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June 21, 2013

Book Notes - Jim Ottaviani "Primates"


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.

Jim Ottaviani follows up his acclaimed graphic novel biography of Richard Feynman with Primates, a creative look at the lives of three of the 20th century's most renowned primatologists. The lives of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas are vibrantly illustrated by Maris Wicks in this informative, enjoyable, and (to the younger set) inspiring book.

School Library Journal wrote of the book:

"The story of how each of these women loved primates and lived among them to study their behavior is compelling, and might inspire a whole new generation of scientists to follow in their footsteps."

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 Jim Ottaviani's Book Notes music playlist for his graphic novel, Primates:

First, so you know: I don't think about music and my books together often. For one thing, I can't write with music on -- music is a black hole for my attention, and writing occupies the same place in my brain as listening to songs. But now that you've asked, it's fun to pretend that I can write and listen at the same time, so in retrospect here's what I'd choose if my brain was big enough to do both...

...which leads me to the second thing: Most of these songs bring to mind Dian Fossey, and not Jane Goodall or Birute Galdikas. Maybe that's because I favor sad, down-tempo music, but I prefer to think (I know preferring to think something is not very scientific!) that it's because the lives Goodall and Galdikas lead don't make me feel elegiac.

Alright then; with those caveats in mind, here's my totally-imaginary-if-only-I-could-manage-it playlist:

"Cross Bones Style" by Cat Power, from Moon Pix

I can't make sense of most of the lyrics of this song, but "you have seen some unbelievable things" fits all the primatologists's lives, and the mood is all Fossey for me. Again, it makes no sense, but after discarding a bunch of stupid choices I don't much like but that came to mind because they had the word 'monkey' in the title, this is the first song I thought of.

"Solitude" by Duke Ellington (on about a zillion of his records, but I usually turn to The Complete Ellington Indigos)

I listen to Ellington indigos more than I listen to anything else, and this song in particular is on every playlist ever. So it has to be on this one, right? Right.

"Doing it Right" by The Go! Team, from Proof Of Youth

Upbeat! Loud! Getting stuff done! Go! What's it doing here? This song is entirely unlike all the other songs here, and it makes me smile just to think about it. In fact, I'm going to put it on again...once I'm done writing this, that is.

"Silver and Gold" by Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, from Streetcore

The last song on the last album Joe Strummer -- formerly of the Clash, the One True Best Punk Band Ever, thanks for asking -- recorded before he died.

"Blackbird" by the Beatles, from The Beatles (White Album) "Bird On A Wire" by Johnny Cash from Unearthed II: Trouble in Mind

Two bird songs. Why? I don't know, but the talk of broken wings and "you were only waiting for this moment to be free" and the image of the dark black night must mean something. The Beatles's spare arrangement is also just right. In contrast, Johnny Cash, at the end of his life, singing "I have tried in my life to be free" in his broken-down voice with a full orchestra behind him is so lush and out of character that it's perfect.

Jim Ottaviani and Primates links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
the illustrator's blog
excerpt from the book (at Boing Boing)
excerpt from the book (at

Graphic Policy review
Kirkus Reviews review
New York Journal of Books review
New York Times review
Paste review

Comic Book Resources interview with Jim Ottaviani
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by Maris Wicks for the book
Wired profile of the illustrator

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
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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