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January 5, 2016

Book Notes - Christopher Castellani "The Art of Perspective"

The Art of Perspective

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.

Christopher Castellani's The Art of Perspective is yet another insightful book in Graywolf's series on writing, delving into the texts by diverse authors including E. M. Forster and Grace Paley to illustrate the craft of narrative point-of-view.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A close look at writers' crucial choices. The latest contributor to The Art of series, novelist and Guggenheim Fellow Castellani offers an attentive reading of works by E.M. Forster, Lorrie Moore, Zoë Heller, Grace Paley, and Tayeb Salih, among others, to illuminate 'the how and why' of narration... A modest, gracefully written meditation on creativity and craft."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Christopher Castellani's Book Notes music playlist for his book The Art of Perspective:

This book about storytelling was written over the course of a fall in a cabin in the New Hampshire woods and is being published in the first crush of winter, so it should come as no surprise that its playlist is moody and that that its narrators run the narrow spectrum from wistful to melancholy. It's the kind of book best read in a library on a snowy morning, headphones in, a thermos of tea on the table, and a pencil in hand to scribble in the margins the ideas and counter-arguments I hope it prompts.

Bruce Springsteen, "Streets of Philadelphia"
The Art of Perspective begins and ends with a personal story of an encounter my partner and I had with a disturbed woman on 13th Street in Philadelphia. This song perfectly captures the anxiety and fear and loss I imagine this woman felt that night and every night, surrounded by ghosts only she could see. Every line of this song is one I imagine she could have said to us, or did say, in so many words.

Leonard Cohen, "Suzanne"

Greg Brown, "My New Book"

These two songs came up on the "random" shuffle on my iPod so many times that, after a while, I just assumed they were trying to tell me something. So I listened more closely. They add to the mood of wistfulness, but they also bring something mythic and fairy-tale like to fairly conventional tales of longing for lost or unattainable love. Brown's song includes the meta layer of the narrator's compulsion not only to understand what's happened between him and his unnamed love interest, but to document it.

GusGus, "Teenage Sensation"
Here's where we switch gears a bit into the erotic but still stay within the tonal range of wistful longing. If I were remaking the film version of What Was She Thinking? (Notes on a Scandal) -- which absolutely does NOT need re-making, by the way -- I'd have included this song to capture the intensity of the relationship between Sheba and Stephen, her teenaged student. I can almost see the sociopathic Barbara Covett, who narrates the novel and is the subject of my chapter, "Try To See Things My Way," alone in her home with her dying cat as the film jump cuts to Sheba and Stephen in their passion. This song would drive her even madder with jealousy and submerged desire.

John Grant, "Fireflies"
I talk a lot about what I call "narrative strategy" in The Art of Perspective. "Fireflies" is a very simple song that displays a clever narrative strategy with a deeply moving effect. The lyrics are a triptych of three images described in first person, but which feel like a tableau: static, frozen in time, fading as we hear them. The final line – "How I long for you" – is an unexpected turn, or "volta," to use a poetic term – that forces the listener to re-think and re-look at the images we've just heard and seen in our reminds, and to construct our own narrative from the little information we have. Who is this "you?" What's his/her relationship to the speaker? Are the arresting images clues to their identities? It's a great example of how the mode of storytelling becomes the story.

Joni Mitchell, "The Last Time I Saw Richard"
I can imagine no playlist without Joni, my go-to storyteller. I could have chosen any of her songs, but I picked this utterly brilliant one because it almost manages to be a song about someone other than the first-person speaker. She gives us a bit of Richard's story – his figure skater wife and their coffee percolator – but ultimately it's about where she is now, her dark café days lived in a minor key, where she sits alone in a dark café waiting to sprout her gorgeous wings. It's about Richard, but it's more about why she's still talking about Richard, just as every story is ultimately about its narrator, about what compelled her or him to tell the story in the first place.

The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl, "Fairytale of New York"
I looked long and hard for a song that captured some of the "he said, she said" of a romantic relationship, which I discussed at length in the chapter "The Story(ies) of Marriage." I was interested in the impossibility of the "real story" of a romantic relationship, the fact that there is no true map of the entire emotional terrain between two people, how we are all mostly unknowable to each other, and how the foundation of our relationships are formed by just the few narratives we can agree on. This song doesn't quite demonstrate all that, but it's at least a relatively light-hearted way to end this wintry mix.

Christopher Castellani and The Art of Perspective links:

the author's website

Brooklyn Rail review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for All This Talk of Love
Tinge Magazine 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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