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August 3, 2012

Book Notes - "The Beautiful Anthology"

The Beautiful Anthology

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

In The Beautiful Anthology, an impressive roster of writers explore the theme of beauty in a variety of ways, with contributions from Gina Frangello, Greg Olear, Melissa Febos, Zoe Zolbrod, and others.

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In their own words, here is the collaborative Book Notes music playlist for the anthology, The Beautiful Anthology:

1. Lance Reynald, "Black Paint"—an essay about how a former lover urged him to "start seeing" (via photography) again:

"In the End," performance by Mx Justin V. Bond music by Scott Matthew

This is a beautiful song; it speaks to the bittersweet and tender quality of existence and realizations…the things we forget to say …and I like the strings.

2. Marni Grossman, "Pretty is As Pretty Does"—an essay about teenage body dysmorphia and feeling ugly.

"Ugly" by Juliana Hatfield

This song pretty powerfully captures something true about female adolescence.  At one time or another, all girls, it seems, feel "Ugly with a capital U."  And the chorus is the exact refrain that played in my mind all throughout my teenage years.

3. Tyler Stoddard Smith, "Truth and Booty"—a story that relates a fictional divorce to eminent writers and philosophers' famous quotes about beauty.

"If Not For You" by The Small Sounds

I think this song complements my piece well. The song itself is angry, nostalgic and elegant. I think it's just beautiful. And while my piece is not something I would classify as "elegant," the spirit of my narrator is one of anger, nostalgia and a reflection on different kinds of beauty. I feel like the narrator of my piece might have written something like this in a more lucid, contemplative moment (and if he could play an instrument), but that's up for debate. The Small Sounds are out of Houston. Their new album is 12.

4. Uche Ogbuji, "21st Century Beauty in Poetry"—an exploration of themes of beauty in worldwide art.

"St. Thomas" by Joshua Redman

Joshua Redman's interpretation of the Sonny Rollins classic starts with fragments of recognized leitmotifs that suggest how beauty draws into the consciousness. It's an insistent saxophone sequence, that instrument that so long divided musical opinion as to the beauty of its sound. When the song tumbles from the full band in dramatic gear, it evokes all sorts: the unmatched beauty of place offered by the Caribbean, the deep pleasures evoked by tradition, including the origins of this song in "The Lincolnshire Poacher," and above all, the blessedness of harmony, bolstered with solo strokes. It is all the lineaments of beauty, given with swing. Honorable mention: "Ain't It The Truth" by The Philadelphia Experiment.

5. Robin Antalek, "Inked"—an essay about her 18-year-old daughter getting a tattoo of her own design.

"Ruby Tuesday" by Rolling Stones

This might be a very pedestrian choice, but I've been a Stones Fan forever and for some reason, that summer before my daughter left for college, "Ruby Tuesday" seemed most fitting.  That song has always struck me as wistful, mournful, yet not tragic.  And I was experiencing that and so much more: watching my daughter take hold of her own life before she left for college, and as she stood her ground for the tattoo.  We were saying goodbye to so much that summer, but in hindsight, opening up to so much more. We just didn't realize it yet.

6. James D. Irwin, "From the Venus de Milo to Porno Mags…" an essay exploring different ideals of beauty.

"What a Wonderful World" by Joey Ramone

My essay largely revolves around pretty German girls and the inherent self-destruction of man. Naturally I considered Nena's 99 Red Balloons the ideal song, but I don't want people to judge me, so I'm going with Joey Ramone instead.

Whilst having little to do with pretty German girls or the inherent self-destructive nature of man, the words reflect the sense of wonder of the beauty of the world I hoped to evoke in my piece. This version of the song takes on a haunting, tragic quality as Joey Ramone sings the lyrics in the knowledge his own body is slowly destroying itself. This lends an air of almost defiant optimism, which I find heartbreakingly beautiful.

7. Ronlyn Domingue, "Milkweed and Metamorphosis"—an essay about native plant gardening and trying to capture the magic of metamorphosis

"Tale of a Thorn" by Louisa John-Krol

This gentle instrumental piece is a complement to my essay because it sets a mood for contemplation that's both plaintive and hopeful.

8. Jessica Anya Blau, "See Ya Later, Big Nose"—an essay about the author's lifelong worries about her nose.

There are two songs that come to mind for my piece, 'See Ya Later, Big Nose."  The first is Ani Difranco's "Not a Pretty Girl."  It's a song about existing outside the ideals of feminine beauty and mannerisms. I also think the Muppet's song, "Big Round Nose" would work well for this essay.  It's about loving noses for what they do--sniff, blow, sneeze--rather than for how they look.  Here's a link to watch the Muppets singing "Big Round Nose."  I must admit, I need to start appreciating my nose for how it WORKS!

9. Rachel Pollon, "Change for a Ten"

"Heart of Glass" by Blondie 

I actually listened to it over and over while writing the piece because it's a song I liked somewhere around the time my story takes place, and it's just a vibe that speaks to me. Everyone in the story has a heart of glass, whether or not they are hurting or being hurt.  Further and most simply, the song is gorgeous, and makes you feel rather kick ass and also more comfortably vulnerable while listening to it. Deborah Harry's voice -- who doesn't want to be that girl?

10. Elizabeth Collins, "Beheld, Beholden"—a story about an accident that changed the narrator's ideas about beauty and made her feel less concerned about impressing others.

"Knock on Wood" by Anita Ward

This mid-1970s disco classic was probably my favorite song when I was a little kid—specifically, when I was five and six, around the age when I had the accident I recount in my story, "Beheld, Beholden."

