October 11, 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.
Amber Sparks's short story collection May We Shed These Human Bodies is an exceptional debut, one filled with dark, fantastic, and often surreal stories that never lose touch with our modern world.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"The collection's 30 stories, most no longer than three pages, are modern fables in which epiphanies replace moral lessons and tales unfold with Grimm-like wickedness."
Like any collection of short stories, May We Shed These Human Bodies is about many things, and I could have picked a million songs that more or less fit. The following playlist, though, was curated specially to reflect what I see as the main theme of the book, which is what it means to be a human: to live in loneliness and create meaning to fill the empty spaces between us all.
"Cosmogony" - Bjork
This is a perfect opener, because it's a beautiful, strange song that breeds creation myth after creation myth. Even the song itself seems to begin with its own birth. And this book begins with a creation myth and contains a few more, including the title story.
"Diamond Dogs" - David Bowie
"Tod Browning's freak you was." Aside from the fact that half this book was written with Bowie playing in the background, this song is perfect for a bunch of stories about a bunch of beautiful freaks.
"Teenage Dream" - T. Rex
"Whatever happened to the teenage dream?" asks Marc Bolan. There are lots of teenage dreams in these stories, lots of sad/good awakenings into broken adulthood, just like this song.
"Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum" - Bob Dylan
A no-brainer. There's a lot of Dylan and a lot of Alice in Wonderland in this book. And a song that kind of turns Lewis's nonsensical twins into characters from a Coen Brothers film? Yes please. Yes.
"I Hope I Become a Ghost" - The Deadly Syndrome
"There's nothing sad about" becoming a ghost, proclaims the lead singer, and I agree. There are several stories about ghosts in the book, and they all reflect both my deep longing for an afterlife and the fact that I don't really believe in one.
"The Words that Maketh Murder" - PJ Harvey
A creepy, great song from a creepy, great album. Listen to it while reading "The Chemistry of Objects," a story about the history of chemical warfare and the horrible ways we invent to kill one another.
"This Place is Empty" - The Rolling Stones
I love Keith. This is one of those, raw, sad Keith songs that make you want to pour a whiskey and drown yourself in longing. It's a song about desperate loneliness, and half the characters in this book could be listening to it right now.
"Some of Them Are Old" - Brian Eno
"Remember me, remember me," sings Eno, and indeed I have always remembered this song about the people you meet in this world. It follows me, just like the lyric says, and plays on a loop when I'm writing some of my best stories. Because no matter how much of a recluse I sometimes want to be, it's really all about the people. This book is all about how we are all such fucked-up terrible wonderful people. How we suck so much at being people but we need each other anyway.
"Starfish and Coffee" - Prince
Because not all of the oddballs in this book are unhappy. Because some outsiders are delighted as pie to be different. And because the song has been my own happy place for many years.
"Higher than the Stars" - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
A beautiful song that reflects both the hopeless aspiration of so many of these human characters to be something more, and yet also the sadness that Paul Bunyan and some of the other mythological characters feel at being so far from human.
"A Little Soul" - Pulp
This song, a failed father's sort-of love letter to his son, hurts my heart so dreadfully each time I hear it. I kept thinking of it when I was writing "A History of Heart Disease," but really it could apply to so many of these stories. It's about the ways we destroy each other, the ways we damage most what we love best. Listen to Jarvis Cocker sing, "You look like me, but please don't turn out like me," and try not to get a little choked up. Good luck.
"Motion Picture Soundtrack" - Radiohead
My favorite closer from one of my favorite albums makes a perfect closer to play us out of my book. The last story, "Most of Them Would Follow Wandering Fires," is written in cinema scenes, and is written backward rather than forward to expose the poignancy and fragility of beginnings, how the shadow of endings lurks even in the first scene. And when Thom Yorke sings, "I will see you in the next life," it's a reminder that, of course, this isn't really the end at all. The perfect way to end a book that's terrified of endings: with a song that leaves open a metaphysical sequel.
Amber Sparks and May We Shed These Human Bodies links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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