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May 31, 2013

Book Notes - Peter Anderson "Wheatyard"


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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Peter Anderson's Wheatyard is an engaging novella about two men from vastly different backgrounds who form an unlikely bond over their love of literature.

The Nervous Breakdown wrote of the book:

"..the thing I want to say about Wheatyard more than anything else is that it is a novel that believes in the power and urgency of words. But this belief is not merely limited to the words splashed across the pages themselves. The characters in Wheatyard believe in words and the printed page as well."

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 Peter Anderson's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Wheatyard:

Wheatyard is the story of the unlikely friendship of Elmer Glaciers Wheatyard, an eccentric, unpublished writer who lives in a small town in Central Illinois, and the unnamed narrator, a recent MBA graduate who finds himself stuck in Champaign after graduation, alone and unemployed. Although Wheatyard is mostly about the two characters and how literature affects their lives, music does play a minor but influential role in the narrative.

R.E.M., "Half a World Away"

When this song comes on the jukebox at a Champaign bar, the narrator marvels at the song's majestic pace, and how he had seen the song stop both straightlaced business students and humanities bohos, awestruck, in their tracks, which echoes the concept of literature's ability to bring the two principal characters - Wheatyard and the narrator - together.

Morrissey, "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful"

I've never been a fan of either Morrissey or the Smiths but, strangely enough, this song fits perfectly into my narrative. The narrator hears the song right after "Half a World Away", and reflects on Morrissey's lyrics, wondering how a true friend could ever resent another friend's good fortune. But late in the story, the narrator experiences that phenomenon firsthand, which brings the idea full circle. And I must admit that I've felt just that sort of resentment and envy - though only to a mild degree - upon hearing of friends' success. Not that I have anything to complain about in my personal life - which is quite good; I am very fortunate - so I suppose that feeling comes not from jealousy over friends doing well, but from the nagging realization that I should be accomplishing even more than I have been.

fIREHOSE, "For the Singer of R.E.M."

Wheatyard's writing is cryptic - simple on its surface, with a vast array of artists and pop culture icons as characters, but with its true meaning buried in metaphor. "For the Singer of R.E.M." is doubly cryptic - first, in its own inscrutable lyrics, and second, in its subject matter, as R.E.M.'s lyrics from that era (the fIREHOSE song came out in 1987) were almost willfully opaque. fIREHOSE itself is also a symbol of survival, as two of its members (Mike Watt and George Hurley) formed the band after the demise of the legendary Minutemen upon the death of their bandmate D. Boon, while Wheatyard was himself a survivor of several tragedies during his life. Though only passingly familiar with the band, Wheatyard certainly would have admired fIREHOSE both for its survival instinct and its allusive lyrics.

The Feelies, "Slipping Into Something"

After several failed attempts to convince the narrator that he should be writing, Wheatyard tries a new argument, drawing an analogy between literature and music. Wheatyard says he knows the narrator is into music (having heard the fIREHOSE song playing in the background during an earlier phone call), and that didn't the narrator always dream of playing guitar? The narrator admits that, yes, that was true. So, Wheatyard says, if you love music and wish you could play guitar, why doesn't your love of literature compel you to write? The narrator admits to himself that taking up writing would be much more achievable than learning guitar; he knows grammar and narrative, and can certainly put a decent story together, while the intricacies of chords and harmonics would make his guitar playing an unlistenable mess that would probably discourage him from pursuing it any further. As the narrator reflects on Wheatyard's argument, he remembers his past guitar heroes; early on, he revered big names like Hendrix, Townshend and Stevie Ray Vaughan, before his musical tastes became more obscure and his heroes were the likes of Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan and the Feelies' Glenn Mercer. Although no specific Feelies song is mentioned, "Slipping Into Something" has always been one of my band favorites, and would undoubtedly have been a song that the narrator would have longed to play.

Guided by Voices, Propeller

Early in the book, Wheatyard gives the narrator an unlabeled mixtape of Guided by Voices songs. Though none of the songs are identified by name, they would have been from early in GbV's career (the book is set primarily in 1993), making Propeller the latest album the songs could have come from. Wheatyard admits to not totally comprehending the band's music (which was then still very chaotic and idiosyncratic), which strikes the narrator as odd, given that the Wheatyard manuscript he had read was itself quite chaotic and idiosyncratic. Back in the day I was always making mixtapes to give to friends, hoping to build connections by sharing my musical tastes. Wheatyard reaches out to the narrator in the same way, perhaps sensing that the narrator didn't respond strongly enough to the writer's literary overtures, and that another approach was needed - although Wheatyard's mixtape doesn't quite hook the narrator either. Similarly, I'm not sure if any of my own mixtapes ever truly hit their target.

Peter Anderson and Wheatyard links:

the author's website
the book's website

The Nervous Breakdown review

Contrary Blog essay by 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)
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Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
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musician/author interviews
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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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