The lyrics to "Knock on Wood" probably have nothing to do with my story, but it's hard to find songs appropriate for those times when you almost lose your nose.

11. Zoe Zolbrod, "Pai Foot"

"I'll Love You Forever" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

My essay is set in Pai, a little town in Thailand where I hooked up with a local boy far more beautiful than me. He worked at the rustic lodge where I was staying, and one of the other guests was a guy with dyed black hair, an alterna-type akin to my friends back home but unlike anyone I had met on the road. He had a set of tinny speakers that he could plug into his Walkman, a novelty, and in the evenings as we all sat around the fire, he'd play the soundtrack of Until the End of the World, the Wim Wenders film that had been released a couple years earlier. The tape included tracks by Can, Depeche Mode and other bands I liked, and it was a welcome break from the stream of Thai pop and dance music that I'd been surrounded with since I'd been traveling. In particular, I remember the poignant irony of listening to Nick Cave's "I'll Love you to the End of the World" while sitting next to someone I had real if fledgling feelings for and knowing that soon I would be moving on.

12. Angela Tung, "Blemished"—an essay about feeling unbeautiful and alien.

"The Middle," Jimmy Eat World

I listened to this song a lot during a point in my marriage when I felt like nothing I did was good enough. I didn't make enough money; I wasn't living up to my husband's expectations of what a wife should be. Adrift and alone, I hung on tight to the song's lyrics - Just do your best, do everything you can, And don't you worry what their bitter hearts, are gonna say - and eventually I was able pull myself out of a bad relationship and into a life where the only expectations I had to live up to were my own, and where even my blemishes had their own perfection.

13. Rich Ferguson – "No Animals or Insects Were Tortured or Killed in the Making of This Poem"—in essence, it's a poem about what I truly want and don't want out of life.
"True Dreams of Wichita" by Mike Doughty and Soul Coughing
To me, this is one of the most beautiful, most dynamic songs about yearning. Mike Doughty writes and sings with such masterful lyricism, rhythm, and playfulness—all qualities that I aspire to in my own work.

14. Greg Olear, "The Line Waver"—a meditation on the ugliness of perfection, and vice versa.
"Brilliant Mistake," Elvis Costello

My piece was inspired in part by the documentary film Beautiful Losers; I was particularly drawn to the work of the late Margaret Kilgallen, whose quote provides the title for my essay.  This, one of my favorite EC tunes (there are so many!), conveys the same sense of beautiful imperfection that Kilgallen was striving for.  I was a fine idea at the time; now I'm a brilliant mistake.

15. Matthew Baldwin, "The Form in the Stone"—an essay about losing weight.

"There She Goes, My Beautiful World" by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

This is a song in which the narrator cries out to participate in the beauty he witnesses around him, even if he doesn't quite understand it. Also, it spent a long time on my workout playlists during the period described in my piece.

16. Steve Sparshott, "Fin"—an essay about the beautiful design of urinal dividers.

"Lazy Sunday" from The Small Faces' 1968 album Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake

The only specifically toilet-related songs I could think of were by The Macc Lads, and although they're from the same part of Britain as me, their music is not suitable for public consumption. I briefly - very briefly - considered "Porcelina" by Smashing Pumpkins, but ultimately chose a track reflecting the style (rather than the subject) of the piece. Extremely British and mildly vulgar, "Lazy Sunday " - as I noticed only recently - also features the sound of a toilet flushing. Bonus!

17. Nora Burkey, "The Politics of Beauty"—an essay about working to help Cambodian students overcome the Western stereotypes of beauty.

Khmer folk song, played by Landmine Victims

The song that I think of in relation to my essay is a traditional Khmer folk song played by landmine victims.  In Cambodia, the music industry is heavily focused on traditionally beautiful, and clean, ladies and gentleman belting their hearts out. Bright lights and bright colors decorate them and their stages. This small folk group featured here is most certainly more beautiful. They are victims without all their limbs playing traditional Khmer songs outside the beautiful temples of Angkor Wat. They defy physical beautiful, what one needs to play music beautifully, what musicians in Cambodia should look like, and the pop trends of music today. Stunningly beautiful!

18. J.E. Fishman, "Spinning"—an essay about the most beautiful tennis serve the author ever hit.

"Hit Me With Your Best Shot," by Pat Benatar

This has the virtue not only of being relevant to my piece, but also of being a song contemporary to a guy who recently turned fifty (gulp!). In fact, my sophomore year of college a strange freshman dorm-mate used to blast it endlessly in his room. I guess it didn't work for him, because he transferred out. But it works for my essay.

19. Stephanie St. John, "Belly Up"--an essay about healing one's body image issues through surrendering to the big belly of pregnancy.

"Little Star" by Madonna from Ray of Light

While I'd like to be cooler and not choose a Madonna tune, I can't help myself. This song so perfectly captures her softening during her own pregnancy. I was so happy while pregnant. I felt so whole and gorgeous. Her line, "You breathe life into my broken heart." – ok, it's cheesy, but I am powerless over it; I tear up and get a melon sized lump in my throat.  It's exactly how it was for me, having that gift of carrying my baby.  Madonna lost her mother, as most fans know; she often speaks of this. And I believe this song is about the love for her daughter transcending the loss. I lost my mother, too. But for me, the healing during pregnancy took place both on the mother-loss and the body image level. I'm not so sure that Madonna needed healing on the body image level, because she's well, Madonna.

The Beautiful Anthology links:

the book's blog
video trailer for the book

CarolineLeavittville interview with the author
The Nervous Breakdown interview with the editor
Other People podcast interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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