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April 11, 2018

Jez Burrows' Playlist for His Short Story Collection "Dictionary Stories"

Dictionary Stories

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.

Jez Burrows' Dictionary Stories is an innovative collection of stories created from example sentences found in dictionaries.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Uproarious and ingenious… What sounds like mere novelty turns out to be a revelation in Burrows’s hands, as unlikely sentences generate even more unlikely narratives. Dictionary Stories is a joyful celebration of idiosyncrasy and invention."

In his own words, here is Jez Burrows' Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection Dictionary Stories:

Dictionary Stories is a collection of very short stories collaged together from other people's words, so it seems appropriate to describe it with other people's songs. According to my account, I listened to somewhere in the region of 12,000 tracks over the course of 2017—a year almost entirely swallowed up by work on this book. Here are just 10 out of those 12,000: songs I listened to while writing, songs that inspired stories, and songs that just happened to be playing at the right time.

Shugo Tokumaru — Lita-Ruta

Shugo Tokumaru's best songs sound like a toy chest in a tumble dryer and this one is no exception. Handclaps! Sax! Fuzz bass! Busted music boxes! Drums (from Greg Saunier of Deerhoof)! It's a work of elaborate collage in its own right, and if a day of writing ever went well, I usually ended up listening to this song on the walk home from my studio.

The Books — Take Time

I've been listening to The Books for over ten years and I still can't articulate how miraculous their music is to me. Literally speaking, they take found sound plundered from home videos, archival footage, self-help tapes and god knows what else, and weave it all into these stuttering, sweeping compositions of guitar, cello and bass. It's somehow both playful and poignant, familiar and alien, and when combined with the videos they also produce (here's Take Time), like actual magic. There's a good chance this book wouldn't exist without them.

Michael Nau — Good Moon

If I listened to "Lita-Ruta" when days went well, I listened to "Good Moon" when they didn't.

Labi Siffre — Cannock Chase

Mid-way through writing the book I flew to New York for a weekend to meet my editor and hang out with some lexicographers. I had just discovered Labi Siffre's Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying before I left and ended up listening to almost nothing else for the entire trip. Listening to it now, specifically this beautifully orchestrated shuffle of a song, reminds me of wandering alone through Manhattan feeling lucky and bewildered.

Keaton Henson — Petrichor

There's a story late in the book called "Rains," which combines as many example sentences as I could find that mentioned rain in some form. This drowsy, melancholy instrumental made for the perfect companion while writing.

WHY? — Fall Saddles

A couple of years ago I missed a call from a number I didn't recognise, and the caller left me a voicemail thinking I was somebody else. It felt a little intrusive listening to the message, but the recording was so moving and vulnerable that I couldn't stop listening. That call inspired an story early in the book ("You Have Five New Messages") but also made me realise there's something of a tradition of musicians sampling voicemail messages in songs. This WHY? track was the first one I thought of. The recording at the end is apparently a taped message Yoni Wolf's dad recorded for his mother following their breakup.

Paul Simon — 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Speaking of breakups, there's a ton of them in this book, most of them in "Fifty More Ways to Leave Your Lover," which is entirely self-explanatory.

The Mountain Goats — Have to Explode

Not a breakup song. In fact, very pointedly not a breakup song. "Have to Explode" is a song about being a part of something horribly destructive and choosing to stay that way. There's a fairly blatant Mountain Goats reference in the book somewhere (the absolute least I could do after years of being inspired by John Darnielle's writing), but I'll let you find it yourselves.

Tom Rosenthal — Run For Those Hills, Babe

Tom Rosenthal is a profoundly good egg who produces music at a dizzying frequency, all of it bracing, optimistic and playful. He's probably released four new songs in the time it took you to read these two sentences. We also recorded a video together for "Fifty More Ways to Leave Your Lover." Update: Five new songs.

Neko Case — Calling Cards

Completely unintentionally, this was the song playing when I hit Send on the final manuscript. No big fanfare, no bombast, just a twinkling, clear-eyed torch song.

Calexico / Iron & Wine — History of Lovers

Not to say I don't enjoy fanfares; I'm a huge sucker for a horn section. If it's possible to have a spirit instrument, mine would be as many trumpets, saxophones, and trombones as you can possibly imagine, all being blown skyward with maximum gusto. Mostly I just want to write something that does to people what the horns in this song do to me.

Tom Waits — Closing Time

There's a certain kind of song that I love, and it sounds like walking home late at night with a thoroughly respectable amount of booze in your bloodstream and no particular sense of urgency. "Closing Time" might be the best example—a Tom Waits song where Tom Waits never even opens his mouth; a dreamy agreement between piano, bass and muted trumpet. A story from the book ("A Walk") was a humble attempt to get this down in writing but I still think this song does a better job.

BONUS: Phil Smith — Blüte, Gerüst (Parts One and Two)

A man walks into a bar in Berlin on a sunny afternoon, sets his phone recording on the top of a piano and plays as customers and staff pass through. There are birds, car horns, drink orders. I listened to this on repeat for days and eventually the story "Chin Up" bubbled up to the surface. Thanks, Phil.

Jez Burrows and Dictionary Stories links:

the book's website

Kirkus review

Electric Literature interview with the author
Washington Post profile of 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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Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
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