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July 11, 2014

Book Notes - Mira Jacob "The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing"

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing

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.

Mira Jacob's The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing is an ambitious and sharply written debut novel.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Comparisons of Jacob to Jhumpa Lahiri are inevitable; Lahiri may be more overtly profound, Jacob more willing to go for comedy, but both write with naked honesty about the uneasy generational divide among Indians in America and about family in all its permutations."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Mira Jacob's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing:


I am one of those people that need to work in near silence when it comes to music because I’m basically a lyrics junkie--one good line and I’ll sit around and dream on it for days. But sometimes when I’m stuck in a scene, I need to find another way in. Those days, I’ll sit around and draw something from that scene or I will listen to a song on repeat like a stoned teenager.

1) Metric, Empty

We couldn't see what was coming...

I have to start with this because I listened to it on repeat over the three years that I put this novel away and tried to forget it. A lot was happening in that time—I was shuttling in and out of hospitals with my dad, losing him more every day, losing myself in all those hallways and rooms. So this song for me is very specific: it's the sound my heart makes when it breaks.

2) Najma, Neend Koyi

Amina hangs up the phone with Kamala in the prologue, and in my head this fills the distance between Seattle and New Mexico. The translation of the lyrics (if you can believe someone who calls herself The Princess Alexandra on YouTube) are over-the-top and heartbreaking, in true Ghazal fashion.

The whole world to my memory is lost/ and only the image of my love remains. All that I had left were tears, I have lost them in your presence, and nothing now remains.

Side note: I discovered Najma’s album Qareeb in high school, after months of needing to blast Fugazi’s Repeater just to get out of bed in the morning. My parents were so relieved.

3) Richard Buckner, Raze

So you just pour your poor self out/ and you milk your spirit down/ but what are you going to do in another year or two but groove a new rut/ in another town?

Buckner is one of my favorite songwriters, hands down, and his voice is the kind of haunting you feel everywhere at once. The song is the last stop on a road you never meant to go down. It’s where Amina ends up after she sees Bobby McCloud jump and her fury and grief leaves her unable to function.

4) Ozzy Osborne, Crazy Train

The only way to head into the 80s. The best thing about this song (besides Randy Rhoads’ epic solo) is the weird, fractured, angry-guy hope in it, the idea that even though the world is going to shit, it could be turned around with love.

5) Air Supply, Lost in Love

Amina loves this song. And that other one mentioned in the book. And every other Air Supply song ever. Yes, really. WHAT.

6) John Hartford, Turn Your Radio On

Wholesome and sweet with the conviction that gospel radio can cure the most acute ills. Every time I hear this song, I think of Kamala in the kitchen, churning out chutney, transcending.

7) The National, The Geese of Beverly Road

We'll go from car to sleeping car

And whisper in their sleeping ears

We were here, we were here

We'll set off the geese of Beverly Road…

We’re the heirs to the glimmering world

At the risk of revealing that I’ve written a book informed by a song informed by a book, this one has to make the list. So thank you to the National for something that always makes me feel rough and alive, up on a roof waiting for this year’s miracle to appear, and thank you to the brilliant Cynthia Ozick for the best line in it.

8) Judas Priest, Breaking the Law

Rob Halford, hell yes. Love this because it’s so over the top, so fronting and growly and meanwhile, when it appears in the book, Amina and Akhil are teenagers who are wearing down to their little kid selves on a long ride home.

9) Scorpions, No One Like You

The ultimate Love Manthem, and everything Akhil feels about Paige. Furious guitar, shrieking accusations of love, the potential to blow your speakers out forever—this one is pure metal ballad gold.

10) Jim and Jennie and the Pinetops, Mt. St. Helens

I live on old St. Helens/ don’t think that I don’t know/ I live on old St. Helens/and it’s about to blow

Full disclosure: Jennie Benford and I lived together during some highly formative years, and we spent a lot of time talking about how to make things (music, art, writing), so her voice will still occasionally rise up when I’m in the middle of something tough and guide me through. No varnish here, just pure and simple beauty, and the perfect contrast to the words she’s singing.

11) Najma, Dil Laga Ya Tha

In the absence of translation (even by The Princess Alexandra) I’ve decided this song is about loving someone enough to see the world through their eyes, and set the whole house alight with your conviction.

12) J. Mascis, Sideways

I really don’t think any novel about the desert could be complete without some pretty big guitars. This sounds like the mesas and the mountains to me, the sky moving overhead like an animal.


Mira Jacob and The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

Independent review
Kirkus review

Biographile essay by the author
The National profile of 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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