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May 30, 2013

Book Notes - Ramona Ausubel "A Guide to Being Born"

A Guide to Being Born

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.

The stories in Ramona Ausubel's collection A Guide to Being Born are imaginative, ambitious, and constructed of language both vivid and concise. This is easily one of the year's finest short story collections.

In the New York Times, Helen Oyeyemi wrote of the book:

"Each story in this collection finds a way to record the tensions between the corporeal and the invisible, the forces that animate us but ultimately can’t be dissected, our anti-anatomies. The dismay of coming to the final page is easily combated by following the example of Ausubel's characters and beginning all over again. "

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Ramona Ausubel's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection, A Guide to Being Born:

Safe Passage—The Wheel of Fortune theme song

A bunch of grandmothers finds themselves at sea in this story. They are probably dying, but they aren't sure. Some of them pine for home, some of them try to enjoy the view. Many wish they were on the couch for Wheel of Fortune, which they haven't missed in decades. This song would be the sweetest thing they could hear.

Poppyseed—"Blind Love" by Tom Waits

This is a story about two parents with a severely developmentally disabled daughter. It's about the ways in which love must stretch in unexpected situations. I think the lyric "the only kind of love is stone-blind love" is very right.

Atria—"November Rain" Guns N' Roses

In this story, a highschooler gets pregnant and thinks she is going to give birth to any number of strange animals. Teenageness and clanging lockers and not being old enough to choose your fate are all suffocating things, and though I did not get pregnant (with a baby or a three-headed giraffe) when I was in high school, I did experience some of that airlessness. Guns n' Roses still sounds like high school to me, even though I gather the youths are listening to something else these days.

Chest of Drawers—"Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" by James Brown

In this case, the brand new bag is a series of small bone drawers in his chest, which appear towards the end of his wife's pregnancy. He keeps stuff in there, like tiny plastic babies, and a travel-size toothbrush, and, begrudgingly, his wife's lipstick.

Catch and Release—"Dixie" by Bob Dylan

A young girl and a dead civil war general play a long game of catch, while they tell each other the stories of their lives. Like the song, it's all homesickness and wishing for an impossible thing.

Welcome to Your Life and Congratulations—"Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash

In this story, a kid's cat is hit by a car and his parents leads the family through a series of bizarre ceremonies with the cat's body. It's also really hot out, so the song is right in two ways. The boy keeps going along with the plan, until he doesn't anymore.

Saver—"One Little Song" by Gillian Welch

A young man who dreams of being a dentist and a girl who's just quit her job at the grocery store try to find a version of love that is not used up, a story that hasn't already been told. They're looking for a small, new thing. "One little rag that ain't been rung out completely yet."

Snow Remote—"Desperado" by the Eagles

There's a dad in this story who lives in southern California, but he loves Christmas and he has a huge, tacky decoration situation in front of the house, including a machine on the roof that makes snow. He stands out there waiting for people to snow on while his teenage children are alone with their loneliness and bad ideas and no one to look in on them. If only he'd come down from his fences, instead of trying to make weather. Or something like that.

The Ages—"Tangled up in Blue" by Bob Dylan

This is about the particular sadness of being a young person when other people are old. Everyone around is preparing for the end while a young couple tries to prepare for the future. This song reminds me of being caught being knowing what to do and not wanting to know, about the pleasure of making a choice for yourself, even if you can't find any sense in it.

Magniloquence— "Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell" by the Flaming Lips

Well, maybe that's overstating the perils of academia a little bit. Here, an auditorium full of professors is trapped in a series of endless introductions. No one knows who the important speaker was supposed to be, so they just go on introducing people, all night long. Things devolve. In this case, maybe the song title isn't so overstated after all.

Tributaries—"It's All Wrong But It's All Right" by Dolly Parton

In this story, everyone grows a new arm each time they fall in love. A few people have one perfect love-arm, but most people have a few, some have only extra hands and fingers. The evidence betrays the truth—love is weird and inconvenient and strangely beautiful (and it's probably really good that we don't manifest permanent physical symptoms!). It's all wrong, but it's all right.

Ramona Ausubel and A Guide to Being Born links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book ("Poppyseed")

Boston Globe review
Full Stop review
Kirkus Reviews review
Los Angeles Magazine interview with the author
New York Times review
New Yorker review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review

ArtsBeat interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for No One is Here Except All of Us
The Millions interview with the author
New Yorker interview with 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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guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
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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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