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November 24, 2015

Book Notes - Ryan Britt "Luke Skywalker Can't Read"

Luke Skywalker Can't Read

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.

Ryan Britt tackles geek culture and its icons from unique perspectives in his insightful essay collection Luke Skywalker Can't Read.

Karen Russell wrote of the book:

"Ryan Britt is an uncontrolled experiment—a genre omnivore who has spent his time on this earth flying to other galaxies, undersea cities, freaky amusement parks, Middle Earth, Transylvania, Sherlock Holmes' London, and the Cretaceous. His essays are reliably smart, surprising, provocative, and funny."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In his own words, here is Ryan Britt's Book Notes music playlist for his essay collection Luke Skywalker Can't Read:


Because my book is an essay collection about science fiction, fantasy and generalized nerdiness, one way to approach a playlist would be to have a bunch of analogous songs. For the Tolkien essay "Imagine There’s No Frodo," I could have listed Led Zeppelin’s "Misty Mountain Hop." For all the Star Wars references, I could have included the disco remix of "The Star Wars Theme." You get it. But I’m not sure that would have made for a fun playlist. Plus, I’m notoriously bad at making mixtapes in real life; at least ones that have a sense of logical flow. As a teenager, I made tons of tapes that just have stuff I loved with no sense of curation. As far as I know, I’m the only person who wants to listen to "The Jurassic Park Theme," right after "Champagne Supernova."

So, here I’ve attempted to make a playlist you’d actually want to listen to that hopefully isn’t too schizophrenic in genre or style. Maybe it has some "flow." There are some overt references to songs I mention in the book, while other tracks here are more sideways tributes; songs which I think are covers of homages which may be synecdoches of other ideas, but on accident.

"Tush" - ZZ Top
My father claimed this was his favorite song, bar none. Like best song ever. In one of the essays early in the book, I talk about how my dad gave me a very slanted "birds and the bees" talk when I was a little kid. My dad was a dad who subscribed to Playboy and Penthouse and was not ashamed of that one bit. This song is here for him! When he was still alive, I never got to tell him how much I do guiltily love this song. The book is about guilty pleasures, in a sense. Plus, the ZZ Top thing is a wink to their involvement in Back to the Future III.

"Hypnotize" The Notorious B.I.G.
The last essay in my book is called "The Fans Awaken," and it’s an attempt to figure out how to feel as a Star Wars fan. There’s an insinuation of Star Wars in pop culture that runs crazy, crazy deep. This Biggie track is an example I cite in the essay because he raps "Hit em’ with the Force like Obi," an obvious reference to Obi-Wan Kenobi. I actually think a lot of Biggie tracks could be seen through a science fiction lens. Don’t even get my started about the obvious dystopian/Children of Men implications of "Big Poppa."

"I Want a New Drug" Huey Lewis and the News
Because Back to the Future and the 80’s are clearly connected to this book, I had to include something from Huey Lewis and the News. (I make fun of Huey Lewis briefly too, though I love them.) Despite "The Power of Love," being awesome, this is clearly their best song. The notion of a "love drug" as a sci-fi idea is also awesome. I’ve never mentioned this, but I did attempt to write an embarrassing short story about this exact premise with this exact title.

"Intergalactic" Beastie Boys
This is my favorite Beastie Boys song for obvious reasons. There’s a shout-out to Mr. Spock from Star Trek which is about as perfect as a rap song can get. Seriously: two of the best rap songs ever include Star Wars (Hypnotize) and Star Trek (Intergalactic.) Come on.

"Let Forever Be" The Chemical Brothers
This song is obviously the Chemical Brothers and Noel Gallagher attempting to re-make The Beatles’ "Tomorrow Never Knows" and hoping you don’t notice that it’s pretty much exactly the same as "Tomorrow Never Knows." Being a critic and writing about culture you love is often the same: you’re repeating notions that you feel like are obvious and hoping no one notices you’re not exactly doing anything new, but rather, newish. I like layers of influence: particularly when influence amounts to a piece of art that is both great and wonderfully imperfect.

