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March 24, 2015

Book Notes - Nicole Haroutunian "Speed Dreaming"

Speed Dreaming

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.

Nicole Haroutunian's debut collection Speed Dreaming is filled with captivating stories of everyday lives.

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh wrote of the collection:

"From troubled relationships to burned-down apartments to wild animals on the loose, Nicole Haroutunian has created an unforgettable portrait of what it's like to be a young woman in contemporary America. This is a beautiful, funny, poignant, unflinching collection."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Nicole Haroutunian's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Speed Dreaming:


"Buffalo Ballet" by John Cale
Like many writers, I have a complicated relationship with writing. As in, I kind of hate it. Trying to start a new story fills me with anxiety every time—what if I never have another good idea? What if I've written everything I'm ever going to write? Once I start revising, I can relax, occasionally even enjoy myself, but until I get there, I listen to songs like "Buffalo Ballet." Atmospheric, sad, lyrical and—most importantly—repetitive, "Buffalo Ballet" kept me calm as I faced down the many blank pages that came before Speed Dreaming filled them.

"Dig Me Out" by Sleater-Kinney
But sometimes, when I'm writing a first draft, rather than a peaceful and reassuring song like "Buffalo Ballet," I crave something energetic and relentless like "Dig Me Out." This record has helped me be brave since I was a teenager—I remember blasting it in the car the first time I drove into NYC by myself, seventeen and jittery, but motivated. Carrie, Corin and Janet are a great cheering squad.

"Gloria: In Excelsis Deo" by Patti Smith
There is this crazy multilane mini-highway that loops through downtown Poughkeepsie; in college, especially during my first year, I used to get stuck on it sometimes. Either I'd miss my turn off, circling endlessly, or I would exit in an unintended spot and wind up crossing the terrifying, miles-high Mid-Hudson Bridge. At one point along the loop, taking a left on red was rumored to be legal. One day, desperate to add at least one more story to my manuscript, I started writing about two young women driving this loop. Who were they? Why would they be in Poughkeepsie? Well, because they were artists and, a few years ago, Patti Smith decreed it: "New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling. But there are other cities. Detroit. Poughkeepsie. New York City has been taken away from you. So my advice is: Find a new city." In the end, the story "Poughkeepsie" was almost entitled "What Would Patti Smith Do?"

"I'm on Fire" by Bruce Springsteen / Electrelane
This may be my favorite Bruce Springsteen song, and that's saying a lot. I'm from New Jersey. It is quiet, sexy, and simple, yet hints at greater depths. While I was in the process of editing Speed Dreaming, I discovered that the British band Electrelane covered it. I played their version of "I'm on Fire" a thousand times on YouTube, then bought it and played it a thousand more times. Was it even better than Bruce's? It's faster and more incessant, with Verity Susman's vocals escalating from soft, slightly slurred, to wild, expansive and urgent. There's a hint of subversiveness: these women appropriating—and fully inhabiting—a song written by a masculine icon, and singing about desire incited by another woman. Structurally, tonally, and emotionally, it is everything I strive for in my stories. I can't stop listening to it now as I write this.

"Favorite" by Neko Case
Many years ago, a friend and I stumbled into an intimate Neko Case concert at the now-shuttered Park Slope venue Southpaw. We both really love Neko Case, so it's possible we had planned ahead, bought tickets and marked our calendars, but in my memory, it was pure luck that we wound up there, squeezed up next to the stage, in awe at the way Case's voice just soared. She can draw out a word, break it in the middle and resurrect it at the end, as she does with the most brief of words—"I"—in her song "Favorite." I listened to this song obsessively as I edited Speed Dreaming, trying to replicate this effect. How could I take a simple word and make it into something transcendent?

"Pine Needles to Palms" by Lindsay Sullivan
When my editor, Ed Park, suggested I write some song lyrics to include in the story "Cassiopeia," which is about a thirty-something indie rocker on an ill-fated camping trip with her much younger boyfriend, I balked. I'd feel more equipped to do just about anything: perform surgery, land a helicopter. (Anything but sing a song). So I texted my good friend Lindsay Sullivan (actually, the same friend I went to that Neko Case concert with), a real songwriter, who was at JFK after an all-too-brief NYC-visit, waiting to board her plane back to LA. I gave her the particulars of the story—mountain lions, pine trees, panic—and she texted back these lyrics just before her flight departed:

Pine needles to palms, sticky and sweet
I lick the blood and brush back my hair
If I fell from the hill would you turn back for me
Or leave me in the mountain lion's care?
One day, she swears she'll finish the song!

"Scale Those Heights" by New York Endless
In 2014, I found out my story collection was going to be published, my husband, Dan Selzer, aka New York Endless, released his first record, Strategies, and after ten years together, we got married. Dan's beautiful, warm electronic music will always be the inextricable soundtrack of this book.


Nicole Haroutunian and Speed Dreaming links:

the author's website

Bustle review


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (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
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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