Author Playlists

Jody Hobbs Hesler’s playlist for her story collection “What Makes You Think You’re Supposed to Feel Better”

“While I can’t claim musical expertise, I can speak to what moves me, and the songs that landed on my playlist moved me—and did so in a way that harmonized with the seventeen stories in What Makes You Think You’re Supposed to Feel Better.”

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.

Jody Hobbs Hesler’s What Makes You Think You’re Supposed to Feel Better is an empathetically drawn and deeply moving story collection.

Pamela Petro wrote of the book:

“This is a collection to be treasured, returned to, and remembered as a source of revelation.”

In her own words, here is Jody Hobbs Hesler’s Book Notes music playlist for her story collection What Makes You Think You’re Supposed to Feel Better:

Growing up, we had a ten-dollar piano that we heaved onto a construction dolly and rolled up the grassy hill from our neighbors who sold it to us. Bright red paint fading into oblivion and literally untune-able, it was a source of wonder when an occasional talented visitor charmed music out of it. In our single-mom household, we could afford the ten-dollar piano, but not lessons to go along with it. That didn’t stop me from goofing around on the keys and imagining that I might accidentally osmose musical genius.

I didn’t.

While I can’t claim musical expertise, I can speak to what moves me, and the songs that landed on my playlist moved me—and did so in a way that harmonized with the seventeen stories in What Makes You Think You’re Supposed to Feel Better. I’ve arranged the songs the way I’ve always arranged playlists, and the way I arranged the stories in my collection, which is by joining them at moments of distinct difference, highlighting shifts in style and texture while maintaining a compatible tone throughout.

Pretty Pimpin’ – Kurt Vile

One writer friend observed a tendency for my characters to learn about themselves as if from the outside, which resonated because writers are experts at seeing ourselves from the outside even when we belong on the inside. In this clever song, a man keeps running into, and not recognizing, himself, but, hey, his clothes are “pretty pimpin’.” Like, who the heck is he? But he’s cool. I love this playfulness, but if you go literal with it, it’s utter dissociation. In my opening story, Pearl looks at her house and family through the window of a dead man’s vacant house across the street. This macabre act marks the apex of her dissociation. Kurt Vile’s quirky perkiness here can lighten that mood.

Church – Gary Clark, Jr.

This song is the narrator’s prayer to be a better man. So many of my characters yearn to be better people. Poor broken Buckley, healing from a year in jail, desperately hopes he won’t repeat his mistakes. Irv wishes he were the man his dying wife deserves. Daggett’s failure to profess his feelings years before strangleholds his progress in life. Hapless billionaire Otto stumbles into one good day with his young adult daughter and fears he’ll never know how to be the right kind of father again. Any one of these men could claim this song for their anthem.

Walk a Mile – Holly Golightly

This one echoes “Pretty Pimpin’,” without its wit, because walking a mile in someone else’s shoes mandates stepping outside our own experience. The narrator here is asking someone specific, probably a lover, to step out of themselves to be able to see her better. Everyone in my book shares this unresolved craving for genuine connection. I think of Vanessa, who aches for closeness with her adult daughter. She knows her efforts are doomed but can’t understand why, and her lack of self-awareness guarantees they’ll drift farther apart. Perhaps if her daughter could see through her mother’s eyes, things would be different. 

Side of the Road – Lucinda Williams

The woman in this song also wants to step outside of herself, if only for a moment, to see what it would feel like to be alone. I love that she doesn’t resent the person she’s walking away from. Her need for solitude belongs entirely to herself. My character, Pearl, feels this bonedeep. This song must be on eternal loop in her mind’s soundtrack.

Outter Space – Alex Serra

Here’s a song celebrating hope and connection. The narrator serenades the listener, telling them they bring the power to heal even when they fail. My stories reckon with deep-hearted loneliness, but shafts of hope sneak in. When hope is present, it sounds like this song, and, when it’s absent, this song could roust it out of the shadows.

Gone Daddy Gone – Violent Femmes

This eerie predator narrator has a thing for teen girls. Several of my stories feature endangered girls and young women who have witnessed violence or are being groomed for it. Beverly, Dana, Jordie, Juliet, Leslie—they could all be the inspiration for the coy, cloying threat in these lyrics.

Jackie Wants a Black Eye – Dr. Dog

Dr. Dog brings a jaunty nostalgia to their songs, even when the subject isn’t so cheerful. This one is about people hurting. The first line points to domestic abuse, which characters face in two of my stories. The song dials toward hope, though, because it’s really about sharing these hurts, “swapping little pieces of our broken little hearts.” Sometimes we need vehicles to help us figure out how to share our hurts. This is what we turn to good stories, and good songs, to do.

It Sure Was Better Back Then – Steve Forbert

Nostalgia, nostalgia, nostalgia. None of my characters are former coal miners like this narrator, but many suffer the delusion that life before now was better than it was. Daggett, most of all, has defined his life around what he wanted in the past.

Swimming Pools – Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

The narrator here evokes the feel of childhood, with swimming pools and bee stings and bike rides. Several of my main characters are children in some kind of danger. I can picture Dana from the final story immersed in these childhood pursuits, but the story troubles her safety the way the music in this song troubles the innocence it sets up.

Mercy Now – Boy George (via Mary Gauthier)

It should be clear by now that every character in my book could use a little mercy. Some receive a dash of it. Others end their tales still wishing for it. Boy George’s crystal-clear voice delivers Mary Gauthier’s, and my characters’, plea for kindness in the world, beautifully and plaintively.

Wonderful Life – Katie Melua

Such a melancholy tune. You have to listen closely to hear how the narrator pairs longing and loveliness, over and over. Beauty and sadness. Maybe all art forms struggle to balance these essences. I hope my stories do.

For book & music links, themed playlists, a wrap-up of Largehearted Boy feature posts, and more, check out Largehearted Boy’s weekly newsletter.

Jody Hobbs Hesler is the author of What Makes You Think You’re Supposed to Feel Better (Cornerstone Press; October 15, 2023), and her debut novel, Without You Here is forthcoming from Flexible Press in November 2024. Jody teaches at WriterHouse, has written for many publications and literary journals, and reads for The Los Angeles Review. You can visit her online at

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