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October 26, 2015

Book Notes - Nikesh Shukla "Meatspace"


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, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Nikesh Shukla's Meatspace may be the funniest novel I have read all year, a book that captures the tension between our online and offline worlds.

The Independent wrote of the book:

"Buzzing with streetwise smarts and satirical barbs, it’s a thoughtful, often hilarious, meditation on a young writer’s loneliness in the digital age."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Nikesh Shukla's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Meatspace:

Music is so ingrained in the world of Meatspace, it's literally ink on the main character's skin. As an attempt to free himself of the world of likes, favourites, retweets and posting about his life as a writer, and feel something again, feel something tangible, so he can draw inspiration from him and write once more, the main character Kitab gets the song title "Everyday I Write The Book" tattooed on his skin. Almost as a CV, almost as a writer, almost cos he thinks it looks cool, but mostly so he can feel something.

"Every Day I Write The Book" – Elvis Costello

The real fun of the song is the way it subverts the novel structure through the chapter headings and the pithy love story that unfolds. I thought it would be torturous to listen to the song, day in and day out to remind myself that I could do this, I could write the book every day. And any struggling was pointless when Elvis Costello could make it sound so easy.

"If Life Exists" – Jeffrey Lewis

There's a line in the song that sums up happiness and our ‘more-more-more' culture's inability to attain it. He sings, now I have a girlfriend and I wish I was more happy, now I have two girlfriends and I wish I was more happy, now I have four girlfriends and I wish I was more happy… and on, and on. No matter what you do, no matter what you attain, gain, gather or do, you'll still never be happy the more you want. It's Zen For Dummies in an overcrowded world.

"BTSTU" – Jai Paul

This enigmatic song is on the surface, a thirst trap. But the more you listen to it, the more you hear its spitefulness, its bitterness, its loneliness. It's a wonderful trick that gets mascqueraded by the effortless urban space funk that is bouncing up and down your ears like massage fingers. When my mum died, I used to walk around London, I was doing a lot of book readings at the time, listening to this song on repeat. It's a surprisingly good soundtrack for long dark night walks of the soul. That's where the book began, as walks through my city trying to make sense of a world that gave with the one hand (my first ever novel, out, on shelves) and took with the other (my mother dying suddenly, cruelly, from undiagnosed cancer).

"Ps and Qs" – Kano

This song is too sick. This was the first grime song I heard that made me sit up and go, damn, I shouldn't ignore this music. It's incredible. It's freer than rap. The way Kano sounds like he's stumbling all over the beat before syncopating back into it like it's no thing, is majestic. The repeated phrases, the intricate, almost nonsensical rhyme structure. Everything. When he says he ain't got punchlines, he's got kicklines, I get so hype. The book needed to sound like a city that had its own set of rules, that you could never research online, never understand, unless you lived in it. Where Kitab lives in London, the songs you'd hear out of the car windows as they cruised past, they sound like this one.

"Someday" – The Strokes

I like songs that give you two feelings. The initial rush. Then, as familiarity creeps in, you get to understand the songwriters' intentions. This song always sounds uplifting, like a group of best friends having one last incredible blowout, like the good old days, but each one knowing in their heart it's the last time it'll ever be like this. I feel like Kitab feels like that about a lot of his life. So much of the good days are behind him, he's closed off to happiness, to growing, to competing, to trying, because it'll never be as good as it was.

"Topknot" – Cornershop

I don't understand the meaning of the lyrics, I don't speak Punjabi. But this song feels like home. It sounds like morning. Like when you wake up to the smell of whatever your mum or dad would cook when it was indulgent happy family memory time. For me, it was the smell of onions and garlic as my mum made this rice dish called Bateta Pava. That's what this song reminds me of. So much of the psychosis that Kitab may or may not be going through is related to memory and his sense of home.

"Wha-Gwarn" – Benin City

I like to often imagine what song would soundtrack the closing credits of my books if they were turned into films. Meatspace would close with this, a song about heartache, memory and trying to move on from the shackles of the past. This song, sung by my friend Josh, made me burst into tears the first time I heard it. And I remember it playing as I edited the end of Meatspace. I played it again a bunch of times, because it summed everything that happens at the end of the book up so perfectly, so sadly, and yet so hopeful.

Nikesh Shukla and Meatspace links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Denver Post review
Guardian review
Independent review
Kirkus review
Litro review
Publishers Weekly review

BBC Radio 4 interview with the author
The Lit Up Show interview with the author
VICE essay by the author
Vol. 1 Brooklyn interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (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
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
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
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Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)