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October 17, 2014

Book Notes - Anne Valente "By Light We Knew Our Names"

By Light We Knew Our Names

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.

Anne Valente's magnificent debut collection By Light We Knew Our Names is filled with lyrical stories of family and coming of age.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the collection:

"Family looms large in the 13 stories in Valente's debut…the warmth and fluidity of Valente's prose and her eye for the detail have genuine resonance."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Anne Valente's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection By Light We Knew Our Names:


As my first collection, By Light We Knew Our Names represents for me a period of four years in which the stories were written but also an entire childhood and lifetime behind them. There's a lot of childhood wonder in these stories, and interest in the world's magic: a girl becomes transfixed by a pink dolphin, a baby discovers an entire world on a flower, a scientist steals a laboratory octopus for himself, a group of girls become black bears. These are also stories interested in sentences, and in what language can do on the page. The music that became important to me while writing these stories were songs that captured something lush and lyrical and rhythmic, as well as songs that captured magic or wonder in some way.

I can't listen to music when I write – I need either silence or ambient noise – but I always listen to music immediately afterward. I'm a creature of habit. I write for several hours in the morning and then I run. My running playlists have grown essential to my writing, both in terms of processing the content of what I've written and also the rhythm of the language itself. I run outside. Being in nature, with music and movement, is a symbiotic part of process for me. The stories of By Light We Knew Our Names were written between 2008 and 2012, a time marked for me by specific albums, songs and looped tracks, but also by a deliberate re-listening of songs and albums that were important to me when I was growing up, and songs that in some way reinforced rhythm.


"Cold Blows the Wind" – Ween

Ween was an important band for me in high school, and the car was one of my spaces of solitude. I drove the back roads at night listening to many albums, and Ween's The Mollusk was one that I replayed in the car as an adult while writing these stories. The soundscape of these songs is the ocean, essentially, and this song creates not only the rhythm of the sea but also what I imagine Alvin Schwartz's scary stories or Edward Gorey's images would look like in song. It captures a distinct tone, one I wanted to understand for my own work. It also evokes the immediacy of adolescence for me.

"All Tomorrow's Parties" – The Velvet Underground

My parents' albums were essential to my childhood, and my parents played so many records for my sister and me – The Moody Blues, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Chambers Brothers – to help us understand music. My father introduced me to Phil Spector's wall of sound, and I've valued that kind of density and dreamscape in language ever since. The Velvet Underground's entire collaboration with Nico fills the speakers, and this song is one of my favorites for its expansive sound and repetition.

"I Luv the Valley OH!" – Xiu Xiu

This song was one of my top played songs while I wrote these stories. Again, there's a density and expansiveness, and a repetition that was important to my own language. But there's also a lot of pain and urgency in Jamie Stewart's voice. This song rips me apart.

"Foreground" – Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear's entire album, Veckatimist, was on rotation while I wrote this collection but this song in particular got my attention. For me, it's cinematic. I was a film major in college and still think in images when writing. This song lends itself easily to image.

"You Ain't Got Nuthin" – Lil Wayne

Given rhythm and repetition's importance to me, hip-hop and rap make up nearly all of my running playlists. I rarely take direct inspiration from music for a single story, but this track helped me access the anger needed for the book's title story, "By Light We Knew Our Names." I ran with this for weeks. The beat is moody, and the loop almost menacing.

"Dust Design" – Bobby Birdman

In my brain, there's a connection between odd time signatures and experiments in fiction. This song's beat is contrapuntal and mysterious. Its rhythm helped me think about extreme points of view, strange plot lines, and playing with form.

"Car" – Built to Spill

Built to Spill's entire album, There's Nothing Wrong With Love, is distilled adolescence, and this song is quintessential teen angst. Who didn't want to just grab someone and drive all night in high school? Beyond that immediacy of emotion, however, there's also a lot of wonder and questioning and want in this song. There's a desire to know, and to break free. There's also a want to share that with someone else.

"Nantes" – Beirut

The lightness of Beirut's music reminds me of childhood and wonder, and this song in particular helped me imagine the points of view of children in these stories.

"Silver Soul" – Beach House

I listened to a lot of Beach House while writing By Light's stories, and this song especially is one that makes me want to cry. There's a lot of longing here, and a lot of hurt. This sound infused the mood and sense of grief within many of these stories.

"Bridges and Balloons" – Joanna Newsom

This song also got heavy air time. There's so much magic and whimsy in its composition – a harp! Canaries and beetle shells! Ships and thimbles! There's something almost lunar in its sound. It reminds me of stargazing, and of letting the universe quietly amaze.


Anne Valente and By Light We Knew Our Names links:

the author's website

Heavy Feather Review review
Publishers Weekly review


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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