March 16, 2015
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.
Tania James's novel The Tusk That Did the Damage is ambitiously told from the perspectives of a poacher, a documentary filmmaker, and even an elephant.
The New York Times wrote of the book:
"Tania James's impressive new novel, 'The Tusk That Did the Damage,' brings a sharp and unnerving sensibility to bear on dismal and necessary events…When the stories of the Gravedigger, the poacher and the filmmaker inevitably converge, the novel veers toward a fatalistic irony, but in James's assured and skillful treatment, the result is stark tragedy."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
I consider myself something of a slideshow artist. Give me your baby-fatted photos, your brace-faced portraits, your Olan Mills backdrops, your high tops and big bangs. I am a master of the crossfade. I'm not above a star wipe. But as every slideshow artist knows, the visuals are empty sails without the right songs.
So I present to you now a series of songs without photos from the seven months I spent in Delhi, with my husband, from 2011 to 2012. I was there on a Fulbright fellowship, armed with a book proposal that wasn't quite panning out. At some point, I began a different project, my latest novel—The Tusk That Did the Damage. But when I think about the writing process, I think of all the time I didn't spend writing, all the moments in between. In terms of influence, those interstitial moments were as crucial to the work as all the time spent sitting in my seat.
"Get Up, Stand Up" – Bob Marley
You can fool some people sometimes,
But you can't fool all the people all the time.
Upon arrival, we were supposed to spend a week participating in orientation events. That week coincided with one of the most seismic events in India's recent history—the anti-corruption protests organized around the hunger strike of the activist Anna Hazare. Playing hooky, my husband and I left the fortress of our hotel and walked to Ramlila Grounds, where thousands of people were chanting and singing and listening to speeches bellowed from loudspeakers. I remember a sea of white caps, kids on shoulders, painted flags on hands, on cheeks, even mustaches. I remember standing in a very long line to get a free sandwich, and waiting for someone to push me aside, or cut, or grab, or nudge. No one did. That day was beautifully disorienting.
"Allah Hoo" – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
All great cities are a work-in-progress, new roads being carved, condos raised. But once in a while, you come across an ancient, living monument, like the Sufi singers in the dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya, where the same family of musicians has been gathering in the exact same spot since the 8th century. I want to say that the music was magical, but to be honest, it was getting late in the evening, and the men had been singing for hours, without pause, and their voices were growing harsh and hoarse. But there was a purity in that harshness, that level of commitment to keep singing and singing for hours, for days, for centuries, purely out of devotion.
"Tightrope" – Janelle Monae
Some mornings, I'd go for a jog in Lodi Gardens, an oasis of Mughal tombs and trees with sprawling, chaotic roots. I'd fool myself into believing I was some kind of Olympic-level athlete by the number of people I was passing. Those people were usually carrying canes and rocking salwars with sneakers, but with Janelle in my ears, dear reader, I could fly.
"Just One of the Guys" – Jenny Lewis
No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There's a little something inside that won't let me
The landlady in my building told me that I shouldn't leave the apartment alone, after dark. At first I thought she was being overly protective; I'd often gone out at night. Then it occurred to me: never without my husband. And for two weeks, he was on a work trip, leaving me alone.
Still I ventured out one night, to meet up with a male friend who was standing at the end of our street. I observed that I was the only woman walking those two blocks. There were a good number of men, however, observing me, possibly wondering what the hell I was doing. From that day on, I kept to my rooms after dusk with more than a small sense of resentment. (Disclosure: this Jenny Lewis song came out years later, but if I could travel back in time, I'd take it with me. The lyrics would've made for good company.)
"Edit the Sad Parts" – Modest Mouse
Sometimes I'm angry that I feel so angry
As with any affair, the city and I had our fights.
One day I was crossing the street in front of my apartment, carrying an armful of cleaning supplies, when a Mercedes nearly ran me over. It wasn't the first car to do so, and most of the time, I maintained my cynical cool in order to blend in with my fellow pedestrians. Yet there was something about the man inside the Mercedes—his tan turtleneck, his reflective shades—that detonated my cool. We exchanged four-letter words. He sped onward. I met eyes with the rickshaw drivers gathered nearby and shook my head, looking for empathy. They stared in stunned silence, as if I were a crazy person, wild-eyed and wielding a mop. I channeled that fury into a comic book character named Pedestrian Woman, though her adventures never made it onto the page.
"Such Great Heights" – Iron and Wine
They will see us waving from such great heights
We flew to Dehradun and drove up into the foothills of the Himalayas. We cracked the windows and took in the purest air our dust-clogged lungs had ever known. We listened to a white lady singing bhajans on the banks of the Ganga. We talked to a gem merchant in Rishikesh, who said he remembered when the Beatles came through town. (His initial reaction: "What's a Beatle?") Then we got to talking about change, and how his town must have suffered from the floods of tourists, ourselves included. "The world is always changing," he said. "If it didn't change, it wouldn't be the world." I borrowed those words for my book and bought a strand of purple beads.
"Oh Susanna" – The Be Good Tanyas
Said I'm comin' from the South, Susanna don't you cry
Late into our time in Delhi, my niece was born. Her middle name is Suzana, after my mother. I bought her a cotton top and bloomers, which I laid on my bed, trying to imagine a person small enough to fill them. I'd stay a few more months in Delhi, traveling, writing, tinkering, but the moment she arrived was the moment I was ready for Kentucky.
Tania James and The Tusk That Did the Damage links:
Dinner Party Download interview with the author
Kojo Nnamdi Show interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Atlas of Unknowns
Los Angeles Times interview with the author
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)
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)