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May 30, 2017

Book Notes - Val Emmich "The Reminders"

The Reminders

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.

Val Emmich's novel The Reminders is a heartfelt and compelling debut.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"Emmich captures the voices of Joan and Gavin, two such different characters, brilliantly. Actor and musician Emmich (Vinyl; Ugly Betty; 30 Rock) can confidently add "novelist" to his list of achievements. He has written a quirky, touching, and addictive read."

In his own words, here is Val Emmich's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel The Reminders:

In The Reminders, ten-year-old Joan uses her uncanny memory to help Gavin shed light on the final days of his partner Sydney's life.

When I'm writing prose, the music I listen to falls into two categories: songs that fuel the writing and songs that inform the writing. These are imprecise distinctions, but it's the best I've come up with.

While in the act of writing, I'm trying to ignore the very things I've spent my entire career as a singer-songwriter paying attention to—musicality and lyrics. I'm hoping just to lose myself in a mood, energy or feeling that matches whatever the book is trying to be.

When I'm not physically at my computer typing out words, I listen to music differently. I'm absorbing lyrics how my characters might. I'm isolating lines that highlight a sentiment I haven't found a way to communicate. I'm saying to myself, "I want the book to feel like this song feels."

This list is a combination of those two types of songs.

"Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" by The National

This song just moves me. I was wary of using it to aid my writing. I didn't want to ruin it for myself by playing it too often. But in order to get inside Gavin's emotional state I needed the help of some strong stuff.

"Where Do I Begin" by Wilco

Jeff Tweedy sings "from where we end to where do I begin." It feels like that sentence desires punctuation but doesn't know where to put it. Every end is a beginning, on and on and on. From "we" to "I"—the transition can cause whiplash. Wilco mimics that abrupt change with the music, taking the song from a quiet ballad to a drum-heavy, backwards playing, psychedelic crescendo. I hear hope in the confusion. I picture a caterpillar-turned-butterfly breaking from its cocoon.

"Home" by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

A duet. The Reminders is a duet. "Home is wherever I'm with you." When Sydney passes, Gavin isn't sure where home is anymore.

"(There's) Always Something There To Remind Me" by Dionne Warwick

Reminders can be both comforting and torturous. This song sounds like a celebration: "I was born to love you." And also a trap: "I will never be free. You'll always be a part of me."

"Thumbing My Way" by Pearl Jam

I've been a Pearl Jam fan since I was in high school and even though I haven't felt a strong connection to their music in recent years, I still keep tabs on what they're up to. This is one of their best songs from the latter part of their career. When the protagonist of the song tries to find optimism, he fails: "No matter how cold the winter, there's a springtime ahead. I smile, but who am I kidding?"

"I Know It's True" by Ben Talmi

I'd often write to this song. Every time it started up, it triggered an innocence in me. Ben Talmi almost sounds like a child when he sings. Somehow that—along with the lush and colorful sonic landscape—coaxed me into the mindset of my young protagonist.

"Water" by Ra Ra Riot

After my book was sold and I was finishing up the last edit, I started feeling tremendous anxiety about what I had made. Fatherhood made me softer and that softness found its way into the book and I started worrying that that might leave me susceptible to poking. There's a line that repeats in the song: "Don't punish me for what I feel." It's become a kind of mantra. At the end of the day, if we're not doing something with our art that feels daring, why are we even bothering? On the last chorus, Wes Miles seemingly pushes his voice as high as it'll get, just going for it. "So I crawled out of the back door, took off all these tight clothes, jumped into the water." That's what I tried to do with this book. I stripped and jumped. I hope I don't drown.

"Don't Let Me Down" by The Beatles

Joan and her father are obsessed with the Beatles (especially John Lennon), as am I. This has always been one of my favorite songs of theirs. The refrain is shaped like a command, but really it's a request. Don't Let Me Down was the original title of my novel. Joan doesn't want to be let down by the world—she wants to be remembered. Gavin doesn't want to be let down by the man he loved. Maybe it sums us all up. Lennon was good like that.

"Convince Me" by Val Emmich

Have you heard of this Val Emmich guy? Total hack, but he does have a few decent songs. Okay, I feel silly listing one of my own tunes, but it just so happens that this song really does capture the heart of the book. It's a duet I did with Allie Moss (she's great, check her out!). The song is a conversation between a realist and a dreamer who are trying to convince each other that their own outlook is the right one. The same battle of perspective occurs in the book with Gavin and Joan. I wrote the song in 2009. I guess I'm still unconvinced as to who is right.

Val Emmich and The Reminders links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
video trailer for the book
EP by the author inspired by the book

Kirkus review

Jersey Journal profile of the author
Weekend Edition 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)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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