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November 14, 2014

Book Notes - Naja Marie Aidt "Baboon"


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, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

The Los Angeles Review of Books called Naja Marie Aidt's Baboon a "violent, beautiful, breathlessly paced collection," and I wholeheartedly agree, this is one of the year's strongest short story collections.

Sarah Gerard wrote of the book:

"Naja Marie Aidt's stories ask not only what could be hiding beneath the surface of our otherwise calm lives, but what has been hiding there all along. They are odd and surprising, and refreshing in that they offer no conclusions. She is the writer of dark secrets."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Naja Marie Aidt's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection Baboon:

I so wish I could write while listening to music, but except for just one exception I can't . . . Baboon might be a very intense collection, but its characters are more driven by a physical, bodily awareness than by emotions (no classic psychological realism here!) so I really enjoyed listening to "emotional" music during breaks from working on these short stories.

When Denise Newman translated Baboon into English we worked very closely together, and I remember how uplifting it was to see that I did not lose focus if I listened to music while working on Denise's drafts. It's the writing itself that demands silence.

I used to work in the music business when I was in my twenties, just before I began writing full-time, and music still means a lot to me. It's a huge inspiration for my work. Growing up in a small village in Greenland in the '60s, I remember listening to The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, music from the big world that was so far away and seemed so completely unreal to us in our icy, snowy, little world. When I was around 5 years old, my sister and I would get the singles when my parents got the albums sent from Copenhagen and we would turn up the volume in our room and sing along in a self-made "English." I still know every riff from Dylan's "Nashville Skyline" and "Self-portrait" by heart, and it's was only a couple of years ago that I figured out what the real lyrics for "All the Tired Horses" are!

Playlist for Baboon:

James Blake: "The Wilhelm Scream"

I love James Blake's music because it reminds me of poetry. It has to do with the way he works with patterns. I have published ten collections of poetry, and what always drags me back to poetry after writing fiction is the math of the lauguage, the music, the way the composition works. I find the process of writing poetry to be completely different, in the sense of thinking, sensing, and working with the language. In "The Wilhelm Scream" Blake operates with great simplicity, but is able to create different variation of patterns in both the music and the lyrics. I think the song has something deeply human to it: compassion, but also a brutal way of describing confusion or crisis, subjects that Baboon definitely contains. But as Blake expresses confusion, my characters have a hard time realizing what's really going on with them. Many of them are caught in some sort of mental numbness.

Red Hot Chili Peppers: "Road Trippin'"

I was a huge Peppers fan while still living in Denmark and went to see them when they toured Europe in 2006. After moving to the States in 2008, I would travel the country with my family and we would always listen to RHCP in the car. Three kids in the back seat and a blast of music while the landscape flew by. "Let's go get lost/Anywhere in the U.S.A." We felt a great freedom and excitement. "Road Trippin'" especially reminds me of that. Driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco at Christmas time, for example. The song has this incredible softness to it, but it's also so adventurous. In "Mosquito Bite," the very last story of Baboon, a man gets sick and almost dies. When he's in the hospital, all he wants to do is listen to the RHCP, and the music seems to make him gain enough power to finally bring him back to life. There's so much energy in the RHCP's music , it always makes me want to dance, run, jump, or just scream in joy!

Portishead: "Glory Box"

I love this song. It's like a diamond shining in the darkness. Beth Gibbon's voice is amazingly powerful and expressive, raw and tender at the same time. I like the way the lyrics describe the exhaustion of being a woman tied up in the heterosexual game. It's telling an important story about gender. In Baboon the question of gender is something I tend to write about a lot. In the story "Wounds," a character tells a story about falling in love with an Englishwoman at a hotel in the Middle East. But is the protagonist a man or woman? And does it matter? Writing the book, I wanted to explore what gender means on many different levels. In the story "Honeymoon," a couple visits a Greek village that is run as a matriarchy and bad things starts to happen to both of them. There is suddenly a weird shift in the balance of power between them, and it has to do with a savage who suddenly appears from out of nowhere, reciting Blake into the womans ear . . .

Johann Sebastian Bach: "St Matthew's Passion"

For some reason this is the only music I can actually write to. I've done that for ages, including while working on Baboon. Maybe it's because Bach's music is so mathematical. It kind of eases one's mind, listening to his use of structures that somehow feel very emotional, but are bounded in pure math. I like that idea. Some famous french poet (Baudelaire?) once said that literature is made from words, not emotions. I always tell my students that when I teach. It's the language itself that creates the tension, the passion, the intensity, not the artist's urge to drown his or her audience in feelings. Bach had this amazing talent of being able to create music that was incredibly beautiful and moving, simply by being so good at structures, patterns, logical thinking, and math. His music leaves me space to think and write and sometimes it even feels like the St. Matthews Passion sharpens my mind! If I had to pick just one piece of music (going to live on a desert island . . . ) it would probably be this one.

Archie Shepp: "Blasé"

This jazz tune by Shepp from 1969, performed by Jeanne Lee and a wonderful band, is just so awesome and disturbing. It's provocative, dark, and mysterious. The lyrics go:  "Blasé . . . Ain't you Daddy? / You shot your sperm into me, / And never set me free. / This ain't a hate thing… / It's a love thing / If lovers ever really love that way / The way they / Say. / I gave you a loaf of sugar, / You tilt my wound 'til it runs."

What more can I say? This song is definitely about black feminism. There's so much pain and pride in it. Just listen to the drum track. Wow. I feel like it expresses what's going on in Baboon, too. A dark undercurrent that runs through every story in the book. Life is such a sweet and difficult thing, and we are so vulnerable. So much can go wrong so quickly. The drums in Blasé remind me of that. It's like a thunderstorm rumbling in the distance, and then all of a sudden it's a mighty force right over your head. Scary and powerful, but also wonderful.

Naja Marie Aidt and Baboon links:

the author's Wikipedia entry
the book's page at the publisher

Bookslut review
Los Angeles Review of Books review
Music & Literature review
Publishers Weekly review

Asymptote review
Exhibitionist interview with the author
Los Angeles Times interview with the author
World Literature Today interview with the book's translator

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

List of Online "Best of 2014" Book 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)
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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