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February 26, 2009

Book Notes - Lauren Groff ("Delicate Edible Birds")

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

Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton was one of my favorite novels of 2008, and I eagerly anticipated her debut collection of short fiction, Delicate Edible Birds. This collection surprised me, I had been impressed with many of these stories in assorted literary journals, but never associated them with Groff (I have short story author aphasia, until an author has published a book I have read, I easily remember the story but somehow disassociate the authors' name).

These nine stories showcase Groff's estimable literary talent, each story fully-formed and novella-like on its own.

The Denver Post wrote of the collection:

"'Delicate Edible Birds' is an assemblage of memorable characters and situations that don't easily fade. Groff's eye and heart are keen, her ability to translate situations for the reader keener."

In her own words, here is Lauren Groff's Book Notes essay for her short story collection, Delicate Edible Birds:

When I was thinking of a playlist for Delicate Edible Birds, my new collection of nine short stories, I kept running up against some pretty big roadblocks. Because most of these stories took years to write, the entire soundtrack to the writing of the book would be hundreds of songs long--so, impossible to replicate here. If I matched the stories directly to the songs that best expressed the feeling I was trying to encapsulate, it would be a playlist composed entirely of Sigur Ros, because they're the best at hitting those same emotional chords in me. And, because each story is very different in style and matter, I was afraid of creating a list that didn't mesh the way I hope my book does. In the end, though, I threw up my hands and just chose the songs that most closely matched both the subject of the story and the feeling I was trying to express (succumbing at times to the desire to play with the word "bird") and ended up with a playlist that surprised me. I dig it. I hope you will, too.

Another thing I dig: beer. If you were to say "Michael Jackson" to me without accompanying the name with a moonwalk or falsetto fillip, I'd be more apt to think "bearded brewster" than "sad bleached man." I once interned in a brewery. I think there are as many fine beers in the world as there are fine wines, and it is usually much cheaper to drink a bottle of beer a night than it is to drink a comparably delicious bottle of wine. So, in these dark times of fiscal uncertainty, and the interest of stretching out your entertainment dollars, I've accompanied the story/song pairing with a wondrous beer (I have a fondness for spicy Belgians).

Nine stories, nine songs, nine beers: if you spread the whole shebang over the course of nine nights, you may still have enough money out of your entertainment budget to buy more books, thereby doing your own heroic bit to prop up the publishing business.

Story: Lucky Chow Fun. A story set in Templeton, home of my novel, The Monsters of Templeton, and a mirror of Cooperstown, my hometown. The collision of Lollie, a high school swimmer; the Lucky Chow Fun, a Chinese restaurant; and a little girl named Pot who loves birds.
Song: I Sing I Swim by Seabear. This song is light and lovely and about swimming and reminds me of the best part of high school (the part when I forgot I was a dork and enjoyed myself).
Beer: Hennepin. A gorgeous ale brewed by Brewery Ommegang, located just outside of Cooperstown, and where I interned. A spicy, balanced Saison-style blonde. Buy it in the 750-ml bottle (supercheap in Cooperstown, but should be under 8 dollars everywhere else).

Story: L. DeBard and Aliette. A translation of the medieval love story of Abelard and Heloise, set during the 1918 flu epidemic. Plus swimming!
Song: Heloise and Abelard by Elizabeth Devlin. Beyond the a propros subject matter, his lady can really play the autoharp. This song sounds like something you'd find on a gramophone record.
Beer: Blanche de Bruges. I think white beer may be an acquired taste, but boy have I acquired it for this beer. Nice notes of orange and spice.

Story: Majorette. A girl grows up in Hershey, becomes a twirler.
Song: Look at Miss Ohio by Gillian Welch. I love Gillian Welch, and this wry song lopes along easily.
Beer: Yuengling Ale. I'm going to have to go with my favorite everyday beer here--a Pennsylvania brew, and the oldest brewery in the United States.

Story: Blythe. Most of us had friendships that sucked the life out of us: here's the story of Blythe, an artist, and her best friend.
Song: Your Rocky Spine by the Great Lake Swimmers. One: this sounds great after the last song. Two: there's so much sadness in the singer's voice. Three: I play it obsessively, which is appropriate for a story about obsession.
Beer: Deus. Champagne beer for Blythe, a lady with champagne tastes. A complex fascinating beer that looks like champagne, though even at 25 bucks, it's cheaper than a bottle of champagne.

Story: The Wife of the Dictator. A story set in an unnamed banana republic about a dictator, his wife, in the collective voice of the women who observe her.
Song: The Littlest Birds by The Be Good Tanyas. I couldn't resist the tempo or the layered female voices in this delicious song.
Beer: Lindeman's Kriek Lambic. A Belgian beer infused with cherry? Indeed.

Story: Watershed. Falling in love with and losing a childhood friend. The vagaries of water.
Song: If It Be Your Will by Antony (written by Leonard Cohen). Every single time I hear this rendition I get all teary. A grief-wrung song, glorious with resignation.
Beer: Dogfish Head 60 minute hops. I wanted an IPA: light but slightly bitter. I chose the one I knew and liked best.

Story: Sir Fleeting. A Wisconsin farmgirl becomes a rich old woman: her life, her love, Argentina, and those magical people in our lives we only think we know.
Song: Banking on a Myth by Andrew Bird. I've been an enormous fan of Andrew Bird forever--I can't think of another young songwriter who takes such immense risks, with such immense payoffs.
Beer: Cerveza Diablo from the Jerome brewery in Argentina. I was tired of Quilmes (the Bud Light of Buenos Aires) the last time I went to Argentina and tasted this beer. It knocked my socks off.

Story: Fugue. A complicated four-part story about a village in a dark valley in the eighties, amnesia, imaginary friends, and running away.
Song: Love Will Tear Us Apart by Susanna and the Magical Orchestra. A brilliant version of the Joy Division song, turned slow and achy.
Beer: Bison Organic Chocolate Stout. Tar-dark, but with a little sweet upkick at the end, complex. The beer I've been reaching for most recently.

Story: Delicate Edible Birds. A story about war reporters caught behind Nazi lines in WWII France.
Song: Non, je ne regrette rien by Edith Piaf. I mean, seriously. How could I possibly resist "The Little Sparrow?" I love how gorgeously unrepentant Piaf is in this song, and think Bern, my tough, sexy main character, would love it, too.
Beer: FĂ´ret Organic beer. Okay, another saison, another organic--but it's super good, and the name alone made me want to match it here.

Lauren Groff and Delicate Edible Birds links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
Goodreads page for the author
Goodreads page for the book
reading group guide for the book
a story from the book at Five Chapters

1979 Semi-Finalist review
At Home With Books review
Baby Got Books review review
Capital Times review
DailyCandy review
Denver Post review
Entertainment Weekly review
Miami Herald review
National Post review
The Olympian review
Open Letters review
Oregonian review
PopMatters review
Pudgy Penguin Perusals review
Seattle Post-Intelligencer review
Sweet Diva review
Washington Times review

Flavorwire interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes music playlist for The Monsters of Templeton by the author
Loaded Questions with Kelly Hewitt interview with the author
One Story interview with the author
YouTube interview with the author and Jami Attenberg

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2008
Largehearted Boy Favorite Graphic Novels of 2008
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2009 Edition)
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)