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March 6, 2019

Nickolas Butler's Playlist for His Novel "Little Faith"

Little Faith

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

Nickolas Butler's Little Faith is a moving novel that explores faith and loss.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Breathtaking yet devastating.... Butler weaves questions surrounding faith, regret, and whether it’s possible to love unconditionally into every page of this potent book.... This is storytelling at its finest."

In his own words, here is Nickolas Butler's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Little Faith:

The Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin is a magical place and I live on the very cusp of that magic amidst the northernmost ridges of that ancient country. This part of the world was mostly steamrolled by glaciers, everything flattened: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan… But for some reason, The Driftless Area was spared and so, the landscape is all abrupt valleys, ridges, coulees, draws, cool and dark trout streams, and the dramatic Mississippi River Valley. It is a place of mystical bookstores housed in old tobacco warehouses, hippie co-ops, artistic small towns, great music, rushing trains, and abundant nature. It is also the setting for my most recent novel.

When I began imagining the world of Little Faith, I wanted everything in the book to be old and smooth. I wanted you to feel the atmosphere of the book like you were rubbing a river-stone in your pocket. I wanted the characters to be old and familiar, like grandparents – that feeling you get from being around a person who has lived a good long life - that comfort. And I wanted the setting to feel that way, too. Modest comfortable houses, old pickup trucks, ancient rivers, tired clothing, century-old churches, winding, curvy country roads…

Many of these songs are sprinkled throughout Little Faith providing a kind of soundtrack for the novel. One of the characters might reference a song, or hear a piece of some lyrics. I’ve always thought it was important for a reader to hear what they were reading: how a room sounds, what music is playing inside a tavern, how sounds moves inside the amphitheater of an abandoned quarry or inside a derelict movie theater.

I hope you enjoy this playlist.


Nickolas Butler
Cleghorn, Wisconsin
January 15th, 2019

My Sweet Lord – George Harrison

There’s a reason George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass on vinyl sells for upwards of $50 ($20 or more, used.) The album is a masterpiece, marked by this single which is so much more than its pleadingly earnest title. My family always chastises me when I throw this song on our turntable, but to me it’s such an ecstatic, honest, searching song. And Harrison is my favorite Beatle.

White Winter Hymnal – Fleet Foxes

For me, Fleet Foxes can do no wrong. They remind me of driving through rural Pennsylvania with my father as a very small child and listening to Crosby, Still, Nash, & Young. In a world full of so much discord, I find great relief in the harmony of this music.

Midnight Cowboy – Faith No More

If you were going to construct a soundtrack of what my teenage years sounded like, circa 1995-1998, there would be a whole lot of Faith No More playing. And when I was at my most broody, my most angsty, sulking self, this song was a favorite. But of course it is a timeless movie theme that reminds us of friendship and of hard-times, too.

Comfort Me – Feist

Feist is my hero. Come back to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Feist – please.

After Midnight – JJ Cale

My favorite song for hot nights in Wisconsin, drinking cheap, cold American macro-brews. You listen to JJ Cale and you hear the soundtrack of small-town Wisconsin bars. Enter through a screened-in door, hear the billiards balls pop, the murmuring of voices, the TV on low broadcasting a meaningless baseball game, the neons humming…

The Heart of Saturday Night – Tom Waits

American culture these days celebrates the city and portrays almost every small town as a backward place with dark, horrible secrets… But it wasn’t always that way. Tom Waits is a good example. Growing up listening to Waits made me feel proud to be from a small place in Wisconsin. He is the kind of American poet who celebrated everywhere, and I’ve always felt close to his music.

Today – Jefferson Airplane

A friend of mine reminded me of this song which is so heartbreaking and beautiful. Another friend pointed out that Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow was the artistic achievement all other rock bands at the time were reaching for.

Can’t Find My Way Home – Steve Winwood

A friend posted a YouTube video of Winwood playing this song solo, beside a crackling fireplace. I’ve been hooked ever since. Winwood was a near constant background voice for me in the 1980s, but I love his early stuff even more, of course. Teamed with Clapton and Ginger Baker among others, Winwood is a kind of rock-god.

Sweet Thing – Van Morrison

I listened to this song on repeat for many, many sessions while writing Little Faith. It is a difficult thing to achieve – how to make a piece of art that displays the wonder of youth, with the ache and weight of time and perspective. Sweet Thing melds the two perfectly.

Pass in Time – Beth Orton

Beth Orton’s Central Reservation is one of my Top-Ten-Desert-Island albums. And this song is the coup-de-grace.

Nickolas Butler and Little Faith links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Library Journal review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Publishers Weekly review

KMUW interview with the author
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel profile of the author
Volume One interview with the author
WUWM 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

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
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guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
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Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists

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