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August 23, 2016

Book Notes - Ryan Berg "No House to Call My Home"

No House to Call My Home

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

Ryan Berg's No House to Call My Home, one of the year's most important books, sheds light on the issues facing homeless LGBTQ youth.

The New York Journal of Books wrote of the book:

"The plight of homeless LGBT youth seldom gets the attention it deserves. Ryan Berg's book No House To Call My Home is one man's attempt to remedy that situation…. A sobering look at the lives of a variety of LGBT kids in a version of foster care… Impossible to ignore."

In his own words, here is Ryan Berg's Book Notes music playlist for his book No House to Call My Home:

No House to Call My Home explores lives often unnoticed: LGBTQ youth left to fend for themselves when systems and adults have failed them. There are many voices in the book and I didn't think mine should be the only one choosing songs that relate to the narrative or the feel of the book. In addition to my own selections I've invited a few friends who know the book, and the realities of marginalization the book documents, to provide songs and commentary to this soundtrack.

1. "Love On Its Way" Corrine Bailey Rae

I think in Corrine's song, she reminds the listener that we as people have to do more than pray, more than march, to make a difference--we have to be active in more ways than one to create the world we want.

chosen by Jawanza James Williams, organizer.

2. "Don't Cry" Seal

The reason the song reminds me that all the tears I've shed I didn't deserve but I'm stronger for them.

chosen by Pyriel Atlas Infinity

3. "Sorrow" The National

That first verse seems to relate to No House to Call My Home in the sense that a lot of the at-risk LGBT youth described in the book have gone through a lot in their own right. Some of them wallowed in their angst and were overcome, others needed medication of various kinds but most of us felt impacted by our personal sorrows so much that it seemed like we constantly confronted it.

chosen by Gabriel L. Matthews

4. "Dream Baby Dream" Suicide

This hazy, insistent and meandering song feels like hope to me. It's ethereal yet pointed and optimistic at the same time. Many of the young people in the book had nothing but dreams to latch onto. Sometimes a dream is enough to keep you going.

5. "My Lady Story" Antony and the Johnsons

This song came out when I was working with the youth I write about in the book. I saw similarities between the song's narrator and some of the young people at the group home. I would listen to it, stuck in gridlock traffic on Grand Central Parkway, sitting in the agency van on my way to pick up youth for a recreation event. There is something so graceful and courageous about this song. I found it really profound; full of joy and sorrow. It carries many of the complexities of someone grappling with identity.

6. "I Shall Be Released" Nina Simone

Nina Simone owns this song. I don't care if Dylan wrote it. Nina Simone owns its ache, its strength, its wisdom.

7. "If It Be Your Will" by Antony

Another cover, this time written by Leonard Cohen. Antony is otherworldly and brings me to tears almost every time I hear this song's crescendo and swell of emotion. Antony's wavering, trembling voice sounds like a worshiper who has come to an understanding not easily found.

8. "Berry Farms" Meschell Ndegeocello

Raw, sensual. Articulates the differences between identity (how we think of ourselves), behavior (what we do), and perception (how others think of us).

9. "Coney Island Baby" Lou Reed

The glory of love, might see you all through
Man, I swear I'd give the whole thing up for you

Sounds casual at first but carries all kinds of tension. In his voice there's the trauma of living in the city and the resiliency that comes from finding something worth living for.

10. "Take Me Home" Perfume Genius

Maybe a little too on point for a book about the search for community and home. The whole thing is very sparse and perfect for a late night when you find yourself alone and yearning for connection.

11. "Steve Biko (Stir It Up)" A Tribe Called Quest

Linden Boulevard, represent, represent

The first group home I worked at was in Queens and I often found myself on Linden Boulevard. A Tribe Called Quest captured a time and a place. Party music with a conscience. The song’s references to Bob Marley and the anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko are in the title, though less overt in the lyrics. The song excels at balancing thoughtfulness with streetwise irreverence. This is the Queens I was introduced to: vibrant, pulsing, wise, and aware.

Ryan Berg and No House to Call My Home links:

the book's website
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
New York Journal of Books review
Towleroad review

Brooklyn Rail interview with the author
Kirkus profile of the author
Minneapolis Star Tribune interview with the author
TakePart interview with the author
Think Piece interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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