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February 14, 2018

Book Notes - Michael Nye "All the Castles Burned"

All the Castles Burned

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

Michael Nye's dark and captivating coming-of-age novel All the Castles Burned is an impressive debut.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"This is a coming-of-age story with mysterious twists, a sports buddy novel that is surprisingly sensitive, and a novel of manners contrasting the aspirations of a dysfunctional middle-class family in 1990s Cincinnati with the over-the-top wealth of another dysfunctional family. It is both an appealing read and an introspective examination of the turbulence of male adolescence. Just as Nye's characters are glued to the O.J. Simpson trial, readers won't want to look away."

In his own words, here is Michael Nye's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel All the Castles Burned:

Marriage in the '80s, Teenagers in the '90s, and an Author with Terrible Taste

I've broken the playlist for my novel All the Castles Burned into three sections. My debut novel is a semi-autobiographical novel about prep school boys in the 1990s, the early years of which were the golden era of hip-hop. What the two friends, Owen and Carson, would have listened to are familiar to me but not necessarily what I would have listened to; same, too, for Owen's parents. The musical taste of my characters are as complex and multilayered as (I hope) their personalities, and I'm sure there is a sonic thread running through these three sections that I can feel but can't quite articulate. Hopefully by listening, you'll feel it, too.

I've failed to come up with something interesting to say about each and every song here, though it's not for a lack of trying. Some songs I can write about for pages; others, all I have to say is "Well, I like that one!" When I'm writing fiction, I generally prefer to listen to music without any words; I've highlighted a few of my favorite songs from albums that I've listened to on repeat, over and over again, for the many years it took me to write this book (and the failed novels before it). But on occasion, my writing time needs words, and the below songs with lyrics in the final section have hypnotized me in one way or the other.

A brief note about the last song on this list. After leaving Ohio when I graduated from college almost eighteen years ago, I just moved back last year. My wife and I make our home in Columbus, where we plan on being for a long time. This song by Stalley, which is how I first discovered the Massillon (a small town near Cleveland) rapper, is the perfect celebratory song, as breezy and beautiful as a late-night drive through the Midwest.

Joseph and Cheryl Webb

In 1994, Owen Webb, the novel's protagonists, has two parents who are in their 30s. The music of their '70s youth morphs into disco, punk rock, pop, and something called "adult contemporary" as they settle into their disappointing adulthoods. I imagined Joseph finding something to love in the solo efforts of The Eagles band members; both Joseph and Cheri would be loath to give up records they no longer listened to; both were content to flip through FM radio; both pick up a cassette tape now and again only on a nostalgic whiff of unhappiness. They listen to a lot of WEBN, the famous hard rock station in Cincinnati that on Sunday mornings used to play, unironically, classical music.

"Midnight Special" by Creedence Clearwater (1969)
"Riders on the Storm" by The Doors (1971)
"Rocks Off" by The Rolling Stones (1972)
"Four Sticks" by Led Zeppelin (1974)
"The Chain" by Fleetwood Mac (1977)
"Sheep" by Pink Floyd (1977)
"Ride Like the Wind" by Christopher Cross (1979)
"You Belong to the City" by Glenn Frey (1985)
"Circle in the Sand" by Belinda Carlisle (1987)
"Shangri-La" by Don Henley (1991)

Owen and Carson

The boys in my novel grew up as basketball-playing, white suburban kids, and nothing grabbed that demographic quite like the hip-hop era that shifted away from its political roots to the gangster image that blew up with the release of Straight Outta Compton in 1988. In the '90s, the popularity of Snoop and Dre was overwhelming, but I always imagined Carson as being a bit pretentious and picky about the music he listened to, someone determined to show off that he was "real" by gravitating toward hardcore hip-hop that white kids bought from the mall. The inauthentic are always obsessed with proving their authenticity.

"Welcome to the Ghetto" by Spice 1 (1992)
"Zoom Zooms and Wam Wams" by Jayo Felony (1994)
"Wicked" by Ice Cube (1994)
"Guns N Roses" by M.O.P. (1994)
"No Surrender" by Bone Thugs N' Harmony (1994)
"I Got 5 On It" by Luniz (1995)
"Heads Ain't Ready" by Black Moon and Smif-N-Wessun (1995)
"On Top of the World" by Eightball & MJG (1995)
"Do What I Feel" by Tha Dogg Pound (1995)
"2 of America's Most Wanted" by Tupac Shakur (1996)

Michael Nye

I have completely failed to come up with something interesting to say about each and every song here. Generally speaking, I prefer to listen to music without any words; I've highlighted a few of my favorite songs from albums that I've listened to on repeat, over and over again, for the many years it took me to right this book (and the failed novels before it). But I occasionally need words, and the below songs with lyrics have hypnotized me in one way or the other. Once, I listened to "King Push" on loop for an entire afternoon of novel writing.

"So What" by Miles Davis (1959. oe 1957). The truth is I listen to the entire album, Kind of Blue, all the time.
"A Love Supreme" by John Coltrane (1964)
"Time is the Enemy" by Quantic (2001)
"The Time We Lost Our Way" by Thievery Corporation ft. Loulou (2005)
"Aly, Walk With Me" by The Raveonettes (2007)
"Take Out" by The Sound Defects (2008)
"Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" by Low Roar (2011)
"Midnight City" by M83 (2011)
"King Push" by Pusha-T (2015)
"Spaceships & Woodgrain" by Stalley (2015)

Michael Nye and All the Castles Burned links:

video trailer for the book

Foreword review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

Electric Literature 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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