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November 5, 2013

Book Notes - Jonathan Miles "Want Not"

Want Not

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.

Jonathan Miles' second novel Want Not is an ambitious and clever satire of modern life, and one of the funniest books I have read all year.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"For readers who relish extravagant language, scathing wit and philosophical heft, this book wastes nothing."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Jonathan Miles' Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Want Not:

Eric Satie, Trois Gymnopedies No. 1
Like most writers (I think), music, for me, is peripheral to the act of writing. Listening to someone sing during the writing process is like listening to someone call out random numbers while you're trying to remember a phone number. Instrumentals can sometimes sneak in, but I find that the mood rarely syncs up. The wistfully spare, elongated melodies of the French composer Eric Satie (1866-1925) is the exception for me. Satie called his piano compositions "furniture music," meant to be heard but not listened to, and he thereby spawned the beast we nowadays call Ambient Music. But Satie's music has none of Ambient Music's elfin spirituality; it's earthy and achy. (Geek note: Listen to this track and then Clem Snide's "Nothing Is Over, Not Yet" to hear a melody snaking its way through history.)

ASG, "Yes, We Are Aware"
ASG is a Southern-punk, alt-metal band from Wilmington, North Carolina. This song-described in Want Not as "a fast filthy avalanche of guitar crunch and cymbal assault"-is what one of my characters, a young woolly-bearded ex-con named Matty who's been crashing in an East Village squat with his old college roommate and the roommate's girlfriend, cues up after he almost perishes in a trash compactor while scoring them all some food, and his efforts are dismissed. This lyric isn't cited in the novel, but it's the reason for the song's presence there: "Fuck that way of life and fuck you too." (Dude's pissed.)

Over the Rhine, "All of It Was Music"
This song just came out a couple of months ago, but when I heard it, I immediately thought of Want Not's Micah and Talmadge, the couple with whom Matty crashes. "Whatever we were tangled in / all of it was music," she sings; "we surrendered all we had, and all we had was music." For Tal and Micah, their music is a kind of philosophical purity in action, a surrender to their anti-civ principles. By song's (and novel's) end, however, Micah is accompanied by someone else, and for me these lines from the song captured Micah's final scene in a way that, even now, steals my breath: "We left the city far behind / We traveled light, we traveled blind / With no idea what we'd find, or whether we could use it."

Ben Weaver, "Plastic Bag"
Ben Weaver is a Minnesota singer/songwriter and poet, and one of my closest friends. He writes word-drunk songs that often go tumbling over a spare forlorn banjo accompaniment like a stream flooding over stones. He was also my partner for some of the research I did for Want Not: He and I wandered around midtown scavenging edibles from trash bags. From his 2007 album Paper Sky, this song spins the image of a plastic bag caught into a tree into a desperate existential lament.

Bruce Springsteen, "Cautious Man"
Much of Want Not takes place in New Jersey, where I've made my home for two years now. I've been a Springsteen fan for much much longer-since my teens, when my fandom had to be kept a deep dirty secret from my metalhead friends-and I still get a weird tingle when passing through Jersey locales mentioned in Springsteen songs. An exit sign for Mahwah still thrills. One scene in Want Not has my characters blowing down the shore on Highway 9, which would clearly call for "Born to Run." But this quiet melancholy ballad from the "Tunnel of Love" album is glued more firmly to my heart, perhaps because I sang my kids to sleep with it when they were babies.

1942 BBC Recording, Nightingales and British Bomber Command
Hard to call this a song, but it's music. In May night in 1942, some BBC engineers were recording nightingales in a Surrey woodland when overhead came a squadron of British bomber planes headed for Mannheim, Germany. The juxtaposition is almost shatteringly haunting-the horrible thrum of those bombers underlying the nightingales' cries-and puts one in mind of Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale": "The voice I hear this passing night was heard / In ancient days by emperor and clown." So too the clamor of war and waste.


Jonathan Miles and Want Not links:

the author's website

Entertainment Weekly review
Kirkus review
Three Guys One Book review


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

Online "Best of 2013" Book Lists

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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