October 10, 2013
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.
Mattue Roth's My First Kafka is truly a children's book for all ages. Roth's faithfully dark and clever reworkings of three Franz Kafka stories combined with Rohan Daniel Eason's black and white illustrations make this a book the whole family will enjoy.
Wired wrote of the book:
"The haunting black-and-white sketches paired with Roth's elegant verses do justice to the sense of foreboding Kafka was so good at crafting."
"Innocent When You Dream," Tom Waits
To be incredibly immodest: This is probably the perfect worst lullaby to play your kids, and My First Kafka might be the perfect worst bedtime story. Which is to say, kids will probably love both, and understand both -- probably better than adults do. "Running through the graveyard, we laughed, my friends and I," he sings, melancholy and playful at once. "We swore we'd be together until the day we died." Kids get sadness. But to them, sadness isn't completely separate from humor. In fact, reportedly, Kafka thought his own stories were hilarious; he'd read them aloud to his friends and collapse in laughter. So let's open with a lullaby. And then let's crank the music up.
"Mountain Song," Jane's Addiction
It's not my favorite Jane's Addiction song, and to be honest, listening to it always put me off a little -- not that I didn't like it, but it didn't feel like the right moment to hear the song, whatever moments I heard it. And there have been times when I've listened to Jane's Addiction a lot. It seemed more to me to be a soundtrack of sorts, with all the musical crashing and crunching and plateauing. There was no highfalutin verbal posing here -- the mountain wasn't a metaphor for anything. It was a song about a mountain. I want to play this song the next time I read my kids "Excursion into the Mountains," and it'd probably be perfectly timed, but Jane's Addiction will raise too many questions I'm not prepared to answer yet. Like, "What did you do from the ages of 22-29?"
"Mountain Sound," Of Monsters & Men
This, though. I feel bashful admitting how much I love these drippily sweet Icelandic folk, but I do. I love them. We have family singalongs to them. They're like sea shanties sung by un-drunk sailors. And there's something about this song in particular that feels like an appropriate transition -- like a storm brewing in the distance, but for now, we're having a picnic and we're not running away.
"Gideon's Song," Stereo Sinai
When they were babies, this song would put our kids to sleep. Now they love it, but it makes them go wild. It's a peaceful, happy, thankful song about a warrior who killed thousands of people in the Bible. He was this solitary dude who had a terrible relationship with his people and his world, but an ultimate peace about himself. This is for you, Gregor Samsa.
"Going through the Motions," Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Kafka purists will hate me for this. (I promise, the stories in my book are completely straight renditions! Don't kill me!) Buffy purists will hate me. But imagine, if you will, the paragraph before "Metamorphosis" begins. Gregor is going about his business, tidying up the office after a day's work, placing every pen and inkwell into place. He straightens his coat. He returns to his dreary home, with his invalid sister and his non-working parents (why, btw, was Gregor the only job-holder in his family, and still living with his folks?). He is tired. He is sad, a sadness coming not from outside but from within. "Nothing seems to penetrate my heart," he muses. "Can it be this way forever, sleepwalk through my life's endeavor?" And then, when the cloud of gravedust clears: "I just want to see/if this is really me/and I just want to be....ALIVE!"
(I seriously haven't watched the Buffy musical in ten years. And I'm pretty sure I can recite every line by heart. Come to a reading and quiz me.)
Matthue Roth and My First Kafka links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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