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May 9, 2007

Book Notes - Gayle Brandeis ("Self Storage")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Self Storage is a novel that seemlessly blends social and political consciousness in an engaging narrative, truly one of the best books I have read all year.

Preview or download this playlist at iTunes

In her own words, here is Gayle Brandeis's Book Notes essay for her novel, Self Storage:

As an author, I try to keep my expectations low. I don't let myself fantasize about bestseller lists or movie deals or interviews on the Daily Show. I tell myself this is so I can keep my focus on the work itself, but I imagine it's mostly to avoid disappointment.

In Self Storage, Flan finds a box at a self storage auction that is empty except for the word Yes; this sends her on a quest to figure out what makes her say Yes in her own life. I don't let myself admit this very often, but of course I would love for someone to turn Self Storage into a movie. That would be a very big Yes indeed. So I'm going to indulge myself here and cast the movie and give it a soundtrack. I know Flan would approve.

Maggie Gyllenhaal would make a great Flan—I think she could capture her mix of idealism and bewilderment perfectly. Her real life partner Peter Saasgaard would be wonderful as Shae, Flan's husband, a kind of scruffy PhD candidate who spends all his time watching soap operas instead of working on his dissertation. Patricia Clarkson would be a fabulous Julia, the artist who leaves the Yes box in the storage unit while she's trying to figure out whether or not to become a Buddhist nun. Flan's Afghan neighbor Sodaba is in a burqa the entire time (except for one moment where she lifts the veil and Flan gets a glimpse of her cheek) and she barely speaks even though she's integral to the plot, so whoever gets the role wouldn't be very visible, but I would love for an Afghan performer such as Niloufar Pazira to play her.

Now I'm going to be Really indulgent, and choose a Talking Heads-heavy soundtrack. The Talking Heads were the soundtrack for my late teens, early twenties. I discovered them during a yearbook meeting my junior year of high school when someone (maybe Liz Phair, who was the photography editor) put Speaking in Tongues on the record player. Music had never made me so happy before, and their work still makes me happier than any other music today. A definite Yes in my life. I'll round out the soundtrack—also indulgently—with local musicians. Self Storage is set in my town, Riverside, California, and I know a lot of great musicians here, so why not give them props?

These are the songs I would pick...

Naive Melody (This Must Be the Place), Talking Heads

My favorite song in the world. Flan would definitely resonate with the desire for home, and it would be a great song to open the movie. In fact, if all my books were made into movies, I'd want this song to be in every single one of them. When I saw David Byrne perform this in concert with Arcade Fire a few yeas ago, I sobbed and sobbed.

Take Me to the River, Talking Heads

Riverside doesn't have much of a river, so this would be a fun, ironic song to include.

Busted and Worried, Old Brown Shoe (

This two-guitars-and-a-stand-up-bass trio (which includes my husband—I figure nepotism is alive and well in the movie industry) mostly plays brother duets from the 30s and 40s, but this is an original. It captures the money woes of Flan, her storage auction cronies, and her neighbors in family student housing.

Life During Wartime, Talking Heads

Self Storage takes place in 2002; the war in Afghanistan is underway, and Bush is ramping up for war in Iraq. This song fits the times all too well.

Dirty Dani, Jeprocket (

These guys are uber-young but their sound has a psychedelic 60s vibe. The refrain “Listen to your teacher” is something Flan would love to tell her husband.

Stay Up Late, Talking Heads

Parental responsibility or lack thereof is a big theme in the book (Flan has two little kids) and this song about waking up a baby to play with him all night fits with Flan's parenting style.

Don't Work So Well, Bucksworth (

Full disclosure: my husband used to be in this band, too, but he's not on this particular track. The song celebrates/bemoans things you buy at yard sales or discount stores that are cheap but may not work so well; this definitely speaks to some of the items you can find in storage auctions.

Once in a Lifetime, Talking Heads

Flan would surely relate to all the questions David Byrne asks in this song, especially “My God! What have I done?”

Bubble Wrap Dress, Shoppy (

Self Storage examines how clothes—whether burqas or red Converse shoes—can define us and confine us (and intrigue us—just like a bubble wrap dress).

Burning Down the House, Taking Heads

What better accompaniment to the fire in Flan's neighborhood?

Road to Nowhere, Talking Heads

I don't want to give too much away, but this would be perfect for the ending, for launching into the unknown.

Gayle Brandeis and Self Storage links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the author @ MySpace
the book @ MySpace

NPR profile of the author
Conversations with Famous Writers interview with the author
Absolute Write interview with the author
Literary Mama interview with the author

reviews of Self Storage:

New York Times
San Francisco Chronicle
more reviews

see also:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)