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August 5, 2011

Book Notes - Nathan Larson ("The Dewey Decimal System")

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

Nathan Larson's debut novel The Dewey Decimal System successfully melds futuristic dystopian and classic detective fiction. Set in the New York of the future, this inventive book is the first in what promises to be an exciting series.

Vol. 1 Brooklyn wrote of the book:

"Destroying New York City is a bold pursuit for a debut novel, but Larson has done it with this one, giving us a meticulously relayed map of Manhattan throughout the book, but with few facts regarding the disaster that caused such chaos and destruction. We know only a few things, like that only one bridge remains functional, that the subway is for city and federal employees only, and are left to imagine the rest. That blankness adds to the dreamlike feel of the prose, giving us the same limited, hazy experience that Dewey himself scrambles to untangle."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, request an invitation.

In his own words, here is Nathan Larson's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, The Dewey Decimal System:

I wrote the The Dewey Decimal System, my first attempt at writing anything longform, under very unique wife was pregnant with our son, and she was on complete and total bed-rest. I had taken time off to care for her. This meant that beyond providing her meals etc, I had huge gaps of time in my day with nothing happening, so I opted to fill it with writing.

Music was absolutely crucial to my process. One could almost say music informed the narrative as much as anything else. I'm a professional musician as it is, my proper day job is film composition; as well I come from a punk rock background and have been in bands since I was 14 and been going to shows (with my mom) since I was 12. Music has always traveled with me and is lodged deep in my spine.

As I was working without an outline of any kind, I allow the momentum of the act of writing to push me from scene to scene. Inevitably the tempo of this was determined by the music I had on, so as mentioned, I can't overstress how crucial the sound was to the pacing and storyline. If the music was evil, things got evil. If it was light, things got a bit lighter (never too light!). And so on.

In brief, the main character in my book is a nameless and extremely damaged man who is known as Dewey Decimal, who returns to his hometown of New York City, which itself has been badly damaged in an unspecified series of calamities. He's a veteran with all manner of disorders (OCD, PTSD etc), can only remember snippets of his past. Dewey has developed a "System", a set of rules for conducting his day, without which he would be lost. He is sensitive guy who loves books and lives in the Main Branch Public Library. He's also a psychotic hit man.

In writing this piece, I realize the music I have here falls into three loose categories (some serve dual purposes) :

- "walking", which is an attitude mood thing I use to picture my character (or the narrative itself) is moving with purpose, usually towards some violent or ugly situation

- "peace", the music that reflects the inner peace that Dewey occasionally seeks but will never find.

- "general writing" a functional piece for me, as the writer, to write to. Very different than the first two categories, which are all about atmosphere and character.

"Que Sera Sera" - Sly and the Family Stone

A "peace" jam. in the film version of this book, credits would end on this song...a crane shot up on Dewey as he sleeps. As if there will be a film. And if such a thing would come to pass; as if there's the budget for a crane shot. One can dream.

Sly's interpretation of this song always struck me as twisted, drugged out, and there's a painful beauty in there. The beauty/ pain junxtaposition: this is always what I strive (not always successfully) for, whether it's making music or writing.

Theme from Sin City - Robert Rodriguez

"Walking." Nasty, cinematic (duh it's from a soundtrack), futuristic, borrows from the classic noir themes in instrumentation/ bassline etc. Love the dirty ass baritone sax. It's a twisted take on this "genre" music and it slots right in with the ambiance I was attempting to craft in The Dewey Decimal System.

"Harlem Nocturne" - The Viscounts

"Writing": This is my favorite version of this a surf-porno version of this song originally written for a big band. Again, it's got that sleazy midnight thing that this book is encased in.

"Down the Street" - The Stooges

"Walking." As mentioned I include here several such tracks; I realized in order to get the pacing I wanted whilst writing and picturing my character loping around, I needed "walking music". Kinda like a twist on the famous STAYIN' ALIVE opening to Saturday Night Fever. This is the most rock, most evil variation on this. It's cruel + mean and has nothing but bad intentions. This song makes me feel violent and that's what it's supposed to do.

"Snoopy Track" - Jay-Z

Another "walking" track. This would have been something Dewey would have been exposed to and consumed. It wouldn't have been his favorite stuff, a little too "street-y" or mainstream, but he would have to respect this gnarly jam from one of the masters.

"Music for Mallet Instruments" - Steve Reich

"Writing." One of my favorite bits of music period, this sort of trapped movement, constantly shifting the frame. I can't imagine anything better to write to.

"Tezeta" - Mulatu Astake

"Peace". One of the struggles Dewey has with his psyche, and with his surroundings, is trying to balance the violence and noise with peace and mindfulness. This is why he uses the System. And this bit of music is a track he might put on to chill to. It illustrates this peace. Such a beautiful bit of music.

"Black Star" - Astronomy (8th Light)

"Walking/ Peace" : this would have been much more to Dewey's taste..I think he even name checks it in the book. Smart hip hop from Brooklyn with the correct groove.

"Liquid Liquid" - Caravan

"Walking" : a definitive New York City track, from a downtown perspective circa 1982. You will notice this is also the musical basis for WHITE LINES, from a weird no-wave band probably very few people have heard of. I do wonder how Grandmaster Flash or his crate-digger got a hold of this record.

"The Message" - Grandmaster Flash

"Walking." This is another definitive New York City jam, again from the era that Dewey can remember the best, from his youth. He would have memorized all the lyrics cos all the kids back then did...including me, including the white kids...just great pop music and an American classic, created in the environment where Dewey hails from.

"Storming the Death Star" - Roots Radics Band (Dub Version)

"Walking/ writing" I listened to a ton of dub whilst writing this book, it was the perfect abstract atmosphere to float around's music that has been deconstructed and "destroyed", much like the character and the city in which the book is set. I leaned heavily on the Trojan Records Collections which are fabulous.

"Summa" - Arvo Part

"Writing/ Peace" Not unlike the Astake track, this is both a peace jam and a writing tool. This is sheer beauty. This is what Dewey does not have but longs for. This is what it sounds like.

Nathan Larson and The Dewey Decimal System links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

A.V. Club review
Bookgasm review
Bookslut review
Buzzlegoose review
Kirkus Reviews review
PopMatters review
Publishers Weekly review
Skyscraper review
Time Out Chicago review
Vol. 1 Brooklyn review
Walk with a Book review

Criminal-E interview with the author
Express Night Out interview with the author
Murder By the Blog interview with the author
New York Press profile of the author
Patell and Waterman’s History of New York guest post by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists