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September 7, 2012

Book Notes - Dan Wilbur "How Not to Read"

How Not to Read

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.

Dan Wilbur is a funny guy. His Better Book Titles are insightful and always make me laugh, and I can say the same about his new book, How Not to Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life, which delightfully skewers literature and its devotees.

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 Dan Wilbur's Book Notes music playlist for his book, How Not to Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life:

My book is about pretending to like all the pretentious stuff that smart people like while in secret consuming the mental/spiritual equivalent of Cheetos. My book also spends a lot of time claiming to hate everything, while adding footnotes of some of my real taste. I think this mix will reflect that. I'm also stand-up comic, so I tried to include and explain the many inspirations for my own humor writing along with some music.

Since my book is about how much smarter I am than everyone, and how you can become smarter by following my superior taste in literature and art, let me start with a track that I listened to while writing this entire book:

The Dances of Brahms and Dvorak: Hungarian Dances No. 1 in G Minor as played by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Fritz Reiner

This describes the pain, jubilance, the travesty that is my book. I remember Leon Botstein (the conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra and the President of Bard College) recommending this track to me personally one day, and how I immediately returned to my dorm room and never listened to it. In fact I would have never heard it if not for Sid Meier's Civilization computer games including the music. Thanks, Sid! You've made me smarter again without forcing me to open a book (unless you count my full-color strategy guide for your Civilization games).

Jim Gaffigan: "Anti-Reading"

Between this and Colbert's speech at the Correspondent's Dinner about not looking things up in books but rather in your gut, I had to do my damndest every time I sat down to write to not to rewrite this bit. The difference between Gaffigan and me is that I'm claiming to be the smartest, most well-read author and I want you to be happier by leaving reading behind. Gaffigan is being honest about his laziness, and we arrive at a similar conclusion: books suck.

Ben Folds: "One Down"

Unlike Ben Folds, I did not have spite for the people who bought my writing, but I think this captures the ironic tension of wanting to make profound art, but slowly finding the parameters and endpoints of your work, then feeling like you're phoning it in or that you're a fraud, then rereading it and realizing it's good (or terrible) but it's a job. That means it requires work. It's not just putting your fingers to the keys and channeling the Muse. This song is also a meta song about songwriting my book is a meta book about reading and writing books.

Mitch Hedberg: "Lynn"

The way I wish I thought about the world: goofy, full of funny image and observations. but the reason I love this track so much because of the "weather is trippy" joke. When you try to sound smart around hip people making small talk, you shouldn't try to over analyze it by talking about perception of the weather. I spent so long in college picking apart every word of the famous books I like and talking about these books to friends as if each book had innumerable political/social points or fit into some postmodern discourse that probably only existed in my head, when really I should have just pointed to those books and said: "These are good books."

Electric Six: "Danger! High Voltage"

An incredible song (and video if you can find it) that I think reflects the scary/funny energy of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" chapter of my book. The fun part of CYOA books is that a creepy death lurks behind each choice. You've been warned! DANGER!!

Lewis Black: "Education in Arkansas"

This will sound a bit dated since it's about the Clinton election, but Lewis Black does an excellent job explaining why some parts of the American education system should not be celebrated. It also offers alternatives education ideas that I shoot for in my book. The anger, the sarcasm, telling people they're morons with open disdain: these are the things I want in my act/writing always. Also, "grand fuck slam" is my favorite phrase on any album.

Nancy Sinatra: "You Only Live Twice"

Also applies to the Choose Your Own Adventure Chapter. I kept calling my friend while writing this book to tell him how crazy I was starting to feel, wanting to go out and do stand-up all night, wanting to write six more books, wanting to sit and play video games until I die. Every time I was having these panic attacks, I'd sigh and say "well, there's always my next life." What a terrible way to think! I had all the 007 themes on my iPod and I'd listen to them and think a very dude thought: "If I fail at everything else, I can always drop everything and get a job killing people for the CIA or MI6." That can happen, right?

Bill Hicks: "Marketing and Advertising"

You know what's missing from comedy nowadays? Someone staking his soul on his taste in art. Bill Hicks would say he was going to hunt and kill musicians he didn't like, not because they were just bad, but because they were evil and making us compromise our standards. What kind of crazy person would do that? I wanted to do something similar about my taste in literature and TV having some kind of moral significance. Everything else is nonsense. This track also has a description of art being desecrated by "yahoos!" and features a better/meaner summary of a movie than I've ever been able to do on my blog.

The Black Keys: "Tighten Up"

While writing this book, I read Paul Murray's Skippy Dies and had this song in my head nonstop. I have no way to tie it to my book, but every time I start to think of Skippy and Howard the Coward, I hear this song in my head. Just lets you know where my head was when I was writing, I guess.

Patton Oswalt: "I Tell A Story About Birth Control And Deal With A Retarded Heckler"

This is one of those tracks where it's worth listening to the whole album for the entire build up (especially since it starts with a callback about cell phones), however, what's important is how clear Patton's worldview is. He tries to paint a vulnerable moment, and when he gets heckled, his real comedy chops show. But then he takes it to this level where you know Patton lives year round: a dystopic imaginative world informed by post-apocalyptic writing, something close to the world of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. He's not a bullshitter. He's a real sci-fi geek whose instincts as a comic is to rip the heckler then jump to aliens, the future, eternity, and what this guy's whole life must be like.

Destroyer's "European Oils"

A lot of this book is about helping people struggle with reading and literary culture, and my most manic time I personally had to deal with "readers" was at Bard College. There's also a long section on surviving college. This was a track that calmed me down while I was in school which is strange because attempting to pick apart the meaning of Destroyer lyrics will definitely lead to an anxiety disorder. They're opaque and sometimes might just be nonsense, but don't tell Dan Bejar I said so.

Fleetwood Mac: "Never Going Back Again"

Another calming track about trying not to return to old habits?? Is that what this song's about? I'm not going back to college or any of my ex-girlfriends or to my life as a serious reader! How's that?

Europe: "The Final Countdown"

The book is nearly over and so is this mix.

The Firesign Theatre: "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger"

You might think it's dumb to put a 30 minute noir parody sketch at the end of a mix. You're right! My book ends with a noir about how books killed my father, filled with puns about writing and fake Chandlerisms. I've had this sketch memorized since I was a kid. I knew it before I saw the great films the sketch is making fun of: Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon, and the like. I love those movies, but it's hard to always take them seriously when you heard the joke version first. It'd be like getting really into Michael Jackson's "Bad" after hearing Weird Al's "Fat." That, in a nutshell, is why I'm a comic now.

Dan Wilbur and How Not to Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life links:

the author's website
the author's Tumblr
video trailer for the book

DNAinfo profile of the author
Huffington Post contributions by the author
PowellsBooks.Blog contributions by the author
Sun News profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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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