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August 22, 2014

Book Notes - Anya Ulinich "Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel"

Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel

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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Anya Ulinich's Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel is one of the year's best graphic novels, a book compelling, moving, and hilarious.

The Los Angeles Times wrote of the book:

"This is the power of the graphic novel, that it not only tells but also shows us, that by integrating images into the narrative, it draws us into Lena's experience with the force of memory. Ulinich means—not unlike Pekar in American Splendor or Karl Ove Knausgaard in My Struggle—to set aside literature with a capital L (whatever that is) in favor of the epic textures of the day-to-day."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Anya Ulinich's Book Notes music playlist for her graphic novel Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel:

It feels thrilling and sort of transgressive to confess my music habits in public. I'm pretty sure I'm profoundly tone-deaf. At least the Soviet-era piano teachers who refused to take me on as a student said so. I don't recognize most songs until I hear the first line of the lyrics, and I'm pretty sure I have no taste. I'm in awe of people who can talk about music the way I can talk about painting. The music that inspires me and gets my mind working has to be either really sad or really happy. Or both at the same time. And preferably, it's a waltz, though it's not a requirement. The schmalzier the better, is what I like.

There are two songs that are referenced on the pages of my latest book, Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel. In earlier drafts, I actually quoted the lyrics, but then my publisher said that it would cost too much, and that I had to paraphrase. Which actually made it better, I think.

On p.76, Lena Finkle, who is fresh-off-the boat, listens to Pink Floyd's "The Wall" while waiting for the bus. Her English is rudimentary, and so is her comprehension of the lyrics. I first heard "the wall" on a tape i got at a thrift store in 1991, when i was a new immigrant. I couldn't really make out the words at first, but i thought the music was perfect. I think i learned what "worms" were while listening to that tape and using a dictionary.

"Hey You":

Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel

On p. 316, the Orphan plays a song called "Someday You Will be Loved" by Death Cab for Cutie. This is 20 years later, and Lena's English is much improved. The Orphan is trying to convince Lena to let him break up with him and stop coming around. Lena thinks it's a terrible song. "What kind of a point of view is that?" she asks indignantly.

Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel

It was one of the songs I listened to on repeat while I was writing Lena Finkle. I thought of it as "The Orphan song" - it became a kind of an anthem of this character.

Anya Ulinich and Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Cleveland Plain Dealer review
The L Magazine review
Los Angeles Times review
New York Times review
New York Times review
NPR Books review

Jewish Daily Forward profile of 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
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