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March 11, 2012

Favorite Largehearted Boy Book Notes Author Playlist Essays

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.


Of all the features on Largehearted Boy, Book Notes is my favorite. Receiving these music playlist essays from authors is the highlight of my day, and I find myself enlightened by every one.

Of the 972 Book Notes pieces already posted (with many more to come), these eleven are my personal favorites.


Carl Wilson for his book Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste

When you write about music, the primary soundtrack is generally the music that you're writing about. But since this book was about music with which I had an uncomfortable relationship, the songs of Celine Dion and in particular her album Let's Talk About Love -- indeed, it was as much about that uncomfortable relationship, and all such aesthetic conflicts, as about the music itself -- my listening process was unusually fraught. I began by listening to the album primarily on my iPod as I walked around town, secure that what I was hearing was opaque to anyone who saw me. I moved up from there to giving the album a semi-nightly audition on my bedside table from my laptop computer's tiny speakers, hoping to absorb and adjust myself to its musical values subconsciously in my sleep.


Jami Attenberg for her novel The Melting Season

Jami Attenberg shares an essay titled "On the Men We Meet and What Their Music Means to Us," and includes two songs inspired by the novel.

I would like to tell you that this kind of scenario applies to women writers too, that we are able to pick up young aspiring male writers in every brightly lit bookstore/darkened reading series we visit across the country. But it’s just not the case. We meet men who support our art: bookstore owners, bookstore workers, librarians, the editor of the arts section of the local paper. We meet men who seem mildly nervous to be talking to us, perhaps because they are intimidated, or perhaps because they are afraid we will write something about them someday. And we meet awesome, creative, brilliant men…and their equally awesome girlfriends.


Jim Krusoe for his novel Erased

Jim Krusoe's essay contains my single favorite Book Notes anecdote:

"Black Wings" by Tom Waits

Not surprisingly, I'm inclined to favor the mordant sounds of Tom Waits, poet of things closing and of hopelessness, and certainly Erased is about things shutting down, as well as opening onto unexpected vistas. This cut also makes me think of a time back in my youth where one night during an open poetry workshop we were visited by an improbably scruffy (even compared to us), odd-sounding guy. He read his poem, and afterwards I opined that it was good, but maybe not quite complicated enough to stand alone. "Maybe you should try writing song lyrics," I told him. Waits looked me up and down, considering. "Well, man," he rasped. "I'm working on it."


Kate Christensen for her novel The Astral

Kate Christensen's essay is a portrait of a marriage in nine songs.

Nostalgia is a powerful drug. Under its influence, ordinary songs take on dimensions and powers, like emotional superheroes. The following is a list of songs that will forever and irrevocably remind me of particular times, experiences -- people I've loved (truly, madly, deeply) and, inevitably, lost.


Kristin Hersh for her memoir Rat Girl

Kristin Hersh shares the genesis of several Throwing Muses songs.

Songs are interesting in that they tell the future and they tell the past, but they can't seem to tell the difference. They also don't make too many judgment calls when it comes to good and bad experiences. If a moment is big then a song will engage. Songs're easily bored, however, and don't stick around when you're feeling safe. This is how they help us rise to any occasion in which we can't possibly feel safe. It's awfully nice of them.


Kyle Minor for his short fiction collection In the Devil's Territory

Kyle Minor shares a playlist of Pedro the Lion songs.

So my playlist must be similarly singular, written and performed by an artist whose songs are as unsparing in their long stare into the darkness as I hope my stories are. I choose the poet laureate of my postevangelical generation, singer-songwriter David Bazan, who now performs under his own name, and who formerly fronted Pedro the Lion and the keyboards-and-drums band Headphones, and whose work has more in common with the searingly specific apocalyptic visions found in Flannery O’Connor’s fiction than with the vague and uplifting prophecies offered in lyrics by U2’s Bono.


Lev Grossman for his novel The Magicians

Lev Grossman shares a "nerd music" playlist.

A lot gets made of how nerd culture is mainstream now, what with actual regular people playing Halo and reading Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings and all. But that's really only true in certain media -- books and movies and TV and games. Nerd music has yet to break out of its little subcultural Shire. What follows is a playlist of some of the nerd music that aided and abetted, and sometimes hindered, the writing of The Magicians.


Marcy Dermansky for her novel Bad Marie

Marcy Dermansky discusses her choice of Scarlett Johansson's album Anywhere I Lay My Head as writing music, and recommends the actress for the book's film adaptation.

Scarlett's throaty monotone is mesmerizing: the perfect musical score to tune out. I can't write specifically about a single individual song on the album, because I stopped hearing them. When I am writing, really writing, I don't want to hear music. I'm listening to the voices inside my head. The music becomes insulation from outside distraction.


Patrick Somerville for his short story collection The Universe in Miniature in Miniature

Patrick Somerville rhapsodizes about the BBC Radio production of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I've become curious, though, after listening to the first series. What is it, specifically, about the BBC production that I find so irresistible? And found so irresistible back then. The whole idea of radio drama has me wondering all sorts of new questions, too, and wondering what it might tell us about books today, and the future of books. What is it to listen to a dramatized story—one with multiple actors, sound effects, and music—as opposed to a book on tape? How does the narrative itself change when it's not only acted out, but acted out in audio? Does it matter that it enters our minds solely through our ears, and not our eyes?


Peter Straub for his novel A Dark Matter

Peter Straub shares a playlist from both his original writing and revision periods for the novel.

The music I will list accompanied the period from roughly September 2007 through November 2008, when I was working at full stretch, and from that December through the months of revising and rewriting. In both of those periods, I listened to music constantly, downloading my CDs into iTunes and playing them back through earphones, so that I would be able to hear nothing else, not even the telephone. I'm a jazz fan, and I listen mainly to entire recordings, what we used to call "albums," as though they contained photographs. Toward the end, I played my way through some complete box sets, so that I would have a consistent sound always running through my head.


Tupelo Hassman for her novel girlchild

Tupelo Hassman's Book Notes playlist is a gift from her debut novel's protagonist.

Rory Dawn goes inside when it gets dark, and after her Mama is asleep, or something like it, Rory sneaks a piece of yarn and ties a pretty bow around your CD. Then, after all of your lights are out, the raven nestling on her perch, Rory shadows up your driveway and leaves the snowflaked, yarn-bowed package near the back tire of your car. The next morning, you don't hear the crunching of the CD under your tires over the sound of the gravel, and as you drive to work, Rory slips up your driveway again. She collects the pieces, shards and splinters, and goes home to tape them to varying lengths of dental floss before attaching all of these strands of floss to an embroidery hoop. When the hoop is lifted, the shards clink softly against each other.


also at Largehearted Boy:

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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