August 9, 2012
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.
Charles Yu brings his keen literary sensibility to science fiction yet again in his short story collection, Sorry Please Thank You. This solid group of stories will appeal as much to lovers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror as literary readers who will appreciate their diversity of style and theme.
The San Francisco Chronicle wrote of the book:
"It's easy to make comparisons between Yu's fiction and the work of some of science fiction's other iconoclasts. There's some of the cerebral gamesmanship of Jonathan Lethem, the resigned sadness of Kurt Vonnegut, the Phil Dickian paranoiac distrust of consumer culture. But Yu's voice, sensibility and approach are unique, especially in the ways he wrings humor and pathos out of stripped-down syntax and seemingly passive protagonists."
I mostly write at night, after work and putting my kids down to sleep. After a full day of tasks and responsibilities, the inside of my head is sticky and damp, covered with the grime of the day. Not always the best space for experimentation – cluttered. Music helps me wash my mind a bit.
My new collection has 13 stories, and my hope was that they would all be quite different from each other, in tone, and yet somehow connected at the root: voice-based thought experiments in form and tone. Whereas with my previous book, I listened to certain songs over and over again to create a feeling of being stuck in a time loop, with the new book, I sought out new music, trying to broaden my emotional vocabulary, diverse sounds and moods to draw upon and be inspired by.
Here are 13 songs for 13 stories:
"Code Monkey" – Jonathan Coulton
I enjoy this song as music, but more than that, it's one of my favorite short stories in recent years. It's funny, necessarily concise (as a good pop song is) and very precise: with just a few perfect phrases, Coulton renders a memorable sketch of a programmer who dreams of a better life with the receptionist girl of his dreams. Very sweet, and spot-on about the intense yearning that goes on inside of cubicles everywhere.
"Mandelbrot Set" – Jonathan Coulton
A song about math. That is actually funny AND enjoyable to listen to as music. That'd be enough of an achievement right there, but on top of that, Coulton has some incredible lines (I won't spoil them – you should listen for yourself if you haven't already). Admittedly, this is pretty squarely in geek territory, and not for everyone. But for someone working on a story about characters in a MMORPG, it's hard to find a better song in terms of something to aspire to.
"Polite Dance Song" – The Bird and the Bee
This song is a high-stakes gambit, and it pays off. Many different elements, coming together perfectly. It makes me feel like I've entered a party that I shouldn't have been invited to. Everyone's way cooler than I am, and pretty, but they're letting me have a drink.
"Where Is My Mind?" – The Pixies
It's easy for me to fall into traps—cognitive pits that are hard to know are there, even when you're in there—and that's no good for trying to tell new stories. Something about this song helps me climb out of the trap a bit, enough to look around and see what I've fallen into.
"Bloodbuzz Ohio" – The National
This song, like a lot of songs by The National, makes me think of some mythical middle American town that doesn't exist, never existed, and currently exists inside thousands of dorm rooms and kitchens and living rooms and iPods across the land.
"Oh, Maker" – Janelle Monae
One of my favorite songs, but in particular for writing because of the part in the middle where the song goes quiet…for a long time…an ellipsis in the middle of a song…and then when it fades back in…it has turned into a different song.
"Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" – The Flaming Lips
My kids and I listen to this song a lot when I'm driving them to pre-school. They ask me questions about Yoshimi. How good is her karate? How did she learn so much? Why are the robots bad? How does Yoshimi defeat them? This is a story to them, and they want to know more about the characters.
"Lindisfarne I" and "Lindisfarne II" – James Blake
Part I of this minimalist song is cryptic and haunting. How much can your strip away from a song and still have it be a song? What is left after the subtraction is amplified in its intensity, leaving pure, isolated voice.
And then part II is a kind of sonic payoff. All that was withheld in part I, all that corked up emotion, comes flowing out.
"The Cure" – Trombone Shorty
This song feels like an answer to a question, the winning argument in some conversation that I didn't know has been going on.
"Hey Boy" – The Blow
If a Miranda July story came to life as a person, and then that person wrote and directed an indie film that won an award at Sundance, and that same person also sang on the soundtrack, this would be that song. I lost control of that metaphor halfway through, but I think the gist is clear. I do love this song.
"Serenade in Blue" – Stan Getz
This is borrowed nostalgia for me, a device for instant transportation from wherever I am, to another place, another era.
"Tell Him" – Lauryn Hill
Man, I miss Lauryn Hill.
So there it is. An eclectic and diverse list, I think, and one which helped produce what I hope is an eclectic and diverse story collection.
Charles Yu and Sorry Please Thank You links:
CNN interview with the author
GeekDad interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
The Leonard Lopate Show interview with the author
Underwire interview with the author
Weekend Edition interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
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)
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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