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September 5, 2008

Book Notes - Michael Kimball ("Dear Everybody")

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

Dear Everybody is a cleverly constructed book that balances pathos and humor exquisitely, and proves Michael Kimball to be a master storyteller.

Time Out New York wrote of the book:

"In addition to writing stunning prose, Kimball evocatively hints at entire physical and emotional worlds lying just behind his story’s surface. In many cases, the author’s verbal compression both amplifies and dampens the tragic clamor of Jonathon’s letters, which always stop short of becoming a litany of complaints."

In his own words, here is Michael Kimball's Book Notes essay for his novel, Dear Everybody:

In Dear Everybody, Jonathon Bender had something to say, but the world wouldn’t listen. That’s why he writes letters to everybody he has ever known—including his mother and father, his brother and other relatives, his childhood friends and neighbors, the Tooth Fairy, his classmates and teachers, his psychiatrists, his ex-girlfriends and his ex-wife, the state of Michigan, a television station, and a weather satellite. Taken together, these unsent letters tell the remarkable story of Jonathon’s life.

1. The Faint, Birth

Because it opens with this line: “In the beginning there was semen.” And one of Jonathon’s first letters in Dear Everybody is this:

Dear Mom and Dad,
Do you ever wish that the sperm and the egg that became me wasn’t me? I’m sure that you must have been expecting somebody else from all of that pleasure.

2. Animal Collective, Fireworks

Because this band has crazy strong rhythms and layer upon layer of sound that accumulates to make songs that pull you through a whole range of responses--you are swept up and transformed. Because Animal Collective is it’s own unique thing. And the song Fireworks because there used to be this scene in Dear Everybody where Jonathon, as a little boy, wakes up in the middle of 4th-of-July fireworks and thinks that a war has started.

3. Wolf Parade, You Are a Runner And I Am My Father’s Son

Because Jonathon is a runner—starting when he would run away from home as a little boy. And because Jonathon’s abusive father is unrelenting and inescapable.

4. Placebo, Meds
Because Brian Molko sings the line “Did you forget to take your meds?” over and over until it gets inside you and you ask yourself the same question. And because Jonathon Bender stops taking his medication at different points in the novel, which leads to some of the “complications” that are sung in Meds and all kinds of plot in Dear Everybody.

5. Stars, Set Yourself on Fire

Because one of the times that Jonathon stops taking his meds, he does so because he thinks he has set himself on fire:

Dear Dr. Adler:
That test that you asked me to take knew how I felt. I did feel blue. I did feel sad. I did feel bored most of the time. But here is what I need to know: When I feel happy, what color will that be? Because I know that the red pills were supposed to make me feel better. But I stopped taking them because they were red and they made the whole world blurry. Sometimes, I would start to shake even when I wasn’t afraid of anything. Other times, I couldn’t think or I didn’t know where I was. And one time, those red pills gave me red spots on my skin that made me feel prickly and hot. I thought that I had set myself on fire.

6. Wilderness, Beautiful Alarms

Because this song is heartbreaking and beautiful and you want to howl along with James Johnson in the same way that you might want to howl along with Jonathon Bender. Also, I listened to this song over and over, on iTunes repeat, while I was revising certain sections of Dear Everybody. I think it helped.

7. Sufjan Stevens, Holland

Because this is a beautiful love song to college love. Because it mentions Lake Michigan. Because Jonathon writes love letters to all his college girlfriends. Because it has these lines: “Fall in love and fall apart/Things will end before they start/…Lose our clothes in summer time/Lose ourselves to lose our minds.”

8. Viva Voce, Mixtape=Love

Because one of the found artifacts in Dear Everybody is a mixtape that Jonathon gives a college girlfriend. And because Dear Everybody is also made up of lots of other elements and documents--a novel written in the form of letters, diary entries, encyclopedia entries, conversations with various people, notes sent home from teachers, newspaper articles, psychological evaluations, weather reports, a missing person flyer, a eulogy, a last will and testament, and other fragments, which taken together tell the story of the short life of Jonathon Bender, weatherman.

9. Neutral Milk Hotel, Naomi

Because even though In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is an infinitely better album than On Avery Island, Naomi (from OAI) is another song that I listened to on iTunes repeat for hours while working on Dear Everybody. And because it’s plaintive and crazed and melodic all at the same time. And because it opens with these lines: “Your prettiness is seeping through/Out from the dress I took from you, so pretty/And my emptiness is swollen shut.” And because one of Jonathon’s letters to his ex-wife goes like this:

Dear Sara,
I used to walk around the house looking for things that you had left behind—clothes, a blow dryer, the pillow that you liked to sleep on—so that I would have an excuse to call you up and see you. But it wasn’t long before I couldn’t find anything else in the house that was yours. That’s when I started buying things that you used to use so that I could pretend that you had left them behind—your favorite shampoo, that hand lotion you used, blue jeans and shoes that were in your size. I didn’t mean to be so desperate.

10. Bon Iver, Skinny Love

Because it’s stripped down and intimate and also lush. Because Bon Iver’s voice is kind of unforgettable and because I taught myself to kind of sing like him even though I’m a really bad singer. Because it was written and recorded in isolation, somewhere in a cabin in the deep woods in Wisconsin. Because I love this album, every song on this album, and the way this whole album works together. Because all of the songs accumulate, all of the pieces in all of the songs accumulate, until they put you in a beautiful and melancholy stupor—and all you can do is feel what Bon Iver (actually, Justin Vernon) is doing.

Michael Kimball and Dear Everybody links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the author's Wikipedia entry
the author's MySpace page
the book's blog
the book's video trailer
excerpt from the book

Greenpoint Gazette review
NewPages review
Time Out New York review

Baltimore Examiner profile of the author
Urbanite interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)