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July 20, 2015

Book Notes - Louisa Hall "Speak"


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, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Louisa Hall's Speak is a brilliant novel that explores the nature of memory, relationships, and identity over hundred of years through an impressive cast of narrators.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"Hall capably weaves the stories to form a beautiful rumination on the nature of memory and the frailty of human relationships."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Louisa Hall's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Speak:

Speak is about five characters who are involved with creating an artificially intelligent doll. The characters range from a pilgrim crossing the Atlantic in the seventeenth-century to a traumatized girl in the near future, but they're linked by an acute loneliness that causes them to dream of technologies that will somehow understand them better than people.

I don't listen to music while I'm writing—I like to write in quiet places so that I can hear the voices of the characters I'm writing about. But after I finished writing Speak, I found that all kinds of music I loved and often listened to connected somehow to the book I'd just written. This is a list of music that speaks to lonely and frightening future worlds, robots coming to life, and the desire to escape from a reality that somehow feels false. Since the book covers so many time periods, there should probably be some baroque music from England in the seventeenth-century and some music from the 1920s that Alan Turing might have listened to while prophesying artificial intelligence. There should also be some classical music composed by algorithm to explore the differences between human and computer musical genius. But I know even less about those genres than I do about more contemporary music, so here's my best shot:

"First Breath After Coma" by Explosions in the Sky

This is a song about coming to life. In Speak, the artificially intelligent dolls—babybots—describe the process of coming into sentience. The song starts with a heartbeat and opens out into all kinds of exciting sounds. It makes me imagine the feeling of existing as a living creature for the very first time.

"All is Full of Love" by Bjork

Somehow this song makes me feel for the babybots, who come into being as creatures meant to be loved by their children. Their fate, alone in the desert, seems even sadder given that original promise. Plus, that amazing robot music video!

"Spaceman" by Harry Nilsson

For me, this song captures the hubris of the babybots' inventor, who dedicates himself to creating new life and forgets about the real lives he's involved in.

"Fake Plastic Trees" by Radiohead

The future in Speak involves suburban developments where people live out their whole lives, surrounded by plastic trees, fake ponds, artificial grass. This song evokes some of the disturbing alienation from the natural world that I imagine would exist in those developments.

"Lost in the World" by Kanye West and Bon Iver

This song describes the urge to escape from a fake world, something my characters write about—as if you could just cross some boundary somewhere and enter a reality where things feel more authentic and less constrained, where the people you'd lost could come back to existence, where you'd be understood as you've always wanted to be understood.

"It's Summertime" by The Flaming Lips

One of the characters in Speak feels that his wife has lost touch with the real world, entranced as she is by a computer. This song, from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (which could in itself sort of be a soundtrack to the book), insists that we should pay attention to the real world of passing seasons.

"Everyone's Gone to the Moon" by Nina Simone

And this is another demand that we should live on this planet, now. The feeling that we're all somehow elsewhere—stuck in the future or on another planet, waiting for our real lives to start—is part of why I like writing about the future. I like to practice going elsewhere, then coming back.

"Don't Forget Me" by Harry Nilsson

All of the characters in Speak are writing first person accounts, imagining future audiences or audiences of their loved ones, hoping they'll be understood and remembered after they're gone. This song is one of the sweetest demands to be remembered that I can think of.

Louisa Hall and Speak links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Elle review
NPR Books review
Paste review
Tampa Bay Times review
Washington Post review

All Things Considered interview with the author
Kirkus profile of 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)
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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