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January 27, 2016

Book Notes - Rachel Cantor "Good on Paper"

Good on Paper

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.

Rachel Cantor once again proves herself a masterful storyteller with her smart, funny, and though-provoking second novel Good on Paper.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Translation is a metaphor through which Cantor uses her considerable powers with language to refract larger questions about family bonds, storytelling, and letting go of fantasies of new life and waking up to the life that is yours."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Rachel Cantor's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Good on Paper:


Good on Paper features a bookstore called People of the Book. It plays a variety of music, depending on the taste of whoever's on shift. Marie, the dyspeptic billboard artist, has a thing for grunge:

"All Apologies" Nirvana (MTV Unplugged in New York).

As it happens, I listened to that CD a lot when I was writing early stories about Shira, the protagonist of Good on Paper. The song is about apologies, I guess, as is Good on Paper, but the lyrics fall short of Dante's four-part "technology of forgiveness," as Shira can tell you. Maybe this is why, as a customer and not as a bookseller, she removes the grunge CD and replaces it with raga:

"Raga Maluha Kalyan – Jod," Nikhil Banerjee

She probably should have been more tolerant, having been, in her day, tambourinist for the punk band Gory Days (Shira played a very ironic tambourine). The band's sole release, the relentlessly pornographic Second and Third Coming, is only available on cassette, unfortunately, but no doubt they were influenced by:

"Lust for Life" – Iggy Pop

I'm totally faking it, by the way: I know nothing about punk music. Ahmad, Shira's old friend and de facto co-parent, is a qawwali guy. He certainly enjoys:

"Yaadan Vichde Dhol Diya," Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Shira's seven-year-old daughter Andi, meanwhile, doesn't share her parents' musical tastes; she's all about the Raffi medley:

"Medley – He's Got the Whole World / One Light One Sun / This Little Light," Raffi

Okay if you skip ahead; Shira would, given a chance. Benny, meanwhile, part-time rabbi and owner of People of the Book, is fond of Shlomo Carlebach. When he leads his New Age congregation to welcome the Sabbath bride, he probably uses this version of "Lecha Dodi":

"Lecha Dodi," Shlomo Carlebach

"Lecha Dodi" (Come, My Beloved) draws on rabbinic interpretations of the great love poem Song of Songs, which figures prominently in Good on Paper.

"Song of Songs: Si Ignores Te, O Pulchra Inter Mulieres," Giovanni Palestrina

may or may not be a setting of a portion of the Song. Extra points because it's an Italian rendering (albeit in Latin), and Shira is a translator from the Italian. Benny may or may not have designs on Shira when he invites her over to his place and offers her Makers Mark and plays her Meredith Monk:

"Basket A – High Basket," Meredith Monk

Good on Paper also involves readings of another great love story: Dante's La Vita Nuova (The New Life).

"La Vita Nuova: Il Sogno," Nicholas Maw

may or may not be a setting of a poem from Vita Nuova (but it's quite lovely). Speaking of Italian, the poet Shira is charged with translating in this book is Romei, a Roman by way of Romania. When Shira first hears him speak, she is convinced he is an American faking an Italian accent. He might as well be singing

"That's Amore," Dean Martin

While we're on the subject of the Rat Pack, Shira's an extreme fan of New York; she's very upset because she might have to move to Connecticut (New York, New York!)—but no, I wouldn't do that to you!

"New York, New York," Duke Ellington

That's better, right? In the end, Good on Paper is a love story, and a story about dancing in the face of love, so I end with:

"Dance Me to the End of Love," Leonard Cohen


Rachel Cantor and Good on Paper links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Boston Globe review
Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review

BookCulture interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for A Highly Unlikely Scenario
Melville House 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)
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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