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November 8, 2013

Book Notes - Laura van den Berg "The Isle of Youth"

The Isle of Youth

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.

Laura van den Berg once again proves herself one of our master short story writers with this exceptional collection, The Isle of Youth.

The New Inquiry wrote of the collection:

"Van den Berg excels at complexity, ec­centricity, maximalism of plot…Her emphases on elaborate plot and inten­tional loose ends are a refreshing departure from the contemporary taste for tidy, mini­mal plot paired with maximal voices."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Laura van den Berg's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection, The Isle of Youth:

I almost always listen to music when I'm writing. The noise serves as a focusing agent for me, especially when I'm working in a public place, like on the commuter train, where I get a lot done, aided by my iPod playing at top volume (I fully expect to be deaf by forty). I know the writing is going well when I stop hearing the music. At that point, I am impervious; the commuter train could catch on fire and derail and be overrun by zombies and I would still be typing. Thanks, music!

I'm also a little compulsive, in that once I fall in love with a song I'll listen to it over and over (and OVER!) until I get sick of it and have to move on. Here are the rare songs that I listened to a lot while working on The Isle of Youth and never stopped loving.

"Inch of Dust," Future Islands
I wrote most of The Isle of Youth while living in Baltimore, and someone—I can't remember who—told me about Future Islands, who are Baltimore based, and I quickly became obsessed. In the summer of 2012, I spent a few weeks revising Isle in a friend's empty apartment—literally empty; they were moving out—and Future Islands saw me through figuring out the story order, which is kind of like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube.

"Bone Machine," The Pixies
Are the Pixies not the best band? This is maybe my favorite Pixes song, and I listen to it ALL the time, writing or not.

"Someone Great," LCD Soundsystem
I used to play this in class sometimes, when my students were doing a writing exercise, but it seemed to kind of weird them out, so now I just listen to it when I'm writing late at night.

"Ada," The National
"Ada, don't talk about reasons why you don't want to talk/About reasons why you don't wanna talk" has a lot of resonance for the women in Isle, who very much want to talk and avoid talking at the same time.

"No Fit State," Hot Chip
I often feel "I'm in no fit state/I'm in no fit shape" for writing (or, you know, just generally) and my characters are in no fit shape for a lot, so this song was a natural fit.

"Santa Fe," Beirut
I love the melancholic energy of "Santa Fe." It makes me feel a little sad and like dancing around my office at the same time. I'm drawn to songs that make me feel more than one thing.

"Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl," Broken Social Scene
I love the way this song progresses, the way it builds. It has a hypnotic quality. I often listened to this one when I was writing a scene that was particularly tricky or tense. On another note, as I'm writing this playlist, I'm experiencing déjà vu because…this song was also on the playlist I did in 2009, for my first collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us. So if you don't like either collection, the song is clearly to blame.

"Deceptacon," Le Tigre
This song makes me want to dance or just run around like a maniac. It makes me feel happy and also like I want to break something. I crank it when I need some energy. Also: the women in Isle are transgressive, and who better to help me to channel transgression than Kathleen Hanna?


Laura van den Berg and The Isle of Youth links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Grantland review
Heavy Feather Review review
The Millions review
Publishers Weekly review

Interview magazine interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us
Poets and Writers interview with the author
The Rumpus interview with the author
The Short Form interview with the author
storySouth 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

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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