially uncanny and beautiful about the human voice, as an instrument unto itself, of course, but also as a sound that reaches at the deepest emotional levels. By the end of the book there simply is no speech anymore—there can't be, and I hope this is as sad as it sounds. So there’s some unhappy music here. I have tried to capture what to me is the atmosphere of the book. While of course there are strange doings here, to me this is also a book about the terrible sorrows of family. And if the book is about the end of language as we know it, then this whole playlist is a eulogy for that. I guess requiem is the better word. I hope you like it.

Nils Petter Molvaer – "Mercury Heart"

John Zorn – "Nekashim"

Children's Choir – "Zevach Toda

James Blake – "Lindisfarne I

Nicolas Jaar – "Colomb

Fever Ray – "If I Had A Heart

Butthole Surfers – "Cherub

The Antlers – "Kettering

Antony & The Johnsons – "Hope There's Someone

Final Fantasy – "The CN Tower Belongs To The Dead

Mount Eerie , Julie Doiron , Fred Squire – "Voice In Headphones

Dirty Beaches – "Lord Knows Best

Tim Hecker – "The Piano Drop

William Basinski – "Melancholia I

Felix Mendelssohn – "Lieder Ohne Worte (Songs Without Words), Book 6, Op. 67: No. 6 In G Minor, Op. 19/6, Gondolier's Song

Bonus Track:

William S. Burroughs – “Dr. Benway Operates” / Memories

Ben Marcus and The Flame Alphabet links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book (streaming audio at Poets & Writers)
video trailer for the book

Brooklyn Daily profile of the author
Cleveland Plain Dealer review
Columbus Dispatch review
DBC Reads review
Entertainment Weekly review
Kirkus Reviews review
The Millions review
New York Journal of Books review
Publishers Weekly review
Time Out New York review

All Things Considered interview with the author
HTMLGIANT interview with the author
Philadelphia Inquirer profile of the author
Philebrity interview with the author
Salon interview with the author
Underwire interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

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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