"Human Nature" Madonna
Much of what I’m after in my essays is to create a more organic connection between people "geeking out" about certain subjects and "mainstream culture." There are biases and tendencies to be one way or another when it comes to thinking about things that perceived as nerdy. The conversation is super large, but I think Madonna totally gets it with this one.

"Addicted to Love" Robert Palmer
I love thinking about this song in context with the video. So much of what I write is mixing media. Not to mention, all the girls look like Sean Youngish Blade Runner-esque robots. For that reason, I’m going to say this song goes with my "Hipster Robots Will Save Us All" essay about robots. Also, I was born in 1981, so we’re dealing with a lot of songs here that were the ones that I first learned to sing along with.

"On the Other Side" The Strokes
For me, this song is about being over-stimulated. With sci-fi and geeky stuff sometimes the opinions about the thing are presented at the exact same moment as the thing itself. This song reminds me of that frustration.

"Lock the Locks" The Streets
I was really into Mike Skinner when I was living with a bunch of writers in Tempe, Arizona where I grew up. Back then, The Streets were like this funny rap thing and it was more of a party trick to put this on than anything. But, in 2012 I was really into this last Streets album. This song both describes and reminds me of making big life decisions: the biggest being to quit my fulltime writing gig at a science fiction blog—the best job I’ve ever had in my life—to try and go freelance and write books. The existence of my imminent first book is partially owed to the finality of this song.

"The Living Daylights" a-Ha
Duran Duran is mentioned a little bit in the book and to me they are most famous for their James Bond song "A View to a Kill." However, I’ve always preferred "The Living Daylights" to that song. I feel like a-Ha tried to write "A View to a Kill Part 2" with this song. And sometimes—like The Empire Strikes Back— the sequels are better than the originals!

"Across the Universe" Fiona Apple
There’s actually a Star Trek novel called Across the Universe which I think is super ballsy and really should be the name of a new Star Trek film. The Beatles are so connected to science fiction for me probably because I love both The Beatles and science fiction with equal fervor. I’m friends with a writer named Morgan Gendel who wrote a very famous episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called "The Inner Light" in the 90’s. A while ago, I asked him if that was a reference to George Harrison and he was floored, because it was and no one had ever asked him that. We both admitted as much as we love Star Trek, we might love the Beatles more. In the interests of the influence stacking I mentioned earlier, I had to include the best Beatles cover of all time which is also a science fiction epic. I think Fiona Apple is kind of a sci-fi writer too, with her own songs, but this track made the most sense for this list.

"Ironic" Alanis Morissette
Being funny about things we love is the only way I’ve found to approach talking about sci-fi, fantasy and geek culture in a way that’s not alienating. (Pun intended) Yep. I’m doing it. I’m putting the song "Ironic" on this list because tons of my essays deal with irony (but only indirectly, of course!) My inclusion of this song is not intended to be ironic. It’s an awesome song and never forget—Alanis cloned herself for the music video.

"The Majestic Tale (Of a Madman in Box)" - Murray Gold & The BBC National Orchestra of Wales (From Doctor Who)
This is the only geeky soundtrack selection I’ve included, mostly because I’ve got a whole essay in the book called "The Sounds of Science Fiction" which talks about science fiction scores. In terms of a contemporary genius in the world of scores, Murray Gold is hard to beat. He’s created so many individual themes and motifs for Doctor Who since he started scoring the show for it for its re-launch in 2005. This selection is actually him re-arranging his earlier theme "I am the Doctor" into something even more bombastic and epic. I feel like someone should be sampling this stuff. Murray Gold is doing what a band like Bastille tries to do in order to sound big, but he’s doing it for real. If you think this track is corny, you’re probably right, but if there’s one thing I will always believe; it’s that being corny is the only way to go sometimes.


Ryan Britt and Luke Skywalker Can't Read links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Paste review
Tor.com review

GeekDad interview with the author
Origins interview with the author
Salon 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

Online "Best of 2015" 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
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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