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January 18, 2012

Book Notes - Shalom Auslander "Hope: A Tragedy"

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.

Shalom Auslander's debut novel Hope: A Tragedy is the funniest book I have read in years. Dark, irreverent, and quirky as any book featuring a still living Anne Frank in the modern day could possibly be, this book has been at the top of my 2012 reading recommendations for friends and family ever since I finished page one.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

"It's a tall order for Mr. Auslander to raise an essentially comic novel to this level of moral contemplation. Yet "Hope: A Tragedy" succeeds shockingly well. For every stroke of facetiousness here — the novel suggests that the Amazon customer who buys Anne Frank’s diary will be told "You might also like" books about Rwanda, the starving of Ukraine and "Pol Pot's Bloody Reign" — there is a laceratingly tough appraisal of the way suffering is made holy. "

In his own words, here is Shalom Auslander's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Hope: A Tragedy:

If you're like me, you spend much of the day walking around this people-ridden planet and wondering how far you would have to jam an icepick into your ear in order to cause complete and irreversible deafness. To achieve, if even for a moment, stillness. Silence. To be able to hear, just for one split-second, that sound so terrifying to the rest of humanity that they'll listen to talk radio just so they don't have to hear it: the sound of one's own thoughts.

It's a delicate operation, to be sure. Shove the icepick too far into your skull and you've got brain damage, not far enough and you can still hear them – the people. Everywhere. All the time. chattering, clattering, jabbering, the endless tumult of sound, of oppressive, relentless, violent noise: Jimmy Kimmel yapping at me in the taxi, Rush Limbaugh shouting at me in the diner, people on their phones shouting at other people on their phones, it's goddamn endless. What the world needs now is a dose of Shut the Fuck Up (No, not just for some, oh, but just for every, every, everyone!), but since that doesn't seem to be in the nearby offing, I invite you all into the blissfully silent, sound-deadened world of White Noise.

It's the only track I have on my iPod, the only one I have on my iPhone, the only sound I listen to when writing, and I suggest you listen to it when reading as well – not just my book, but every book, ever again. I've tried other sounds, nature sounds – waves put me to sleep, rain always gets mixed with some thunder which ends up scaring the fuck out of me just as I'm getting into a good zone, and the jungle noises sound too much like humans – monkeys yelling at each other, birds shouting, owls hooting. Mother Nature needs to shut the fuck up, too. The album I use is called White Noise Loops, from a company called Sounds for Life, and I swear to Christ on the Cross it is the best $6.39 you will ever , ever spend.

Track 1: White Noise Loop

This is where I began, years ago, even though now I find the sound now a bit intrusive and sharp. In some situations, though – crowded trains, walking along city streets, at children's birthday parties – it's still my go-to Cone of Silence. Turn it on, and tune it out. All of it. I was on a subway once, and didn't even notice that the man behind me, trying to get to the door, had called me a "faggot asshole cocksucker" until he'd left the train (I had made the mistake of not setting my iTunes to crossfade the tracks, and in the horrifying open space between white noise loops, the man beside me said, "That guy just called you a faggot asshole cocksucker." FYI, the setting is under Preferences – Playback Preferences – Crossfade Songs). In quieter situations, though, White can be a little hissy.

Track 2: White Noise Diotic Loop

Same as above, though it feels an octave or so lower. Somehow it feels more raw, or hissier, but if the guy next to you is talking about getting out the vote or Occupy Whatever, this is a great option.

Track 3: Brown Noise Loop

This is the shit, seriously. When I die, please bury me in the ground with a small mp3 player and a constant loop of sweet, sweet brown noise. No hiss, no buzz, just a sort or rolling endless wave of nothingness. Sometimes when I've got it turned all the way up, I'll look at a couple of old men at the table near me, shouting at each other over their New York Times and they look so comical, so ludicrous, so sincere and asinine, that I imagine if there is a God, He watches Earth with the sound off. It's so much better that way.

The rest of the tracks on the album, frankly – Pink Noise Loop, Blue Noise Loop, Purple Noise Loop and Grey Noise Loop – don't compare. Much too hissy and violent – I'd almost rather listen to mankind. Just kidding. But if you're tight for cash and $6.39 is a stretch for you, just order the Brown Noise Track for $.99 and you won't be sorry. Now if I could just find a white noise equivalent for vision and smell, man, what a wonderful non-world it would be.

Shalom Auslander and Hope: A Tragedy links:

the author's website
video trailers for the book (starring Ira Glass, John Hodgman, and Sarah Vowell)

Boston Globe review
Cleveland Plain Dealer review
Columbus Dispatch review
Entertainment Weekly review
The Jewish Daily Forward review
Los Angeles Times review
New York Times review (Janet Maslin)
New York Times Times review (Steve Stern)
San Francisco Chronicle review
St. Louis Post-Dispatch review
Wall Street Journal review

The Jewish Exponent interview with the author
The Jewish Week profile of the author
The L Magazine interview with the author
The Lonard Lopate Show interview with the author
Page Views profile of the author
Wall Street Journal profile of the author
Word of Mouth 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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