Author Playlists

Farah Ali’s playlist for her novel “The River, The Town”

“As I wrote The River, The Town, a list of songs grew that I listened to sometimes whenever I sat down to finishing the novel.”

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.

Farah Ali’s The River, The Town is an unforgettable work of climate fiction and an auspicious debut novel.

Chaya Bhuvaneswar wrote of the book:

“Told in spare, lovely prose, The River, The Town, tautly and magnetically juxtaposes climate-induced poverty with fraught family relationships. Ali’s portrayal of Meena, Baadal and Raheela at different stages of their lives, probing compassionately into memories, dreams, overheard conversations, will stay with you long after the last page. A must for any reader interested in the human impact of climate-induced scarcity and sustained hope.”

In her own words, here is Farah Ali’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel The River, The Town:

As I wrote The River, The Town, a list of songs grew that I listened to sometimes whenever I sat down to finishing the novel. They relate to themes of longing or of wanting something better. Sometimes, though, they got added to my playlist to help me through a difficult time as I was writing the book.

1.  AIR – “Photograph”

I like the extreme moodiness in this track, which is the only one by this band that I have heard. There is so much longing in the low-toned simple lyrics. Longing is what every character feels in The River, The Town – for friendship, for companionship, for better circumstances.

2. REM – “E-Bow the Letter”

Michael Stipe wrote this song in the memory of River Phoenix after he passed away. I like watching videos of Stipe singing it live with Patti Smith, with whom he’d originally recorded it. He has also sung it live with Thom Yorke. I believe these are two friends he cares deeply for and that is evident in the way he looks at them on the stage, as if together with the words and his voice he is telling them, “Your presence here matters to me.” Care among people is what my novel centers. The people are the members of a small family as they live and pass on generational troubles and ambitions. Everything about this song, its studio recording and its live performances, are about care to me.

3. Television – “Marquee Moon”

The album is a work of genius. The track that I listened to over and over again though, for some time, was the title track, Marquee Moon. I love that the song stretches past the 10-minute mark. It became something to get lost in while I wrote, especially in the weeks after my father passed away. I remember flying back to Karachi shortly after his death, for a wedding and for my mother, playing the entire track in my head at least two times as I waited for my luggage at the carousel.

4. Joy Division – “Transmission”

I don’t think I can ever write eloquently about Ian Curtis. But in these few lines I’ll just say that the first time I heard Joy Division I had to stop what I was doing. Curtis’s voice and the words, everything, went deep into my bones. So much of their music are the background to my novel. The bleak realizations in “Transmission” coupled with Curtis’s near-frenzied vocals toward the end are the emotional landscape of my novel in a nutshell.

5. Slowdive – “Richard

I did not know the term shoegaze existed until I heard Slowdive. I love that their voices are strong while fuzzed out. “Richard” to my ears is a beautiful song. The poetry is beautiful, full of want and hurt, which resonated with me as I wrote the lives of the characters. Slowdive never released this track.

6. Radiohead – “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”

I listened to a lot of Radiohead’s recording of their “From the Basement” session. “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” is about getting out, about escaping – the mood of it fit so well with the mood of the people in this novel.

7. Noori and Saieen Zahoor – “Aik Alif”

The words of this are the poetry of Bulleh Shah, arrest me with their simple call to become aware of what matters in this temporary world. This is connected to faith, which is a big part of the Townspeople’s lives.  

8. Ali Hamza and Ali Noor – “Hor Vi Neevan Ho”

This is the poetry of Shah Hussain who lived in the 16th century in Punjab. Another call to humbleness, put to song beautifully by Ali Hamza and Ali Noor. Humbleness is what some of the Townspeople in the book, those that go to the river, are trying to strive for as a means to improving their situation.

9. Natasha Baig with Fareed Ayaz Abu Muhammad Qawwal & Brothers – “Shikwa Jawab-e-Shikwa”

The words of this are from the poem by Iqbal of the same name. The first part is a complainant speaking to God about feeling like they and the world has been wronged; the second part is as if God is answering the complainant, reminding them about how loved they are. The people in the novel as well sometimes think about their relationships with God.

10. Reignwolf – “Son of a Gun”

Jordan Cook has such a beautiful voice, and when he uses it for the words here, which are about being stuck in a place/state of mind, the result is wonderful. The urge to get out in this song is what makes this song resonate with Baadal’s character.

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

Farah Ali grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, and currently lives in London. Her work has been anthologized in the 2020 Pushcart Prize and received special mention in the 2018 Pushcart anthology. Her debut story collection PEOPLE WANT TO LIVE published with McSweeney’s Books on October 26th, and includes new stories and some previously published in VQR, Shenandoah, The Arkansas International, MQR, The Southern Review, Kenyon Review, Copper Nickel, and others. Learn more about her at

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