Author Playlists

Chana Porter’s Playlist for Her Novel “The Thick and the Lean”

“My new novel has been called a startling fable of the entwined perils of capitalism, body politics, and the stigmas women face for appetites of every kind. Inspired by these themes, here is my curated playlist filled with food, sex, and lots of longing.”

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, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Chana Porter’s novel The Thick and the Lean is a powerful and viscerally told feminist fable.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

“Porter’s sensual descriptions of even the simplest foods, inspired foraging, and creative cookery will resonate with those who love foodie fiction, while her visceral and blatant expressions of body, racial, and class stigma and fetishism give her allegory a heavy punch.”

In her own words, here is Chana Porter’s Book Notes music playlist for her novella The Thick and the Lean:

In The Thick and The Lean, abstaining from food brings you closer to God. My new novel has been called a startling fable of the entwined perils of capitalism, body politics, and the stigmas women face for appetites of every kind. Inspired by these themes, here is my curated playlist filled with food, sex, and lots of longing. Enjoy!

Anti-Hero by Taylor Swift

“Sometimes I feel like everyone around me is a sexy baby, and I’m the monster on the hill.”

A body dysmorphia anthem which shook my little corner of the internet when, in the video, Taylor is confronted by her double and made to get on the scale. Instead of a number, the scale calculates her as FAT. This prompted an interesting conversation in social media. Body acceptance activists have been long trying to unstick the shame from the word fat, and use it as a neutral descriptor, not a feeling or a slur. Taylor listened to the critique and an updated version of the video came out in which her double still makes her get on the scale, but the word FAT is nowhere to be seen. Also, it’s a bop.

Brown Rice by Don Cherry

The title track of one of my favorite records of all time. Ecstatic and seeking, Don Cherry says he wrote this during a period when he was living on brown rice, particularly to connect to those around the world who are hungry. Others have suggested it’s about drugs. Monastic or excessive, who can say? Feels apt for the opening cult scenes of The Thick and The Lean, as the community of Seagate finds their connection to God through restraint. I also love to cook to this album. The way he sings “miso” gets me every time.

Watermelon Sugar by Harry Styles

A great song about food that’s really about sex! “I just wanna taste you” Enough said, we get it.

Vegetables by The Beach Boys

The prize for cutest munching of celery on a recording! And fun fact, it’s Paul McCartney snacking in the studio booth. Legend has it Brian Wilson was getting into fitness and organic eating and wanted to share that with the world in a silly way. But (are you sensing a theme) this could also be about drugs.

Strawberry Letter Number 23 by Shuggie Otis

Despite fruit in the title, this is not really about food but a classic love song. I think it really captures that young love feeling, when everything in the world feels glossy and new. Both of my main characters, Beatrice and Reiko, fall in love for the first time in the novel. Strawberry Letter Number 23, with its glittery orchestration and lyrics about finding beauty in the natural world, creates an expansive, oh so hopeful feeling. Produced by Quincy Jones!

I Am Very Far by Amanaz

“I am very, very far to get rich”

From the 1975 record “Africa” from Zambia, this album was reissued in 2010 when lead singer Kabwe had retired from music and became a farmer. Class mobility and social stratification are huge themes in the book, as well as the struggle between Big Agriculture and independent farms. If you love The Velvet Underground, listen to this whole record. It’s special.

Lazy Line Painter Jane by Belle and Sebastian

From the band’s second EP, recorded in a church with guest vocalist Monica Queen, the lyrics have captured my imagination for 20 years. And that bass line is so propulsive! B&S met at art school in Glasgow, and my main character Reiko is also an art student drop-out. I see this as one of her theme songs.

I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend by Ezra Furman

Ezra is a such a great songwriter. She creates these little worlds in three minutes with such raw longing in her voice. The stripped-down pining of the electric guitar feels very appropriate for the world of the novel.

Tunic (Song For Karen) by Sonic Youth

Very moving song imagining Karen Carpenter in heaven, who died from anorexia at 32. A naturally gifted musician, the lore goes that Karen pointed to a drum set as a teenager and said “Can I play this?” A year later, she was performing complex patterns. When the Carpenters rose to fame, she was placed in front as the lead singer, even though she wanted to be behind the drum kit. Would Karen still be alive if she was allowed to be the drummer?

Superstar by The Carpenters

My favorite Carpenters song. Justin Vivian Bond does an amazing mash-up on her album Dendrophile of Superstar and Joan Baez’s epic Diamonds and Rust.

Prettiest Thing by SAN CHA

In a book that deals so much with body image, this song was an obvious choice. I was lucky to meet SAN CHA in Los Angeles and be introduced to her music. She’s a rising star to watch.

Limón y Sal by Julieta Venegas

A love song more than a food song, a classic that my step-kids love singing along to in the car.

These next three picks are all food mentions from musicians that I adore:

Chicken Teriyaki by Rosalia

Hailing from Spain, I think Rosalia is one of the most exciting musicians recording today. Run to listen to her if you haven’t!

Maximum Consumption by The Kinks

“Don’t you know that you gotta eat food”

One day, I’ll play drums in a Kinks cover band. Then, I will be in my peak Dad mode, and that will be pretty great.

Ham n’ Eggs by Tribe Called Quest

“I don’t eat no ham n’ eggs cause they’re high in cholesterol—bridge!” What a vibe.

Two selections more about cultivating your own life outside of societal expectations:

Appletree by Erykah Badu

“I’m planting seeds, so I reaps what I sow.”

A truly dreamy live version from one of my favorites.

Spanish Pipedream by John Prine

“Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches, try to find Jesus on your own”

To close, two songs without lyrics:

Beatrice by Sam Rivers

I had to include this pretty ode to one of my main characters. When I write, I mostly listen to music without lyrics (or with lyrics in a language I don’t understand.)

The Plum Blossom by Yusef Lateef

It’s a plum tree that opens Beatrice’s senses early in the novel, seducing her into the beauty of the natural world. A gorgeous offering from the great Yusef Lateef off Eastern Sounds.

Chana Porter is a theater artist, teacher, MacDowell fellow, and cofounder of The Octavia Project, a STEM and writing program for girls and trans and non-binary youth which uses speculative fiction to envision greater possibilities for our world. She lives in Los Angeles, California. Pronouns: she/they

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