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January 17, 2014

Book Notes - Jessica Hendry Nelson "If Only You People Could Follow Directions"

If Only You People Could Follow Directions

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.

Jessica Hendry Nelson's If Only You People Could Follow Directions is a brilliant memoir-in-essays about addiction and family.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"It takes a virtuoso writer to make another familial memoir of addiction seem as vital and compelling as this stunning debut does...An unforgettable debut."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Jessica Hendry Nelson's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir, If Only You People Could Follow Directions:


Indigo Girls, "Closer to Fine"

The Indigo Girls were my first musical loves, my first concert, and the most commonly played album in my father's collection. It's only life after all. It's strange the way some songs will wrap themselves around entire decades. This song is playing in the background of at least a third of this book.


Fiona Apple, "Jonathan"

Fiona Apple writes some of the most inventive, gut-level lyrics of any contemporary writer. I may have "borrowed" a line from this song, a line that especially resonated with me in the first few months after moving to Vermont. I spent a lot of time watching my new neighbors go about their day from my window. I was writing full time for a few splendid months. When I wasn't putting words on the page, I was watching. That sounds maybe a bit creepy. Anyway, the lyric is simple, straightforward, and cuts right to my love affair with other humans: "I like watching you live."


Bonnie Raitt, "I Can't Make You Love Me"

It is difficult to compose the soundtrack to a memoir without it also feeling like the soundtrack to my life. This one sticks -- my father putting this song on the tape player in some dark motel room in New Jersey. "This song is for you," he says to my mother. He is being earnest, but she doesn't wait for the lyrics to mellow before she decides. I remember watching closely for her reaction.

"You're an ass, Jon," she says.

"Wait. Listen," he tells her, but it's too late. She's on the porch smoking and there's moon in her hair. I can't hear this song without feeling a pang of sadness for my father. It's the first time I remember feeling that complicated mix of anger and empathy. The empathy was what stuck so many years later, after the anger dissolved, as I began to try to write about him with any measure of honesty.


Billy Ray Cyrus, "Achy Breaky Heart"

I write a lot about the neighborhood we lived in as kids. This song played from every backyard barbeque and through the windows of every pick-up truck. It was the early ‘90s. We composed dance routines to this song, all the neighborhood kids and me, and belted out its terrible lyrics over dinners and during bike rides. Twenty years later, his daughter bears the burden of his legacy. The kids still eat it up.


Led Zeppelin, "Ramble On"

And on and on and on. Keep moving, lest the monsters catch up. That's one pervasive theme in the book, I think.


Fleetwood Mac, "Landslide”

So, this is pretty literal, but I can’t make this list without it. A daughter’s love for, and loss of, a father, sung by an ethereal goddess cut straight from the earth’s crust.


Frank Sinatra, "That's Life"

Beyond serving as my muse for lo these many years, my mother has instilled in me a certain, shall we say, lack of sentimentality that I hope salvages this book from its high-stakes subject matter. Shit happens. Take notes.


Bjork, "Hyperballad"

I developed a habit of listening to certain songs before writing, songs that contained a particular rhythm that I would try to replicate in my sentences. I don't do it as much anymore, lyrics start to infiltrate in distracting ways, but I learned to control the pace of my prose through listening, and trying to mimic, the cadence of many a Bjork song, this one especially.


Andrew Bird, "Tenuousness"

I haven't the faintest idea what Andrew Bird intended this song to "mean," but its choral rhapsody and delicate, joyous wordplay sit beautifully inside the white space of If Only You People Could Follow Directions. Love a man with a good lexicon.


The Head and the Heart, "Lost in My Mind"

An anthem for the home, for the tremulous beginnings. These guys scrape at something central to this book – an earthly, bluesy funk; a love so expansive it galls.


Jessica Hendry Nelson and If Only You People Could Follow Directions links:

the author's website

Boston Globe review
Kirkus review
Library Journal review
Newsday review

The Rumpus contributions by 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
2013 Year-End Online Music 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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