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May 8, 2014

Book Notes - Jen Doll "Save the Date"

Save the Date

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.


Jen Doll's memoir Save the Date is a witty and insightful look at both weddings and the institution of marriage, told from a refreshingly personal perspective.

Newsweek wrote of the book:

"Chronicled with the sharply wielded wit that presumably got [Doll] invited to so many weddings in the first place… [Save the Date] touches a cultural nerve, ultimately, because it summons, in unsparing detail, a cultural ritual as relentless as it is familiar."


Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Jen Doll's Book Notes music playlist for her book, Save the Date:


I can't listen to music when I write. I'm jealous of people who can; I would like my entire life to be soundtracked with apt musical selections, even when I'm just sitting in front of a computer typing. But when I'm writing, I need quiet. In the in-between times, when thoughts are marinating, I listen to albums or favorite songs on repeat on iTunes, or I dig up old YouTube videos on quests to remember music I used to listen to and how it made me feel. There's something memoiristic about the latter type of music-listening, and maybe the former, too — layering your thoughts and current realities over songs that remind you of who you were in earlier times. That's true of wedding music, too, these songs we hear again and again on dance floors or as the couple walks down the aisle: They remind us not only of weddings, but also of different stages and stories in our own lives, a variety of good and sometimes bad moments. Maybe we listen to them again and again, but they can change each time, according to our evolving circumstances.

My Save the Date playlist includes music that for whatever reason makes me think about weddings, and, perhaps more importantly, makes me think about writing about my wedding experiences — because these songs are included in my book, or because I listened to and found inspiration in them while working on it, or maybe both.

"Pachelbel's Canon," Johann Sebastian Bach
This classic has the dubious (and admittedly weird) honor of being the very first song I totally binge listened to in life. Of course it's one of the most common wedding songs, the one to which the bride often walks down the aisle. As a third or fourth grader, I somehow got my hands on a tape that included this composition, and I listened to it repeatedly, especially in the car as my dad was driving. I remember a battle waged over the volume — I didn't just want to listen, I wanted to listen to it loud, to be swept away on the slow, elegant back-and-forth of stringed instruments that eventually build to a crescendo and … I mean, this song still sort of rocks at around 2 minutes in. Or maybe it's just me. Anyway, if chapter four of my book had a theme song, this would be it.

"Strangers," The Kinks
Like Pachelbel's Canon, this song gets a mention in Save the Date. I listened to it in my little beachside room at night while attending a wedding solo in Jamaica, a wedding in which I would be reunited with a sort-of stranger from the past (who'd once beaten me in a debate competition, and whom I'd vowed to extract revenge upon for that wrong). I love the way the lyrics of this song combine regret and possibility, two feelings that often entwine at weddings. Plus, the line "Strangers on this road we are on / We are not two we are one" is a lovely marital sentiment, isn't it?

"Makes No Sense at All" Hüsker Dü
My high school boyfriend, who is named Nathaniel in my book (names have been changed to protect the innocent!) loved Hüsker Dü, and Hüsker Dü makes an appearance in my book, to what I presume was my copy editor's great satisfaction. Heavy metal umlauts are the best umlauts. The fuzzy background tones and half-sung/half-shouted words immediately transport me right back to high school and the town where I grew up (and eventually returned for a friend's wedding, and to grow up some more).

"Al Di La," Emilio Pericoli
This happens to be one of the most romantic songs in the world, and it made my mom cry when my dad had waiters serenade her with it in Italy (it's one of her favorite marital moments and is described in chapter six). "What does Al Di La mean?" asks Suzanne Pleshette in the movie Rome Adventure (Mom's fave!) when Troy Donahue takes her to a bar where Pericoli is performing the song."It means .. .it's kind of hard to explain. Far, far away. Beyond the beyond. Beyond this world. That's how much he loves her," answers Donahue. And I tear up immediately, because I am my mother's daughter and also a sap.

"All These Things I've Done," The Killers
I have a vivid memory of a wedding attended in Virginia in which I moshed sweatily on the dance floor to The Killers, shoes off, wine glass in hand, Chardonnay jumping out of that glass and landing on my dress as I myself jumped, not caring one bit because this was a wedding. (There was a period in the mid 2000s in which all of the sweaty moshing I did on dance floors was to The Killers and to this song in particular.) While that wedding doesn't get its own chapter in my book, The Killers do get a mention.

"The Only Living Boy in New York," Simon and Garfunkel
I thought about this song frequently while writing chapter 15, in which I attend a Brooklyn wedding in which there is only one single male guest — effectively, "the only living boy in New York" — and I attempt to make him my de facto date. Paul and Art are why that character is named Tom.

"Poker Face," Lady Gaga
There could not be a wedding-anything playlist without Gaga, and here she is, "Poker Face" to remind me of my rock-bottom wedding (chapter 11), the one in which I wish I'd merely danced mortifyingly with an aging male yogi (squats were involved) to this tune and not thrown my shoes down the road later in a fit of drunken rage. I did not have a poker face, not even remotely.

"Citrus," The Hold Steady
This brief, beautiful tune is about booze and drinking, but it's also about love and sex, and truth and lies, and what we think we want and what is real and what is fake and what we can believe, so it's pretty much about everything that has to do with weddings. "Hey Citrus, hey liquor, I love it when you touch each other" is a great lyric, and a reception mantra.

"Walking Far from Home," Iron and Wine
I listened to this one on excessive repeat after I started working on my book and while I had just started dating someone new, a guy with whom I would eventually attend a wedding (see chapter 18). There's a white dog in it, and he had a white dog, and the sense of letting yourself venture afar and experience new things and feel is to me inherent in this song. And it's really just beautiful, melancholy and gorgeous and hypnotic and a little bit painful, like falling in love.

"We Belong," Pat Benatar
Aside from this being the rockingest of power love ballads, in the video wondrous power-lady Benatar is wearing a perfect, pristine white suit jacket and neon green gloves (all the better for clapping without chafing). Could there be a more perfect ‘80s wedding song? Could there be a more perfect anytime wedding song? I also like to send this video to my publicists to remind them of how much I love them, though I fear that may creep them out. Sorry, ladies.

"Life," The Avett Brothers
The lyrics! The harmonious melding of voices! The pacing, so steady and sure and slowly revealing and soothing! Listening to this is a little bit like therapy — it's gonna be O.K., it's all gonna be O.K.— which is not unlike aspects of writing a memoir, digging into the past and making it part of a future. Which is also just life.

"Neon Pegasus," by Parry Gripp
Allow me to confess my deep, abiding love for Parry Gripp, and my deepest, most abiding love for this song, which has sustained me as a creativity-and-writing mantra since I discovered it a year or so ago. It's pure lyrical genius — "Spread your wings, neon pegasus and go flying through the night. They can take your glitter but they can't take away your sparkle" — and features "a genetically modified salamander with a face just like George Clooney." If that doesn't make you happy I don't know what will.


Jen Doll and Save the Date links:

the author's website

Bustle review
Christian Science Monitor review
Entertainment Weekly review
The New Republic review
Publishers Weekly review
Time review

Huffington Post profile of the author
Newsweek profile of the author
ThinkProgress interview with the author
The Toast 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

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)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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