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May 11, 2012

Book Notes - Nick Arvin "The Reconstructionist"

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Nick Arvin's novel The Reconstructionist is a mesmerizing, intelligent, and complex exploration of the convergence of science and love.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Suffused with sharp turns and minute, telling details that add up to a riveting consideration of risk and responsibility."

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 Nick Arvin's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, The Reconstructionist:

I have to start with a confession that embarrasses me: I am totally incapable of paying attention to the lyrics of most songs.

When someone says, "Well, that song's about [blah blah blah]," I will say, "Really? I had no idea." And really, I didn't.

For the most part, who cares? But then you come to do something like Largehearted Boy's Book Notes, and it can be a little awkward.

Despite my lyrical attention problems, I like music. (One of the principal characters in The Reconstructionist, Boggs, is a man who does not like music. I've always been fascinated by such people.) And I have always enjoyed Largehearted Boy's Book Notes series (did you know the Book Notes series dates back to 2005? Did you even know there was an internet in 2005?), so while I was working on The Reconstructionist, I began occasionally dropping songs that might relate to the book into a playlist, hoping that I might get to do this. But due to my lyrical attention deficit disorder, I actually had no idea what most of the songs were about, except that they had titles about cars, accidents, the road, and the Midwest. And The Reconstructionist is about cars, accidents, the road, and the Midwest.

(The Reconstructionist is also about the use of physics and forensic techniques to reconstruct how fatal car accidents happened by engineers who grow increasingly unbalanced in the course of the book, but it's hard to find song titles on that theme.)

Lucky for me, it turns out that Google is very good at finding lyrics. So as I've put this together, I've used Google to fill in for my cognitive deficiencies. Sometimes I was surprised.

? & The Mysterians, "96 Tears"

This is the only song that appears in the book. I grew up in the small town of Clio, Michigan; the protagonist of The Reconstructionist is an engineer who grows up in the small town in Michigan named Coil. Clio/Coil: You may detect an anagram. A reader with a deep knowledge of 1960s pop music might also notice the lyrics of the song that appears early in the book: "96 Tears," by ? & The Mysterians. ? himself happens to be the most famous resident of the small town of — yes — Clio, Michigan. I never met him, but my brother used to see ? riding a bike to the tennis courts at the high school, where he hit balls with a group of developmentally disabled kids.

Now that I've read the lyrics, I still don't know what this song is about, except tears, and crying, and heartache.

Andrew Bird, "Fiery Crash"

Funny, I always assumed this was about a car crash, but it seems to actually be about an airplane crash. No matter. I love Andrew Bird because his disturbingly long list of talents includes whistling and violin, and he uses these elements very cleverly in his songs. He also has some lyric phrases that are so smart and funny that even I notice them.

Sufjan Stevens, "Chicago"

This is marked in my memory as the first adult song that my son and I both liked. My son must have been three at the time. I had this song in the car, and we listened to it over and over.

I actually thought I knew what this song was about, because I remember Stevens singing, over and over, "All things go." But now that I look at the lyrics, there's lots of other stuff in there, too. Oh well. I'll stick with "all things go." Both father and son can get behind that sentiment. There's lots of going in The Reconstructionist, too.

Emiliana Torrini, "Sunny Road"

Torrini's voice is gorgeous, and I love listening to her. Still, that didn't actually help me pay attention to her lyrics.

It turns out that this song is about longing and a kind of unrequited waiting for a lover. "It's time, meet me on the sunny road." The sound of the song is lush and beautiful and Emiliana Torrini sings it. And there is, in fact, a lover who waits on a sunny road in The Reconstructionist.

The National, "Bloodbuzz Ohio"

The phrase in this song that managed to penetrate my brain was this: "I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees." That phrase, as sung by Matt Berninger, makes me tingle. Now that I look at the lyrics, it also seems like a good background song for conducting an affair, and an affair drives much of the action in The Reconstructionist. And it turns out the song also has this line: "Lay my head on the hood of your car." Great line, perfect for The Reconstructionist.

The Divine Comedy, "Lady of a Certain Age"

I'm putting this song on the list just to make a liar of myself and prove that, in rare instances, I can pay attention to lyrics . I love this song because of its lyrics, which weave the story of a wealthy woman looking back on how she's wasted her life. The tragedy is that she's still blind to how she's wasted her life. It's a wonderful piece of narrative poetry. I listened to it many times while working on The Reconstructionist, and perhaps some of the sense of tragic self-blindness seeped into the book.

Sparks, "Let the Monkey Drive"

This is a delightful piece of pop music and completely hilarious. It's about a pair of lovers who let the monkey drive so that they can flirt in the backseat. The monkey drinks Starbucks. Actually, I've made a liar of myself again, because I do know the lyrics of this song – but, come on, the lyrics are about a monkey driving a car, how can you not pay attention? I love this song, my wife loves this song, my son loves this song. You should listen to it.

Bruce Springsteen, "Wreck on the Highway"

This is the only song on the list that wasn't on my playlist before the book came out. I wasn't familiar with this song until John Broening, writing about The Reconstructionist for the Denver Post, began his piece with this: "'I just lay there awake in the middle of the night/Thinking 'bout the wreck on the highway,' sings Bruce Springsteen, the bard of America's car culture." So I looked the song up. And yes, it perfectly captures certain of the themes and obsessions of The Reconstructionist.

Dizzy Gillespie, "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac"

This has been a favorite of mine for many years. It starts with a call-and-response in nonsense syllables, then transitions to a funny variation on "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," then hits a few bars of straight jazz before returning to the ‘Swing Low" theme. "I looked over Jordan, and what did I see? Oh, an Eldorado, comin' for me." 999 times out of 1000, you toss those elements in a pot, what you'll get is a mess. But Dizzie Gillespie was a genius.

Nick Arvin and The Reconstructionist links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

CultureMob review
DBC Reads review
Denver Post review
Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review

AuthorTalk interview with the author
Capital New York profile of the author
Collected Miscellany interview with the author
Don't Need a Diagram interview with the author
Wall Street Journal essay by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlists

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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