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August 25, 2014

Book Notes - Dinah Lenney "The Object Parade"

The Object Parade

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.

Dinah Lenney's essay collection The Object Parade is a profound and lyrical exploration of our connections with the objects dear to us, and ultimately, each other.

The Los Angeles Review of Books wrote of the book:

"Dinah Lenney has done something smart. She’s come up with a solution to the essayist's dilemma. She's figured out a way to stay true to the form of the essay — digressive, skeptical, friendly, and brief — in the Age of the Memoir."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Dinah Lenney's Book Notes music playlist for her essay collection The Object Parade:


My first love—the first thing I wanted to do when I grew up—was musical theater. I never did take to opera, no: too mannered, too theatrical. I was a realist! What I wanted, like any normal person— like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music—was to be able to burst into song at a moment's notice. It seemed reasonable enough to expect a full piece orchestra to follow me around—at the very least, piano, bass, and drums—to find them when I needed them behind that bush, around that corner, on the next aisle, in the next stall—

I mean to say, I've always wanted to score my life. How thrilling, therefore, to be able to score The Object Parade (which is pretty much the same thing)—

but, golly, the possibilities: 33 essays—how to pick and choose?

Which brings to mind another lesson from the theater—from musical theater, that is—when does a character burst into song? When words aren't enough. When the emotion of the scene builds to some sort of pitch: this is why musical theater is hard to write and perform—harder than opera or the straight stuff (not that we have to compare, only for the sake of argument): see, music is a given in the former, and incidental in the latter; but in the best musical theater, the transitions from speaking to singing appear seamless and therefore justify themselves. So the point, I'm reminding myself, is not to come up with a song for every object. Though I could. But if I'm to be true to The Object Parade: the Musical, if it isn't going to run long and tedious, I'll have to be slightly discriminating, won't I?


So here goes:

First, to get you in the mood, while you're looking at the table of contents, "My Favorite Things," of course. But Coltrane's version so as not to confuse you with "brown paper packages," nice as they are. And because that jazzy sound reminds me of New York—which is where the book begins—

plus I think, it might work in the background, and fade nicely into Sinatra doing just a few phrases of "Hello Young Lovers" from The King and I. Because I sang it again and again, for auditions—a terrible choice for a girl of 22. I should have known better, but I didn't.

Next up, and skipping over my grandpa Charlie, the musical genius—two chapters feature him at the piano, but we have no recordings, alas—I give you Grieg: "The Poet's Heart." Because, as described in an essay called "Metronome" it was the last thing I learned to play before I quit piano lessons.

And from there, to Scott Joplin, "The Entertainer," which, if it isn't the last thing my daughter played before she quit, is the piece I remember her most enjoying before things come to a head in "Piano, Too."

And we're into Part II. In which I throw a disastrous dinner party. And since we really did have it in shuffle—along with Chet Baker, and Etta James, and Miles Davis—let's have the Gershwins, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," as performed by Ella and Louis, of course.

And next a Beatles medley, beginning with the songs my husband sang to our very first dog, a lab named Roxy: "Something" and "In My Life," the originals (though he altered the lyrics, it's true—as in "something in the way she moves attracts me like no other puppy," and "there are puppies I remember...") — then moving into "She's Leaving Home" in advance of the chapter called "Charm" in which our eldest (Eliza, that is) graduates high school.

Then she's away at college and we're back in the 40s—that is, back with me in the late 70s at a club in Manhattan called the Cookery where Alberta Hunter used to sing. And I'm torn—I mean I'd like to find her version of "The Glory of Love" (Billy Hill, 1936)—but I sort of want you to hear Otis Redding do it—or Jimmy Durante—or Bette Midler (don't you love Youtube? You choose)...

Up next. "Green Earrings." An essay (one of several) about my beautiful mother. Who taught me to harmonize. And though there's an oldie we used to do together called "Let's Harmonize," what comes to mind is actually Bonnie Raitt's "Nick of Time." The second verse especially: "I see my folks are getting on/And I watch their bodies change/I know they see the same in me/And it makes us both feel strange..."

Intermission. And playing in the lobby, so you don't forget where you are: Diana Krall singing "The Folks Who Live On the Hill." Kern and Hammerstein.

Act III. In which I strum the guitar. As does Jake, my son. So for me, a little "Dona, Dona." From Joan Baez. It's maybe the only song I can still actually finger pick. And for Jake, who's a real musician now, "Blackbird"—which he learned early on—he'd play and I'd sing—

and he's featured again in an essay called "Christmas Tree." I love Christmas songs, almost all of them, but if I had to pick my favorite, the one that sounds like the holiday to me, I'd choose Coldplay singing Martin and Blane's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from Meet Me in St. Louis.

And now we're getting close to the end... And there's a visit to New York, which reminds me who I used to be, and which calls for Sondheim. "Another Hundred People" from Company.

And to shake that off, to place myself where I really do belong—and to cheer myself up—I'm picking Randy Newman's "I Love L.A."

The penultimate track? To accompany the last chapter and the epilogue (in which I hope I don't tie things up with a bow): Eva Cassidy singing Sting's "Fields of Gold."

And then—if I had my way, if you let me? I'd bring back Coltrane—let him fade out just before the verse and finish the song, a capella, very softly, maybe even only humming, but all by myself:

When the dog bites,
When the bee stings,
when I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
and then I don't feel/So bad.

Thanks for listening...

Dinah Lenney and The Object Parade links:

the author's website

Kirkus Reviews review
Los Angeles Review of Books review
Los Angeles Times review
The Nervous Breakdown review
Publishers Weekly review

Book Circle Online interview with the author
Brevity interview with the author
Los Angeles Magazine 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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