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April 5, 2017

Book Notes - Bethany Ball "What To Do About The Solomons"

What To Do About The Solomons

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.

Bethany Ball's debut is a stunning multigenerational novel cunningly told from multiple perspectives.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Ball, with great humor, profound wit, and notable insight, vividly captures a singular family...This novel from a most promising writer has been compared to the work of Isaac B. Singer and Grace Paley, as well as Nathan Englander and Jennifer Egan. Try Eudora Welty with sex and Jews."

In her own words, here is Bethany Ball's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel What To Do About The Solomons:

I don't listen to music when I write, but when I'm not writing I'm almost always listening to music. I'm certain that all the main characters of my book What To Do About The Solomons are all also music lovers.

"Everybody Daylight" by Brightblack Morning Light
I discovered this in a hipster motel in the Catskills. I'd was there finishing up edits of my book, What To Do About The Solomons. There was no desk in the room, or air conditioning, so I spent a day and early evening out on the picnic table listening to Brightback Morning Light. This album is perfect background music for writing, editing, yoga, staring into space, sex. So quiet, it's mesmerizing. Maybe this is what Shira listens to at her ex's apartment in Los Angeles.

"Homesickness" by Ethiopian singer Emahoy Tseque and Maryam Guebrou

I defy you to listen to this song and not feel some kind of longing. I can imagine that my Algerian matriarch Vivienne was quite worldly in the fifties and was stealing away to record shops in Jerusalem, or maybe Paris with her husband Yakov and finding hot new Jazz records.

"Death of Disco Dancer" by the Smiths from the album Strangeways Here We Come
One of my favorite songs of high school. That song that filled me with longing, comforted me from all my meaningless/meaningful teen angst. I like to imagine this song was a part of my American character Carolyn's childhood. She was an artist and probably wore a lot of black in high school.

"Azawade" by the Toure-Reichel Project
A couple of years ago I saw Idan Reichel in concert. An Israeli kibbutznik who has become a global sensation, his songs are a hybrid of Hebrew, Arab and Ethiopian melodies and instruments. A few years ago he put out an album with the Malian singer Vieux Farka Toure called The Tel Aviv Sessions. "Azawade" is one of my favorite tracks from that album and I like to imagine the kibbutzniks in my book smoking grass mixed with tobacco, and grooving out to the song "Azawade."

A Creature I Don't Know by Laura Marling
Laura Marling is known for being the ex girlfriend of Marcus Mumford, a band I dislike to equal proportion to how much I love Marling. Her folksy music is sophisticated. Her songs are journeys, circling satisfyingly around melody and themes. Each song is a short story.

"Who By Fire" by Leonard Cohen from the album Live in London
If I were going to give a songwriter the Nobel, it would have been him, but his fame was always quieter than Dylan's. I like to imagine my character Marc is a Leonard Cohen man and in the grips of his personal tragedy, he's got this song on repeat.

"Rebel Girl" by Bikini Kill
Like Debbie Harry, my character Maya is beautiful, strange, artistic and rebellious. In my book she's listening to a German punk song called "Selbstmord Schlampe H√ľndchen" but I'll bet she listened to a lot of Bikini Kill in her time. I know I have.

"Walk Up" by Meklit Hadero
Born in Ethiopia and based in San Francisco, this track is what I listen to when I need quiet fortification. I would play it for my character, the heavily pregnant Maya, as she walks the beaches of Tel Aviv. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "She sings of fragility, hope and self-empowerment, and exudes all three. A beautiful voice, beautiful melodies, lyrical poetry and a strange magical rhythm."

Akibar by Afel Boucoum
I had an ex boyfriend in my twenties who had a tiny apartment filled with CDs and LPs and he played the most extraordinary music. From African Head Charge to Sun Ra (who we saw together in concert, although we broke up that night) to my favorite, the griots of Mali. I've listened to Ali Farka Toure-mentored Afel Bocoum's record Akibar thousands of times. The rhythm and melodies of popping steel string guitars, the mix of blues and traditional Malian melodies are rich and meditative. Akibar was recorded on the banks of a river and you can hear the organic improvisational quality in the music.

Weight of Love by the Black Keys
In college my favorite Detroit band was Jason McCauley Berry and the All Night Fish Market. They used to rehearse in my dorm room and the drummer was my boyfriend and then ex boyfriend. Jason was the songwriter and I always used to say his songs were the soundtrack for my personal landscape. Kids who loved music in the Eighties listened to a lot of what they called Classic Rock: Frampton, The Who, the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, funk and blues. We spent a lot of time sneaking into blues bars and drinking beer at Detroit's Blues Festivals. To me, the guitar sound on Weight of Love captures that Detroit early to mid nineties' psychedelic blues sound. Although Carolyn is not a Detroiter, I like to think she went to school in Ann Arbor and saw a lot of Detroit bands, including the All Night Fish Market. She probably still listens to the Black Keys.

Bethany Ball and What To Do About The Solomons links:

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

Publishers Weekly review

Kveller interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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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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