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March 15, 2017

Book Notes - Meg Howrey "The Wanderers"

The Wanderers

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.

Meg Howrey's The Wanderers is a compelling and empathetic novel about astronauts and their families.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Although the contours of a space drama may seem familiar to a 21st-century readership, Howrey, through the poetry of her writing and the richness of her characters, makes it all seem new. A lyrical and subtle space opera."

In her own words, here is Meg Howrey's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Wanderers:

If anyone would have told me, a couple of years ago, that I'd write a book that had to do with astronauts and space exploration I would have thought that person was bananas. But if anyone said that I'd write a book that had to with people who don't seem to feel things in the same ways as everyone else does, or wants them to, and who sometimes wish they could, but largely recognize that to do so might cost them their excellence and therefore their dreams, I would have thought: yeah, that makes sense. The Wanderers is about those who go and those who are left behind. I tried to write about identity, and isolation, and distance, and honesty and the many ways we devise and manipulate reality. Also: space. I think it's a little bit funny in places. There's a dog toward the end!

Music happened before or after writing, and because I worried about the people of my book, and hoped they would be okay, and that I would be okay, and that we'd all make it through, it was always a relief to find friends.

Death Cab for Cutie - "You Are A Tourist"
In 2011 I came across a newspaper article about a space simulation experiment called Mars500. I always feel a bit nervous when I know I have to write about something, but this project seemed especially ambitious and daunting. You Are A Tourist was playing a lot on the radio at the time, and I took the lyrics very personally. Why yes, I did have a burning in my heart and it was terribly nice of Death Cab to be so encouraging about the whole thing. It's a pretty song.

Eno/Cale - "Spinning Away"
Brian Eno and John Cale collaborated on the album Wrong Way Up in 1990 and I hadn't listened to it in maybe a decade when it popped up during a Shuffle-listen on my iPod and I thought, "Oh my astronauts!" The lyrics reference Van Gogh's Starry Night and it's a good tune for large format dreamers.

Aimee Mann - "It's Not"
I love that moment in the movie Magnolia when all the characters start singing to Aimee Mann's "Wise Up." In the same vein, "It's Not" works perfectly for the seven major people of my book: the three astronauts, their family members, and Luke, the observer. If anything, it's maybe too on the nose, since the word "astronaut" is tucked into the lyrics, but I still want to see them all singing this. Side note: on days where I dislike almost everything I still really like Aimee Mann.

Aaron Copland - Billy the Kid – Ballet Suite, IV: Prairie Night
This piece is mentioned in the book: it's something the astronaut Helen Kane thinks about playing for her crew members, on the harmonica she's bringing. This is music for a ballet about a murderous outlaw, but it's still a ballet, so we have a nice section that's unabashedly romantic. I found it possible to transfer its evocations of the American prairie over to the polar desert of Mars. No fields of grasslands, a lot more rocks and dust, but still this sense of quiet grandeur, of things waiting to be known.

Franz Schubert - String Quintet in C, II: Adagio
My number one vote for music to play when humans approach another planet. You'd definitely want a cello for such an occasion, this quintet has two, and C major is a good key for combining awe with humility.

Antonín Dvorák – Symphony No. 9 in E minor, II: Largo
Neil Armstrong took a recording of this symphony to the Moon on Apollo 11 and I thought my astronauts would honor that crew by bringing it to Mars. (I wrote a nice paragraph in The Wanderers about this, and then cut it because it wasn't really that nice.) I'm fond of this second movement though, and always liked the idea of scanning Martian landscape while it was playing. So let it live here in Book Notes!

T Bone Burnett - "Humans From Earth"
It's maybe a good idea to think about what kind of aliens we want to be, when we show up on another planet.

Julius Eastman - "Gay Guerilla"
I was listening to a lot of minimalist and post-minimalist composers and I love the tense propulsion of this piece by Julius Eastman. Also that it's played by several pianos at once. I don't think the composer had space in mind at all, but it does seem to have something to do with bravery.

Dinah Washington/Max Richter – "This Bitter Earth"/ "On The Nature of Daylight"
This is on the incredible Shutter Island soundtrack, assembled by Robbie Robertson. I listened to this pairing of Dinah Washington and Max Richter around the time I got to the last part of the novel, when the astronauts are preparing to do something even harder than going, which is returning.

Neutral Milk Hotel - "In The Aeroplane Over the Sea"
You get to the end of the book and you want to stay inside all your people, physically inside them, and they were such a surprise, really, and you can't believe how much you love them and how strange it is to be anything at all and it's a very happy time, the least lonely you've ever felt.

Innocence Mission - "Somewhere a Star Shines for Everyone"
Because this would be nice.

Meg Howrey and The Wanderers links:

the author's website

Fort Worth Star-Telegram review
Kirkus Reviews review
LitReactor review
Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

Publishers Weekly interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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List of Online "Best Books of 2016" Lists

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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